No system of theology that should leave the doctrine of atonement without special notice, would be considered as complete; and, indeed, such a system would be radically defective. A great deal has been said and written professedly upon this important subject; but I hope I may be excused for saying that, according to my judgment, much of what has been written has been to little or no purpose. Not pretending to be able to instruct the theological world, it is my constant desire to be useful to the “poor of this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom.” I believe the essential doctrines of the gospel–such as we have been discussing in the preceding pages–have been pretty correctly understood by the true church in all ages, from the days of the apostles to the present time, and we have no reason to expect any new discoveries in the plan of salvation. There is room for the wisest to increase in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ; but, in the fundamental principles of the gospel, nothing new will be brought to light that is essential to the great system of gospel truth. All that is indispensably necessary is to have access to the word of God, and a heart prepared to receive the instruction. I shall not aspire to the honor of new discovery; but if I can offer a thought that will throw any additional light on any part of the subject into the mind of my reader, verily I shall have my desired reward.
If the word atonement was a scriptural term, and of frequent occurrence in the New Testament, like justification and redemption, we might ascertain its scriptural meaning by consulting the connection in which it is used by inspired writers: but it is not so; the word is used, I believe, but once in that book, and in that place all good scholars concur in saying the original word should not have been translated atonement, but reconciliation. The word is often used in the Old Testament, respecting the sacrifices offered under that dispensation, and in this light I suppose it may be said to be a scriptural term. From the use there made of the word in a typical sense, we may learn something of what should be its proper meaning in an evangelical sense. But, at least, the word is properly a theological term, and, considered in this point of view, it has, or ought to have, a definite and universally accepted meaning. If the word is generally used by writers in a particular acceptation–and I believe it is–any writer who discusses the doctrine of atonement in a different sense, without at once apprising his readers, most probably has an insidious design in view; but if he really differs from others as to what we are to understand by the atonement of Christ, we have no right to require any thing more of him than a plain and unambiguous statement of the sense in which he intends to use the term, or of what he understands the atonement to be, and an honest avowal of the difference between his views and the opinions of others.
The range of my reading is comparatively very limited, so that I have consulted very few works written expressly on atonement. What little knowledge I have acquired of the various theories which have been put forth by our learned writers, has been derived incidentally from a few authors who have had occasion to refer to them. Not occupying that position in the literary world which would entitle me to claim equality with our theological authors, I have felt timid in referring to them by name; but the high respect which I entertain for those great names must not deter me from exhibiting what I believe to be the truth of God as we have it in His word, although my views might not perfectly accord with theirs in every particular idea. I am not aware, however, that my views of atonement differ materially from those which have been generally maintained by our standard orthodox divines.
With regard to the meaning of the word atonement, some are disposed to lay a good deal of stress on the etymology of the term–to wit, at-one-ment; but it requires but little knowledge of the history of our language to see that etymology is a very uncertain method of ascertaining the proper meaning of words. The English scholar stands in no need of examples to illustrate this. Besides, it is not so much the literal meaning of the word with which we are concerned; it is that particular evangelical doctrine of theology which has been generally designated by the term atonement. This doctrine I propose to discuss, and I design to employ as definite and precise language as I am able.
A late writer on atonement gives us the following definition: “It is the expiation of sin through the obedience and death of the Lord Jesus.” I shall not object to this definition. The author intended no disguise or evasion. As he is still living, and is also “a brother beloved,” and one who, I doubt not, loves the truth, I presume he will not be offended if I offer a critical suggestion. If, by the word obedience, we are to understand both the perfect holy obedience of His life and also His “obedience unto death“–that is, His obedience in dying–the definition is, perhaps, as unexceptionable as can well be given; but although the perfect holiness of the Redeemer’s life was essential to the validity of His sacrifice–it was essential to the merit and acceptableness of the “offering” which He made for our sins, and in this sense was essential to the atonement–yet I am not quite sure that it is an essential part of the atonement itself. The holiness of Christ was necessary to honor the law in the holiness of its nature and authority, but it was the justice of the law in relation to sin that required atonement. I believe it is held by our standard writers generally, that the obligation to be perfectly conformed to the holiness of the law is intransferable, and so I understand it; if so, substitution is inadmissible. The holiness of the law requires absolute holiness of every subject of the law, and nothing else can satisfy the demand. The obligation can not be discharged by a representative. If these thoughts are correct, I can not so well see how the holiness of our Savior’s life, though immaculate, can constitute an essential part of an atonement for sin. It is easy to see the perfect character was essential to His being a competent and acceptable sin-offering, and also that it was essential to His official relations to us as sinners. And further: As the law held a rightful authority over us as human subjects, it was necessary that our accepted Surety should, in human nature, honor the holiness of the law by demonstrating that the obligation to perfect holiness was not a requirement beyond the constitutional ability of human subjects. It was necessary that the holy character of the law should be fully vindicated or satisfied by inflicting the penalty for transgression upon one in human nature.
I would not be too positive on this point, and I will thankfully accept the kindness of any one who will give me more light. I have not made these remarks as intending to instruct my superiors, nor as a verbal criticism; but believing there is here a real distinction in these two aspects of the Divine law, I thought it might be well not to lose sight of it in a discourse on the atonement of Christ.
Another modern writer on atonement says: “The essential idea in the doctrine of atonement is that of substitution, or vicariousness.” This postulate is objectionable; for, although in the atonement of Christ substitution is an essential condition, yet it does not belong to the essence of the atonement itself. Substitution was an indispensable prerequisite; but in the order of nature, as well as in the order of operation (if I may so express it), the substitution preceded the atonement. Christ must first become our substitute–our accepted substitute–before He could make atonement for us. Using the word atonement in its general meaning–not restricting it to the atonement of Christ–it is allowable to say there may be atonement where there is no substitution, and there may be substitution where there is no atonement. There is so wide a distinction between the ordinary signification of the two words that neither can convey the essential idea of the other.
The same writer says: “The atonement is something substituted in the place of the penalty of the law, which will answer the same ends as the punishment of the offender himself would.” Passing, for the present, the very objectionable doctrines couched in this quotation, it is sufficient to say that if the atonement did not answer the end of satisfying the Divine law for our sins, it would be false to speak of it as atonement. But why adopt such a distant and pointless mode of statement?
Again: “It is through Christ that reconciliation is effected between God and man;” and,
“That in accomplishing this He suffered and died as a substitute in the place of sinners.” Here our author ventures to come to the essential doctrine of the atonement–rather an unusual thing for him to do. He speaks abundantly of substitution, of law, of sufferings, and of punishment; but seems to be fearfully cautious of speaking much about the death of Christ–the very thing that constitutes a real atonement. That in which I glory above all things, he seems to be studious to keep out of view. I suppose he kept this grand transaction constantly in his own eye while treating on atonement; but he appears to be reluctant to set it before the eyes of his readers.
As I understand atonement to mean equitable satisfaction for injury, or adequate reparation, I understand the atonement, which is the subject of the present discussion, to be that satisfaction for sins which was made to the Divine law by the death of the Son of God. I suppose this statement will give the reader a sufficient idea of what I mean by atonement, but I do not pretend that all the elements and essential characteristics of the atonement are included in this one sentence. To set the idea in a clear light, let us look at a few passages of Scripture which have direct reference to atonement: “Christ died for our sins.” “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust.” “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.” “He hath redeemed us to God by His blood.” “But God commandeth His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” “For if when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son.” In these quotations we see what the atonement is. We might add many others to the same effect. Whatever men may think the atonement ought to be, these Scriptures show us plainly what it is. That God saves sinners through the death of His Son, is the grandest and most glorious manifestation of the all-fullness of the Divine perfection of any that He has ever made to us. Nor is it in the power of the human mind to conceive of any possible way in which all the perfections of the infinite Godhead could be revealed to created minds to a greater or to an equal extent; and how wonderful, how overwhelming the thought that such sinful wretches as we are should be graciously embraced in it! This transaction is the foundation of the whole plan of man’s salvation; and when we reflect what stupendous weight of glory is dependent upon it, we can not ascribe too much importance to it. It is the good pleasure of God to lay the burden of more of the glory of His Name upon this one thing, than upon all else put together that He has ever done, of which we have any knowledge or can conceive. The sinner that builds on this foundation has nothing to fear; but a hope that rests upon any other ground must eventuate in disappointment and confusion. If there is any defect or insufficiency in the atonement, the whole scheme of man’s salvation is a failure. Hence an essential error or mistake in this doctrine must vitiate all other doctrines of the gospel, for all others rest upon it. In what I write, I “consider what I say,” and request the reader to do the same.
As atonement has particular respect to Divine justice, in canvassing the doctrine we should make the exact extent of its claims, and the plenary liquidation of those claims, a ruling principle throughout, for no partial reparation is atonement. The satisfaction made must be full, complete, and perfect in every respect, in which the interests and honor of Divine justice are concerned. The justice of God in its relation to us is set forth in what we usually term the moral law, and this law has two fundamental elements: First, obligation to obedience; secondly, penalty for disobedience. The obligation is just–founded in pure justice. The penalty is also just, and emanates from eternal moral justice. We have all transgressed, and have thus subjected ourselves to the administration of the penalty; and the same immutable law that prescribed the penalty must inflict it. The only way in which we, personal sinners, can satisfy the demands of penal justice, is to suffer the penalty in our own persons. If there was any way in which we could satisfy the claims of justice without suffering the penalty we might escape; but there is none. It follows therefore that we can not make atonement for our sins. We never can make a finished satisfaction, so as to found a righteous claim to a discharge from the penalty. I might enlarge upon this whole topic and show it out more fully, and, perhaps, I ought to do it; but I will pass on to what I have now more immediately before me.
In making atonement there are certain conditions which must be complied with; as,
1. The satisfaction must be made to the injured party.
2. It must be made by, or in behalf of, the offending party.
If it is not, it can not avail to his benefit.
3. If made by a substitute, such substitute must be every way competent to the work.
Otherwise the undertaking must fail.
4. The atonement must be perfect and complete.
Or it can not answer the ends for which an atonement was necessary.
In relation to the above conditions, we will examine the atonement of Christ.
These propositions are so plain and so evident, that it would seem superfluous to spend time or labor in proving or illustrating them; and yet I believe that every one of them has been expressly or virtually denied. But I can not take special notice of every artful evasion and critical perversion of gospel truth. I do not wish to become intensely controversial; but if a man will maintain the truth of Holy Scripture, it is not possible to avoid polemics.
1. Atonement must be made to the injured party. Is it not intuitively evident that when a reparation is made for injury, that it must be made to the party injured? None other had a right to require it, and none other had a right to accept it. If the sin for which atonement is made is sin against God, is it not manifest that the satisfaction, or atonement, must be made to Him? Candor can not be blind to this.
The honor of the Divine government must be maintained untarnished. This is a point insisted on largely by most writers on atonement, and it can not be defended too earnestly, nor be too thoroughly examined. But the honor of the Divine government can not be conserved without equity of the government is maintained. The honor of God’s government rests fundamentally upon this principle. The honor of the Divine government requires imperatively that the righteousness of law–which is the medium or instrument of administration–should stand impeachable. We may say that the honor of the Divine government belongs rather to the order of policy, and in this respect might be optional; but the equity of God’s government is a necessity–a natural and Divine necessity–and can not be optional. For Him to create rational and intelligent creatures was an act of His sovereign will; He was perfectly at liberty to create us or not create us, according to the good pleasure of His own will; but to govern us and deal with us as His subjects, in a way of strict righteousness, is not an act merely of discretionary will, though of course His will is in it, but by the necessity of His essential nature. He must govern us according to the principles of immutable and eternal justice; for it is evident beyond controversy, that if He is just in Himself, He must be just in His government.
Inflexibility is essential to justice. To suppose that it could fall short of, or extend beyond its legitimate bounds, destroys the very idea of justice; and that justice which relates to us and to our sins, is God’s justice, and is as unchangeable as He is Himself, for it is an attribute of His essential nature. Hence an atonement made for our sins must be made to Him; He must be the object of atonement.
Every man who acknowledges the Divine authority of the Holy Scriptures, feels that He does not stand in that friendly relation to God that he would desire to do; he is sensible that all is not right between him and his Maker; he is conscious that he has sinned against his rightful Sovereign, and that his God has good reason and just cause to be displeased with him. Now, if anything is done by way of making atonement, or satisfaction, for his sins, so as to adjust the difference and remove the difficulty, whatever it may be–say the death of Christ–if he does not believe that God Himself is satisfied with it, that He approves and accepts this atonement as full satisfaction on His part, it will bring no relief; he will still be exercised with those uneasy apprehensions that God still holds his sins in remembrance. But if, on the other hand, he feels a perfect assurance that this atonement makes full satisfaction to God–that He is not only content, but well pleased with it–then the sinner finds a resting-place; he feels that he has secured ground to stand upon. But these things could not be so if the atonement was not made to God. This is the ground upon which every true believer in Christ rests upon. He is conscious that God has a just demand against him, and that Christ has died for the express purpose of satisfying that demand. If that voice, that glorious announcement, twice delivered from heaven, has no reference to atonement, it is among the least of all the revelations that God has ever made to us; but if it may be supposed to have any reference to the atonement, it is demonstrative proof that the atonement was made to Him.
It is right, however, that we should notice the present topic more immediately in the light of the moral law; and this law naturally presents itself to us in two points of view: the holiness of the law, and the justice of the law. Our obligation to a perfect obedience is founded in the holiness of the law; but the penalty for transgressions is the expression of the justice of the law; and we must not forget that the authority of the Lawgiver is in both. It is the authority of the Sovereign God that requires the obedience, and the same Divine authority declares and enforces the penalty.
The subject of the atonement, in that point of view in which we are now considering it, does not require us to say much with regard to the holiness of the law, because it makes but the one demand upon us–that is, absolute perfect holiness; and this it makes on every individual personal subject of the law. It does not ask, and can not accept, of any commutation, satisfaction, or mitigation. The requirement–the only requirement–is personal holiness; and the obligation to render this is perpetual and unchangeable, and can not be relaxed. And, as no atonement can satisfy this demand, it can admit no substitution that will release us from obligation to be holy.
But the case is different with respect to the claims of justice. The justice of the law requires satisfaction for the injury–that is, atonement. Crime deserves punishment; and if crime is committed and passes unpunished, this is injustice. The justice of the law demands that transgression–that is, sin–shall be punished. If sin is committed against the Divine law, and the just penalty of the law is not inflicted, it is clear that there is injustice somewhere. If the requirement of obedience to the law is a just requirement, and if the penalty annexed by the law for transgression is a just penalty, then the administration of the law is not just except the penalty is inflicted. It is God himself that is the Lawgiver; He, and He only, enjoins the obedience; He only declares the penalty for disobedience; He only is the administrator of the law, and the equity of the administration is the manifestation of the justice of the Lawgiver. It therefore follows as a plain consequence, that if any atonement is made for our disobedience, it must be made to Him, that it may satisfy the demands of His justice and vindicate the equity of his administration. Our sins are sins against God, and the satisfaction must be made to Him. Hence it is said that Christ, in making atonement, “offered Himself without spot to God.” Indeed, the point is made so plain by the general teachings of the Scriptures and the very nature of the case, that, without any great impropriety, I might have dispensed with any remarks on this topic, and proceeded with the general subject just as though the doctrine had never been denied or doubted; but, on account of its connection with other topics belonging to the subject, I thought I might not be quite justifiable in passing loosely over it without more special notice; and, in the further discussion of the subject, a frequent recurrence to this point will be unavoidable.
2. The atonement must be made by, or in behalf of, the offending party.
If atonement is made by the offender himself, then there is no need that another person should interpose in his behalf; and if the sinner could make the requisite satisfaction for his sins, it would supersede the necessity of any intervention on the part of Christ. But as those whom I desire to edify are looking for edification in that atonement which is made by the death of the Lord Jesus, I will not detain the reader by treating on atonement as made by the offending party. All that I should think necessary to be said would only be preparatory to atonement by substitution.
If the law is transgressed, the penalty, as a matter of course, must ensue, and the condemnation must fall on the transgressor. If one man injures another, he is under obligation to make reparation. This is a plain principle in equity. And upon this principle, if a man does violence to the law of God, he is under obligation to make satisfaction for the violation committed. This obligation he is bound to fulfill according to the tenor and spirit of the law.
As the reward of a perfect obedience to the Divine law is life, so the penalty for disobedience is death. That death which is the penalty of the law is something more than the mere death of the body, as the Scriptures clearly prove. But how much is included in the penal death, or necessarily results from it, is not easily comprehended, and I shall not in this place attempt to specify its nature or define its extent. It is sufficient for our present inquiry to say that every sinner is under obligation, which he can not avoid, to suffer its infliction, as that is due from him to the authority of a violated law. Suppose, then, that this death is inflicted upon a personal transgressor: he has no power to restore himself again to life, and consequently he must remain forever in a state of death; for he is a sinner still, and his sin still remains upon himself. The law has no power to deliver him from death; and he has no power to deliver himself, and so must continue forever the subject of a violated law. Moreover, he still possesses all the powers of his moral and intellectual constitution, with all their functions, activities, and capabilities, and is therefore still under obligation to render a prefect obedience that the law requires. But his moral nature is depraved. He is alienated from his God, and averse to the holiness of the law, so that he continues to be the enemy of God, and remains an actual sinner. In this condition it is morally impossible that he can ever render that perfect obedience to the holy requirement of the law which is due to it. And the penalty of the law still lying upon him, it is impossible that he can ever remove that penalty. He may endure the penalty by abiding still in a state of death. But what the sinner needs, is that the penalty should be removed from him, that he may not suffer it. Bound under the iron fetters of inflexible justice, he can not do any thing, less or more, towards making satisfaction to the injured authority of the law. But nothing short of a full and complete satisfaction–a finished satisfaction for his sin–can ever constitute an atonement.
Hence we must look to a substitute for atonement–to one who will make the required satisfaction for us, in our room, in our behalf–to one who will assume our liabilities, and take our place under the law, and endure the penalty in our stead. This is what is called vicarious suffering. The substitute must suffer that death which we would have to suffer, if the substitute were not to suffer it for us.
