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14, and xvi. 5: Deut. xxi. 1-9. But Christ is “the Lamb of God." No man has had any part in providing this offering. Nor is it an offering for any particular sin or sinner; nor for any particular nation; but is designed for all nations and all sinners. It is sufficient to cleanse from all kinds of sin, and to cleanse all sinners. 1.John, i. 7:1 Tim. i. 15. All mankind have a right to make use of this one all. sufficient atonement. They not only have a right, but it is their bounden duty to do it. Now if by means of the death of Christ, mankind at large are placed in a state of merciful probation, have a space given them to repent, have the offer of life, enjoy the prayers of the church. and other means of grace, not excepting the strivings of the Spirit; and if God stands ready to remove the sentence of condemnation from every one who returns to him through Jesus Christ ; may we not with propriety say, the atonement is not limited, but general ?
This Article has a manifest agreement with those which precede it. It agrees with the one which stands next before it; where it was shown, that in the apostacy which has taken place among the intelligent creatures of God, the whole race of Adam is involved. If sin had not entered the world, it is certain that no place could have been found in the system of theology for such a doctrine as atonement. But it is an incontrovertible fact, that sin has entered and overspread the world; and therefore an atonement was needed to lay a foundation for the least gleam of hope to any of the human race.
We have seen that all sin is of the nature of rebellion against the infinitely glorious God, and that on this account it is a moral evil of unlimited magnitude. In perfect harmony with this view of the immense evil of sin, is the greatness of that atonement which has been made for its removal. As the evil of sin is infinite, so the atonement is also infinite. An elernal punishment, inflicted on the sinner, will for ever be disclosing to created minds more and more of the abhorrence which God has towards his evil character; and the same will be the effect of an infinite atonement. As created minds shall continue to expand through eternal ages, they will have increasing discoveries of its
reatness, provided it be infinite, but not otherwise. Both the punishment of sin, and the atonement made for it by the death of Christ, declare it to be an evil infinitely great.
Some may think, the harmony between these two Articles is not perfect, unless the atonement is represented to be co-extensive with the apostacy, including fallen angels as well as fallen men. The apostacy of creatures, however, lays God under no obligation to provide redemption for them. If the law is, what it is declared to be, holy, just, and good, it might take its course on all transgressors, and the throne of God be guiltless. It is not therefore necessary, in order to harmonize this with the preceding Article, that the atonement should be made for the fallen angels ; nor indeed for the whole of Adam's race. But it appears to be the testimony of scripture, that while Christ is not the Savior of devils, he is, in an important sense, “the Savior of all men ;”
though in a more special sense, the Savior of them that believe. He did not die for the fallen angels; but “ by the grace of God he tasted death for every man."
This Article has a very manifest agreement with the third. The atonement magnifies the law and makes it honorable. It declares with a voice emphatic enough to be heard through the whole dominion of the Most High, “ TILL HEAVEN AND EARTH PASS, ONE JOT OR ONE TITTLE SHALL IN NO WISE PASS FROM THE LAW, TILL ALL BE FULFILLED.” The precepts of the law which we have disregarded, our Savior perfectly obeyed; and the curse of the law, which by our disobedience we had incurred, he voluntarily bore in his own body on the tree; thus giving a practical attestation to the goodness of the precept, and to the justice of the penalty. When it comes to be known through the universe how great a personage this Sufferer is ; that he is the only begotten Son of God; and that his sufferings were designed to make a public expression of the high value which God sets on his law, it will be as distinctly understood, that the law is not to be repealed or altered, as if no transgressor had ever been pardoned.
But still it may be objected by some, that between this and the law there is no harmony, since the law denounces its threatenings against the transgressor alone, declaring, “ The soul that sinneth, it shall die." We know very well that the law makes its claims for obedience on each subject of divine government, and points its threatenings against the transgressor and him alone. Pardoning mercy dispensed through the atonement of Christ is not the law itself, and yet it is in no degree repugnant to it.
