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as there would have been in the most perfect execution of the law on transgressors. Yet, on inquiry, has it not been found, that the circumstances of the supposed exhibition were such that we have no evidence that any spectátor of the scene ever suspected a display of justice on the occasion ? The things exhibited at the crucifixion were these,—the malignity of the Jews-the forbearance of God—and the unprecedented and unparalleled meekness and forgiving temper of the sufferer. The
supernatural darkness, the earthquake, the rending of rocks and of the veil of the temple, and the opening of the graves, may be regarded as miraculous events, intended for important purposes ; but if they are to be regarded as tokens of God's anger, I think few will pretend that God thus displayed anger against his Son as our substitute.
Is it not then truly remarkable, that an hypothesis of a nature so extraordinary, should have acquired such extensive belief, and such long continued popularity-one which has no clear declaration of Scripture to support it—which imputes to God a mode of displaying justice that shocks the human understanding, and would be degrading to a wise king; and all this, while the known circumstances of the case were such, as to render the truth of the doctrine in the highest degree incredible, if not absolutely impossible? It may add to our surprize if we consider, that hundreds and thousands of men, truly eminent for talents, learning, and piety, have been made to believe in the supposed exhibition of justice and substituted sufferings; and also to believe that in that event there was a display not only of punitive justice, but of wisdom far surpassing all the wisdom of men and of angels ! How often has this exhibition been represented as one of the things which
angels desire to look into, and perhaps the principal object of their inquiry. This opinion, so common, must, I think, have been adopted and entertained, without duly reflecting on the peculiar circumstances of the crucifixion, which were so incompatible with the hypothesis. But after these circumstances shall have been duly considered, I think it will be a matter of wonder on earth, if not in heaven, that such a mode of exhibiting justice was ever ascribed to the wisdom of God.
Vicarious Punishment not a Display of Justice.
In the preceding chapter I attempted to show, that the circumstances of the crucifixion were incompatible with a display of justice in the sufferings of the Messiah. But those circumstances are not the only ground of objection which occurs to my mind. For it appears to me that vicarious punishment is itself incompatible with a display of justice in any circumstances, except when it happens to be inflicted by mistake. An upright but fallible judge may be so misinformed and deceived as to inflict deserved punishment on the wrong person, and thus punish the innocent instead of the guilty. In such a case there may have been a display of intended justice ; for it was not the innocent but the guilty that the judge meant to punish. But what would be thought of a judge in our land who should intentionally cause an innocent person to be executed as a substitute for a felon? Would it not excite a general sentiment of horror throughout the country?
Who does not see a display of injustice on the
the part of Pilate, in passing the sentence of crucifixion on Jesus, after he had frankly owned that he found nothing in him worthy of death, and “no fault at all.” Suppose that Pilate had been arraigned by the emperor to answer for his conduct in condemning one that he viewed as innocent; and that, in excuse, Pilate had pleaded that he caused Jesus to be crucified as a substitute for Barabbas, or for a hundred malefactors, who had been released on that ground; should we see any approach to justice ? Suppose again that Pilate could have said, truly, that Jesus consented to suffer às â substitute for the guilty : could the conduct of Pilate be justified on such ground ? If not, how can we see a display of justice on the part of God, if he laid on his Son * the punishment due to us all ? ”
Punishment is an evil which none but the guilty can deserve. To perceive justice in the infliction of a capital punishment, we must perceive desert of punishment in the sufferer. When no desert of punishment is perceived, how is it possible to perceive a display of justice in penal sufferings. In reasoning on the equity of providence, Elihu said to Job,—“Surely God will not do wickedly ; neither will the Almighty pervert judgment.” Job xxxiv. 12. In what way can a king or a judge more flagrantly "pervert judgment,” than by intentionally punishing the innocent that the guilty may escape, or be acquitted ? Yet it is to men that it has been supposed God made an exhibition of his justice in the sufferings of his Son ? But how was this possible when the very faculties with which God has endued men, lead them to regard such conduct as a perversion of justice, if done by a human magistrate ?
Had I proposed such questions fifty years ago, the clergy of New England would have answered—that the sins of the elect were so imputed to Christ that he was “ legally guilty” of all their offences. From such a port it might then have seemed pretty straight sailing to vicarious punishment. But as the doctrine of transferred or imputed guilt has been discarded, on what real or even imaginary ground can the justice of vicarious suffering now be vindicated ? If in the view of enlightened men such a procedure is always unjust when adopted by men, can it be to them a display of justice when done by their Maker?
Dr. Nathan Strong, in his answer to Dr. Huntington, gave the following view of the design of the atonement. “Christ, according to the will of the Father, and with his own choice, hath by obedience and suffering made a display of certain moral truths, which the eternal misery of those who are forgiven was necessary for displaying ; so that their misery is not now necessary to the good government of the universe?
What are the "moral truths," which are displayed in the just punishment of the wicked? I can think of none more probable than the following: That God abhors sin,--that, in his view, sinners deserve to be punished, and that, except they shall 'repent, they certainly will be punished. For the display of such truths it is supposed that Christ suffered as our substitute. Let us then inquire with impartial minds.
How can punishing the innocent express abhorrence of sin
; or even suggest the idea that God does abhor it at all ? Might we not from such a punishment more naturally infer, that God abħors innocence or righteousness ?
If we may infer abhorrence of sin from the infliction of penal evils on the innocent, why may we not reverse the rule, and infer abhorrence of virtue from punishment inflicted on the wicked ?
How does punishing the innocent prove that in God's view the wicked deserve to be punished? Can a parent prove to the guilty members of his family, that, in his view, wicked children deserve to be punished, by inflicting their deserts upon one who is known to them all as the unoffending and dutiful son? And what parent would ever think of adopting this method to prove to his children, that the disobedient and impenitent will certainly be punished? Should an earthly parent, or a king, adopt such a method for the display of such “moral truths,” would he not be either suspected of insanity, or accused of abominable injustice ? An affirmative answer must be given to the last question by every enlightened mind; and yet this very policy is ascribed to God!
Before we suffer ourselves to ascribe to God a principle of conduct so manifestly unjust when adopted by men, we ought, it seems to me, to inquire very seriously, whether the passages of Scripture on which the doctrine is said to be founded, are not capable of a fair interpretation more consistent with the common ideas of moral justice which God has impressed on the human mind. To this inquiry I shall proceed, with a cheering hope of being able to show, that the doctrine of substituted punishment is destitute of any support from the oracles of God. In pursuing these inquiries I shall perhaps expose myself to the charge of being prolix, minute, and in some instances repetitional ; but I hope my readers will bear in mind the infinite importance of the question to be decided, the multiplicity