The doctrine of substitution has been carried by some beyond its legitimate bounds. At least, so far as it is an essential element in the atonement of Christ, they have assigned to it a place where it can have no real application. Perhaps we may notice this hereafter. Others have denied the whole doctrine of atonement; but these require no notice, further than what the general discussion will supply. There are others, again, who profess to hold the doctrine of substitution, but explain it in such a way as virtually excludes it from the work of atonement.
The fact that the atonement made by the death of Christ was made for and in behalf of sinners, is so explicitly testified in the Scriptures as to foreclose all reasoning to the contrary. We will select a few texts in proof: “Christ died for us.” For–that is, in the place of. “Christ hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust.” This is too plain to need comment. “I lay down my life for the sheep.” “Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree.” We might add to these a great many others, but I shall take it for granted that these are sufficient.
Of the Justice of Vicarious Sufferings.
The question, How can it be just for the innocent to suffer for the guilty? is an inquiry which will naturally arise in the mind of many who are seeking to attain to clear views of the doctrine of atonement; and this is the place, in the order of discussion, for its consideration. As I do not pretend to be able to give my reader a satisfactory solution of this problem, I would prefer to pass it, for the present, without comment, and treat it in a separate article at the close; but as I can not make a reasonable excuse for such a detachment, I will proceed now to give my reader the result of some of my reflections on this profound ethical question. I must invoke the reader’s patience, as I may dwell on this topic a little longer than he would expect. I shall endeavor to be as brief and concise as the nature of the inquiry will permit; but if I were preparing a separate work on atonement, I should probably treat this question considerably more at length than I design to do here. And I suppose it may be possible that some of my thoughts may not have occurred to the mind of every reader; and it would give me pleasure to cast one ray of light on this subject into the mind of the reader, as I rejoice in every accession that any Christian can make to his knowledge of Christ. I do not claim the ability to solve the question, or to explain the mystery, but I will simply present some of my own thoughts on the subject, leaving their confirmation, or their refutation, to such as are farther advanced in the knowledge of this branch of gospel doctrine than I am.
But before I enter directly upon the main question, I wish to impress a few things on the mind of the reader, because they are impressed on my own mind.
1. If there is mystery which we can not understand in a doctrine, or if we can not see its consistency with another doctrine known to be true, we are not, therefore, at liberty to reject it, because all the difficulty may be referred to our own limited powers of comprehension.
2. In reasoning upon any one perfection of the Divine nature, we are not to make ourselves absolutely certain that our deductions are necessarily correct. In order to do this, it would be necessary to understand all that is contained in that perfection, which, with us, is impossible. And more than this: All the perfections of the Godhead are mutually and intimately related to each other, and hence it might possibly be necessary that we should understand all these relations before we would be justifiable in pronouncing our conclusion indubitably correct, except where we have sufficient evidence from other sources to sustain them.
3. If we find a doctrine plainly taught in the Scriptures which appears to us to be inconsistent with any one of the Divine attributes, we must yield to the Scriptures, and not be guided by our deductions from abstract truth, which may be, and frequently are, fallacious. The testimony of God’s word must, in all cases, be accepted as paramount and decisive
4. The union of the Divine and human natures in the person of Jesus Christ is such an inconceivable mystery to us that we are not competent to affirm or deny respecting the moral nature and the moral relations of a constitution which so far exceed all our powers of comprehension, and especially one to which in its most vital point there is no analogy.
5. The essential characteristics of eternal justice, so far as justice governs the relations of men, both to God and to each other, are sufficiently made known to us as the subjects of administrative justice; but there may be a great deal included in Divine justice which it is not possible or needful for us, in our present condition, to understand; and in the great transaction now under consideration, the Son of God is not constitutionally a subject of administrative justice. He assumed this state of subjection, and He is the only being in existence who could be injuriously affected by the substitution, whether just or unjust.
6. We, as the subjects of law and administrative justice, are accountable beings to superior authority; but the Son of God is supreme, and accountable to no other authority, for there is none above Him to whom He can be responsible. All the obligation that He can possibly be under, is that obligation which He is under to His own Godhead; and therefore He has a sovereign right to do and submit to all that is according to His own sovereign will. And we may rationally suppose that the principles of justice, in their application to subordinate and accountable creatures, may not be applicable, in every respect to a supreme and independent being.
7. It may be said, that if that is just in the Divine administration which is inconsistent with and even contrary to all our ideas of human justice, how can we arrive at any true knowledge of the Divine character? To this we may reply, that other attributes of the Divine nature are equally inconsistent with our notions of those attributes, and consequently are equally liable to the same objection. For example. Our world is full of misery, distress, and almost every variety and decree of suffering. How can this be consistent with the infinite mercy of God, when it is, and ever has been within the power of God to prevent it? We are therefore, authorized to say, that we may know the true character of God, but we can not know His whole character. True, there is mystery: but if there was no mystery, we could not know the true character of God; for mystery to finite creatures is necessarily inseparable from an infinite nature. We know from the word of God that He is just, and that Christ suffered, without any sin of His own, the just for the unjust. This should be received in implicit faith. And it is not wisdom, but presumption, to inquire into the mysteries of the Godhead further than He has seen good to reveal them. And perhaps it may not be impertinent to remark, that if this mystery in the justice of God had been clearly revealed to our understanding, for aught that we know it might have disclosed another mystery beyond that equally as much above our comprehension, and perhaps still more repugnant to our pride. “Be still, and know that I am God.”
Can it be just that the innocent should suffer that the guilty may escape? This is in substance the form in which the question meets us; and the answer is supposed to be intuitive–that it is not just; hence it is presented as a formidable objection to the atonement made by the vicarious death of Christ. But this form of stating the question is not fair; it embraces two distinct questions. I must therefore protest against this complication. In discussing a subject–such a one as the subject now in hand–the prime point of inquiry ought to be disencumbered of every thing that does not essentially belong to it. That the question in the above form contains two distinct questions, is evident: 1. Can it be just that the innocent should suffer? 2. Can it be just that the guilty should go unpunished ? If we would attempt a logical investigation of our subject, these questions should be treated separately, and should by no means be blended into one. If it should be admitted that it may be just that the innocent should suffer under the administration of law, the whole question is disposed of at once. For what purpose the sufferings are inflicted, or on whose account they are endured, or what particular benefit may thereby accrue to others, have nothing to do with the justice or the injustice of the principle; and though it may be a moment’s digression, I must remark that I never hear any complaint of injustice because the guilty is allowed to escape the just punishment due to his sin. And yet the integrity and the honor of Divine justice is as much involved in the one transaction as in the other. There is as much difficulty and as much mystery in the one question as in the other, and we are as much bound to answer the one as the other. The objector, by imputing injustice to substitutional suffering, necessarily incurs the burden of defending the remission of penalty from the imputation of injustice; and in this he never can succeed while he adheres to his objection. By answering the latter question, the objector will furnish the materials of an answer to the former; and if they were required to withhold their objection till they had complied with their own obligation, it is probable we should never hear of such schemes of atonement as some that have been ushered into the world. They may appeal to the mercy of God; but let it be remembered that there is no mercy in the treasures of Divine grace that can be exercised at the expense of Divine justice. Such an appeal would have no relevancy, and would leave the question of justice untouched.
I will now repeat, that in considering the question of the injustice of substitutional suffering, the fact that the guilty are exempted does not affect the merits of the question. If our object is to arrive at the truth as nearly as we can, we must bring the subject of inquiry as nearly as possible to a single point; and the question will be, Can it be just that the innocent should suffer under the administration of law? The question reduced to this simple form might seem to divest the object of inquiry of any complications that would embarrass our investigation, but in reality it does not. That specific object which we now have in view subjects the question to still further limitations, unless we will consent to hamper ourselves forever with entanglements that have no necessary connection with the precise object of inquiry.
The question, so far as we have any concern with it, is properly a theological question, and the solution does not strictly belong to the principles of mere ethical science. It is therefore our privilege to leave the realm of metaphysics, and discuss the doctrine exclusively in the light of theology. We should have nothing to do with it in any other point of view than as it relates to the vicarious death of the Son of God. This death is an isolated event in the Divine administration. The whole history of the Divine government, so far as men can have any knowledge of it, furnishes no similar event. The case is absolutely unique; and if we will contemplate with any reasonable attention the elements of this transaction we shall not fail to see that it is not possible that there should be any analogy. We therefore do injustice to the subject if we consent to canvass it in any other way than as it respects that one event. We must take this one isolated fact as it is, and confine our discussion of the question to the bearing it has on that one specific case. There is no need to deal in abstractions.
If the question is propounded, whether a law in a human government requiring the infliction of a prescribed penalty for crime on an innocent subject instead of the one that was guilty, I should have no objection to an answer in the negative; for even if the suffering substitute endured the penalty voluntarily, I should think a just law would not admit of such substitution, nor allow the penalty to be inflicted. But there would be no analogy between such a case and the vicarious sufferings of Christ; for, in the first place, the substitute, though voluntary, has no right to dispose of himself in that way. He would do an act which would be wrong in its own nature. He would virtually take the administration of the law in his own hands, which he has no right to do. God has invested no man with a right to sacrifice his own life in order to save the life of a criminal; the act would be suicide. Again: If the substitute dies, he can do no more for himself, or for his government, or for any one else. He can not rise from the dead. All that he accomplishes by his death is the release of a guilty criminal from merited condemnation. And again: Men are equals, and all stand in the same relation to the law; neither the substitute nor the criminal stand in any other or higher relation to the law than that of subjects. But in the matter of the substitutional death of Christ, the conditions are very different. The want of parallelism is so great that we can not reason logically from one to the other. And yet some persons seem to take no notice of this want of analogy and use the figure as if the cases were in all respects similar. I can not think they do justice to the subject. All the advantage we can derive from analogy is merely partial and incidental. If we seek for light on the substitutional atonement of Christ, we must examine it on its own merits, and confine ourselves to such principles and conditions as the case itself will supply, adhering to the guidance of Divine revelation. The plausibility of the objection, in a mere ethical point of view, should not intimidate us in the least; because we are not dealing with an abstract principle, but canvassing a specific case brought out in a given fact–a fact involving great and important considerations, which may verify that the abstract principle has no just application to the case.
We should keep in view, also, that individual personal rights are limited by the rights of others, and this is the only limitation. It is the privilege of every man to exercise his rights–those rights with which the Creator has endowed him–to whatever extent he pleases, provided he does not invade the rights of others. If a man performs an act by which the rights of no other being are infringed–if there is injustice in the deed, the injustice must be confined to himself; that is, be only is affected or injured by it. But the Creator has given no man the right to injure himself. Man is God’s property, and if a man murders himself, or is designedly accessory to his own death, or willfully does himself a personal injury, he infringes the paramount rights of the Creator.
It must also be admitted that it is a moral impossibility that God should do any thing that is not in strict accordance with His nature; for as is His nature, so of necessity is His will; and He can not put forth His power only as He wills to do it.
We say that the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was innocent, suffered the penalty of the law as a substitute in the place of sinners. The objector ascribes injustice to this transaction. Now, I must maintain that he is bound to show wherein this injustice consists. It is not pretended that any injustice is done to God as Lawgiver and Judge; neither is there injustice done to those for whom He suffered as a substitute, for they are immensely benefited by it. It is evident that if injustice is done to any person, it must be done to the suffering party; and if there is any force in the objection, or if it has any just application to the case, it must apply to Christ, and to Him only. Then the question before us is simply this:
Was Christ, in dying as a substitute for sinners, the victim of injustice ?
I propose now to submit to the candid reader the result of some of my reflections on this subject, not pretending to give a complete and satisfactory answer to the question, and thus remove it out of the field of controversy. In presenting my thoughts on this subject to your consideration, I must be permitted to direct your attention to the original purpose and to the ultimate end of that economy of which this great transaction was an important and an essential part. I can not do justice to the view which I take of the subject without this; and I think also they shed their light on the whole field of inquiry. If we leave out these considerations, I can not see how we can ever attain to a clear view of the general subject, and especially of the particular topic of the present discussion. For the sake of brevity, I must consent to forego my wishes in two respects: On some of the particular topics I would gladly extend my remarks further than I design to do; and also I would like to refer to certain scriptures, which I think would sustain the views offered to your reflection.
God is what He is by the necessity of His own nature; and being infinitely perfect in His essential nature, whatever He designs or purposes must be perfect, for nothing that is imperfect can originate in or emanate from His infinite perfection. And, as all His purposes originate in Himself, so they all terminate in Him. As He is the first cause, so He is the last end of all that He purposes and of all that He does. If, then, we inquire what is the ultimate end of all that He purposes and performs, the answer is, the manifestation of His own glory; or, (to express the idea in different forms,) it is to make known what He is–to reveal His own nature. This manifestation of Himself, considered in its relation to us, is made that we may know Him, that we may know what He is, that we may know His true character.
God, in His word, has revealed Himself to us as One God, subsisting in three Persons–the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The three are the same, co-essential, co-eternal, co-equal Godhead. In this triune God there is one will, one purpose, one way, and one end in all things, to the glory of the One God. This trinity of persons in the Godhead is an incomprehensible mystery to us, but God has revealed to us the fact that it is so; and He has further revealed to us that, in accomplishing this great end–to wit, the manifestation of His glorious character–He would do all things by and through the Son of God, who is Christ the Lord. “All things were made by Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.” “For by Him were all things created that are in the heavens and in the earth, visible and invisible; whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers; all things were created by Him and for Him, and He is before all things, and by Him all things consist.” The ground that we should take here is, that God has a sovereign and Divine right to make known to His intelligent creatures the excellency and infinite fullness of His nature; also, that He has the same Divine and supreme right to make this manifestation of Himself by and through His co-equal Son, who is one with the Father ; and further, that the Son of God, as one with the Father, possesses in Himself, by virtue of His own supreme Divinity, the same right to make this manifestation according to the sovereign will of the eternal Godhead. Moreover, God had a Divine and eternal right to make this manifestation of Himself in whatever way it might be consistent with His sovereign will. We say further, that there is but one nature, but one will, and but the one purpose in the Godhead. And if the Son of God, as the great Actor in accomplishing the Divine purpose, either on the ground of necessity or propriety, chose to unite His Divine nature with the nature and form of any of His creatures, He had a sovereign and Divine right to do so; for He has a right to enter into whatever relations to His creatures He pleases; and He creates all things, and upholds all things, and works all things according to the counsel of His own will. All things, therefore, must be subordinated to Him and under His sovereign control, or He would not be in a condition to fulfill the great office of a perfect Revealer of the Divine perfection. And all that is comprehended and intervenes between the original purpose and the final consummation of the great design, must be subjected to Him, in order to enable Him to make that manifestation of the Divine character which is the ultimate end in view. Hence all that He has made in creation, and all that He does in His providence, or in the operations of nature, are only a system of means by which He is to make known to intelligent creatures the infinite perfection of the Godhead; and He has a sovereign right to employ them for that end, according to His own good pleasure.
And as He, the Supreme, had in Himself an inherent and sovereign right to dispose of and use all those means which He had created and ordained for that designated purpose, according to His will, in the prosecution of the appointed end, so He had a right to dispose of Himself in any way that might be necessary in subserviency to this determinate end. And being Himself the Supreme, He could be under obligation to no being but Himself; and this obligation to Himself–or to the Godhead, which is the same–in relation to this ultimate end, bound Him (so to speak) to manifest the all-fullness of the incomprehensible and invisible God to His intelligent creatures; and in order that the all-fullness of the Divine nature might be seen in Him, it was necessary that all the fullness of the Godhead should dwell in Him personally. I suppose the representations here made will not be contested; and if, in the exercise of those rights and perfections, the rights of no other being are infringed, and He does no injustice to Himself, it seems to me that the impeachment of injustice must fall to the ground. We will therefore proceed to inquire further.
The Son of God, in whom resided all the fullness of the Godhead, manifested the glory of His power when He created or brought into existence the original matter of this earth and of the whole universal material creation. In this work there was a most conspicuous and demonstrative exhibition of Divine power. When He proceeded further to organize and diversify this material substance into its present forms, varieties, adaptations, and uses, and thus prepare it to be the habitation of His intelligent creatures of the human race, we see a wonderful manifestation, not only of His power, but also of His wisdom and His goodness. Again, when He declared His holy law, which be had ordained for the observance and for the good of His intelligent creatures, He then manifested the holy nature of the Divine Lawgiver; and by annexing a righteous penalty for transgression, and promising life on condition of a perfect obedience, He made known to us that He is a God of perfect justice.
We are authorized by the Holy Scriptures to believe that a part of His intelligent creatures of the angelic order did actually violate His law, and thus subject themselves to its dreadful penalty, and in consequence are doomed to irrecoverable ruin, and must suffer under the administration of punitive justice without redemption, in order that the Divine justice may be manifested to the glory of God. Thus we see that the Son of God is making greater and greater manifestations of the glory of the Divine character.
In the case of the apostate angels we see an exhibition of that inflexible justice that knows no mercy, and can not relax, or mitigate, or dispense with the least tittle of its demands; for if it could it would not be perfect justice. The honor of Divine justice must be maintained if its vindication should involve the whole creation in ruins. And when we consider the superior excellency of this high order of intelligent creatures, and that no merciful provision is made for their deliverance from the unrelenting hand of offended justice, nor any alleviation of their desperate and wretched condition, we may assure ourselves that if creatures of an inferior order should follow their example of disobedience, that Divine justice will require a satisfactory vindication equally ample, and every way commensurate with its injured honor.
We will now suppose (which is a solemn fact) that the human race should cast off their original character of holiness–should refuse obedience to God–transgress His holy law, and, of course, incur the penalty, which is death. We have just now had an example of the imperative requirements of Divine justice in the case of the rebellious angels; and justice is the same, whether it respects angels or men. Thus guilty man falls into the hands of violated justice, which can not be defied and trampled upon with impunity; for if it might, the Son of God, whose office it is to administer the Divine government, would fail to manifest the glory of His justice. And, unless the honor of justice is vindicated, man must forever abide under the wrath of God, that the rights of justice may be maintained.
