THE NATURE OF THE ATONEMENT
IN considering the nature of the atonement, it is important to detach from it certain ideas which have been sometimes supposed to belong to it, or to show what it is not. Whatever difficulty there may be in showing what it is, there is, in many respects, much less difficulty in showing what it is not and cannot be.
It is not necessary, in doing this, to examine the views which have prevailed at different times on the subject, or to attempt to confute any of the doctrines which have been held. This would turn us aside too far from the main inquiry, and is in no way necessary to a proper view of the question, What is accomplished by the atonement? Those who may feel disposed to prosecute the inquiry in respect to the views which have been entertained on the subject may consult the following works, viz: Die Christliche Lehre v. d. Versöhnung in ihrer geschichtl. Entwickl. v. d. ältesten Zeit bis auf die neueste. Dr. Fried. Chr. Bauer, Tübing. 1838. Die Lehre d. Kirche vom Tode Jesu in d. ersten drei Jabrh. vollständig u. m. bes. Berücksichtigung d. Lehre v. d. stellvertretenden Genugthuung. K. Bähr, Salzbach, 1832. A summary of the historical views contained in these volumes, and a general statement of the views which have prevailed in the Church on the subject, may be found in an article, founded on these works, in the Presbyterian Quarterly Review, vol. ii. pp. 246-280.
In reference to the negative part of the subject, or as showing what the atonement does not do, or what cannot be considered as entering into its nature, the following remarks may be made:
(1.) The atonement does not change God. It does not make him in any sense a different Being from what he was before the atonement was made. It is not held, and it cannot be held, that God was, before the atonement was made, severe, stern, and inexorable, and that he has been made mild and forgiving by the death of the Redeemer. It is not held, and cannot be held, that he was indisposed originally to show mercy, and that he has been bought over to mercy, or that such an influence has been exerted on him by the atonement as to make him now willing to do what he was indisposed to do before.
It has been indeed supposed, and perhaps is still by many persons, that this is implied in the atonement; and it cannot be denied that, in the representations made by the friends of the atonement, such views have been held on the subject, and such language has been employed, as to lay the foundation for this supposition. It cannot, moreover, be denied that language is sometimes employed which would imply that it is supposed that there is a difference, in important respects, between the Father and the Son; that the Father is stern, exacting, and severe; that he is disposed to punish rather than to pardon; that he is more zealous for maintaining his law and for executing justice than he is for showing mercy; that he is rather a just than a benevolent Being; and that the manifestation of mercy has its origin in the Son of God and not in the Father; or, in other words, that the leading attribute in the Saviour is mercy, the leading attribute in the Father is justice. Under this view, the Son of God is looked upon as amiable and mild; the Father as stern, cold, and repellant. Nor can it be denied that occasion has been furnished for this representation even in the poetry still used in the Church.
The following stanzas from Dr. Watts, in so common use in the Churches, will illustrate this idea:
"Rich were the drops of Jesus' blood,
That calm'd his frowning face,
That sprinkled o'er the burning throne
And turn'd the wrath to grace."
Here the obvious representation undoubtedly is that God was originally stern, angry, and unforgiving, and that he has been made mild and forgiving by the 'blood' which 'calmed his frowning face' and turned the wrath to grace.'
So also the following:
"Thy hands, dear Jesus, were not arm'd
With a revenging rod;
No hard commission to perform,
The vengeance of a God.
But all was mercy, all was mild,
And wrath forsook the throne,
When Christ on the kind errand came
And brought salvation down."
In such language as this, while something may be set down to mere poetry and to the overflowing emotions of gratitude to the Saviour for the part which he has performed in the work of redemption, it is undoubtedly implied, by the fair interpretation of the language, that a change has been produced in God by the work of the atonement; that in some way a Being before stern, severe, and angry has been made mild, forgiving, and kind.
It cannot be necessary to prove at any considerable length that this cannot be a true representation.
It would undoubtedly be a valid objection to the doctrine--an objection which would prevent its general reception in the world as a doctrine of revelation--if it were implied that any change has been produced in God by the atonement. Men would not, could not, receive such a doctrine; for there is nothing more deeply and indelibly engraved on our nature, and nothing more abundantly affirmed in the Bible, than that God is unchangeable. The effect of any such representation of the doctrine of the atonement as that it implies that a change has been produced in God, that he has been bought over to mercy, that he has been in the literal sense appeased or made merciful and forgiving by the atonement, would not only be to lead men to reject the doctrine, but the book which taught it; and it cannot be doubted that all such representations, and all statements of the doctrine which border on such representations, tend to promote, among large classes of men, infidelity. It would be impossible to commend such a doctrine to the mass of mankind, or to vindicate a book as a revelation in which this doctrine was taught.
The true doctrine on this point may be expressed in the following specifications:
(a.) God is unchangeable. In him there is no 'variableness, neither shadow of turning.' He is 'the same yesterday, today, and forever.' He is in no respect whatever a different Being now from what he was before the atonement was made; and he will always be the same under all the circumstances which may occur in the universe. His nature is the same; his attributes are the same; the principles of his administration are the same; his love is the same; his justice is the same. He is no more disposed to show mercy now than he was before the atonement was made; he would be no less disposed if we could suppose that, from any cause, the efficacy of the atonement should be exhausted. The welfare of the universe depends on the fact that God is unchangeable; for the very moment that the idea should be admitted that he has changed or could change, all confidence in the stability of the universe would be gone; all confidence in him, his truth, his justice, his mercy, would cease forever. Dismay would spread over heaven and earth if it were announced that God had changed or could change; for what confidence could angels or men then repose in a Being who might still indeed have almighty power, but power under the direction of no certain rule?
(b.) While it is true that God is an unchangeable Being, it is also true that he may consistently do that in some circumstances which he could not do in others. He may consistently grant a farmer a harvest if he is industrious and if he ploughs and sows his ground, when it would be inconsistent for him to interpose by miracle and to grant him a harvest if he spent the time of sowing and ingathering in a place of low dissipation. He may consistently grant health to a man who is temperate, when it would be in every way inconsistent for him to interpose by miracle and confer it upon him if he should violate all the laws of health and pursue the very course which would tend to engender disease. He may consistently confer wealth on the merchant who consults the just laws of trade, and who sends his ships to distant ports from which there would be a prospect of a fair return, when it would not be consistent to grant it if his vessels were suffered to lie unemployed in the port. And he may consistently conduct the mariner across the ocean if he watches his compass and adjusts his sails and observes his chart, when it would not be consistent to do it if by indolence, ignorance, or intemperance he neglected all. So it may be in the matter of salvation. The unchangeable God may consistently offer pardon to a sinner now that an atonement has been made, though there would be insuperable difficulties in such an offer if no atonement had been provided.
