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But the fact is, that the atonement of Christ is not only consistent with liberality on the part of God; but serves eminently to display such liberality.
So far as the justice of divine requirements are questionable, it is equally questionable, whether any favor is shown to those, who are not punished for violating such require
But should the transgressors of law be pardoned on the sole condition of repentance; especially if it were done frequently, suspicions would be entertained, that a perception of undue severity in the law was the real occasion of this lenity. Whatever, therefore, tends to show the justice of divine requirements; whatever tends to magnify the law, and make it honorable, tends, in the same degree, to exhibit and illustrate the liberality of God, in pardoning those, by whom its requirements have been violated. The pardon of every penitent is virtually attended with a declaration, both on the part of God and man, that the divine commands are holy and just. The penitent himself, makes this declaration by believing on him, "who died the just for the unjust." The Deity makes this declaration by accepting his penitence exclusively on the ground of our Lord's interposition. Indeed, the language of the transaction and the language of the divine law, unite perfectly in this; viz. to express the sentiments of Deity as to moral evil. According to the opinions of those, who reject the doctrine of atonement, there were no obstacles to the exercise of divine mercy. Whereas, according to the sentiment, which we endeavor to establish, these obstacles were such, as to require for their removal, the intervention of the Son of God.
To pardon sinners, where there was nothing to render the measure difficult, is obviously a less display of generosity, than to pardon them, when the removal of great obstacles was previously required. The doctrine in question, therefore, far from depressing, tends directly to raise our ideas of divine liberality.
Facts, it is believed, well correspond with this reasoning. The strongest expressions of personal demerit, and the most lively views of our Creator's benignity and grace, are not found among those, who, considering repentance alone as the ground of pardon, reject the opinions, for which we
III. It is further said, in opposition to the doctrine of atonement, that were it true, it would have been revealed in the Jewish scriptures.
Without conceding, that the Jewish scriptures are silent as to this subject, I observe, that were they entirely so, it would prove, neither that the doctrine is false, nor unimportant. We are far from being judges, how many subjects will be elucidated by a divine revelation. The works of nature are as truly a communication from God, as are the Jewish scriptures. Yet in this communication, many subjects of acknowledged moment, are left in perfect uncertainty. Now, suppose further light should be imparted by immediate revelation, who could predict what portion of the darkness, remaining after the first, would by this be removed?
The objection is susceptible of another answer. In the writings of Moses, I mean the first five books of scripture, nothing is distinctly said, as to the doctrine of a future state. Let them be subjected to the most scrupulous examination, this doctrine will not there find direct and prominent evidence, to support it. But is the doctrine of a future state either untrue, or unimportant? Is it not generally considered as lying at the very foundation of all religion? Now if God was pleased to make a revelation, of which this doctrine was no part, with what confidence can we infer, either the falsity or insignificance of any other doctrine, because it makes no part of this revelation?
But even in the four gospels, it is objected, that much less is said of atonement, than we should be justified in expecting, if the doctrine held so important a place in the christian system, as is commonly supposed.
I answer, that no two persons, it is probable, would be agreed, as to the precise measure of perspicuity, with which it was to be expected, that such a doctrine, if true, should have been revealed.
We should have judged before hand, with entire confidence, that the soul's immortality and a future world, would occupy a conspicuous place in the Mosaic revelation. The observations, which have been made, apply more forcibly to the objection, in its present form, than in that, which it previously assumed: for it is not pretended, that the gospels are silent, as to Christ's suffering for the sins of the world; but only, that the subject is not treated so copiously, nor placed in so clear a light, as it would have been, were it a truth, so important, as christians have generally believed.
The fact is, that our Lord did teach the doctrine of his atonement and his instructions on this subject seem liable to no charge of observable obscurity; as will appear from the following passages, "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This spake he, signifying what death he should die. The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many."
We are, by no means, bound to show, why our Lord did not mention the subject more frequently. It is enough if the doctrine were really taught by him. But no words can be more clear, on this subject, than those, last quoted. In addition to this, let it be considered, that the apostles, who received their commission immediately from Christ, were abundant in the use of similar language.
We are sometimes told, that this doctrine, if true, and so important, as many represent, would have been taught by the apostles when they introduced christianity to the heathen, among the first principles.
I answer, that while the writings of the apostles so much abound in passages, representing Christ's blood, as the price
of our redemption :-representing him, as a sin offering;— as taking away sins by the sacrifice of himself;-as dying the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God; it is preposterous to argue, that they did not believe both in the truth and importance of the doctrine of atonement, because in some short speeches, which they were called to make on peculiar emergencies, this doctrine is not distinctly taught.
But whether it did not occupy a place, in their preaching, among the first principles of christianity, is a matter, which Paul himself has decided. Writing to the Corinthians, he says, "For I delivered unto you first of all, that, which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures." Now, we have no reason to doubt, that St. Paul preached at Corinth in the same manner, in which he preached at other places. The sufferings of Christ were no more important to the Corinthians than to the Ephesians, Philippians, or Colossians. We are to suppose, therefore, that the apostle delivered to them first of all, "how Christ died for our sins." Nor did any of the apostles know, better than Paul, what doctrines ought to be preached. There were the same reasons, why they should consider it a fundamental doctrine, as why he should so consider it. Can we doubt, that it was so considered by Peter, who said, "Ye are not redeemed from your vain conversation with corruptible things, such as silver and gold; but by the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot?" Can we doubt, that it was so considered by St. John, who exclaimed, "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us; and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins?" and again, He is the "propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only; but for the sins of the whole world?" The objection is not only destitute of weight: it does not possess plausibility.
I shall now say a few things, as to the character of Him, by whom the atonement was made. Could it have been known to creatures, whose intellects are so feeble, as ours,
previously to the event, that atonement was about to be made for sin by the sufferings of an innocent person, they would, I apprehend, have been quite unable to determine any thing, as to the dignity of the person, by whom these sufferings were to be endured. Yet, so far as we can judge, they would have thought it probable, that some illustrious being would be thus employed. Such a one would seem less, than others, inadequate to so great and extraordinary an undertaking. We cannot depend, however, on any reasonings a priori; but must form our conclusions, wholly from the declarations of scripture. This testimony is, that in Jesus Christ," dwells the fulness of the Godhead bodily:" that Jesus Christ "is over all, God blessed forevermore." Of him it has been said, "Thou, Lord, hast in the beginning laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of thy hands." As it is not possible for Deity to suffer; and as our Saviour said many things of himself, which can be predicated only of created nature, we are led to believe, that eternal Deity and created nature were, in a mysterious manner, united in the character of Jesus Christ. Unless there had been some important reason for it, we cannot suppose, that this union would have taken place. We must conclude, therefore, that such union was necessary to the great work, which our Saviour accomplished.
I close this lecture with a very few remarks.
I. I desire you to reflect and to feel that the subject is of general interest. You are not to imagine, that disquisitions of this nature belong exclusively to instructors in theology. So far from it they are of no consequence to them, unless they are so to you. There are many things, which are peculiar to men of particular ages, and professions. But depravity, is what all men hold in common. Without mercy, therefore, we must all perish. If a Redeemer died for human offences, he died for you: and the divine law will be honored either by your suffering the penalty, or by your acceding to those terms, on which, through Christ Jesus, a free remission is offered.