But let us now lay down another supposition–one which is equally true with the former. Suppose, then, that it is a part of the great purpose of God, in making known the glory of His Name, that He will make a new and additional display of all the perfections of His Divine nature beyond any thing that has ever preceded it; and in doing this, that He will show that His wisdom is sufficient to make a way whereby the rights of justice shall remain inviolate, while He will extend redeeming mercy to the transgressors of His law. This work belongs to the Son of God, not only by appointment, but of necessity; for it is by Him that all the purposes of God are executed. And I must be allowed to believe that there was no other being in existence, created or uncreated, that was competent to the work; none other who possessed those inherent constitutional qualifications which were essential to the great achievement. He, being a Divine person, is independent of all other beings. He has a sovereign right to do His own will. He is accountable to none. He is under no obligation to any other being than Himself. He possesses a Divine right to dispose of and use all things that He has created according to His own good pleasure–subject only to that obligation which He owes to Himself to maintain inviolate all His perfections. He, therefore, had an independent and Divine right to assume human nature, and thus unite the Divine and human natures in His one person. This right I suppose no one will question; and in the exercise of this right He did make Himself one with man, born of a woman, and made under the law, that He might redeem them that were under the law. Let us spend a moment in considering the import of this text. He was not made one with man in such a sense as to be a partaker of the sinfulness of man’s fallen nature; but in such a way as that, by uniting both natures in His one person, He was God and was man. But His Divinity was not made humanity, nor His humanity made Divinity; but both natures, in all their fullness, and in all their respective perfections, were united in His one person. The object in view was that He might redeem them that were under the law. To do this it was necessary that He should Himself be made under the law; and that He might be made under the law it was necessary that He should be made (born) of a woman; and thus deriving His human nature immediately from a descendant of Adam, He partook of the original constituted nature of man. And it should not be entirely overlooked that this uniting of the two natures is, in various places, ascribed to Christ himself, as being His own work. All this He had a supreme right to do; and in doing it He did not in the least impair any of His own rights, or trespass on the rights of any other being. It is, therefore, not possible that there could be any injustice in these transactions. But, to save the time, I forbear to show how both God and man are abundantly glorified in it.
The language employed in this text by the Holy Spirit–He was “made under the law”–clearly implies that previously He was not under the law in the same sense that He was made under it. The object to be accomplished was a declarative manifestation that the glory of God’s grace could be revealed in the redemption of the guilty, while the honor of His justice should sustain no disparagement. As we have said before, the Son of God was under obligation to Himself–to the Godhead–to manifest, or make known, the glorious perfections of the Divine nature. And, as part of this work was to demonstrate that God is “a just God and a Savior”–a Savior of sinners–He was under the same obligation to do and to suffer all that was required to fulfill this condition. The Captain of our salvation must be made perfect through sufferings, and the Scripture gives reasons for this; consequently He must be made in the likeness of sinful flesh. This condescension appears to have been an indispensable condition; and the point of inquiry is, Did the Divine nature suffer any injustice in this part of His work? I shall not make it a question now whether the Divinity of the Son of God endured any pain in making atonement; but for the present I will take it for granted that it did not; and leaving that question to be decided as it may, I will only remark here that if any can bring proof that the Divinity of Christ suffered, I think I can bring equally as good proof that there was no injustice in His suffering. And this is all that the present inquiry demands. The only respect in which injustice can be chargeable on the ground of His condescension, is that it seems to require that the infinitely glorious Majesty of heaven and earth should be obliged to stoop from His high pre-eminence to the low degree of uniting Himself with human nature that He might suffer death. If there is any injustice in this arrangement, it respects His Divine dignity only. But we are very incompetent judges of what the Divine dignity requires; and that which is glory in God’s esteem men would account shame; and, in fact, the humiliation of Christ was an illustrious manifestation of Divine grace: “That He might show in the ages to come the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” In His humiliation He made a more glorious demonstration of the excellency of His gracious character than could have been possible if He had never “made Himself of no reputation, and taken upon Him the form of a servant, and become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” And all this He did Himself. He voluntarily took the burden on Himself. He willingly bore it Himself, and He receives the reward in that He has glorified Himself. And now, who can point out the injustice that is done to the Son of God?
We must now inquire whether there was any injustice done to the humanity of the Son of God by His enduring the sufferings necessary to make atonement for sin. Perhaps the whole question hinges upon this point; but it must be remembered that I have not promised to solve this mystery. All I profess to do is to submit some of my own thoughts on the subject to your reflection. If I could show that the claims of Divine justice against the sinner were fully canceled by the atonement, and that no injustice was suffered by Him who made it, this would vindicate the transaction from the imputation of injustice. The first of these positions, I suppose, will be admitted; for if the claims of justice in this respect are not satisfied, there is no atonement–whatever else was done, there is no atonement.
I submit that the penalty of the law is death; and that the death of Jesus Christ, as a surety and substitute for sinners, is a full and sufficient satisfaction to the penal demands of the law. But could the human nature of the Lord Jesus receive the inflicted penalty without being the victim of injustice? I shall freely confess, that if the suffering was inflicted against the will of the suffering party, I can not see the justice of such a transfer of the penalty. And perhaps it would not be safe to affirm that the mere consent of the substitute, irrespective of other considerations, would make it just. On the other hand, it might be going too far to affirm, that with the free consent of the substitute, there would be any injustice done to him. And I doubt whether any man can show that the willingness and voluntary assumption of the suffering party, wholly free from any external force or influence, does not effectually repel the imputation of injustice. But in my present attempt I have no need to avail myself of any advantage that I might derive from this argument.
As there is a great difference between the guilty and the innocent, in respect to character and condition, so we think there must be a difference in the application of the principles of administrative justice in the two cases–a difference arising from, and corresponding with, the difference of character and condition. The execution of the penalty of the law on the guilty transgressor is punishment for crime; but on the innocent substitute, though it is suffering, it is not strictly punishment. So it is correct to say, that the innocent suffered for the guilty; but, in strictness, it is hardly correct to say that the innocent was punished for the guilty; and although the penalty of the law is the same in its application in both cases, yet the principle of administrative justice may, perhaps, be different according to the different relations in which the two cases stand to the demands of strict justice.
If the sinner suffers the penalty of the law in his own person, when the death penalty is inflicted, there is no hope beyond death. He must lie under the terrors and despair of death forever. There is no possibility of regaining life; and there can be no deliverance, because there is no way of deliverance. And, further, he has no reward; he receives no compensation for his sufferings. But this is far–very far from being the case with regard to the infliction of the penalty of the law on the human nature of Jesus Christ. He had the fullest assurance, that if He should pass through the ordeal of death without sin, that He would rise again–rise to an eternal life, over which death could have no power. He laid down His life that He might take it again. So the Psalmist, speaking in the person of Christ: “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, nor suffer Thy Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt show me the path of life.” “I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” “He shall swallow up death in victory.” If He chose, (not merely submitted, or consented, but freely chose,) by suffering death, to exchange a natural and mortal life for a life that is spiritual and immortal, and beyond the power of death, it is not easy to see any inconsistency with the principles of justice in the transaction, inasmuch as He was an immense gainer by it. The sufferings of death, however great, were soon terminated; but the glory and joys of His new life endure forever and ever. Perhaps (and I think it probable) He could realize in his own case what the apostle says of Christians: “These light afflictions, which are but for a moment, work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” I presume that no man can show that his new life is not much more than a full compensation for undergoing death. But this is not all that I have to say on this principle.
As it was the office and great prerogative of the Son of God, as such, to manifest the supreme excellency and infinite perfection of the Divine nature, so the fulfillment and consummation of this purpose was the great object that He had in view in every thing that He did; and with a view to the accomplishment of this great end, He created all things as a means to be employed by Him in the execution of this grand design. And He so constituted them that they should be adapted to this purpose; and especially man was created for this end, and constitutionally endowed with a capacity and fitness for the purpose, according to the peculiar place which he was to fill in the great plan of manifestation. For this purpose man was created in the image of God; he was endowed with all the moral perfections of his Creator, so far as it was possible for human nature to be. And now we will look at him in this character of moral perfection; and as we suppose the human nature of Jesus Christ was in all respects the very same as that of Adam in his original creation, and therefore might, with the utmost propriety, be called the “second Adam,” we will consider the moral perfections of Christ as a man. He was holy in all His moral nature; we are the subjects of moral depravity and corruption. There is not an attribute of our moral nature that is not debased, contaminated, and averse from God. As we have attempted to show in a preceding part of this work, our moral nature is totally corrupted by sin; but this was not so in respect to the human nature of the Son of God. God’s will was His will. The will of the Divine nature of the Son of God and the will of the human nature were the same. Whatever was pleasing to the Divine nature was pleasing to the human nature; whatever was the delight of the Son of God to do, or submit to, was also the delight of the Man Christ Jesus to do; also, whatever was the unvarying purpose of His Divine will was also the unvarying purpose and intent of His human will. And as it was the determinate purpose of the Son to manifest the glory of the Divine character in every way and by every means possible, so it was the constant aim and purpose and the paramount desire of His human nature to do the same thing. In respect to both His natures He could say, “I delight to do Thy will, O my God.” The will and purposes and the actings of the human nature were in perfect unison with the will and purposes and the doings of the Divine nature; and as the ultimate end of all was that God should be glorified, if the Divine Son, in doing this, in the exercise of His sovereign right as such, without any injustice to Himself or to any other being, chose to become poor, and to humble Himself by assuming human nature, that in that nature He might suffer death, so we may conceive that the human nature, in the exercise of His right, and actuated by the same will and desire with the Divine nature, might voluntarily, and without any injustice to Himself or to any other being, choose to submit to suffering and death, that He might thereby glorify God, and thus answer the great end for which human nature was originally created; for man, as such, has rights peculiar to his nature and relations, which it is his privilege to exercise according to his own good pleasure; and with those rights none have a right to interfere but his Creator, who invested him with those rights; and if they are exercised in obedience to the will of God, there can be no interference. No man has a right to deprive another of his life, provided he has not forfeited his life according to the law of God. And we admit that God has not given to man a right to divest himself of life; but God has a sovereign right to take from every man that life which He gave him. I do not say that He has a right to make His innocent and obedient creatures miserable, for He can not do injustice to any of His creatures; but as He gave life to every living thing, He has a right (if it were His will) to take it away from the living. Yet it is the prerogative of God to invest any of His innocent creatures–any innocent man–with a right to surrender his life in any way, in obedience to the known will of God. He may confer this additional right upon whom He pleases; and this right He did confer upon Jesus Christ, who was the Son of man and the Son of God. “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power (authority) to lay it down, and I have power (authority) to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.” Independently of inductive reasoning, this passage appears to establish the position that the Father did confer upon Jesus this special and peculiar right to dispose of His life for a special purpose, and gave Him assurance that He should not remain under the power of death. Now, as He possessed in Himself, and by divine authority, a right to receive that infliction of the penalty which was due to sinners, and no one else could be injuriously afflicted by it, I am not able to see how a charge of injustice can be imputed to the transaction. But when we proceed to take into view the objects and results of the atonement thus made, in relation to Himself, all appearance of injustice, in a practical point of view, seems to disappear. For with Him, (I speak of Him as a man,) His great object, purpose, and desire, in His life and death, was the glory of God–that God might be glorified in extending mercy to sinners, while His justice should remain unimpeachable. This paramount desire he realized, and will forever rejoice, with a joy inconceivable by us, that, in suffering the penalty of the law for sinners, He was the means of advancing the declarative glory of God far beyond any other exhibition of His glorious character that had ever before been made. If He, with all the willingness and zeal of which His nature was capable, chose to endure temporary suffering and death, (however great the suffering might be for the time,) that He might be instrumental in achieving the most glorious object that even God Himself has in view, who will attach the character of injustice to that economy under which He suffered? And, as a part of His reward, He became capacitated for a measure of enjoyment incomparably greater than He otherwise would have been capable of; and He is now, and ever will be, filled with a joy which no mortal man could sustain. Our mortal constitution would be overborne by the burden. The consciousness that He has the full approbation of His God–that God is well pleased with the sacrifice He made and the service He rendered–will inspire His soul with a holy ecstasy exceeding in measure any thing experienced by the highest order of angelic creatures. Thus He, “for the joy set before Him, endured the cross.” What a measureless compensation!
Again: When He shall have finished His work on earth, and the whole general assembly and church of the First-born, in a glorified state, shall be gathered into the heavenly sanctuary above, He may look around and survey the innumerable millions of glorified saints, all rapt in the fullness of heavenly ecstasy, and brought thither through the suffering He endured, and as the fruits of His death. “The grain can not bring forth fruit except it die:” and Jesus died and rose again, and now beholds the immeasurable fruits of His humiliation. Who shall attempt to estimate the boundless joy which the contemplation of the scene around Him will inspire? A great “multitude which no man can number,” of the sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty, all brought into this high relation and exalted to this glorious eminence through His obedience unto death. These are a part of “the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.” They are a part of His reward, for they are the purchase of His blood.
There is yet one more consideration to which I must direct the reader’s attentions–a consideration infinitely worthy of our highest thoughts, and which ought to inspire every soul with ineffable joy. It is that boundless glory which is conferred upon our suffering Substitute, as a part of the reward due to His humiliation and death. On this topic we can not enlarge. The subject is, in itself, so high above all the powers of human conception, that our best thoughts shrink into insignificance. He is clothed with “all power in heaven and earth.” All his enemies are subdued under His feet. He is made the “Head over all things,” and “crowned with glory and honor”–“angels, and authorities, and powers, being made subject to Him.” How clear, how explicit, is the following testimony: “And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross; wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” This needs no comment. None but an inspired pen can express the infinite height of glory to which He who died on the cross is exalted; and thus exalted because He “became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” All the angels of God are required to worship Him; and their obedience is both their glory and their joy.
In conventional transactions between men, when both parties fully understand all the interests involved on both sides, if the stipulated consideration is equal in value to the condition required, there is no fraud–there is no injustice. And taking into view all that the Scriptures fully warrant us in setting down as the reward of our Redeemer’s sufferings, and who will take upon him to say that the consideration is not equal to the condition? “He shall see of the travail of His soul and shall be satisfied.” If there is any injustice in the whole transaction, we have a right to inquire to what point in the transaction does the injustice attach? It must of necessity relate to the suffering party; it can apply to no other. No other being in existence can receive damage or be injuriously affected by it. He had a sovereign right to do what He did, in its relation to Himself as the suffering party; and in doing what He did, He infringed the right of no other being whatever. He that will object to the vicarious sufferings of Christ on the ground of injustice, should look well to see where he will find materials to support his objections.
The mere abstract question, Is it just that the innocent should suffer for the guilty? is one which we are not obliged to answer. The guilt of the person for whom the innocent suffers, has no concern with the justice or injustice of the suffering. Let us propose another question: Is it just that the innocent should suffer for the innocent? As to the injustice, it would be the same in one case as in the other. But neither can be made to comprehend the vicarious sufferings of Christ. The question in that case would more properly be: Can it be just that an innocent person should suffer under law, provided he receives a plenary compensation for his sufferings? I believe that no man can prove the negative; and if the affirmative be admitted, the question will then necessarily occur, Is it true that our Redeemer is amply rewarded for the sacrifice He made for our redemption? Now, as both the sufferings and the reward are great beyond all our powers of comprehension, we may not be able to give a positive and unqualified answer to this question by any comparison that we can make between the two, yet we think the testimony of God’s word is fully sufficient to authorize an affirmative answer; and unless the objector can prove the negative, he is not entitled to advance the objection.
It is too often represented as if Divine justice, in pursuing the sinner, is made to turn out of its proper course in order to find a substitute, and seizes upon our Surety. This is not so. This is misrepresentation–unintentional, no doubt. Justice pursues its own legitimate course. Infinite mercy can not turn it aside. The immaculate holiness of the Son of God can not turn it aside. Justice (so to speak) was bent upon an equitable vindication of its injured rights and honor–its legitimate course was direct toward the sinner. Christ our Surety took our sins upon Himself, and voluntarily interposed His own person in the way of avenging justice, and rendered in full the required satisfaction; then justice, being satisfied, pursues the sinner no further. There was no such thing as justice being turned out of its due course to fall on our Substitute. But Christ, our Substitute, voluntarily threw Himself under the ministration of wrath. If He suffered injustice, would it be too much to say that He was Himself the author of His own injury? It would appear to accord very well with what is written: “He gave Himself for us.” “I lay down my life for the sheep.” He offered up Himself.
It is a principle of natural law that we may voluntarily and innocently submit to labor, or endure suffering, with an assurance of securing an adequate reward; and though it may not be worthy of being called an argument, I might appeal to a natural sentiment in the mind of man, whether if he could live always here in this world, and be exempted from the pains and troubles incident to humanity, but by voluntarily suffering death, with a certainty of being immediately raised to an eternal life, in a state incomparably and inconceivably better than would be possible in this life–whether he would not judge the latter preferable? Neither would he suppose that he would inflict upon himself any injustice or violate any principle of moral right.
In thus presenting my thoughts on this question, I have not assumed the task of solving the question or explaining the mystery. I hope I have more correct views of my incompetency than to claim the ability to solve a mystery which, I believe, has repelled the approach of all our learned divines. At least, if the subject has been investigated, I am not aware of it; but I have read so few books on atonement that I am not prepared to say what has been written. My own mind having been somewhat perplexed with the question–and supposing it might be the case with others–I resolved to give it the best investigation my time and opportunities would permit. The nature and design of this treatise compelled me to be brief. If I had been preparing a separate treatise on the atonement, I should have written much more in detail than I have done, and should also have referred to a number of scriptures which appear to me to bear directly on the subject. With one more remark I leave these thoughts to the consideration of the reader. If I did not believe that my Savior would Himself receive an ample reward for what He did and suffered for His people, my spirit could not rest. Must we live in the fear that when we shall be with Him, it will be our employment to condole with Him on account of His uncompensated sufferings ?