(c.) The essential idea in the atonement is, not that God was originally stern and inexorable and that he has been made mild and merciful by the atonement, but that the atonement itself has its foundation in his willingness to pardon; not that he has been made benevolent by the atonement, but that he was originally so disposed to show mercy that he was willing to stoop to any sacrifice but that of truth and justice in order that he might show his willingness to pardon the guilty. He gave his Son to die, not that he might be bought over to love, but as the expression of love. This is undoubtedly the doctrine of the Bible: "GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John iii. 16.) No other representation than this occurs in the Bible; and, whatever objection there may be in the minds of any to the doctrine of the atonement, no objection can be based on the idea that any change has been produced in the Divine mind.
(2.) It is no part of the doctrine of the atonement that the Divine nature, in the person of the Saviour, suffered.
In regard to this, the following remarks may be made:
(a.) It has never been so demonstrated that this is the doctrine of the Bible as to lead the Church at large to embrace it; and it is not the doctrine of the Christian Church. It is a circumstance also of much importance that this has never been charged on Christianity by the rejecters of revelation as one of its teachings. Indeed, it may be doubted whether such a charge has ever been made by any infidel, a tact that could not have occurred if the doctrine were a part of the obvious teaching of the Bible, or if it were easy to make out the doctrine from the Bible by any fair rule of interpretation. No doctrine would have been more certain to expose Christianity to the attacks of its enemies than this; and we may be certain that the keen-sighted rejecters of revelation would have availed themselves of it if such a doctrine were found there as an unanswerable objection to the Bible. As a matter of fact, Christianity cannot be held to be responsible for such a doctrine, for it has never been an admitted doctrine of the Church, and no infidel could convince the world that this is, by any fair interpretation, the true doctrine of the Scriptures.
(b.) It is not necessary, as we shall see in the progress of this discussion, to hold this in order to a proper view of the atonement. If the doctrine of the atonement were that the same amount of suffering must be endured by him who makes it which would have been borne by those for whom he died if the penalty of the law had been inflicted on them, it would be difficult indeed to avoid the conclusion that the Divine nature must have suffered; since otherwise it is inconceivable that the same amount of suffering could have been endured in the few hours in which the Saviour suffered which would have been borne by the redeemed themselves in the world of woe forever. But no just view of the atonement requires us to hold that the same amount of suffering was endured by the Redeemer which would have been endured if the penalty of the law had been inflicted on those for whom he died.
(c.) This doctrine cannot be believed. It would be impossible that a professed revelation should make its way in the world, or should commend itself to the mass of mankind, in which the doctrine was found that God had endured mortal pangs. Such a statement would so impinge on all the conceptions which men entertain of the Divine nature, that it could not, and would not, be believed. God cannot suffer and die. If there is any thing of which the human mind is perfectly confident, it is of the truth of this statement; and if it were necessary that the Divine nature should suffer in order that an atonement should be made, it is clear that it would have been forever impossible.
God cannot die; and yet, in all the representations which we have of the atonement, the statement is that it was made by the death of the victim. It is the life that is offered; the sacrifice is made by the shedding of the blood of the victim, for the life is in the blood; it is the blood of Christ which redeems and saves us; it is the 'blood of Jesus Christ which cleanses from all sin;' it is by the blood of Christ that we are redeemed. (See Romans iii. 25, v. 9; Eph. i. 7; Col. i. 14; Heb. ix. 12, xiii. 12; Rev. i. 5.) It will be shown in the subsequent consideration of this subject that the blood or life of the victim has a value in the work of the atonement proportionate to the dignity or rank of the victim, and that, therefore, in the work of the atonement, and as a part of it, the death of the Redeemer has all the value which it would have on the supposition that the Divine nature suffered.
(3.) It is not implied in the doctrine of the atonement that the same kind of suffering was endured which would have been by those for whom it was made.
It cannot, indeed, be denied that this view has been, and is still, entertained by some who believe in the doctrine of the atonement; and it would be difficult to avoid this if it were an essential part of the doctrine that Christ endured the literal penalty of the law; for then the atonement would require the same kind of suffering, as well as the same amount of suffering, which the law demanded as a penalty for its violation.
But in reference to this view of the atonement the following considerations are decisive:
(a.) The essential idea in the doctrine of the atonement is that of substitution or vicariousness. If the doctrine of substitution is admitted at all, it would seem to be most probable that it would extend to the kind of suffering and to the amount of suffering, as well as to the sufferer himself. For the same reason that it is admissible in reference to one of these points, it must be admissible in reference to the others also; and it cannot be assumed that there is a substitution in one of them only, or that the same principle may not be extended to all that enters into the notion of the atonement.
(b.) It is nowhere affirmed in the Scriptures that the Redeemer endured the same kind of suffering which they for whom he died would have endured if they had borne the penalty of the law in their own persons. It is, indeed, abundantly affirmed that he died for sinners; that he bore the sin of many; that the Lord had laid on him the iniquity of all; that he was made a curse for us; that he was wounded for our transgressions and was bruised for our iniquities. But it is nowhere affirmed that the sufferings which he endured in behalf of the guilty were of the same nature as those which the guilty themselves endure for their own crimes; and it would be impossible for man to embrace such a doctrine if it were affirmed.
(c.) It would be impossible for a substitute to endure the same sufferings which the sinner himself will endure in the future world for his sins. There are sufferings caused by sin which belong only to the consciousness of guilt, and these sufferings cannot be transferred to another. The sin itself cannot be transferred; and, as it is impossible to detach the suffering from the consciousness of guilt, it follows that a substitute cannot endure the same kind of suffering which the sinner would himself endure. Remorse of conscience, for example, one of the keenest sources of suffering to the guilty, and which will be a most fearful part of the penalty of the law in the, future world, cannot be transferred. I cannot be made to feel remorse for what another has done. I may feel deep regret that it was done; I may feel shame, mortification, and humiliation from the fact that it was done by one who is intimately connected with me; I may suffer deeply in person, in property, or in my social position, on account of the offence; but I cannot be made to feel remorse. There is no way conceivable by which this feeling can be transferred from the guilty to the innocent. To transfer it is not an object of power; for, by the eternal and unchangeable constitution of things, it is attached only to the crime and the criminal; and, as it is impossible that the guilt should be transferred, so it is impossible that the remorse which belongs to it should be made over to another.