The atonement acknowledges, and very strikingly exhibits the same great principles of moral government which appear in the law; such as these : That, as intelligent beings, we are under obligation to pos. sése a holy character; that God our Creator has an undoubted right to supreme dominion over us ; that the law which he has promulgated is worthy of himself, and obligatory on all his intelligent creatures ; that the breach of this law has subjected us to suffer its penalty as the due reward of our deeds. The atonement also makes it appear, that, according to the spirit of his own law, God loves his enemies, and that he is willing to do every thing, which can consistently be done, to afford them the help they need in their guilty and wretched circumstances. But the mediatorial system clearly shows that he will not tarnish one of his glorious attributes for the sake of displaying another; that he is unwilling to afford relief to transgresso
sors at the expense
of that law, which is the transcript of his moral perfections, and the only solid basis of order, peace, and felicity, through his extensive and enduring kingdom.
Which of these great principles is denied or obscured by the gospel atonement ? “ Do we make void the law through faith? God forbid : yea, we establish the law.” Rom. iii. 31. What the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God could effect by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh. The law was never before so magnified as by the life and death of our Redeemer.
Still it may be demanded, whether it be not inconsistent with all the principles of law and righteousness, that the guilty should on any account
whatever be cleared. To this difficulty it may be replied, the guilty are not cleared. There is quite a difference between clearing and pardoning Clearing supposes innocence in relation to the crime alleged, but pardon implies guilt ; and pardon through an infinite atonement, no more conceals or connives at that guilt, than if the penalty were to be inflicted. The doctrine of atonement, rightly understood, implies no such thing as an interchange either of character or desert between Christ and sinners. It does not suppose Him to be sinful and ill deserving ; nor them to be innocent and meritorious. Pains are taken by the sacred writers to keep in full view His perfect purity and worthiness, and their sinfulness and ill desert. When the sinner comes to plead for exemption from punishment, even in the name of the Lord his righteousness, he is to come to “the throne of grace," crying, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”
" It ought also to be remembered, that the Redeemer was not compelled to become our substitute. The undertaking was, on his part, altogether voluntary. In view of this very thing he declares, “ I delight to do thy will
, O my God.” Justice imposed no obligation upon him to sacrifice his innocent life for our guilty lives ; but why should an objection be raised against the government of God, because he was permitted to do it? Who thinks of implicating a human government, because it allows a man of wealth to pay the debt of a bankrupt, when he is prompted to it by his own benevolent feelings ? An objector will say, there is a great difference between paying another's debt, and atoning for his sin. There is no essential difference in that point of view, in which this subject presents the matter, namely, as to any injustice done to the substitute. Why is it not as consistent to permit one to sacrifice his ease, to relieve the distresses of the wretched, as to sacrifice his property for this end? But how, it will be said, could an innocent person be hated and punished ? Jesus Christ was never hated by his Father ; nor was he, strictly speaking, ever punished. Punishment, in the most proper sense, is natural evil inflicted on an offender, to manifest displeasure at the moral evil of which he has been guilty; and for the purpose of preserving from contempt the rule which has been disregarded. The natural evil which our Redeemer suffered, was not intended to manifest any disapprobation of him, but of us ; and yet because it was designed, as really as proper punishment, to fix a stigma on sin, and to preserve the violated law from contempt, it is called the curse of the law. “ Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.” The atonement of Christ is not represented as having any effect to change God's feelings of disapprobation towards the rebellion of his creatures. Without an atonement he exercises the love of good will towards the most rebellious. This led him to provide that atonement which has paved the way for the manifestation of his benevolent feelings towards them in effecting a change in their hearts. This being done he can delight in their renovated character, and through the mediation of his Son he can establish with them an everlasting covenant, even the sure mercies of David. Who can raise one solid objection against the mediatorial scheme? The good which it directly accomplishes is immense. Wit. ness that great multitude which no man can number, redeemed from the earth by the blood of the cross. The benefit which these receive is great beyond conception. And it is conferred in such a way as to do nothing to weaken their confidence in the character and government of the Most High ; on the contrary, it greatly strengthens it. The same appears to be true concerning the holy angels, who have the very best opportunity to observe the administration of the divine government in different parts of the universe. And have we not reason to conclude that even the fallen angels, by means of the work of redemption, have a deeper conviction planted in their depraved minds, that the God, whom they hate, ought to receive their love? When they saw Him who came to redeem us from iniquity, they acknowledged him to be " the Holy One of God." Mark i. 24.
If the work of redemption had a tendency to unhinge government and prostrate law, it would be an act of injustice to the moral system; but if the Supreme Ruler has taken effectual measures to prevent these evils, it is most unreasonable to oppose the displays of his grace.