Of the Value and Sufficiency of Atonement.
We must admit that there is a real distinction between the value of the atonement and its sufficiency. Perhaps these two topics might be treated to greater advantage by considering them separately; but they are so essentially and so intimately connected, that a frequent reference from one to the other may be almost unavoidable. We shall, therefore, discuss them in connection, while we may not lose sight of the real distinction. It is the value of the atonement which makes it acceptable in the sight of God; it is the sufficiency of the atonement which makes it available in behalf of sinners. The intrinsic value of the atonement is derived from the Divine dignity of Him whose death made atonement, and its sufficiency arises from its real value.
The Scriptures represent the infinite worth and inherent efficacy of the atonement as being derived from the fact that it was made by the death of a Divine person–namely, the Son of God: “He gave Himself for us.” “Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it.” “Who (Christ) gave Himself for our sins.” The fact that Christ gave Himself for us as an atonement for our sins, is sufficient of itself to determine the value of the sacrifice. Hence, also, we see the frequent allusions to the relation which Christ sustained to the Father in reference to His atoning death: “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.” “Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd, and against the man that is my Fellow.” “If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” “God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh,” etc. “God sent forth His Son to redeem,” etc. I have no doubt that the real worth and inherent excellency of the Son of God is greater than the whole creation–may I not say, infinitely greater? As the atonement is made to God–as the price of our redemption is paid to Him in vindication of His injured law–I suppose the reader will be willing to leave it with Him to judge of its value, and will take it for granted that, as God has accepted it, there can be in it no deficiency of intrinsic merit.
And although the sufficiency of the atonement may not be a more essential and vital principle than its value, there is more danger of an erroneous estimate being put upon it; for, aside from such as may be more fundamental, a soul oppressed with a load of guilt and conscious of his just desert of Divine wrath–groping in darkness, and, as yet, seeing no way of escape–his mind full of gloomy forebodings and confusion, (and such cases do occur,) Satan may tempt him to doubt whether even the death of Christ is sufficient to answer his desperate necessity. But, again, there is an error of far more frequent occurrence, for it is almost universal–that men want to lend a little help to the death of Christ. They want to do something themselves by way of making satisfaction for past sins; or they will expect to bear some suffering themselves, either in mind or in body, to gain the favor of God. I believe it is no very uncommon thing for persons to expect to suffer in this world in order to avoid suffering in the world to come. These false views arise from putting too low an estimate on the atonement of Christ; and, indeed, the religious errors arising from an inadequate appreciation of the sufficiency of the atonement are too numerous to admit of specification in this place.
To determine the sufficiency of the atonement we must examine it in relation to the object which was to be accomplished by it, in a legal point of view. That object was to satisfy the claims of the Divine law–that is, to make complete satisfaction to Divine justice for our sins. Whatever was necessary to vindicate the integrity and honor of the Divine law, which we had transgressed, was indispensable to the sufficiency of the atonement. Nothing less would be sufficient, nothing more would be necessary, and nothing else would answer the purpose. In theological strictness, such a thing as an insufficient atonement is an impossibility; because, if it does not effectually and perfectly accomplish the object, it is not atonement. Whatever might be done, if it does not effectually and completely vindicate the justice, truth, authority, and honor of the moral law, it is a misnomer to call it atonement. The law imperatively required the infliction of the penalty–the whole penalty. That penalty is death; and death is a final fact, beyond which the law does not go. Death is also indivisible; it can not be so divided as to admit of a partial infliction.
Now, if the offering up of a dove as a sacrifice for sin would perfectly satisfy the demands of the law, such a sacrifice would be a sufficient atonement, and nothing more would be needed. On the other hand, if the sacrifice of the Son of God, and with Him the whole universal creation, visible and invisible, would not make this requisite satisfaction, it would not be sufficient–it would not be atonement in any proper sense of the word.
The sufficiency of the atonement does not depend upon the amount of the Redeemer’s sufferings. It was formerly held by some that Christ suffered in exact proportion to the amount of sin or guilt which was expiated by His atonement. This is plausible, at first sight, but it is certainly an error. This theory would determine the sufficiency of the atonement by the amount of suffering that all those who are saved would have borne, provided no atonement bad been made.
If the atonement consists essentially in suffering–in the pain and agony endured by our Surety–it would be impossible to obtain any definite idea of what it really is–it would be one of the most vague and indefinite conceptions imaginable.
There is, in some respects, a true and proper analogy between commercial law and moral law, and it is allowable and right to employ this analogy in illustrating the doctrine of the atonement. The rule of commercial law is, so much of one commodity for so much of another; and strict commercial justice requires that the two shall be of equal value. We will suppose that A has injured B to the amount of one hundred dollars, and immediately repairs the damage to the full amount of the injury. This would be atonement in a commercial or pecuniary point of view. This would be exact justice, and the wrong would be rectified; and this would be practicable, because the injury and the reparation, being both of the same nature and kind, the precise equivalent is ascertainable, and B would receive all that justice would require.
But let us take another example: Suppose that A is a man universally respected, every way worthy of the high esteem of the whole community, justly deserves and actually enjoys the confidence and love of all his acquaintance; and B, by slander and falsehood, destroys his fair reputation, and brings him into universal contempt, and thus A becomes the object of public detestation and disgrace, and must live under a load of infamy, with all its attendant evils, too numerous to admit of detail: how is reparation to be made for this injury? If B, or any other for him, would give A the wealth of a kingdom, it would not repair the injury while A is still the object of scorn and contempt. No punishment that could be inflicted upon B, even if it should exceed the demerit of his crime, would redress the wrong. In fact, put both together, and all would do nothing at all towards making atonement. What, then, would answer the specific demand ? It is easy to see the imperative requirement. A must be restored to the esteem, love, and confidence which be enjoyed before he was defamed. Let the vindication be in every respect and in full measure equal to the injury. This would meet the claims of justice; this would be atonement; this would be all that A would have a right to require. And though B might still deserve all the punishment due to his crime, yet A would have all his rights; and if he obtains all his rights, it matters not whether they are restored by B, or by another in his behalf. This illustration may assist us in understanding the true nature of the atonement, as well as in ascertaining its sufficiency.
We thus bring the inquiry to a point: That which is necessary and indispensable to atonement, and to the sufficiency of atonement, is, that the claims of the law, which stood against us, should be fully met at every point, and completely canceled. The justice of the law, the authority of the law, and the honor of the law must receive an ample vindication, and this can be done in no other way than by the infliction of the penalty. All this is accomplished by the death of Christ. A plenary and perfect satisfaction has been rendered to the claims of the law by Him. Thus the law has received all its rights, and claims no more. The satisfaction has been made to the law by Him for us. In ourselves, we deserve the merited punishment, just as much as if nothing had been done. The obligation to obedience was fulfilled by our Surety, and the penalty for disobedience has been suffered by Him, and what more does the law require? It does not and can not require more. It has “recovered all.”
I might enlarge my discussion of this topic to a much greater extent; I might adduce a number of arguments too strong to be successfully resisted; I might quote a number of scriptures bearing directly on the point; but as the sufficiency of the atonement of Christ is so generally admitted, I do not think it necessary to detain the reader’s attention on this point. I had prepared the materials, some of which I would willingly present to your notice, but will decline it, because there are a few things having connection with the subject, to which I wish to direct your attention for a few minutes; and there will then remain one more aspect of the atonement which will demand consideration.
We have already said the value and sufficiency of the atonement does not depend upon, or consist in, the amount of the mere sufferings of Him whose death made it; but it can not be denied that both writers and speakers express themselves in language that would seem to imply that doctrine–to leave the impression on the mind that it was the greatness of the sufferings endured by our Savior that removed the curse of the law from us. If the intensity of the Redeemer’s sufferings was that which constituted the value and efficacy of the atonement, then the penalty of the law is suffering–the endurance of pain; and in this view it would be difficult to defend the God of love from the imputation of delighting in the misery of His creatures. He delights in being just, and in doing justice in the administration of His government; and His justice requires that He should inflict the deserved punishment on the wicked; but this is a very different thing from taking pleasure in the miseries even of His sinful subjects, for such pleasure would inevitably imply malignity, which is no part of the Divine character.
Let us say the penalty of the law is death, and Christ suffered the penalty for us. What can be plainer and more simple than this? It is as definite and specific as any commercial transaction can be. But it is not my wish or design to depreciate the sufferings of the cross, or to reduce them within the limits of moderation, or even within the bounds of comprehension; but to guard against ascribing to the mere suffering that which is due to the power and efficacy of His triumphant death; for there is comparatively so much said about His overwhelming sufferings, and comparatively so little of His death, that there is danger of insinuating a false idea at the very point where simple truth is all-important. These sufferings are often made the theme of eloquence, and surely it is the grandest and most sublime subject, beyond comparison, upon which the powers of oratory can be employed. But transcendently great as were our Redeemer’s sufferings–great beyond conception–yet there is one thing that is greater–that is, His death. The death of the Son of God is the greatest event that has ever transpired in God’s universe, of which we have any knowledge. Without this, all the sufferings which the Lord Jesus underwent, or could have endured, never would have made His humiliation complete, or brought His saving hand within reach of lost sinners. This act of submission by the Lord of all, stands in pre-eminent glory above all else within the compass of time and space. If the Son of God had suffered all the pain and agony that it was possible for His Divine and human natures to sustain, without total extinction, from the hour that He was laid in the manger till this present hour, if there had been no death, there would have been no atonement. Any thing called (or miscalled) atonement that does not include the death of Christ, precludes the possibility of His resurrection and glorification, and, by consequence, the resurrection and glorification of all His saints.
All the while that I have been discoursing on this subject, I have proceeded on the ground that Christ suffered the penalty of the law. I am aware, however, that this has been denied. I am in possession of the arguments by which the opposite theory is supported; and I think I could show the inconsistency and fallacy of their reasoning. But I do not design to say much upon this topic, because I think a very little will be sufficient to make it evident that the theory can not be sustained. A late writer on atonement says: “It is not meant by the atonement that Christ endured the literal penalty of the law.” If He did not endure the literal penalty, He did not endure the penalty at all, for there is no other penalty; but we will let that pass. That we have incurred the penalty of the law by our transgressions, and are liable to its infliction, needs no proof to any one that acknowledges the truth of the Scriptures; and Christ has said that not one jot or tittle of the law shall fail. Now, if Christ did not suffer the penalty of the law for his people, and they do not suffer it themselves, what becomes of the penalty? for it is manifest that it is never inflicted; and thus that part of the law which gives it its condemning power fails, or else we are still exposed to its infliction. But the apostle says there is now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus. The same author says that Christ did not suffer the penalty of the law, but something else–something less. In what sense, then, were His sufferings vicarious? If He did not suffer that which we should have suffered, I am not able to see how His sufferings could be properly vicarious.
That the atonement has special respect to the law, is so abundantly taught in the Scripture as to preclude the necessity of particular reference. But if Christ, in making atonement, did not suffer the penalty of the law, we can see no connection between the atonement and the law; for it is precisely in that very point–the penalty–that the connection subsists; and if the penalty of the law may be set aside without being inflicted–merely dispensed with–the obligation may be dispensed with also, for it has lost its power to enforce its authority. Such a transaction is not atonement; it is simply a compromise–a compromise at the sacrifice of the justice of the obligation and the truth of the threatening.
But, aside from these considerations, what is the bearing that this scheme must necessarily have upon other doctrines? In what light does it place the faithfulness of God? He makes a most solemn threat, founded on a verity more stable and permanent than the heavens and the earth, and then disregards it–or, to say the best, He evades it! What now am I to think of His promises? He threatens death through the law, and fails to execute the threatening. He also promises eternal life through Jesus Christ, and may He not as easily recant His promise? I should suppose the truth of the one would be as sacred in His eyes as the truth of the other. What a precarious foundation for the believing sinner to rest upon! He can never attain to the “full assurance of faith.” I might extend this argument further, but I will only say: “We are become dead to the law by the body of Christ.” “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.” He was “made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law.”
The Extent of the Atonement.
I believe that theological writers generally speak of the extent of the atonement in its relation to the number of those for whom the atonement was made.
In bringing this subject under discussion, it will not be impertinent to make a few preparatory observations:
1. I understand by “the atonement,” that satisfaction for sin which Christ, by His death, rendered to the Divine law on behalf of sinners. It is in this sense that I shall use the term, believing it to be the only proper theological meaning,
2. Any theory of atonement that does not actually and effectually secure all that for which an atonement was necessary, is essentially defective and erroneous. It must perfectly accomplish the design and all the legitimate results which it contemplates, both in its relations to God and also to men.
3. On this subject we can know nothing except what God has revealed in His word. All reasonings, except legitimate inferences from the inspired word, are worthless; all speculations and arguments drawn from the analogies of nature on the extent of the atonement are inadmissible.
4. The atonement is, in itself–in its nature, in its intrinsic merit–sufficient for the redemption of the whole family of mankind. Considered irrespective of any design in its application, it is sufficient for all the human family. If, as we have stated in our second observation, the atonement does completely fill and satisfy all its relations to God, it must be sufficient for all; for, in its relations to God, if it is not sufficient for all, it is not sufficient for one.
To the principles laid down in these observations, we shall probably have occasion to recur as we proceed.
Viewing the atonement in the light above presented, we will attempt a brief discussion of the extent of the vicarious death of Christ, in its subjective and personal relations.
It is not my intention to review every theory of atonement which has been proposed to the ignorance and credulity of the religious world; for of some of them I suppose I know nothing, and of some that have fallen incidentally under my notice I am unacquainted with the arguments by which they profess to establish or defend their systems. But I know that they do not build upon Scripture evidence, because their schemes are so utterly remote from any thing taught in the word of God that I should have to go too far out of my line to take any notice of them; and my readers will be none the worse off by remaining ignorant of them.
There are four different theories of atonement which we shall attempt to examine, and the greater part of what we shall say on the extent of the atonement will be included in the discussion of these different schemes.
1. It has been held that the death of Christ was, so much suffering for so much sin; and hence that the atonement was not only intended for the elect only, but that it was not sufficient for any more. This has been called the commercial view of atonement.
2. Another theory is, that atonement was not made for persons at all–that it was simply made for sin, irrespective of the persons who were to be made partakers of the benefit. This has been styled indefinite atonement.
3. Others maintain that the atonement is strictly personal, and that it was made for all persons–for every person, and for every one alike–and in the same respects. Not only that it is sufficient in itself for the whole race of mankind, but that it was designed for all, and for one as much as for another–for those that are lost as much as for those that are saved. This view is properly denominated a universal atonement.
[Note.–I have here stated this view of the atonement as correctly as I know how, according to my understanding of their views.]
4. Again, there are some who hold that the atonement is strictly personal; and was made specially, as atonement, for those only who will be ultimately saved, but that in its nature and inherent merit it is sufficient for the redemption of the whole world. This is called particular or special atonement.
Of these several schemes of atonement we shall discourse in the above order, and we shall endeavor, as far as we are able, to do impartial justice to each–that is, so far as I shall extend the discussion. It would be as lawful for me as for any other man to present all the arguments and scriptures at my command, on one side of the question, and leave entirely out of view such as might be alleged on the other side. But I am not sure that the Judge would approve such an ex parte examination.
l.The theory first laid down, which has been called the commercial view of atonement, was the subject of much controversy some years ago, but as I do not think it has many advocates in the present age, I shall not dwell upon it at great length. It is the most restricted scheme of any that has ever been adopted. There is something in it which appears plausible at the first sight; but it is liable to some objections, which its adherents have not been able to remove. It is objected by those who oppose it, that it is inconsistent with the universal call of the gospel. Sinners are universally invited to the blessings of the gospel, on the ground that Christ has died for sinners. If therefore, the atonement is sufficient for the elect only, and the merit and efficacy of the death of Christ are not sufficient for any more, the non-elect are invited to that which, in point of fact, has no existence. I do not see how this objection can be obviated; for if sinners are saved only through the atonement of Christ, and can not be saved in any other way, it is not even within the power of God to save any except those who will be saved. Indeed, I think we may safely extend this principle still further, even to the whole length of saying that it was not within the power of God to make any provision for the redemption of the non-elect; for I am fully persuaded that all has been done that could be done–that is, by way of atonement. God has given His well-beloved Son to become incarnate, and to die for the redemption of sinners, and what more could He give? If He had also given the whole creation in addition, it could not have added any thing to the worth and power of the death of Christ as atonement. Such a bloodless sacrifice could have accomplished nothing as a satisfaction for sin, for it had no adaptation to such an end. If I am correct in these views, it follows necessarily that it never was within the power of God to provide for the salvation of any more of the human family than what will be saved; but of any such inability on God’s part, we have no hint in the Bible–the contrary seems to be every where assumed, and in many places plainly taught. In saving sinners, God acts in the freeness of His will, and not under any limitations of His power.
2. That scheme of atonement which has been termed indefinite, supposes that the atonement was not made for persons; but simply that it was made for sin, or on account of sin, without reference to sinners personally. This impersonal view of the death of the Son of God has something in it so distant, so cold and abstract, that it would require some force of evidence to make that it acceptable; nevertheless, if it could be substantiated by the word of God, it ought to be received. I object to it, in the first place, because it appears to me to exclude the love of God from atonement. It is very clearly taught in Scripture that it was because God loved us that He sent His Son to be a propitiation for our sins; and if His love was personal, the propitiation must be personal also. It is also taught, with equal clearness, that Christ died for us because He loved us. The exercises of Divine love must, of necessity, be personal; and if atonement is not personal, love is excluded.
I object to it, in the second place, because, so far as I can see, the death of Christ can not be vicarious. Any view of atonement that excludes, or does not admit, the substitutional principle as essential to a proper atonement, can never obtain my assent; but if Christ did not die for persons, His death can not be vicarious. If He died merely for sin, having no respect to personal sinners, He was either not a substitute, or He was the substitute of a mere abstraction.
I object to it, thirdly, because, so far as atonement is concerned, it excludes the mediatorship of Christ. It is an indispensable condition of mediatorial action that there should be two parties; but if Christ, in making atonement, had no respect to persons, there was but the one party. “A mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one.” There is one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. That the atonement belongs to the mediatorship, admits of no debate.