It follows, therefore, that, whatever may enter into an atonement, it cannot be implied that the substitute endured the same kind of sufferings which the guilty would themselves endure.
(4.) It is not meant by the atonement that the same amount of suffering was endured which would have been endured by the guilty themselves.
It is not to be denied that it has been maintained that Christ did actually endure the same amount of suffering which the elect would have suffered if they had borne the penalty of the law themselves. This, indeed, has been held to be essential to the very nature of the atonement; and the whole conception of the atonement, according to this view, is that it is a mere transfer of guilt and suffering from the guilty to the innocent.
But the objections to this view are so insuperable that it is remarkable that the opinion has ever been held.
(a.) It is impossible that this should have occurred unless the Divine nature actually suffered. If that were so, then it might be conceivable that an amount of suffering might have been endured in the time during which the Redeemer was on the cross which would be equal to all that those for whom he died would endure if in their own persons they bore the penalty of the law forever; for, if an infinite Being could thus suffer, the very fact that he is infinite would make such a supposition possible. But on no other supposition can it be conceived that, in the hours in which the Redeemer hung on the cross, or in the whole length of a human life, an amount of suffering could have been endured which would be equal to what countless millions could endure in the world of woe if prolonged to eternity.
(b.) The supposition that such an amount of suffering is necessary, is contrary to the essential notion of an atonement. An atonement is, properly, an arrangement by which the literal infliction of the penalty due to sin may be avoided; it is something which may be substituted in the place of punishment; it is that which will answer the same end which would be secured by the literal infliction of the penalty of the law. It is not a commercial transaction, a matter of debt and payment, of profit and loss. It pertains to law, to government, to holiness; not to literal debt and payment. Sin is crime, not debt; it is guilt, not a failure in a pecuniary obligation. The atonement pertains to love, and mercy, and truth, and kindness, as well as to justice. It looks benignantly on a world of sinners; it regards a race of offenders with compassion; it seeks to alleviate and lessen suffering; and it is not, therefore, the cold and stern business of paying a debt, of meeting the mere demands of justice and of law. It seeks to bring back wanderers by the consideration that God loves them, that they may be forgiven, that salvation is free for all men if they choose to avail themselves of it. It is real and not imaginary salvation. It proceeds on the supposition that there is gain to the universe by the atonement, and that it will lessen the amount of misery; not that it is a mere transfer of pain from the guilty to the innocent.
(c.) If the same amount of suffering were endured by him who makes the atonement which would have been by the guilty themselves, it is obvious that there would have been no gain to the universe; no augmented happiness, no diminution of suffering. The simple and the sole account of the matter would be, that there had been a transfer of just so much suffering from the guilty to the innocent; a setting over of so much debt from him who owed it to him who did not. There might, indeed, be benevolence in him who assumed the debt or who endured the pain, but there would be no diminution of the actual suffering endured in the universe; and it would be impossible to answer the question which would be asked, whether it is desirable that punishment should be transferred from the guilty to the innocent; whether it would not be better, if the same amount of suffering is to be endured, that it should be borne by him who does deserve it than by him who does not. This question it would be difficult to answer even if the substitute were wholly voluntary in assuming the suffering in the case: it becomes wholly impossible to answer it if it is imposed upon the sufferer and exacted of him.
(d.) It is clear that, if such were the nature of the atonement, there could be no mercy in the case. When a debt is paid, there is no forgiveness; when a penalty is endured, there is no mercy. It is an affair of strict and inexorable justice. In the case of one who should be willing to pay the debt or to endure the suffering, there may be the highest benevolence; but there is no mercy exhibited by him to whom the debt is paid or the penalty of whose law has been borne. If it is a pecuniary transaction, it is a matter of indifference to him to whom the debt is owing whether it is paid by him who contracted it, or by a friend; and in a case where it is supposed that the exact punishment due to sin is borne by another, whatever kindness there may be in him who endures it, there is no mercy in him who has exacted the penalty, though he has accepted the offering made by the substitute. The full penalty has been exacted, and all the demands in the case have been complied with. It would have been kindness, indeed, in an Egyptian to have come in voluntarily and aided the oppressed and burdened Hebrew to furnish the 'tale of bricks;' but there would have been no kindness or compassion evinced by the taskmaster who had appointed the task, for the whole demand would have been complied with. So far as he who performed the work was concerned, and so far as the burdened Hebrew was concerned, it would have been a transaction of mere law and justice; so far as the taskmaster was concerned, there would have been in the case neither mercy nor compassion.
Now, it need scarcely be said that this view is entirely contrary to all the representations of the atonement in the Scriptures. Nothing is more plain than that the whole transaction there is represented as one of mercy; that it is designed to illustrate the love, as well as the justice, of God.
If it should be said that there was mercy in the gift of a Saviour, and that so far as that is concerned the transaction is one of mercy, though so far as the law is concerned the transaction is one of justice, it may be replied that this is not the representation of the Bible. The idea of mercy pervades it throughout. It is not only mercy in providing an atonement; it is mercy to the sinner. There is mercy in the case. There is love. There is more than a mere exaction of the penalty. There is more than a transfer. There is a lessening of suffering. There is a substitution of a less amount of pain as actually endured in the place of the pain that was threatened. There is an actual gain of happiness to the universe; not a mere transfer of so much pain from the guilty to the innocent. This representation is apparent everywhere in the Scriptures; and no one can rise from the perusal of the New Testament without the impression that the scheme is one that lays the foundation for gratitude and thanksgiving as an exercise of mercy in the largest sense, and that the songs of the redeemed in heaven are not based on the idea that it is a transaction of mere justice, or on the idea that it is a mere commercial transaction, a quid pro quo, but on the idea that a new provision has been introduced into the government of the universe, by which suffering may be DIMINISHED.
(5.) It is not meant by the atonement that Christ endured the literal penalty of the law.