In displaying his grace, he dispenses with the exercise of distributive, but not of public justice. If justice is done to the public, i.e. if something is done which secures the public interest against all the mischievous consequences, which otherwise might result from dispensing with the infliction of punishment, according to the rules of distributive justice, the subjects of government have no cause of complaint. It would imply malicious feelings towards offenders, were their fellow subjects to insist on their being treated according to the rules of distributive justice, when public justice would receive no injury by their forgive. ness. When the laws take their course on offenders, the thing, with which benevolent minds are gratified, is not the pain they endure, but the support which is thereby given to just authority.
Nothing can be more harmonious than this and the two Articles with which our series commenced. In the first of these we considered the existence of Jehovah the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The atonement (the subject of the present Article) shows us that the doctrine of the Trinity lies very much at the foundation of all our hopes, since it made way for the work of redemption to be effected by the incarnation of one of those divine Persons.
Our second Article presents to us the eternal God, making the best and most durable display of his infinite perfections in his works of creation and providence. The most important particular in the work of providence, is the provision of an atonement for the sinful children of Adam. Here are his glorious perfections remarkably displayed. When it is said, God is love, his whole moral perfection is expressed in one word. And when it is further said, “ In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him," it is implied, that this infinite love is most illustriously displayed in the atonement, which he has provided for our sins by the death of his Son. Here those attributes, which seemed at variance, are sweetly reconciled. “ Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” Ps. lxxxv. 10. By means of the vicarious sufferings of the Redeemer we are shown, that stern justice is not malicious hatred ; also, that mercy is quite another thing than indifference to the support
of a righteous government. When we become acquainted with this doctrine, we perceive at once that the sufferings of the Redeemer were not the effect of an indiscriminate wrath which assails every thing in its way. On the contrary, we see that these sufferings were appointed, for a holy purpose, by him who is possessed of the attributes of justice, mercy, and wisdom, in the most unlimited degree. When God sends the wicked to a deserved punishment, he exhibits no feelings which he wishes to conceal from his creatures ; he is not ashamed of punitive justice. He proclaims it openly, “ To me belongeth vengeance.” And when he laid our iniquity on his beloved Son, he manifested the same feelings. Both are benevolent exhibitions of his opposition to sin, but the latter excels in glory.*
There is no exhibition of the character of God, in all the scriptures, which has drawn forth such severe remarks from unbelievers, as that relating to substitution and an expiatory sacrifice for sin. They seem to imagine the gospel atonement represents God as full of malicious revenge, which can be pacified with nothing but such an amount of suffering, either of the guilty or innocent. But will not infidels be candid enough to acknowledge, that there is a wide difference between the execution of a legal penalty, for the purpose of supporting that law which is essential to the preservation of the order and happiness of society, and the wreaking of that selfish revenge which prostrates law, and disturbs the public tranquillity? If the penalty of a law can be executed in consistency with universal good will, why must the requisition of an atonement, to pave the way for the pardon of sin, be considered as a display of maliciousness ? Neither the pains threatened to transgressors, nor those which have been inflicted on their innocent Substitute, express the least degree of selfish revenge. But those which have been inflicted on their Substitute, who is none other than the dearly beloved Son of the Father, seem to be calculated, beyond any thing else, to remove all suspicions of that unworthy revenge which is gratified with the infliction of pain.
It is worthy of particular notice, that the very thing which the God of the scriptures has pointed out, as the highest proof of the greatness and disinterestedness of his love, should be considered by deists as fixing such a foul blot on his character, as to set aside his claims to divine honors. “ The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not.”
* If the glory of God is more displayed in saying sinners through the atonement, than in their being punished according to the threatening of the law, why, some may say, are not all saved ? To this seeming difficulty it may be replied, that of two things in creation and providence, we may say, that one excels the other in glory, without say. ing it was foolish that the other had any existence. In the natural world the sun has a pre-eminence over the moon. It has more lustre, and displays the glory of the Creator lo a greater degree. Yet the Creator is more glorified by his making one sun and one moon, than he would have been by making two suns, and no moon. Important purposes will be answered by the continuance of moral and natural evil in the system. The deformity of sin, the beauty of holiness, and the great and unmerited favor of salvation from sin and ruin, will more strikingly appear. The penalty of the law's being executed on the impenitent, will forever reflect light on the doctrine of atonement,