There is yet a fourth objection which I must oppose to an indefinite atonement–an objection which, if tenable, would supersede the necessity of making any other; and that it is tenable, I have no doubt: I find it impossible to reconcile this indefinite scheme of atonement with a great number of scriptures. Both the meaning and the very words of Scripture contradict it. If a text speaks of the atonement, on the one hand, and, on the other, if the language is plainly personal, that is all that is necessary to prove the point. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” “For if when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son.” “For even Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed for us.” “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law.” In these passages the references to the atonement are too plain to be doubted; and that the atonement thus referred to relates to persons, is evident, for the personal pronouns we and us will admit of no other application. The attentive reader of the New Testament will find a number of others without my quoting them here.
3. Those who maintain the doctrine of universal atonement do not deny that it is personal. They hold that Christ, by His death, made atonement for the whole human family–for all and for every one, and for all alike–for one as much as for another.
To do justice to this scheme of atonement it is proper to say that it differs from the one last considered, in that it fully recognizes subjective personality. Its advocates contend that atonement was made for persons–for personal sinners. It differs also from that which is called the commercial plan of atonement. They maintain that the atonement was sufficient for the world, and also that it was designed for all. It may be proper to remark further, that the difference between this scheme of universal atonement, and the theory next to be considered, has been signified on a preceding page, and will come more fully into view as we proceed with our discussion of the general subject.
Those who advocate the doctrine of universal atonement rely (if I understand them) mainly on three sources of evidence to support their theory: 1. On arguments drawn from the analogies of nature; 2. On arguments derived from fundamental truths revealed in the Scriptures; 3. On particular texts of Scripture.
1. The arguments drawn, professedly, from the analogies of nature are so foreign, so inappropriate and inapplicable, as to be unworthy of the reader’s notice. I shall therefore not tax his patience by stating them.
2. To reason from general and fundamental truths, clearly revealed in the inspired writings, is perfectly lawful; and on some subjects we have no need of more forcible and decisive arguments than legitimate deductions of this kind; but in general they require very close and critical examination, lest we should accept larger inferences than the premises will justify.
I have read comparatively but few authors on the doctrine of atonement; and of the few whose works I have examined, some appear to me to neglect the distinction between the sufficiency of the atonement and the design. That there is a real distinction, is obvious, and must be acknowledged by every one who will give the subject a little reflection; and while the writers alluded to recognize this distinction, and occasionally advert to it, yet in their arguments they seem to lose sight of it, and to interblend the two topics so much that it is scarcely possible to know to which of the two they direct their arguments.
I lay it down as a fundamental principle, that the atonement made by the death of Christ does effectually and perfectly answer all the ends and designs for which it was made. It meets and fills the whole necessity which required the intervention of an atonement. This, I suppose, will not be contested. Hence, in all its relations to God as Sovereign Lawgiver and Judge, it must be absolutely perfect and complete, both essentially and comprehensively; for any defect or deficiency would vitiate the whole transaction, and render all its contemplated results abortive.
From these considerations it must follow that the atonement, in its nature–in its intrinsic worth and merit–is sufficient for the redemption of the whole family of sinful men, provided it were the will of God to apply it to all. And not only is it a sufficient ground to admit of the salvation of all, but it must insure the certain and inevitable salvation of all to whom an application of its benefits is made; but the fact that it is in itself sufficient for all, is no proof that it was intended that all should have a personal interest in its provisions.
It would be inconsistent in the extreme, even to the point of absurdity, to suppose that the all-wise God would, at so great a sacrifice, provide an atonement for lost sinners which would not be sufficient to satisfy His own will, and competent to answer all His own purposes. And if it is conceded that, so far as an atonement was necessary, that which was made by the death of the Son of God is, in itself–in its merit and efficacy–sufficient for the necessity of all the human family, so that nothing more, by way of atonement, would be necessary, if the salvation of all were intended, it will follow that, whatever limitation there may be in its application to sinners, such restriction must depend upon the sovereign purpose of God; so that arguments to prove the sufficiency of the atonement, which would be relevant and appropriate, would prove nothing at all respecting any limitation of the design for which it was made.
1. It is thought by some that an inference may be drawn from the nature of the atonement, that it was intended to have application to all men. They allege that the atonement is just what we might suppose it would be on the supposition that it was intended for all men. Now, it is a sound maxim in logical reasoning, that “an argument that proves too much, proves nothing;” and this argument would have the same force and the same propriety if urged in favor of universal salvation. If it had been the purpose of God to save the whole human family, the nature of the atonement would be just what it is. The argument, therefore, proves too much. On the other hand, the nature and intrinsic worth of the atonement is just what it would be if it had been made for but one sinner. Whatever weight the argument might have, if employed to prove the sufficiency of the atonement, it can have no propriety of application to the design of its personal application.
Those writers who plead for a universal atonement speak of the nature of the atonement as being such that, it is applicable to all men, and as having some reference to all men; thus adopting modes of expression of the most vague and indeterminate meaning. While professing to show how far the atonement was designed to be extended in its saving relations, they only show how far (by the will of God) it might be extended; thus losing sight of the distinction between the sufficiency of the atonement and its design. To tell the reader that the atonement must have some reference to all men, will afford him very little instruction, unless I tell him that it was the purpose of God that it should have the same reference to all men alike; for this seems to be the idea they wish to convey to the reader’s mind.
Some of the advocates of universal atonement admit that “if Christ endured the literal penalty of the law, the doctrine of a limited atonement must be true.” Now, there is no other penalty of the law but the literal penalty; but we will waive that. But as certainly as it is the determined purpose of God to maintain the honor of His law and the truth of its threatening, so certainly the penalty of the law must fall somewhere; and if it did not fall on Jesus Christ as the sinner’s substitute, it will fall on the sinner. Let every sinner–even those writers themselves–be prepared for this; for it is inevitable. Let me here propose a few questions to the reader: Is not the penalty of the law death? And did not Christ suffer death for sinners? If these should be answered in the affirmative, what perverse sophistry it is to say that Christ did not suffer the penalty of the law.
2. These writers, by a similar mode of reasoning, draw the same inference from the Divine dignity of Him who made atonement; and this argument is liable to the same objections. It proves too much. The dignity of the Son of God is such that we may as rationally infer that He was as able to save eternally the whole human family as that He was able to make atonement for them; and the Universalist is as much entitled to the benefit of this argument as the believer in a universal atonement. They suppose that the idea of a universal atonement better “fits in” with the rank and dignity of Him who made it than a limited atonement. And would not a universal salvation also better “fit in” with the dignity of the Son of God (in foolish man’s conception) than a limited salvation? Let me treat the reader to a specimen of their systematical reasoning. They say: “If the atonement had been made by a mere man,” it would necessarily have been limited; or, “If it had been made by an angel,” it must also have been limited. Thus they tell us very seriously what would have been the result if a natural impossibility had come to pass. It would be equally as rational, and equally as creditable, to speak of an atonement being made by a mouse, as by an angel or a mere man. And, after all, what is the difference? We admit that an atonement made by a Divine person must possess in itself a value and glory corresponding with the dignity of Him who made it; but if it is a real, a veritable vicarious atonement, it must be as capable of application to the whole world, if made by an angel or a mere man, as if made by the Lord of glory.
The rank and dignity of the Redeemer are supposed to be such as they would be on the supposition that the atonement was intended to be general. This is true; and it is also true that they are just what they would and must be if the atonement was intended to save but one sinner. If Christ were not the Son of God, He could not make any atonement at all. Such flimsy and spurious arguments may have, in some measure, the effect intended by the authors, but their insignificance is very easily exposed.
The very terms employed in discussing the subject are sometimes highly objectionable, and even offensive to the heart of a pious and intelligent Christian. They speak of Christ as having been selected for the work in consequence, or on the ground of His rank and dignity, with a view to guard us against the supposition of any limitation of the atonement. The term selected implies that there were others as well as He who might have been chosen; and though they were inferior in rank and dignity, yet they were competent, for otherwise there was no propriety in speaking of His being selected. How disparaging to the honor of the Son of God to be told that there were others who could have redeemed lost sinners if He had declined the service.
3. It is supposed that data may be found in the mediatorial administration of the Divine government to warrant an inference in favor of universal atonement. Arguments legitimately derived from the mediatorship of our great High Priest are certainly worthy of the highest consideration; and any argument professing to have its foundation there should not be disregarded. It is a very easy task to prove that Jesus Christ is invested with the administration of the universal government of God; and this argument proceeds on the hypothesis that the atonement is the basis of His mediatorial government. This hypothesis will admit of debate; and I ask permission, without giving offense to say a few words: If we accept this assumption, it must be on certain conditions and with some modification. It involves a theme that opens a wide field to our contemplation. To explore this field even very partially, would impose upon us more labor and intense reflection than would comport with the design of this work–more, indeed, than I would be willing to impose upon the reader or upon myself. I must therefore, content myself with making a few brief suggestions:
All things in the natural and moral creation are mediatorially related to God through Christ; for so the Scriptures plainly teach. But when I speak of the mediatorial government of Christ I have special reference to His being a Mediator between God and sinners for the purpose of reconciliation; and as, in this point of view, He is the Mediator of the “New Covenant,” His mediatorial administration is comprehended within, and bounded by, the conditions and provisions of the New Covenant. It would, therefore, seem to me more proper to say that the basis of His mediatorial government is the New Covenant; for the atonement is certainly a fundamental condition of the covenant of grace, and it is also a part of His mediatorial administration. In ascertaining and defining the extent of the atonement, I do not see that we are authorized to go beyond the extent of His strictly mediatorial administration; nor do I see how we can consistently carry either of these beyond the extent of that covenant of which He is the Mediator. I confess it appears to me that if we pass the boundaries of the strictly mediatorial administration of Christ–as the Mediator of the New Covenant–we fall at once under that universal moral government of God, of which Christ is the administrator, but not a mediator–using the term mediator in its evangelical sense.
I had made up my mind not to take any notice of this particular point; but, considering its important bearing on the question of the extent of the atonement, I doubted whether I would be justifiable in the omission; especially as I thought an intimation in that direction might be acceptable to some who may read this work.
But aside from the considerations presented above, let us ascertain what inferences the aforesaid hypothesis will justify, and whether the arguments founded upon the proposition are legitimately derived.
I find myself at a loss how to proceed in attempting to canvass the arguments employed to support the validity of their deductions. The reason is, their language is so general and indefinite that I am unable to ascertain the precise idea that they seem willing to convey to the mind of the reader.
They assume, as a first principle, or at least as a primary proposition, that as all power and authority are given into the hands of the Mediator, and as this dominion is given to Him on the ground that He has made atonement, this atonement must have some reference to the whole human race.
But right here the question will present itself, What reference has the atonement to the whole human family? Does it have the same reference to those that are saved that it has to those that are lost? This is precisely the question that requires solution; and while they propose to discuss this question, they seem to me to direct their arguments against those who advocate the commercial scheme of atonement, and the prime question receives very little attention. They hold that the atonement has a bearing or influence on the whole creation, and especially on the angels, who are desirous to learn the glorious mysteries of the cross. This we do not deny; but does the atonement have the same reference to these angels that it does to those sinners who are washed from their sins in the blood of the Lamb? The dividing of the waters of the Red Sea had a very important reference to the Canaanites and to the Egyptians, and even to us, and to all in every age and every place where the Bible is found; but were the waters of the Red Sea divided to make a way for us to pass through? Was it done for the benefit of Pharaoh and his army? Was it intended to be an advantage to the Canaanites? Did that miraculous interposition have the same reference to the Egyptians that it had to the Israelites? To speak, therefore, of the atonement as having some relations to the whole race of man, without indicating whether such relations are saving relations–without signifying whether it has the same relation to those who are saved that it has to those that are not saved–without making any allusion to the specific design of God in providing the atonement–I say to treat the subject in this way conveys very little instruction to the mind of an ingenious inquirer.
The whole work of making atonement is the same, whether it was the divine purpose that many shall be actually saved by it or only a few. And the reward of the Redeemer for this service–that is, His exaltation–is the same, whether in its personal relations it extends to all or only to a part; and as His elevation to the throne of government is the reward of His humiliation and obedience unto death, I do not see how it justifies the inference of a universal atonement any more than it would justify an inference in favor of a universal salvation.
In His exaltation, He becomes “Head over all things to the Church “–to the Church, for the Church’s sake. The grand object to be accomplished by the atonement was the redemption of His Church. But why should we extend the efficacy of the atonement, considered as atonement, beyond the necessity that required it, and apply it to objects which were never affected by sin, and never could be? It was sin that made an atonement necessary; and when that necessity was fully met and supplied, atonement, as such, can have no further action or proper application. The fruits of atonement–its various results or consequences–may be extended far and wide, both as it respects Him who made it and those for whom it was made; but these do not belong to the essence or inherent nature of the atonement.
In connection with the mediatorial government of Christ, and by the same process of reasoning, an inference is drawn in favor of universal atonement, from the fact that Christ is to judge the world at the last day. But this argument is liable to the same objections as the other, and may be answered in the same way. In the final judgment, the King will say to those on His right hand, “Come, ye blessed,” etc.; and to those on His left hand, “Depart, ye cursed,” etc. Now, the question is, Does the atonement have the same relation to one of those parties that it has to the other? Both parties stand in the same relation to Him as a Judge. Do they stand in the same relation to Him as a Redeemer? Or, taking the question in another form and more directly to the point under discussion, Was the atonement designed (intended) for one of those parties as much as for the other? If the atonement does not have an equal relation to both, and was designed to effect as much for one as for the other, the argument proves too much; and the same may be said of the argument in favor of universal atonement as deduced from the fact that all–both the just and the unjust–will be raised from the dead through Christ; for some will come forth “to resurrection of life,” and others “to the resurrection of damnation.” Shall we attribute the damnation of the wicked to the atonement? I repeat, that those writers, if I understand their arguments, do not observe the distinction between the sufficiency and the design of the atonement. If their object is to prove the sufficiency of the atonement, their arguments may be entitled to consideration; but I do not think they adopt the best method of attaining the end in view. The true way of establishing this doctrine is to examine it in its relations to God. If it meets and satisfies these relations; if it completely vindicates the integrity and honor of Divine justice; if it fully and effectually satisfies all the demands of the law against sinners, this is all the sufficiency that the necessity requires. If its sufficiency is such that God is “well pleased” with it, it must of necessity be sufficient for all the purposes of an atonement in its relations to us; for it must, of course, remove all legal obstacles out of the way of any sinner’s acceptance with God; that is, there can be no legal ground why God may not apply its benefits to any sinner, so far as it is His good pleasure to extend it. And that the atonement is sufficient for these purposes, we need no other proof than the fact that Christ rose from the dead, and is seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high. I do not say that no other proof can be adduced, but it is sufficient to supersede the necessity of additional proof.
But let the sufficiency of the atonement be established on as strong grounds as it may, it will prove nothing to the purpose as to the design for which it was made, in a personal and numerical point of view: There being no limitation in respect to its sufficiency, whatever limitation there may be must respect the design for which it was made in regard to its application. Hence those writers admit that “by the sovereign purpose of God,“ in the appropriation of its benefits, it might be limited to a part only of the human family; and that the reason why all are not saved through the atonement is to be sought for in the Divine purpose. This is coming exactly to the point. It is the pivot upon which the whole question turns; and the discussion might very properly be confined to this topic; but they have but little to say on this essential point.
When the advocates of universal atonement resort to the analogies of nature for arguments to support their theory, we refuse to follow them. We know they can never find the atonement of Christ out of the Bible. But we freely accord to them the privilege of reasoning from Scripture doctrines; and we have endeavored to consider their arguments derived from that source as impartially as we could. But they do not rely upon these sources alone for proof, but claim to be sustained by the direct statements of Holy Scripture. We shall now therefore take into view those texts which it is thought support their scheme. In doing this, we shall state their own arguments founded on those scriptures; and also submit to the reader’s attention what has been said, or may be said, in opposition to their views. I do not see how I can be impartial without presenting, as fairly as I am able, both sides of the question. But there is one thing that the reader should keep constantly in his mind; it is this: When any particular text of Scripture is offered in proof of a particular doctrine, we must first ascertain the true meaning of the text itself; for if the passage in its true meaning does not support the doctrine, it is no proof.
In the third chapter of John (vers. 16,17) we read: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved.” This passage is relied upon with a great deal of confidence. But, on the other hand, it may be said that there is no direct reference to the atonement in the text. I do not say there is nothing in the text that has a favorable bearing on their doctrine; but I think that when the text is fully and fairly examined it will be seen that it is far from being conclusive. They lay a great deal of stress on the term “world,” and this they must do, or they can not make the text available to their purpose. But if they adhere to this rule, it will prove more than they would be willing to admit; it would answer the purpose of those who would use it to prove the doctrine of universal salvation as well as it does to prove universal atonement. In fact, I am not sure but the Universalist can frame a more plausible argument upon it than the other. As a proof-text, the degree of evidence it affords must depend largely upon the true interpretation of the text itself. Let us then look at their own exposition. They say our Savior was intending to teach Nicodemus that His religion was not to be confined to the Jews, but was designed for the benefit of all nations. This interpretation is plausible, and, indeed, we may say it is rational, for we know the strong prejudices of the Jews in regard to the Gentiles, and it is often referred to in the New Testament. We must admit that it is not stated in the passage, that our Savior had this object in view; but I can find no evidence to the contrary. If, then, we adopt this interpretation, it will fully justify the form of expression used by our Savior without the least allusion to the atonement; and it is certain that there is no reference to the atonement in the passage, except by a distant implication.