The penalty of the law, as we have seen, is what is threatened or inflicted by the lawgiver as an expression of his sense of the value of the law and of the evil of violating it. The penalty may be measured or determined (a) by an actual statement on his part of what he will inflict, or what the violation of the law deserves, or (b) by what actually comes upon the offender under his administration as the consequence of violating the law. In other words, we may learn what is the penalty of the law from revelation, or from observation of the actual course of events, or from both combined. The actual threatening may or may not cover the whole ground; and what the penalty is, may be learned partly from the statement, and partly from observation. As a matter of fact, we ascertain, in a great measure, what the penalty of violating the Divine law is, from observation. Thus, we learn what is the penalty of intemperance, partly from the previous statement of what will be the consequences, and partly from an actual observation of the evils which come upon the drunkard. To know what the real penalty is, we must look at all those consequences on the body and the soul; on the property and the peace of the drunkard; on his family and his reputation; on the effects in delirium tremens, in his wretched death, in his dishonoured memory, and in the woes endured forever. All these, and not a part of them, are designed to express the Lawgiver's sense of the value of the law and the evil of its violation. To endure, therefore, the penalty of the law in the case of intemperance is to bear all the evils which it actually brings on the offender in this world and in the world to come. If a substitute, therefore, should endure the literal penalty of the law, all must be endured which would actually come upon the offender himself.
It should be added, moreover, that a penalty is what is denounced against the offender himself and no other. The law utters no threat against the innocent; it inflicts no suffering on those who obey it, which can properly be regarded as punishment. The crime and the penalty are in the same line; they pertain to the same person; they cannot be separated except as the penalty shall be removed by pardon or substitution; they are not shifting and vacillating; they are not capable of being transferred to different persons. They can no more be separated than the qualities of colour, ductility, malleability, or weight, for example, can be separated from gold and transferred to silver or lead.
If we look, then, at what actually follows from the infraction of the Divine law, and what is, therefore, a part of the penalty, we shall see that there are sufferings which could not by any possibility be transferred to a substitute. They are of such a nature that they always adhere to the offender himself; and it is absolutely certain, therefore, that the Redeemer did not endure them on the cross.
(a.) Remorse of conscience is manifestly a part of the penalty of the law; that is, it is a portion of what the law inflicts as expressing the sense which the Lawgiver entertains of the value of the law and of the evil of its violation. But this is connected only with the personal violation of the law. It is never found in an innocent bosom. It never springs up from the performance of a right action. It can in no way be connected with the consciousness of innocence. It has all the marks of being a mere Divine appointment designed to furnish evidence to the soul itself that what has been done is wrong, and to be a measure, of the wrong as it is estimated by the lawgiver. There is no more certain proof that there is a moral government, and that God is a lawgiver, than is furnished by the fact that the mind is made to judge of the evil of its own doings, and that this silent but terrible infliction comes upon the violator of law through the action of the mind itself. It is an internal arrangement, connected with the very workings of the soul, which could have been originated only by the Maker of the soul, and who intends that sin shall always be punished.
Yet it is certain that the Redeemer never suffered remorse of conscience. In the history of his life there is not a hint that can be tortured into evidence that he did; and in the nature of the case it was impossible that he should. For remorse cannot be attached to innocence. It is the result and companion of guilt, and it CANNOT be transferred from the guilty to the innocent. I may weep for the sin of others; I may be involved in calamity on account of their guilt; I may hang my head in shame when one who is closely connected with me has been guilty of crime; but I can never be made to feel remorse on account of the guilt of any other being but myself. It is not an object of power to make this feeling spring up in the mind of any other than the offender himself. And if this is true, then it is certain that there is one portion of the penalty of the law which the Redeemer did not endure in making an atonement.
(b.) Equally certain is it that he did not endure eternal death.
It will be admitted, by those who believe in the necessity of an atonement, that eternal death was the penalty of the law. So far, therefore, as they are concerned, this may be assumed; and this is all that is necessary to be assumed in considering the point now before us.
Assuming that the penalty of the law is eternal death, then it is plain, as a matter of simple fact, that the penalty was not endured in making the atonement. Fearful and awful as the sufferings of the Redeemer were, they were not eternal. They were closed in a few hours; and by no possibility of fiction can it be imagined that they were eternal. If it should be said that they were equal in amount to the eternal sufferings of those for whom he died, whatever might be true on that question, yet as a matter of fact they were not eternal duration. But, if the punishment of the wicked will be eternal, it is clear that that is a part of the penalty of the law. The lengthening out of the duration of the suffering to eternity is not a circumstance which has been added since the law was broken as supplementary to the original threatening, and it is not that which springs up from the mere nature of the case independently of the Divine appointment. No man can possibly hold that the Redeemer endured eternal sorrow; and no man, therefore, who believes that the penalty of the law is eternal death, can consistently maintain that he endured the literal penalty of the law.
(6.) It cannot be supposed, as has been before shown, that the sufferings of the Redeemer were equal to all the sufferings which would have been endured by those for whom he died if they had borne the penalty of the law in their own persons. It is not possible to believe this unless it be maintained that the Divine nature suffered; for on no other supposition can it be held that the agonies endured by the Redeemer on the cross--intense as they were--could have equalled, in any proper sense, what would be endured even by a single sufferer if prolonged forever.
Laying these things, therefore, out of view, as being either in themselves impossible, or as not necessary in any proper conception of the atonement, I proceed to the second and main inquiry, what the atonement is. Probably this is the most difficult question which ever comes before the human mind.
It may be observed, at the outset, that there may be an error in supposing that the atonement was confined to one thing or that only one result was contemplated by it and accomplished by it.
If the remarks made in the preceding chapters are well founded, then it is manifest that there were many things which it was necessary to accomplish by an atonement, or many ends to be reached. We have seen that there are numerous difficulties in a human administration in reference to pardon; that it is not one thing only which grows out of the commission of crime which embarrasses a human government, but that there are many things to be provided for in order that pardon may be dispensed consistently with the honour of the law and the welfare of the community. We have seen (ch. iv.) that in an atonement it is necessary to secure the following objects:the honour of the law; the proper impression in regard to the evil of sin as contemplated by the law; the reformation and future good conduct of him who is pardoned; the safety of the community; and a fair representation, so far as the atonement may bear on it, of the character of the lawgiver.
The inquiry now is, What is the atonement in reference to these points?