If we will correctly understand those scriptures in which we find this general phrase, “the world,“ we are compelled to have recourse to the connection and to the object of the writer, so far as that can be ascertained; for if we adhere tenaciously to the meaning assigned to it by the writers referred to, we shall find it difficult, if not impossible, to defend the inspired writers from the charge of self-contradiction. And we shall find it equally difficult to avoid universal salvation; and as there are other passages adduced by those authors in support of their views, it may not be amiss to make a few observations on this subject, with a view to guard ourselves against the danger of false interpretations. Whoever will take the trouble–and the trouble would not be great–to collate and compare those places in which John uses the phrase “the world,” will be convinced, if he has any candor, that this apostle uses it with a great deal of latitude. It is alleged that the language in the text is as general as can be used. But they themselves would not pretend that the phrase is always to be understood in a strictly universal sense. It is a good rule to compare scripture with scripture; and it is especially necessary to compare the language, in different places, of the same inspired writer when he uses the same terms. In the First Epistle of John (v. 19) it is said: “And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.” But the context proves that the phrase “the whole world,“ must not be applied in a strictly universal sense; and I will not contend obstinately for the application of a rule of interpretation to a passage which seems to give support to my views, when I will not submit to its application to one that is contrary to my sentiments.
Now, in connection with the text referred to in John’s gospel, let us consider some other passages which contain the same phrase, and which are relied on by the advocates of universal atonement with a great deal of assurance. 1 John ii. 2: “And He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” On this passage we find the following remark: “No language could express the universality of the design of the atonement more clearly or strongly.” But let us not be terrified by this confident and defiant manner of speaking; for, to say the least, it is no credit to those who employ it; and I have no doubt the writer himselfcould have expressed the universality of the design of the atonement in terms stronger and clearer than the words of the quotation.
1. In the first place, it is said, on the other side, that the apostle is addressing his instruction to believers who are already reconciled to God through the atonement; and this will not be denied. They, therefore, think the apostle means all believers in every age and in every part of the world, and this explanation of the text is supported by the context.
2. It is further argued that Christ is “a propitiation through faith in His blood.” And we presume that no one will pretend that He is really a propitiation to unbelievers; or a propitiation to any in any other way, and consequently this clear and strong proof is no proof at all to their purpose.
3. In addition to the above, it may be considered that the passage under consideration has a direct reference to the intercession of Christ. There is no direct reference to the atonement proper, though, of course, there could be no intercession without the atonement. “My little, children”–a form of expression which the apostle does not apply to the whole world of mankind.
The passage in the First Epistle to Timothy, where it is said, “He gave Himself a ransom for all,” etc., can not, with any propriety, be applied in a universal sense. The context requires a different construction.
The believers in the doctrine of a universal atonement rely with a great deal of assurance on a passage in the second chapter of Hebrews–“That He, by the grace of God, should taste death for every man.” This text is, in my judgment, the most difficult to reconcile with the doctrine of personal limitation in the atonement, of any that we find in the Bible. But it is said, on the other side, that the word “man” is not in the original, and that it should be translated every one; and it is so translated by the Bible Union. I could not give the reader a clear view of my idea of the meaning of the text without entering somewhat at large into the doctrinal part of the epistle, and that would lead me too much out of my way; but the verse in which the words occur, and the following verse, are very intimately connected, and I suppose that the inspired writer had the same persons in view in the ninth verse when he says “every one,” that he had in the tenth when he speaks of “many sons.”
There is a passage in the fifth chapter of Second Corinthians which is thought to give strong support to the doctrine of universal atonement. It reads thus: “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again.”
Whether this scripture affords any proof of the universality of the atonement, depends entirely on the true interpretation of the text; for no one will pretend that the word all must in all cases comprehend the whole human family; and if that is not its meaning here, it will yield no support to the doctrine of universal atonement. Some of those who contend for this doctrine understand the apostle to teach the universal depravity of human nature. They allege that the apostle takes it for granted, as a doctrine admitted by all, that Christ died for the whole human family; and thence argues, that this being so, the whole human family were dead in sin. But to take this for granted is a very violent assumption. I apprehend that it is not true, in fact, that it was a doctrine admitted by all, that Christ died for the whole human family, and there is no proof given or offered to sustain the assumption.
And I would also remark that the depravity of human nature is not the subject of the apostle’s discourse, and is not alluded to in the chapter; neither is the subject of the total depravity of human nature discussed in the whole epistle.
I would also further observe, that even if it were admitted that Christ died for every one of the human race, it would not prove the total depravity of human nature. It would prove that all are under the curse of the law, but not that all are totally corrupt. Total depravity might be proved by the work of the Spirit, but not by the atonement of Christ; and it is not the practice of this apostle to prove his points by fallible arguments. Whether the doctrine is true or not, I can not accept this interpretation of the text.
There are others who give a different interpretation of the text in question. They suppose that it was not the design of the apostle to teach that Christ died for all that were dead, but that all were dead for whom Christ died. This construction agrees much better with the succeeding verse, and indeed it is more in accordance with the scope of the passage; and they allege that a more literal rendering of the original would be, “then were they all dead.” So that the extent of the word all in the first member of the sentence is to be determined by its meaning in the latter.
I believe this exposition is sanctioned by our best theological writers; yet if I may be allowed the privilege of submitting my own views of the passage, I should incline to an interpretation somewhat different. I think the apostle refers to that federal relation which Christ sustains to His people. Paul frequently refers to it in his epistles. If Christ, the Surety and Head of His people, died for them, then they all, as members of His body, are considered as dying in Him. The same doctrine is taught in this text that we find in other scriptures: “Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.” (Rom. vi. 8. See also ver. 6, ib.) “For if we be dead with Him, we shall also live with Him.” (2 Tim. ii. 11.) “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life that I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God.” (Gal. ii. 20.) Hence the apostle’s reference to the resurrection, in the text under consideration, is quite pertinent; and the argument is this: That as Christ died and rose again into a new life, and we (mystically or federally) died in Him and rose, in Him, we ought henceforth to live, not unto ourselves, but to Him who died for us and rose again. The same idea is brought to light again in the last verse of the same chapter. We will give the rendering of the Bible Union translators, which, though in harmony with the common version, is probably more strictly literal: “Because we thus judged, that if one died for all, then they all died; and He died for all, that they who live should no longer live to themselves, but to Him who for them died and rose again.” If this translation is correct, it bears favorably on the interpretation presented above. Of one thing I feel assured–throughout the whole chapter the apostle is speaking to believers and of believers. The reader may examine for himself.
There may be some other scriptures brought in support of the theory of universal atonement, but the arguments on both sides, I presume, are very similar to those already considered. There is, however, one more passage which impartiality requires us to examine; and I shall notice it the more willingly, as giving the reader a specimen of the way in which learned men, who are conscious of possessing some reputation for biblical scholarship, would force their opinions upon unsuspicious readers by positive and unqualified assertions. The text referred to is 2 Peter ii. 1: “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.” Of this text it is said–and I quote literally–“It is expressly said that some for whom He (Christ) died, will perish.” And again: “There could not be a more unequivocal declaration that some for whom Christ died will perish.” Thus we see in what bold and unqualified assertions some learned writers will indulge themselves, in order to force their own peculiar opinions upon their readers. In this way they foreclose inquiry, and expect implicit submission to their dictates. Now the assumption of the writer is, that “some for whom Christ died will perish.” Let us attend to his arguments and explanation of the text. He says, “When the word bought occurs elsewhere in the New Testament, with reference to redemption, the allusion is to Him” (Christ); and be proceeds to give us a number of examples, all of which are plainly to the point, though in some of them it was unnecessary to speak of an allusion, seeing Christ is expressly named. But who ever doubted that when the words bought, purchased, and redeemed are used in reference to redemption, that Christ is the person referred to? It was incumbent on him to show that redemption–the redemption of Christ–is referred to in the text by the word bought. This he does not attempt, though he well knew that it is a controverted point. The numerous passages adduced by him prove that which no one doubts, but this is proving nothing to the point; and that which his object requires to be proved, he would have us to take for granted. Why does he not prove, or attempt to prove, that which requires proof? What the author wished to impress on the mind of the reader was, that Christ is the person referred to in the text by the word Lord: this he fails to do, and he is religiously careful never to give the reader a hint that the word translated Lord is nowhere else applied to Christ in the New Testament. Hence it is doubtful whether He is the person designated as “the Lord.” Moreover, it is by no means certain that the word “bought” is used in its literal sense of purchased; for the word is used frequently in the Bible where there is no reference to the payment of a price. And again, there is no proof in the text, or in the whole chapter, that the death of Christ is intended, and of course there can be no certainty that the apostle had any reference to the atonement; and besides this, the term “destruction” is often used without any allusion to everlasting punishment. And yet our learned author affirms that the text proves “expressly“ and “unequivocally” that Christ died for them, and that they perished. In this way he would override the private judgment of the reader, and carry his point by downright dogmatism. Testimony that is exceptionable in so many points of view can never be considered by the judicious and candid inquirer as decisive; and if it would be illiberal to impeach the author’s candor, we shall then be reduced to the necessity of doubting his critical judgment. He could not plead ignorance to these objections to his view of the text, notwithstanding he makes no allusion to them.
It has been objected against the commercial scheme of atonement that it excludes grace in respect to the pardon of sin. Now, it is not incumbent on me to defend a doctrine which I reject from the attacks of its opposers; but it is incumbent on me to defend the truth, so far as I am able, from unfounded objections; and the objection, as they state it, is as applicable to the true doctrine of atonement as it is to that against which they urge it. I do not think I misapprehend the ground upon which they found this objection, because their own illustration makes it unmistakably plain. If Onesimus owes Philemon a debt, and Paul pays it, Onesimus has a right to claim a discharge, and Philemon is bound, by simple justice, to release him. If a creditor (it is said) receives the whole amount of his demand, no matter whether from the debtor or from a third person, it can not be said with propriety that he forgave the debtor. There is no room for grace in the transaction. The objection, so far as I can see, is founded on a supposition that the atonement of Christ is not a perfect and complete satisfaction for sin, and, therefore, did not fully satisfy the claims of Divine justice. Indeed, the figure by which they illustrate it fixes the objection to that very principle. If Christ died for every human soul; or, if He died for a select few, provided His death was a full and complete atonement, or satisfaction, for the sins of those for whom He died, such atonement would as effectually exclude grace from their pardon in the one case as in the other. I regret to see this objection employed by those who contend for the all-sufficiency and infinite value of the atonement of Christ.
I will present the reader with the result of some of my reflections on the subject, and in doing so I shall lay down two fundamental propositions, viz:
1. That the pardon of a sinner is an act of grace–pure and special grace and mercy.
2. That Christ, by His death, rendered a complete and perfect satisfaction to the claims of Divine justice.
To these propositions I shall adhere; and if it can not be shown that they are consistent with each other–if it can not be made to appear to my satisfaction that both way be true at the same time–I will cheerfully ascribe it to my own blindness, but my postulates I will not renounce.
The objectors contrive, by their mode of illustration, to give the objection a plausibility which disguises the truth; but there is that in the very face of the objection which ought to awaken suspicion and provoke a critical examination of the figure by which they attempt to illustrate their argument. If we assume that the Divine government is not administered on principles of strict and exact justice, we would have room enough for the exercise of mercy in the pardon of sin; but mercy thus extended would be at the sacrifice of justice. Or, if we take the ground that Christ did not suffer the penalty of the law, we might find scope for the dispensation of mercy in remitting the penalty of the law; but then we might be met with the question, “Do we then make void the law” through the atonement? and the only admissible answer would be, We do; and Christ thus becomes, not a fulfiller of the law, but a nullifier of the law.
Let us examine this figure by a comparison, and see whether it is, indeed, analogous to the subject which it professes to illustrate.
1. In the first place it is contended by those very persons who admit this objection, that there is not, in every respect, a proper analogy between commercial law and criminal law. That crime is quite a different thing from pecuniary debt. In this they are certainly right; and yet their argument seems to be founded upon the supposition that there is a true analogy between commercial justice and criminal justice. I think we should hesitate before we apply this figure.
2. In the second place, I say that no creditor, debtor, and intervening friend ever stood, or can stand, in the same relations to each other that the parties concerned in atonement and pardon stand to each other. The relations existing between those parties are perfectly unique, and admit of no parallel. In this respect there is a very great want of analogy; and I may add that this want of similarity is one that has an important bearing on the issue in question; but it is sufficient at present that we recognize the fact of this want of parallelism.
3. When a creditor receives the payment in full, he has no other claims upon the debtor. There are no other demands to satisfy, and the parties stand upon terms of perfect equality with each other, and the debtor is under no other obligation. The case is very different in respect to atonement and pardon.
4. When a friend pays the debt of another, the expedient originates with himself. His specific object is not to secure the rights of the creditor, but to confer a favor on the debtor in releasing him from pecuniary obligation. It is not an expedient resorted to by the creditor himself out of kindness to the debtor. The creditor has no concern in providing the means for the debtor’s release; neither does he make any sacrifice in any respect that be may extend favor to the debtor. Analogy is wanting here in its most vital point. The payer might entertain an implacable hatred toward the creditor, and the creditor might bear equal ill-will to the payor. The creditor might also cherish a bitter enmity to the debtor, yet the transaction would, in itself, be legal and just. Not so in the pardon of sin. There is scarcely the shadow of applicable analogy.
5. I shall now take higher ground. I assume that Christ has made full and complete satisfaction to Divine justice for sin, and that the remission of the penalty of the law may be claimed as a right–it may be demanded as a legal and equitable right on principles of justice. But here I must enter my protest against the method of stating an acknowledged truth with an inference as if it were a simple proposition. Their argument is this: Christ has satisfied the claims of Divine justice; therefore the sinner has a right to claim his discharge. The proposition is true, but the inference is not legitimate. If the sinner himself had satisfied the claims of the law he would, as far as I can see, have a right to demand remission. If a creditor receives the full amount of his due, though at the hand of a third person, his claim is liquidated, and, according to the mere forms of judicial law, the debtor may plead it in bar of judgment; but every one must see that he has no claims of his own upon which to found a plea. The creditor is not brought under obligation to the debtor to release him. If the debtor is released, it is to him an act of pure grace.
But there is another capital deficiency in their mode of illustration, which shows that it ought never to be employed in that application. The supposition is, that a friend–an isolated, disinterested, and independent friend–pays the debt. But this is not the character and relation in which Christ made atonement for us. He became one with us. He was our Surety–our Substitute. He assumed an obligation to make satisfaction to Divine justice for our sins, and paid the debt–calling it debt–in discharge of His own obligation for our sake. He has therefore a firmly founded right to demand the release of those for whom He paid the debt, and whose Surety and Substitute He was in the whole transaction. If He, as Surety, is discharged, those for whom He acted in that relation are virtually discharged also. He, as Surety, and in the sinner’s place, pays the debt, and, officiating still as Surety and in the sinner’s place, claims, as a matter of right, the sinner’s discharge.
Let us view this subject of atonement and remission in its twofold relations, both as it respects the sinner and as it respects Christ as Surety. The atonement is a plea for both. It provides and supplies the sinner coming to a throne of grace in prayer for pardon, with a good, and acceptable, and prevailing plea, authorized by the promise. Oppressed with guilt, and coming to a throne of grace as a helpless sinner, an unworthy and wrath-deserving beggar–the only attitude in which a sinner ever ought to come, or can come acceptably–he may successfully plead the atoning blood of Christ for the remission of his sins: and this is a privilege which is graciously given to the believing sinner; and be exercises it as a precious privilege, and not as a rightful claim.
On the other band, Christ, as Surety, comes before the Judge officiating in judicial law and authority, and as the representative and Advocate of the sinner; and in this relation the atonement supplies him with a legal, judicial, equitable, and available plea, upon which He can legally claim and demand, in judicial administration, the discharge of the sinner from penal liability. Thus we see that though they both bring the same plea substantially, there is yet an immense and essential difference in the principles upon which they respectively present this confessedly good plea. Christ pleads on the principle of judicial right–the sinner on the principle of special grace. I might enlarge on this topic to a much greater extent, and would be glad to do so, but I forbear.
There is one more aspect of this subject, in which it is specially necessary that we examine it–it would be unpardonable to overlook it. The argument of those who contend that there is no grace, on the ground that the debt has been paid by a friend, extends no further than to mere legal exemption. They can not pretend to carry it further, for the principle upon which they found the argument contemplates nothing more. The creditor says to the debtor: “Your friend has discharged your debt, and it would be unjust in me to require it of you–I, therefore, release you.” And so, in like manner, the Divine Judge says to the sinner: “Christ has suffered the penalty of the law for you, and therefore it would be unjust in me to inflict it upon you–I discharge you.” Would such forgiveness as this fill the desire of a true lover of God? It may be, and probably is, as much as the unrenewed heart would expect or desire; but the true child of God can not be satisfied with this; he knows that his God has just cause to be angry with him, and he feels that he can not have peace with Him, except God is reconciled to him. David did not execute the penalty of the law upon Absalom, but he said, “Let him not see my face.” The pardon for which I pray includes something more than mere legal absolution. It is not enough that my Father should say to me, “Thou shalt not die;” let Him also say, “Since thou wast precious in my sight thou hast been honorable, and I have loved thee.” I want to be precious in His sight–to be honorable before Him–and to be the object of His love, even of His forgiving love. Let my reconciled Father say, “Is he my dear son ? Is he a pleasant child ? for since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still.” The truly contrite spirit desires such pardon as is exemplified in the father of the prodigal. Forgiveness in this point of view can never be charged with the absence of grace–it is an act of grace–special grace. There is nothing but grace in it. The satisfaction made to the law by the atonement does not reach it. It is the forthgoing of eternal love. The truly penitent soul wants that kind of pardon which is stipulated in the everlasting covenant: “I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.” The atonement was interposed to make way for grace to abound–for grace to reign–in the pardon of sin. That kind of remission which the objector’s argument implies, might consist well enough with the remembrance of sin, for it might be extended without one spark of love to the sinner–simply an exemption from the legal penalty–a great blessing, truly, in itself, but coming far short of that forgiveness of sin by which the grace of God is so much glorified.
The Specific Design of Atonement.
In the further prosecution of our inquiries into this subject, I shall lay down some fundamental truths which I consider as being indispensable preliminaries to a proper and correct understanding of the true theory of atonement. And I shall, in the first place, premise–
1. That the atonement is a true, complete, and perfect satisfaction to Divine justice for sin. If it is not, it is not atonement in any proper sense of the term.