As preliminary to this inquiry, it may be observed that, in the arrangements of Providence, many ends are often accomplished by one thing, and that, in ascertaining what that one thing is intended for, we must take in all the ends which are actually secured by it. Thus, if we should ask what is the purpose for which light was created, we should greatly err, and should obtain but a very imperfect view of the objects contemplated by its creation, if we should fix our attention on seeing and should infer that that was the only thing contemplated by it. Important as that is, and undeniable as it is that that was an important end contemplated in the formation of light, yet there are numerous other ends known to us, and perhaps many which are unknown, that were equally contemplated in its creation. It is the origin of colours everywhere; it is somehow identified with warmth as it comes from the great source of light; it is indispensable in the development of seeds and plants; it exerts an important influence on the growth of animals; it becomes a guide to the mariner in crossing the ocean; it diffuses health and vigor over the world. If, then, we were asked what purposes light accomplishes in the universe, we should greatly err if we supposed that the whole answer would be comprised in saying that it is for the purpose of seeing. We have given a correct answer so far as it goes; but we have embraced in it but a small part of the real purposes for which light was made. The same principles would be found, perhaps, to run through all the works of God, that he accomplishes many purposes by each one of the things which he has made, and that, although we may find a beautiful and wise adaptation to a particular end, we should not infer, therefore, that that was the only end contemplated. A muscle, a bone, a nerve, a valve in an artery, a petal of a flower, a leaf on a tree, a drop of rain or of dew, may each be adapted to perform many functions; and to understand why they were made it would be necessary to take in all that is actually accomplished by them. So it may be in regard to the atonement; and we may greatly err in supposing that one thing and no more was contemplated by it; perhaps in supposing that it referred to one world and no more.
There are some preliminary questions which meet us here in reference to the atonement, and which enter vitally into the subject, questions which a skeptic asks, and which a philosophic mind will ask. They are such as these: of what use can suffering be in such a case? How can this make it proper that God should show mercy when he could not otherwise do it? And especially of what value in such a case is the death of a victim? Can it be supposed that this would be pleasing to God, or make him any more disposed to show mercy than he would be if no life were offered?
These questions are natural, but they are, it must be confessed, not easily answered. If they could have been suggested beforehand, that is, if we could place ourselves in the order of things back of any suffering, probably we should say, as we would in regard to sin, that there could be no conceivable ends to be accomplished by suffering, which would make it proper that it should be permitted to come into the system. We should suppose that a holy and benevolent God would never allow either sin, suffering, or death to enter the universe. We should deem this so certain that no mere reasoning could convince us that this would ever occur. But if we place ourselves in advance of that position, and look at facts, we shall find that not only has suffering been allowed to come into the system, but that it has been made to act a very important part in developing the Divine purposes. We should have said that God would not accomplish any of his purposes by suffering; we find that, contrary to all these anticipations, he has accomplished many of his designs by means of it.
Particularly the following things are true.
(a.) Suffering as such acts an important part in the development of God's plans, in the destiny of individuals. I mean now not suffering as deserved or as punishment; suffering not directly in the line of an offence and as a regular and perceived consequence of guilt, but suffering outside of punishment; suffering that cannot be regarded as punishment; suffering that comes upon those who cannot, in respect to any conceivable reason for its infliction, be regarded as guilty. Thus the sufferings which come upon us as the consequences of the errors or crimes of guilty parents; those which are the result of our connections with others, though we are in no way blameworthy for their conduct; those which descend from generation to generation as the fruit of the sin and folly of an ancestor; those which involve whole communities in woe as the result of the carelessness or sinfulness of some one occupying a place of trust or responsibility, as the captain of a vessel, or the commander of an army, show that there is a purpose contemplated by suffering outside of the proper notion of punishment, and as exercising an important agency where no guilt, so far as that particular suffering is concerned, exists in those who are affected by it.
(b.) A considerable part of the blessings which we enjoy in this life comes to us through suffering. They are the direct result of what may in some sense be called sacrifices on our part; that is, we have sacrificed case and comfort, and given ourselves to wearisome toil, in order to procure those blessings; and we should not have possessed them if we had not submitted to the sacrifice of time and ease and present happiness. The property that is gained by the laborious cultivation of the earth, by digging in mines, by perils on the ocean, by exposure in foreign and pestilential climes, comes to us as the result of such sacrifices and sufferings. But, besides this, not a small part of the most valuable and valued traits of our character is the fruit of suffering; of the trials which we have experienced in early years; of the sickness and bereavements which have been our lot; of the disappointments that have come upon us in our plans of life. We should have supposed á priori that it would have been otherwise; that, if a benevolent God meant to bless us, he would do it without resorting to such a medium. But it has not been as we should have anticipated; and, if we could now detach from the sum-total of what goes to make up our character all that has come to us as the direct or indirect result of personal suffering, We might be surprised to find how meagre in amount, and how inferior in quality, the remainder would be.
(c.) Equally true is it that a very large part of the blessings which we enjoy has come to us as the result of the sufferings of others. To the suffering and sacrifices of the friends of liberty in all ages and lands we owe the liberty which we now enjoy; and all that has ever been endured in the camp or the field, all the ills of cold, and hunger, and peril, and fatigue that have marked the progress of liberty in the world, have contributed to secure and perpetuate that which we now enjoy. To the sufferings and sacrifices of others we owe the enjoyment of the rights of conscience; the privilege of worshipping God with none to molest us; all the peace and consolation which religion imparts in a world of sadness and sorrow; all the support which it gives on the bed of death. We owe it to the early Christian martyrs that religion survived in the times when imperial power sought to crush it; and all that has been endured under the Inquisition, or in the times of the Reformation, has entered as an essential element into religious freedom now. Religion has made its way in the world in the midst of the fires of persecution; and while it would seem that God might have imparted those blessings without the sufferings of martyrdom, and while it would have appeared probable that he would thus do it, still, as a matter of fact, there is not a blessing of religion which we enjoy which is not the fruit of the sufferings endured on the rack and at the stake. And since, as a great rule in the Divine administration, this is the way in which we receive blessings from the hand of God, it is manifest that there is some reason for making those blessings conditional on suffering, or in making this a great principle in the Divine method of dealing with man. In temporal matters, men do not complain of this arrangement; and why should we not be willing to admit that there may be equal wisdom in the method by which the highest blessings of this world and the next shall be conferred on men? We receive the blessings of liberty gratefully as the result of the toils and sacrifices of patriots: why should we not thus receive the blessings of redemption? Patriots have been satisfied if by their sufferings they could secure the liberty of their country: why should we not suppose that the Redeemer would be 'satisfied' (Isa. liii. 11) if by his sufferings he could redeem a fallen world?