2. That the atonement is, in itself–in its nature and worth–sufficient for the sins of the whole family of Adam.
Nothing more, therefore, would be necessary, by way of satisfaction for sin, if it were intended that the whole race of sinners should be saved by it.
3. In the third place, that it did actually and effectually accomplish all that for which it was designed.
4. That the atonement was strictly vicarious. Christ died in the room of sinners. He died that the sinner might not die. He suffered the penalty of the law in the place of the sinner, that the sinner might be saved from the penalty of the law.
5. That the atonement is truly personal in its primary relation. It was made for persons; not merely for sin in the abstract, but for the sins of personal sinners.
If it was not, it is wrong to call it vicarious.
6. That the great object–the primary and special design–of the atonement is to redeem sinners from the curse of the law.
Any theory of atonement that does not secure this object, is neither worth confirmation nor refutation.
Now, keeping these preliminaries in view, we are prepared to inquire into the true extent of the atonement. And I shall not select general and indefinite modes of expression that may mean more, or may mean less, but the most pointed and definite terms that my limited knowledge of the English language will supply.
In the second of the foregoing postulates it is assumed that the atonement of Christ is, in its objective fullness–in its intrinsic merit and value–sufficient for the redemption of the whole world. This attribute of the atonement, I believe is not denied by many at the present day, and I shall not, at this time, solicit the reader’s attention to this topic; but I must ingenuously own that I do not see the relevancy of some arguments alleged in support of it.
If any shall say that by the death of Christ there were other objects accomplished besides the redemption of sinners, I shall not controvert their position. The death of the Son of God was accomplished to make atonement for sin, as the Scriptures abundantly teach, though other objects, as consequential or incidental results, might, and certainly did, follow. But I shall still contend that so far as we, sinful men, have any interest in the atonement, the primary and special object of the atonement was the redemption of sinners. Outside of this object we are under no necessity of discussing the subject, though it is the privilege of all to investigate the subject to any extent that the Scriptures will authorize.
By the third postulate assumed above, it is affirmed that the atonement did effectually accomplish all that for which it was designed; by the fourth, that it was strictly vicarious or substitutional; and by the fifth, that it was strictly personal. Now, if the atonement was any thing that can with propriety be called atonement, I do not see how these premises can be denied; and if they are conceded as true, I am at a loss to see how it can be universal, without also admitting universal salvation. So that the precise point to which we must direct our inquiries, is the design of the atonement in its relation to sinners personally. And if we admit that God had, in providing atonement, a determinate design or purpose to save sinners–personal sinners– through the atonement, the question for our present consideration will be reduced to this: Was it the Divine purpose to save all the sinners of the human family by the atonement, or to save those only who will be actually saved ?
That God had a fixed and determinate purpose to save sinners, I suppose would be admitted by all, whatever might be their views of the atonement; and, indeed, it can not be made a question if the authority of Scripture is to be respected. And as He saves sinners in no other way than by the atonement of Jesus Christ, He provided the atonement that He might accomplish His purpose of saving sinners. And whatever purpose He might have respecting those who will not be saved, it surely will not be pretended that He did not design to save those who will eventually be saved; for the supposition involves so many absurdities that the rational mind rejects it intuitively.
Without atonement there is no salvation. That is the foundation upon which our salvation stands. Now if, in laying this foundation, it was the Divine purpose to save the whole world of mankind, then all the world will certainly be saved, or the Divine purpose fails. In so far as the Divine purpose fails, God sustains a defeat, and Satan obtains the victory; and it seems to me this is bound to be the inevitable result if the atonement is universal in its personal design. If the atonement was designed for the redemption of all, and there are any who do not obtain all for which it was made, it is manifest that the atonement does not accomplish all that for which it was designed. I can see no possibility of the contrary; for that there is a failure is too obvious to admit of debate.
This subject is important, and to arrive at the truth is, in the highest degree, desirable. It is right, therefore, that we should examine it in every light in which it can be proposed to our consideration. With this in view we say:
If the love and grace of God has ever been manifested to this lost and guilty world, it is brought out into most conspicuous exhibition in the death of the Son of God–in the fact that He died for sinners; in other words, that He made atonement by His death for our sins. The grace of God shines in every part and every act of this most marvelous transaction. It is a fountain of grace–a treasure of grace–to personal sinners. Now, if this atonement was made for all persons, then every person must have a personal interest in all its gracious provisions, equal to, and corresponding with, the personal relation in which he stands to this universal atonement; and thus all are comprehended within the boundaries of atoning grace, for all are included within the design for which the atonement was made. But, notwithstanding, it is admitted that all will not be saved; and that, because it was not the design of God to make it savingly efficacious to those who are lost. According to this scheme, those who are finally lost have a secured interest in the grace of atonement–secured by the purpose of God–because Christ died to make atonement for them; but it was the Divine purpose not to make this atoning grace savingly efficacious to them, but He did design to make it savingly efficacious to those who are saved. By this arrangement–this limited design in the application–the grace of the application is not only withheld from those who are lost, but they are actually, and by design, excluded from the grace of the atonement which was already secured to them by their interest in it. The sovereign discriminating grace of God, in making atonement specially for a part, and not for all, has been stigmatized as partiality. But in this scheme of universal atonement there is something that looks worse than partiality–it is sovereignty with a vengeance. And I can see no way to escape this offensive consequence if we contend for one unlimited personal design in making atonement, and another distinct and limited personal design in applying its benefits; but I see no necessity for more than one design. The object and design of providing atonement is to save sinners, and the object and design of applying its benefits is to save sinners. The object in both is the same; and why should there be more than the one design? Neither do I think they can show any good result that is gained by the supposition of two distinct purposes–the one comprehending all, and the other only a part; whereas, by the objective limitation in the second design, the universality of the first is rendered objectively nugatory in the exact proportion to the number of those who fail of salvation. The atonement, in its nature and as a means of grace to sinners, is sufficient for all, and is free to all, and was designed to be so; but I see no advantage arising from the theory of circumscribing the design of the application within narrower limits than the design of the atonement.
It is not in place for the advocates of universal atonement to say that the reason why any sinner is lost is because of his unwillingness to accept, or seek for, the blessings procured by the death of Christ; for although this is strictly true in fact, yet it is not to the point, and as an argument it will weigh as much against one scheme as the other; for those who are saved are naturally, of themselves, as unwilling as they that are lost. And no sinner is ever really and truly disposed to seek and accept the blessings of the atonement before the grace of the atonement is applied–it is the application of this grace that makes him willing. The great design of the atonement, in its relation to us as sinners, is to procure the gift of the Holy Spirit–to open up a pathway of mutual reconciliation and spiritual communion between God and His alienated children–to destroy the enmity of the sinner’s heart and to subdue his perverse will and bring it into subjection to the gospel. This is the prime, comprehensive blessing procured by the atonement. The gift of the Spirit is itself the application of the benefits of atonement; and till this gift is received there is no true and real willingness of desire to seek or receive the application of the atonement in the hearts even of those who are saved. If this is not correct, it is in vain to talk of salvation by grace. Such talk would be like clouds without water. And if it is true, the question remains essentially the same. Did God design to give the Holy Spirit to every sinner alike, through this medium of atonement, or to those only who will be saved by it? If the atonement was made designedly for–specifically for–every one personally, and the Spirit, in consequence, is given to every one personally, the question must arise, “Why is not every one saved?” I confess myself unable to answer it without admitting a disastrous failure–a failure both in the work and in the design of the atonement; for it is manifest that the atonement does not accomplish all that for which it was made and designed. It may be asked: If Christ did not die to make atonement for the sins of the whole family of man–for every sinner–why should all men universally be called upon to accept of its gracious provisions? But, on the other hand, it may be inquired: Why should a true, effectual, and complete atonement be made for some when it was not the will of God to make it efficacious to their salvation, as the saving benefit was contingent upon the Divine will? That there is matter couched in such questions that contains solid and sound argument, I have no doubt; but it may not be very easy, in every case, to determine with positive certainty that our conclusions are legitimate. Leaving the latter of these questions to the reader’s reflection, we will proceed to offer some thoughts on the former.
To arrive at a satisfactory solution of this problem, it is necessary to determine, in the first place, what in the atonement will constitute a sufficient ground to justify universal invitations to sinners to believe the gospel and accept of salvation through Christ.
As the atonement was made for sinners, if it is sufficient for all sinners, I am not able to see what more is necessary to warrant any preacher to extend the invitations of the gospel to all sinners; nor what more is necessary to warrant any sinner to come to Christ, having the assurance of the promise that he shall obtain the blessings of the atonement.
I am willing, and I sincerely desire, that our view of the atonement should be subjected to the severest scrutiny; for I desire that all should know the truth, whatever the truth may be. And if our doctrine can not stand before the truth, by all means let it fall; for this reason I would like to keep before the mind of the reader as clear and precise a conception of the point under discussion as possible. I will attempt an illustration; and being unskillful in the art of constructing figures, I will borrow one from the prophet, which, though used by the prophet for a different purpose, will, as a figure, answer mine very well: “I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert. The beasts of the field shall honor me, the dragons and the owls: because I give waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people, my chosen. This people have I formed for myself; they shall show forth my praise.” (Isa. xliii. 19-21.) Here the Lord is represented as making rivers in the desert, through which His people had to pass in their return to their own land. The beasts of the forest, and the wild fowls, even the most hateful of them, might freely drink of these waters; and they are said to honor God for these rich and free supplies. There was water enough there for all, and it was free to all, and even the enemies of the Lord, and of His Israel, were not prohibited the use of these waters; but the purpose, the specific design in providing these waters, is expressly declared to be to “give drink to my people, my chosen.” So the provisions of the atonement are sufficient for all, and are free to all, but the special object in making the atonement was the redemption of the Church–even all that will ever be finally saved..
Expounding the doctrine of the atonement and calling sinners to repentance, are different things; and, in the latter work, the minister has no business with the Divine purpose as it relates to persons. His office is to show the sufficiency of the death of Christ for the redemption of sinners, even the chief of sinners; that salvation is free to all that believe; that Christ has promised to save all that believe in Him. Some have labored hard to show that the sufficiency of the atonement for the whole world of sinners is not enough to authorize a sinner to believe in Christ for salvation, but that the sinner must be assured that Christ died for him personally. But their arguments are not satisfactory, and can not be made to agree with the teachings of our Savior and His apostles; and the minister who invites a sinner to come to Christ on the ground that Christ died for him in particular, goes out of his proper line of work. Neither do I believe there is any thing in the Scriptures, either as doctrine, or in the examples of Christ and His apostles, to justify any such specific mode of exhibiting the gospel of salvation; and the preacher who adopts it subjects himself to a degree of difficult and unnecessary labor, which he may not be able to perform; for if the sinner doubts, as he often, if not always, will do, the preacher is bound to prove to the sinner’s satisfaction that Christ did die for him in particular; and in this he will seldom or never succeed. The only way in which he could hope to succeed would be by attempting to prove that Christ died for every sinner; and if he could convince the sinner of the truth of this doctrine, it would not satisfy his doubts, for he would still say, that although Christ died for all, yet thousands would be forever lost, and how could he know that himself would not be one of them! he would still be left in the dark. But if we preach Christ as the Savior of sinners: that He died for sinners; that His blood cleanses from all sin–which is easily proved–and show them from the word of God, that whoever believes in Christ as the Savior of sinners, shall have eternal life–and the Scripture proofs are abundant–the work of preaching the gospel is, in this respect, easy. We have no need to resort to theological niceties. The whole business of inviting sinners to Christ is plain, and our work is ready prepared to our hand.
If the atonement was not sufficient for any more than those who will be saved by it, it would indeed appear to be inconsistent to call upon all sinners to believe and be saved. But that doctrine of atonement which we present is liable to no such objection; for if the atonement is sufficient for all sinners, and every sinner is assured that he who trusts in this all-sufficient atonement shall be saved, what more can be necessary to authorize the universal invitations of the gospel? To bring the design of the personal application of the atonement into the gospel call, is to put it in a place where it does not belong, and where, I believe, the Scripture never puts it.
It is alleged that it is the duty of all men to believe in the atonement, and to trust in it for salvation; and if Christ did not die for all men, but for a part only, it follows that it is the duty of those for whom atonement was not made, to trust in that which is not true. Now, with all my profound respect for those who argue in this way, I must insist that their argument is radically defective. It confounds things that are different; it makes belief and trust identical, which they are not; it leaves the promise totally out of view in respect to the act of trusting, whereas reliance on the atonement, without a promise, would not be trust, but presumption. To say that it is not the duty of a sinner to believe the gospel, unless atonement was made for him, is not sound theology. No atonement was made by the death of Christ for the fallen angels, yet it is the duty of Satan to believe the doctrine of atonement; and I have no doubt that he does believe it. It is the duty of every intelligent creature under the Divine government to believe every word that God speaks. When the Almighty declared to Satan that the Seed of the woman should bruise his head, it was the duty of Satan to believe it; and I do not doubt that he did believe it, so far as he understood the import of the language.
But it will be said that Satan could not trust in the mercy of the atonement, because the atonement was not made for him. It is true it was not made for him, and it was not his duty to trust in it. Neither would it be the duty of any guilty man to trust in it for life, if there had been no promise of life given to those who do believe in it. Our trust has immediate respect to the promise. If there has been an atonement made by the death of Jesus, which is in itself sufficient to satisfy for all the sins of all the human family, and God has promised eternal life to every sinner who believes in this atonement for life, it is the duty of every sinner to believe in it; and it is also the privilege and the duty of every one who does so believe to trust in the faithfulness of God to fulfill His promise. I reject the doctrine of trusting in the atonement without a promise. The promise is made to those who believe in Christ, and a sinner has no right to inquire whether the atonement was made specially for him, before be believes the promise. And for a sinner to believe that Christ died specially for him, is not what he is required to believe in order to his salvation.
But it is said that the gospel call comes from God, and not merely from the minister. And this is true. Their object seems to be to defend the Divine character from the supposed inconsistency of inviting all sinners to the gospel feast, when it was designed specially for only a part. But if the provisions of the atonement were amply sufficient for all–if there is “bread enough and to spare “—the Divine character stands in no need of apology. As it is God who calls, so it is God who gives. He is the only rightful owner of the provisions, and He only has right to dispose of them; and He bestows them upon whomsoever He will, according to His good pleasure. He has made known to all the world that it is His pleasure to give the bread of life to every hungry soul that is willing to partake. The only question that can be pertinent, if God invites, is, whether he has an exclusive right to invite all, and to give eternal life to every sinner who will accept of it? “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in nowise cast out.” Shall we be told that the sinner must be assured that he is one of those whom the Father has given to the Son before He is warranted to come ? That if he is not one whom the Father gave, he can have no assurance that Christ will not cast him out? And shall he stand aloof and refuse to come till he gets positive evidence from God himself that be is verily one who was thus given, when Christ is telling him in the strongest terms that He will not cast him out? The doctrine that a man must believe that Christ died for him specially, before he has a right to take comfort and cherish hope, I regard as a pernicious doctrine. It casts a stumbling-block in the way of the coming sinner, and can not be reconciled with the Scriptures.
If the reader has not been detained upon this topic till his patience is quite exhausted, I will offer an illustration of my views in respect to the sufficiency and the design of the atonement. We will suppose that ten men of our country have committed some depredations upon a neighboring nation, to the value of ten thousand dollars, for which they are arrested and confined in prison. The ruler of that nation is willing to release all of them whenever the whole injury is repaired, but will not release any one of them till the whole amount of the damage is made good. Now, among these unhappy culprits I have two sons, whom I am resolved to redeem. To effect this object, I pay the ten thousand dollars in full, for the definite purpose of delivering these two sons; whereupon the ruler acknowledges himself satisfied, and issues his mandate to open the prison door and announce full liberty to all the prisoners. Deliverance is as free to all as it is to my two sons, for whom personally the redemption price was specially paid. Would there, then, be any inconsistency or impropriety in my telling all these prisoners that I had paid the ransom price in full of their liberty, and procured the opening of the door for all? And if I persuade and entreat them all to avail themselves of the purchased deliverance, shall it be said that I am “mocking them,” “trifling with them,” “tantalizing” them with vain hopes and insincere professions of good-will? Would not such an impeachment be positive slander? Any limitations or restrictions in my design in making the payment would make no limitation in the fullness or value of the payment, nor in the liberty procured by it, nor in the freeness of the proposed deliverance; neither would it pertain to any of them to inquire into the extent of my design before they would accept of the purchased benefit.
The atonement of Christ is sufficient for every sinner, and is free to every one; and the benefit is promised to every one that believes. The Divine design in regard to the personal application constitutes no condition authorizing the sinner to believe, nor interfering with his privilege to believe, whether such sinner is included in that design or not.
Atonement and Intercession.
We shall now, in the last place, examine the doctrine of atonement in its relation to the intercession of Christ as our Great High Priest.
According to the line of discussion which I had marked out for myself, I might confine myself merely to the design of the atonement in respect to the persons for whom it was made. In this point of view the question would still be, whether the atonement was designed to be universal, and the design included all men, or whether it was designed for the redemption of those only who will eventually be saved by it? But there are other aspects of intercession that are highly edifying besides the particular bearing it has upon the mere extent of the atonement. The general plan of this work, take it as a whole, would seem to require that I should indite a separate chapter on the subject of Christ’s intercession. I had made up my mind, however, that I would treat of intercession in connection with atonement; but if I should confine my discussion to the single topic above stated, I could not do justice to the subject of intercession, neither would I do justice to the reasonable expectations of the Christian reader.