With these preliminary remarks, I proceed to specify more particularly what the atonement is, or what are the ends which it is designed to accomplish.
(1.) 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. It is instead of his punishment. It is something which will make it proper for a lawgiver to suspend or remit the literal execution of the penalty of the law, because the object or end of that penalty has been secured, or because something has been substituted for that which will answer the same purpose. In other words, there are certain ends proposed by the appointment of a penalty in case of a violation of the law; and if these ends are secured, then the punishment may be remitted and the offender may be pardoned. That which will secure these ends is an atonement.
The thing aimed at--the result to be reached--is the remission of the penalty, or the manifestation of mercy to the guilty. It is not an abstract thing--a mere display of an attribute of the lawgiver--that is contemplated; but it is a practical work, in the pardon of the guilty, and in placing him in a condition as if he had not violated the law. The essential reason why this is done, is that God is merciful; the manifested reason is, that the same ends have been secured, so far as the design in the appointment of the penalty of the law is concerned, which would have been if the offender had been punished: in other words, mercy can now be manifested consistently with justice; for the act of pardon does not imply, by a fair construction, any disregard of the claims of justice or of the real interests of the community.
(a.) Mere mercy could be shown in any case; but, as we have seen, there are insuperable difficulties in all governments in the exercise of pardon without an atonement.
(b.) Mere justice could be shown by a rigid infliction of the penalty of the law in all cases whatsoever. It could be shown in a human government on earth; it could be shown in the Divine government in hell, for God could consign every violator of his laws, under the most exact administration of justice, to the woes which sin deserves. But then, as we have seen, this would be attended with numerous evils. It would impinge on the finer feelings of our nature. It would make a government harsh, severe, tyrannical, an administration to be feared, not to be loved. It would violate principles which have been implanted by the Creator himself within us; for there is an arrangement in our constitution which shows that it was contemplated that mercy should enter largely into the course of things in the universe, and that the government of the universe should not be the exercise of mere stern, inexorable law.
The object of the atonement is the blending of the two. It is an arrangement by which one shall not be exercised at the expense of the other. In the ordinary course of things, and as affairs are actually administered among men, the two do not harmonize. One is sacrificed to the other. If mere justice is displayed, there is no mercy; if mere mercy, justice is sacrificed.
The atonement is an arrangement by which both may be manifested in reference to the case of the same individual, so that, while he is treated as if he had not sinned, there is no disregard of the claims of justice. Instead of exhibiting the attribute of stern justice in one case, thus disregarding all the laws of our nature which have been arranged with a view to the exercise of mercy, and of exhibiting the attribute of mercy in another, thus disregarding in like manner the laws of our nature which demand that justice should be done, the two meet together in reference to the same individual, or to any number of individuals who may be willing to accept of salvation at the hands of God.
The means by which this is proposed to be accomplished is by substitution: substitution in two senses, (a) in the fact that the undeserved and voluntary sufferings of one are in the place of the deserved suffering of another, and (b) in the nature of the sufferings endured; that his sufferings shall not be the same in kind or degree which the sufferings of the guilty themselves would have been, but shall be of such a nature as to be a proper equivalent for them, or shall, in the circumstances of the case, answer the same ends which would have been accomplished by those sufferings.
The question now to be considered is, whether there can be a substitution which will secure these ends. This question involves the whole doctrine of the atonement, and the views which are entertained of the atonement will depend on the answer that shall be given to it. In relation to this question there are two inquiries, which must determine the whole matter: is such a substitution admissible? If admissible, would it answer the same purpose as the punishment of the guilty?
(a.) Is such a substitution admissible? That is, Can it be proper, in the administration of a government of law, to admit the principle that one who is innocent may suffer for the guilty, or that his sufferings may be substituted in the place of those due to the transgressor himself? The inquiry is not whether an innocent being may be compelled to suffer in the place of the guilty, or whether the punishment due to crime may be transferred from the guilty to the innocent, by the will of the lawgiver; for no one could defend either of these points. But the question is, whether, in a case of proposed voluntary substitution, it is an admissible principle.
And here the following observations may be made.
1. It is an admitted principle in pecuniary transactions; for example, in the payment of a debt or fine. The law requires only that the debt or the fine shall be paid, and is wholly indifferent by whom it is done, whether by the debtor himself or by a friend who chooses to pay it for him. In fact, the law makes numerous arrangements of this very nature, as in the case of 'bail,' and in 'securities' for the faithful performance of the duties of an office, even requiring that such bail and such securities shall be given by others, and exacting the forfeiture of him who becomes voluntary bail 'or security.'
2. The principle is admitted in case of a hostage. A hostage is "a person delivered to an enemy or hostile power, as a pledge to secure the performance of the conditions of a treaty or stipulations of any kind, and on the performance of which the person is to be released."-- Webster. The person who becomes a hostage is substituted in the place of the state that makes the treaty or stipulation, since the whole state could not be made over for security, but the hostage who is made over is, in respect to rank or position, of so much value to the state that he becomes a guarantee that the contracting party will faithfully perform the conditions of the treaty. If he is a voluntary hostage, the act is an expression of his conviction that the state will perform the conditions of the treaty; and by whatever there is of worth or dignity in his own rank and character, his becoming a hostage is of the nature of a pledge that it will do it. And in proportion to his dignity and worth he becomes a security that the treaty or stipulation will be executed; that is, the state will sooner execute the conditions than suffer any evil to befall him. If, however, the conditions of the treaty are not complied with, it is understood, and, indeed, is a part of the arrangement, that his life or liberty is forfeited. Such a forfeit would be, in fact, in the place of the punishment which might be inflicted on the state for its violation of the compact; and his sufferings, whatever they are, are a substitution for the punishment admitted to be due to the state itself, or which the injured party might justly bring upon the party that had violated the treaty. Thus, in the Roman history, Regulus, who had been delivered to the Carthaginians as a hostage, after being sent to Rome to persuade the Roman Senate to a certain course, under a pledge that if they would not do it he would return and die, and after having himself advised the Senate not to comply with the conditions proposed by the Carthaginians, voluntarily returned to Carthage and was put to death under the severest form of torture, his sufferings and death being, in fact, substituted in the place of the vengeance which the Carthaginians would have wreaked upon Rome itself, if it could, as an expression of the sense entertained of the wrong which Rome had done.
3. As far as it will answer the end, or as far as it can be done, it seems to be a principle on which men do not hesitate to act, or where they do not pause to inquire or not whether it is a principle that may be admitted, that one may take the place of another and be treated as he would be. Thus in the cases above alluded to, in a pecuniary transaction and of a hostage. So, too, in a case of drafting or conscription in an army. In such a case, all the requirements are met if one who is equally able-bodied, and otherwise equally well qualified for military service, becomes a substitute in the place of him who had been drafted into the service or who is called into it under the requirements of a conscription. There is no principle of military law which would forbid such a substitution, if voluntary; for all the demands of the law would be substantially complied with; that is, all the purposes contemplated by drafting or conscription would be secured. Thus, too, men do not suppose that there is any violation of a just principle in offering to become a substitute, or in offering to bear the effects of a certain course of conduct in their own persons. For example, in the history of Joseph, when Simeon had been retained as a hostage for the return of his brethren, and when Joseph had required that, as a proof that they were true men and not spies, their younger brother should be brought down to Egypt, and the aged Jacob hesitated about sending his younger son down with them, Judah plead with his father, and said, "Slay my two sons, if I bring him not to thee: deliver him into my hand, and I will bring him to thee again." (Gen. xlii. 37.) And so again he said, "I will be surety for him: of my hand shalt thou require him. If I bring him not unto thee and set him before thee, then let me bear the blame forever." (Gen. xliii. 9.) Here there was felt to be no impropriety in the principle of substitution. Judah did not suppose that it was in any way improper to propose it; the aged father did not object to it when it was proposed. The proposition was made as a pledge for the welfare of the favourite son; as committing Judah to his safe return; as a guarantee that all would be well; as expressing a willingness on his part that even his own two sons should be slain if he did not bring back Benjamin to his father; and as an expression of his own willingness to bear the blame in the case forever, that is, to take upon himself all the consequences. The remark here is, that men act spontaneously on the principle involved in the doctrine of substitution, and that it is so much a matter of impulse, and spontaneity, and conscious propriety, that they do not even pause to consider whether it is or is not proper. In other words, there is something in human nature which lays the foundation for the propriety of the principle and leads men at once to act on it in all cases when it can be done. The notion of becoming a surety, a hostage, a pledge, by substituted toil, by suffering, or by a fine, by devoting whatever there is in character, position, or influence as a security for another, by bearing the sufferings or privations involved in a case of substitution, or by voluntarily assuming the consequences of a certain course of conduct, as in the proposed case of Judah and the actual case of Regulus, is one on which men act spontaneously and constantly.
4. If, therefore, a substitute would answer the end in any given case, it would seem to be a principle that might be admitted to any extent whatever. If the sufferings which one might endure voluntarily in the place of another would, in fact, answer the same end which they would if inflicted on an offender himself, it is difficult to see why the principle might not be admitted in such a case as well as in the case of the payment of a debt, of 'bail,' or 'security' for the proper fulfillment of the duties of an office, of a drafted soldier, of a hostage, or in those instances in which men spontaneously take upon themselves the consequences of a certain course of conduct, or are willing that the 'blame' should fall upon themselves.
b. If the principle is admissible, the next question is whether a substitution in the place of the guilty can be made to answer the same ends which would be secured by the punishment of the guilty themselves. This question is now to be asked in view of the objects to be accomplished in the administration of law, or the ends contemplated in the penalty of the law. It is equivalent to asking whether as deep an impression can be produced of the value of law, and of the evils of the violation of the law, by such substituted sufferings as would be produced by the infliction of the penalty on the guilty; whether as much can be accomplished in securing the reformation and future good conduct of the offender; whether as much can be secured in deterring others from violating the law; and whether as much can be effected in securing the peace and good order of a community. In all the cases which have been referred to where the principle of substitution is admitted, it is obvious that the same ends are secured by the substitution, which would be by the regular operations of the law. The question now is whether the same result can be secured by the substituted sufferings of the innocent in the place of the punishment of a violator of the laws of God.
(1.) If a sinner is punished in the world of woe, he will suffer there by enduring the penalty of the law; that is, as has been explained, his sufferings will be designed to show the sense entertained by God of the value of the law and the evil of violating it. Those sufferings must also, so far as that may operate at all in producing such an effect, be intended to deter others from disobedience by the certainty that punishment will follow disobedience, and by the intensity and duration of the punishment. These would be the effects in an individual case; they would be the results in any number of cases, in the aggregate of woe endured by the lost. And the effect would stop there. Those sufferings would not be designed to reform the offender himself or any of his suffering companions; for, apart from the consideration already urged that this is not, in any case, the proper end or result of punishment, it is clear that that could not be its design in a form of punishment that was to be eternal. The end to be reached, then, by substituted sufferings would be a representation of the sense entertained of the value of law and the evil of violating the law equal to that which would be produced if the punishment were inflicted on the guilty themselves.
(2.) If a sinner bears the penalty of the law himself, the impression produced on the universe at large by his individual sufferings will be, at any one time, or even in the continuousness of his sufferings, a slight impression. If lost, he becomes, in fact, lost in more senses than one, lost not only to happiness and hope, but lost in the sense that his name is forgotten and that his individual sufferings are unknown to the universe at large. An impression may be indeed made by the aggregate of woe endured by all the lost; but the name of the individual sufferer will be unknown, and, sunk in the vast host, his particular sorrows will have no such conspicuity as to make any impression on the universe at large. Of all the inmates of the penitentiaries in this land, it is a rare thing that the sufferings of an individual make any impression on the community, or that he contributes in any more than the slightest possible degree to keep up the impression of the value of the law and of the evil of violating it. After the interest excited by the trial is over and he is consigned to his cell, the case ceases to attract public interest. The name and memory of the convict soon die away from the recollection of mankind; and whether he suffers little or much, provided the exact sentence of the law be adhered to, excites no interest in the world at large. He soon loses the melancholy conspicuity which he attracted by the commission of the crime and by the process of trial, and is forgotten; for all that ever created an interest in his case, and all that ever gave him conspicuity, has been accomplished in arresting him and consigning him to deserved punishment. Unable any longer to awaken an interest in the bosoms of his fellowmen, he drags out in solitude and neglect the weary years of his confinement, having sunk to that obscurity from which he was elevated temporarily by the commission of the crime. An impression may indeed be made in a community by a knowledge of the fact that there is a penitentiary, and that there are guilty men incarcerated there; but the sufferings of the individual attract no attention and make no impression. From the nature of the case, will it not be so in regard to the sufferers in the world of woe?