The intercession of our Advocate with the Father is a subject so replete with spiritual instruction; so rich in sources of comfort and consolation to the believer; so well suited to impart spiritual strength to the children of God, and to establish them in the faith of the gospel; and it sheds so much light on the great plan of salvation, that to omit it in a work of this kind, or to view it in only one of its aspects, would hardly be excusable; and besides this, it would be difficult, if not impracticable, to gain clear conceptions of the subject in that one point of view without taking a more enlarged view of the general doctrine. On the other hand, it is not possible to arrive at any thing like an adequate understanding of the doctrine of intercession without considering it in connection with the atonement; for the relation between the two is so intimate, that there could be no real intercession without atonement; for intercession founded upon any thing else would resolve into mere influence, which is utterly inadmissible. An intercession of this nature would be in the highest degree derogatory to the Divine character, and would, in fact, devolve on our Redeemed a service which it would be impossible for Him to perform. But this part of the service of our High Priest is a far more noble work–a work worthy of His Divine dignity and of His high preeminence. It is a service consistent with His present glorified state, and worthy of His employment as the Son of God; a work for which He, and He alone, is every way competent, contemplating objects of infinite importance, and both requiring and insuring certain and infallible success.
It seems necessary, therefore, that we should take a more general view of the subject, and ascertain, as nearly as we may, or at least as nearly as our present object requires, what are the prime and essential characteristics of our Lord’s intercession in behalf of His people. To obtain this consideration it is necessary to inquire what the intercession of Christ is–in what does it essentially consist? And I think we have abundant data to direct our inquiries. The chief difficulty will be found in making a proper and skillful use of the materials already provided and presented to our use in the subject itself. And we have the inspired word as the test by which we may judge of the soundness and appropriate adaptation of these materials.
We shall endeavor to be as brief and concise in this discussion as the importance and utility of the doctrine will admit. We have already said that the intercession of Christ is not the exercise of any influence on the mind or disposition of the Father, inducing Him to do that for us which it is not His will and desire to do. This would be impossible. God is self-moved in every thing He does. He is in one mind, and none can turn Him. He is God, and changes not, and He will do all His pleasure. It is not possible that any thing external to Himself can exert an influence on His mind. The doctrine that the intercession of Christ is necessary, or is designed to have an influence on the Father, inducing Him to entertain gracious dispositions towards us, or to bestow favors upon us, otherwise than what is already His merciful purpose to do, involves so many absurdities, and is so degrading to the Divine character, and is so inconsistent with the sacred Scriptures, that I think it needless to enter upon a systematic refutation. And there is no necessity for an intercession of that nature. If it were not the good pleasure of our Heavenly Father to do all for our salvation which it is necessary He should do, no intercession, no entreaties, no beseeching or persuasion which could be employed by our High Priest could prevail with Him to change His course of proceedings with us. “And I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you: for the Father himself loveth you.” (John xvi. 26, 27.) There is no need that Christ should intercede with the Father to love His children, for He loves them and delights to bless them independently of intercession.
Effectual intercession, such as can be acceptable with God, must be based upon a principle of fundamental justice. It must be founded on a plea, and such a plea as will triumph over every opposing resistance that can be set against its validity and success. If such a prevailing plea can not be found in the blood of atonement, it will be in vain to seek for one elsewhere. Christ as crucified–as offered up and sacrificed for our sins on earth–is the atonement; and Christ, as having put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, is essentially the intercession in heaven. The blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the atonement which cleanses us from all sin; and the same blood carried within the veil (so to speak) and sprinkled before the mercy-seat, is the plea which constitutes the intercession.
Having now taken the ground (and it is the only true and tenable ground that can be taken) that the intercession of Christ, to be successful, must be founded on a plea–or, rather, that it is the presentation of a valid and righteous plea–and that this plea is the atonement made for our sins–let us examine this plea in some of its relations and characteristics.
1. The plea, considered in its relation to God, must be perfect and competent to answer all the ends, and accomplish all the objects contemplated by the intercession. It must be well pleasing to the holiness of the Divine nature, and capable of satisfying all the demands of Divine justice, so as to demonstrate that God is just in justifying them godly. It must be such as will sustain all that the intercession itself is intended to effect. As the intercession is made to God it must be acceptable to Him, and such as He will approve in judicial administration. It must be a righteous plea, and possess in itself the element and all the virtue of a perfect righteousness; not only a plea that may prevail, but one of such efficacy that it can not fail. And the plea which our Intercessor presents on our behalf is “the precious blood of Christ.” We need not enlarge here on the merit and worth of this plea. It speaks for itself.
2. The Intercessor’s plea, in its relation to those for whom it is offered, must be competent to effect all that their necessities require. It must be infallibly efficacious to procure all the privileges and blessings that their condition and interests make necessary, and such as will effectually preclude the possibility of any exceptions. To the same extent that intercession is necessary and appropriate, so far must the efficacy and success of the plea extend and prevail; for if we allow any lameness, defect, or deficiency in the matter of the plea, the intercession founded upon the plea will accomplish nothing for us. But as the perfect atonement made by Christ is the plea of intercession, and as this atonement is already accepted in heaven, there can be no danger, nor indeed any possibility of failure, except the intercession were to be extended beyond the limits of the atonement. Those attributes of the Divine nature which make an atonement necessary, also require the ministration of an intercession; for both are related to God in the same respects, and both are related to us in the same respects. The great end for which atonement was made, in relation to us, was our salvation; and the great end for which intercession is made, in the same relation, is our complete salvation. The two are co-extensive, the one being neither more nor less extensive than the other. And this view corresponds most exactly with the typical representations of the priesthood of Aaron, which was a very significant and instructive ceremony of typical service. The blood of the sacrificial lamb, offered for sin, which made atonement at the altar of burnt-offerings, outside of the sanctuary, was applied to that altar; and the same blood was taken into the sanctuary and applied to the altar of incense, inside of the sanctuary, and was also sprinkled before the mercy-seat, which was in the most holy place, and the high priest officiated in the whole transaction; and all was done throughout for the same person, or for the same community, in whose behalf the offering was made. And, further, the end or object for which the service was performed never failed of its complete accomplishment.
3. As we are now inquiring into the nature of intercession, we should notice some of those relations in which our Intercessor stands to Him to whom the intercession is made. And this brings into view most directly and prominently the priestly office of Christ, for His intercession is comprehended within, and pertains exclusively to, his priesthood; and the office includes two branches of official service, but it is but the one work–but the one whole service. Christ must first offer Himself as a sacrifice for sin–as a whole burnt-offering for us–and then He must present Himself, with His perfect work, in the presence of God for us, as our Intercessor. Neither of these alone, independently of the other, would effect our complete salvation.
Although Christ took upon Himself this office of High Priest, with all its incumbent duties and burdens, willingly, and of His own choice, yet He did it by the appointment of the Father. (Heb. iii. 2.) He was ordained of God. (Heb. v. 1.) God glorified Him to be made a priest, and conferred on Him this high honor because He was the Son of God. (Heb. v. 5.) He was made a priest by the oath of God. (Heb. vii. 20.) And was consecrated by the oath of God to an everlasting priesthood: “Thou art a priest forever.” (Heb. vii. 28.) Thus we see He was divinely appointed, and solemnly consecrated by God to a special official service. The Father assigned to Him His official work–a service to be rendered to God. He was ordained and consecrated to do the will of God: “Lo! I come to do Thy will.” A great deal by way of legitimate inference may be deduced from these considerations, but there is one inference that is unavoidable: It is not possible that God should appoint His Son to an office, and invest Him with all its official functions, and assign to Him a work and service in that office, had He not known that His High Priest was both able and faithful to perform and finish the whole duty pertaining to the official institution. Neither would He institute an official ministration that would not be adequate to the purpose for which it was ordained; for it is not God’s method of proceeding, nor is it consistent with His infinite wisdom to choose and establish a fallible and precarious system of operation. And this inference is decisively confirmed by the Scriptures in reference to both branches of the priestly service of Christ. In regard to His atonement it is said, “By one offering He hath perfected forever them that were sanctified;” that is, those for whom the offering was made. And again: “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.” And in reference to His intercession it is written, “He is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him.” And also Jesus said to His Father, “And I knew that Thou hearest me always.” I believe that no instance can be referred to where a priest of Aaron’s order officiated, whether for an individual or for the whole congregation of Israel, that the service was not completely successful, and infallibly procured the good or averted the evil for which the sacrifice was offered. The offering up of the sacrificial victim at the altar of burnt-offerings, and the application of the blood to that altar, was the type of atonement; and the priest taking the blood into the sanctuary and applying it to the altar of incense, and sprinkling it before the mercy-seat, is the type of intercession. And shall we suppose that the official priestly action of Christ is less efficacious and successful in behalf of those for whom He officiates than the merely typical transactions of a temporary and rudimental economy that could make nothing perfect, and was designed to vanish away?
It comes in place now to take some notice of what the intercession of Christ effects or procures for those in whose behalf He intercedes; and here we have large scope for very interesting discussion–much larger than we shall attempt to occupy. This topic should be a delightful theme of meditation to every true believer in Christ.
Keeping in mind, then, that the intercession of our High Priest is the presentation of a prevalent and all-sufficient plea, on our behalf, that will justify the Father in removing from us the condemnation incurred by our sins, and in bestowing upon us such blessings as our necessities may require; and keeping in mind, also, that this plea is the satisfaction made to the Divine law for our sins, by the death of Christ, and we have the subject of discussion laid plainly before us in such order as makes the prosecution of our inquiry an easy task, for the merit of atonement is the efficacy of intercession.
We shall not undertake to make a full representation of every particular case, but we will exhibit the subject somewhat in detail; and the reader, being in possession of our rule, a few exemplifications will enable him to apply the rule in any requisite case; for every covenant blessing, and every spiritual grace, comes to us through the intercession, as founded upon the merits of that one competent and comprehensive plea.
Let us look at those blessings and blessed relations secured to the believer in the provisions of the covenant of grace, as they are related to this plea.
1. And first, we are guilty rebels against God; we are justly liable to His wrath; we are the objects of His righteous displeasure; we fear His anger, because we are conscious we deserve it, hence we need forgiveness; we desire reconciliation with Him. What plea now can we make? What better plea than that which our Intercessor makes for us? for “without shedding of blood there is no remission.” But the Intercessor says, “This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many, for the remission of sins.” And again: “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son.”
2. We have transgressed the Divine law, and have incurred the penalty, and we must stand before God in the judgment. What plea can our Intercessor make for us that shall avail to avert the execution ? “Being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.” “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” “By His knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities.“
3. Our redemption in full is ascribed to the death of Christ. To this we owe our deliverance from sin, and from death, and from the grave. In a word, if the question is asked, “Who is he that condemneth?” the plea and the answer is, “It is Christ that died.” Can you supply your Intercessor with a better plea than this? Or can you add anything to this plea that shall give it efficacy and merit?–any thing that shall give it a value and sufficiency which it does not possess in itself, independently of any supplementary considerations ?
4. But we will consider this plea in relation to those spiritual graces which constitute true Christian character. And here opens to us a larger field for contemplation than we can undertake to survey at present; but a few words to the wise may be sufficient to guide the earnest and inquiring mind to the treasures contained in it.
5. There is a general and comprehensive view of the subject which embraces all that we have need to say on this topic; and this we will present to your consideration as a kind of groundwork for what may follow.
It is through the intercession of Christ that the Holy Spirit is given. I would hardly suppose this fact has escaped the notice of attentive Bible readers; but because we find it stated in such intimate connection with the atonement, it may be well to refer to a few scriptures: “For the Holy Ghost was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John vii. 39.) “And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of truth,” etc. (John xiv. 16, 17.) “For if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you.” (John xvi. 7.) I might refer to other places, but as no one, I presume, will deny the doctrine, I need not detain the reader on this point.
Now the gift of the Spirit is fallen man’s great necessity. Without it, he must perish in his sins. The Spirit must give him life, enlighten his mind, subdue the enmity of his heart, and, in short, make him a new Creature. The gift of the Spirit virtually includes every thing that is necessary to prepare us for the service of God in this world, and to enjoy His blessed presence in heaven. Thus we see that it is through the intercession of our High Priest that spiritual life, with all its sanctifying operations, is given to us, and maintained in us with all its holy exercises.
But as it may be that many of the younger class of Christians might be edified by seeing the application of the fundamental plea, or its relation to our more particular needs, we must give a few examples.
We need the intercession of Christ to gain acceptance for our prayers. It is through the atonement that we have access to God by a new and living way, which Christ has consecrated for us through the veil–that is to say, “His flesh;” and our interceding Priest has given to Him much incense, which He offers up with our prayers, whereby our supplications gain acceptance, and we obtain an answer of peace. We offer our prayers in His Name, and His Name makes them well-pleasing to God.
We have grace, mercy, and peace, through our Lord Jesus Christ, because He has “made peace by the blood of His cross.”
While we dwell in the flesh, and sojourn in this world, beset with temptations on every hand, and too often unwatchful, we are apt to be betrayed into sin. We then need, and feel our need, of the Divine complacency: “And if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He is the propitiation for our sins.” In this text we see that the propitiation is the plea of intercession. And as He ever lives to make intercession for us, and His intercession never fails of success, He is able to save to the uttermost them that come to God by Him.
It remains, now, that we examine this subject of our Redeemer’s intercession, in its relation to the design of the atonement, in its personal application; for it is through the intercession of Christ that the benefits of the atonement are applied to us, and in no other way. If it was the design of God that the blessings of the death of Jesus should be assured to every one of Adam’s lost family, then of necessity the atonement must have been intended for all, and all must have been included personally in the design for which the atonement was made. Not only must it have been sufficient in itself for the redemption of all, but all must have been included, specifically and personally, in the special design of redeeming grace. This theory would agree very well with the doctrine of universal salvation; but we reject that doctrine, because the Bible condemns it. But if effectual intercession is made by the Mediator for those only who will be saved–and I believe this is conceded–and yet the atonement was made for all personally, then it follows inevitably that, in a personal point of view, the intercession is limited, while the atonement is unlimited and universal. And it is almost impossible to repress the inquiry, Why should not the intercession be co-extensive with the atonement, and as universal in its design?
The merit of atonement is the all-sufficient and efficacious plea of intercession, and the only plea that the Intercessor presents in behalf of those for whom He intercedes; and as this plea is sufficient for all–if it was designedly provided for all–why should some of those for whom it was provided be denied the benefit of it? To account for this, the believers in a universal atonement have recourse to Divine sovereignty, and that is the only alternative. But to the thinking mind it will seem at least to be an incongruous and unsuitable place to introduce sovereignty; for the application of the fruits of the atonement is made in sovereignty to all to whom they are applied, whether to a part or to all the family of man; and to interpose an act of discriminating sovereignty at this stage of the proceedings, can have no other effect than to exclude from the benefits of the atonement a part of those for whose benefit the atonement was purposely made. But let us take a more enlarged view of this sovereignty, as it acts and operates in the plan of salvation; for Divine sovereignty obtains throughout the whole scheme of man’s salvation from beginning to end, as it does also in all the works of God. But, in the great arrangement for the salvation of sinners, this sovereignty is the sovereignty of love. It was the sovereign love of God to sinful men that gave His Son to be a propitiation for our sins; and this love–this sovereign love–characterizes the whole plan and proceeding from its origin to its final consummation. The Supreme, independent God was under no obligation to sinners to give His Son for our redemption. This gift was the forth-going of His sovereign love; and if we exclude discriminating sovereignty from the exercise of this love in providing atonement, and say that all men alike are the objects of this love, and that it was the gracious design of the Father that all men should have an equal interest in this great atonement, this redeeming love; and say also–which a Universal atonement necessarily presupposes–that the Son of God, in the exercise of this same sovereign love, died to make atonement for all and every one equally and alike, excluding all discriminating sovereignty from the design in its relation to persons, and we have a universal atonement in all its fullness, the production of an undiscriminating sovereign love of the Father and the Son. And this atonement is the foundation and basis of a process of intercession to be made by the Son in behalf of the persons for whom this universal atonement was accomplished. But right here–just at the transition from atonement to intercession–we must introduce a discriminating exercise of sovereign love, which leaves out of its range vast numbers who were the personal objects of that love which provided and achieved a universal atonement. There is such manifest incongruity in this arrangement of a sovereign procedure that, as I said before, makes it apparently a very inappropriate place to introduce a sovereign constitution; and if we postpone the introduction of a discriminating sovereignty to any subsequent stage of the operation of sovereign love, the same unwelcome result must necessarily ensue. Sovereignty in the plan of salvation must be admitted; there is no possible way to exclude it, and I would hope that no Christian would wish to exclude it; and if we recognize it in the beginning as first in order–the only place where I think it can be consistently admitted, and, indeed, the only place where there is any room for it–we can then see the consistency of sovereignty in every subsequent step of the progressive operation, and we see it as sovereignty shining in all the beauty of Divine love. Sovereignty admitted at the beginning may be defended, and, indeed, it will defend itself; but if interposed at any subsequent stage of the process, I can not see how we will defend it; and if we seek for a reason or a propriety for its subsequent intercession, I apprehend we shall not find it in the perfections of the Divine character, nor in the testimony of His revealed word. It would not be a sovereign choice of love, but a sovereign rejection of some of the objects of sovereign love. I am ready to doubt whether the advocates of a universal atonement themselves would admit the inbringing of a discriminating sovereignty that would exclude from the intercession any of those for whom the atonement was personally intended. Will any say that the atonement was not sufficiently meritorious and efficacious to satisfy for all for whom it was made? I suppose not. Or will any say that the intercession of the Son of God is too weak and imperfect to prevail for all those for whom intercession is offered up? Neither will this be admitted. Or must we assume that Jesus our High Priest refuses to intercede for any of those for whom He suffered and died? Why should He? And if not, what then? Must we allow that the Father will not hear His intercession? If nothing of all this is contended for, I see no alternative; we must reject the doctrine of an atonement made for all personally and for every one alike. I must leave it to those who contend for a universal and personal atonement, and deny a universal and personal salvation, to assign to its proper place the exercise of a sovereignty that makes the difference in the final destiny. That the atonement of Christ is sufficient for all–that it is free to all–and that its benefits are assured to every one that will, I have no doubt; and this is quite sufficient to devolve responsibility on every one that hears the gospel; and every one being left to his own choice, he must abide the consequences of his own voluntary decision.