(3.) But what has now been stated would not occur in reference to the substitute in the atonement. If it be a part of the doctrine of the atonement, and essential to that doctrine, that the Redeemer was Divine, that he was "God manifest in the flesh, that there was in a proper sense an incarnation of the Deity, then it is clear that such an incarnation, and the sufferings of such an one on a cross, were events adapted to make an impression on the universe at large deeper by far than would be done by the sufferings of the guilty themselves, though those sufferings should involve sorrow--the sorrow of remorse--which the innocent one could not experience, and though they should be prolonged to a far more extended duration. If it should be supposed that the heir-apparent to a crown could take the place of any number of rebellious subjects and endure in their place the suffering appointed for rebels and traitors, though it might be true that his individual sorrows might not equal the amount of the aggregate sorrows of all who would otherwise have died, and though it should be admitted that there would be an element in their sufferings which would not enter into his, the element of remorse, it would nevertheless be true that a deeper impression would be made by his public execution than would be by the sufferings of the offenders themselves. That impression would be produced not only by the unusual character of the transaction, but by the manifest fact that the crime was regarded as of a nature so serious as to require such an expiation, and by the purpose manifested by the sovereign to maintain inflexibly the authority of the law. All eyes would be turned towards the illustrious sufferer; all hearts would be filled with compassion; all business would be suspended in the contemplation of the amazing scene; all men would feel that there was an unspeakable majesty in the law and an unspeakable importance in maintaining its authority; all would be made sensible that that must be a vast evil which made it necessary that such sufferings should be endured by one of so exalted a rank. And if on such an occasion the sovereign himself should adopt some unusual and impressive measures to bear testimony to the dignity and moral worth of the sufferer, and to show the estimate which he put on the benevolence which the voluntary sufferer manifested in being willing to endure these sorrows in behalf of others, all would feel that such a manifestation would be appropriate, as all must feel that it was appropriate that the Eternal Father should command the sun to withdraw his beams, and the earth to tremble, and the rocks to rend--to spread a universal pall over the world when his Son expired on the cross.
I have said that the individual sufferer sinking down into the common and undistinguished abyss of woes might be forgotten, and that his name and his sufferings might never be known to the universe at large. Not so, however, with Him who took his place and died in his stead--the Son of God. His cross became for the time the centre of observation in the universe. He had descended from heaven and had taken upon himself the form of a man. He had subjected himself voluntarily to poverty, shame, and contempt; he had been bound, and scourged, and publicly rejected; he had submitted to a mock trial and to an unjust condemnation; he had borne his own cross to the place of crucifixion, and had voluntarily given himself up to be put to death in a form that involved the keenest torture that men could inflict. Rejected of men, and apparently forsaken of God, he had taken upon himself the "burden of the world's atonement." If that scene actually occurred, then angels and distant worlds must have felt an interest in it which they could not feel in the sufferings of the guilty themselves. If he died to show by their sufferings the value of the law and the evil of disobedience, then no sufferings of the guilty themselves could make so deep an impression on angelic minds and on distant worlds as the substituted and voluntary sorrows of the Son of God.
If now an objector should recur to a question already suggested, and ask, What after all, is the value of such sufferings? what is their exact bearing? why might not the same ends have been secured without suffering? and how can it be supposed that these sufferings would contribute to secure the favour of God? It may be asked, in reply, What is the bearing of suffering at all? What, in any case, is its exact value? How does it contribute to secure the favour of God? How does it avail in leading men to penitence and in preparing for usefulness and heaven? How do the sufferings of patriots contribute to procure the Divine favour in the bestowment of liberty? What bearing can they have on God? What can they do to incline him to impart his favour? Why should he not bestow the same favour without the suffering? Yet they do secure blessings from God; for, as has been already observed, a large part of the blessings which we enjoy can be traced to the instrumentality of suffering, and if the suffering had not been endured, so far as now appears, the favour would not have been conferred. Perhaps it may yet be found to be true that the principle which would explain this fact, and show the connection, in any case, between suffering and the Divine favour, might explain all the essential principles and remove all the material difficulties in the doctrine of the atonement. If I have, in fact, received blessings from God through the sufferings of patriots and friends which I should not otherwise have received, it seems difficult to see why we may not advance with the same principle to the higher subjects of redemption, and why it may not follow that voluntary substituted sufferings may in some way secure the blessings of a higher life. If the sufferings of friends may have operated to remove obstacles out of the way so that valuable temporal mercies have been imparted to me, and if the sufferings of patriots have removed obstacles out of the way so that the blessings of liberty have been bestowed upon me, it seems difficult to see why the sufferings of the Redeemer may not, in a higher sense, remove obstacles out of the way so that the blessings of salvation may be now bestowed upon me.
(2.) The atonement SECURES reconciliation between God and man.
This is, indeed, the proper meaning of the word atonement-at-one-ment, or the being at one--as used in our language; and this idea is perhaps always suggested when the term is used, even when it is employed in its most strict theological sense, or when it is employed strictly to denote the means by which reconciliation is effected. There occurs to the mind at once the idea of parties at variance; and then the idea of some means to satisfy the party that has been wronged; and then the idea of reconciliation or harmony effected. The point now to be illustrated is that the atonement is of such a nature is to secure reconciliation between God and man; that is, to do whatever is necessary to remove the obstacles to reconciliation and to secure actual harmony and friendship.
In illustrating this point, the following remarks may be made.
a. Nothing is more difficult than the task of reconciling opposing minds. This is seen in the attempt to reconcile individuals who have become alienated from each other in a family or in a neighbourhood, or among those who have been formerly friends; in the attempts to produce peace and harmony where parties carry their grievances before courts of justice, when, though the mere pecuniary part of the difficulty may be adjusted, the alienation of mind and heart is often entirely unaffected; and in the attempts to restore peace between nations at war. This difficulty is often increased by pride and prejudice: it is augmented if the imagination has magnified the difficulty; if friends on either side have become enlisted in the strife; if the controversy has been long continued; if the causes of the difficulty have been accumulating for years; if it relates to many points at issue; if the parties have become openly committed to a claim that is set up, or if their becoming reconciled will be construed as yielding a point of honour; and the difficulty is not the less if only one part--as is often the case--is in the wrong, and if the other not only has done no wrong but is willing now even to make sacrifices for the sake of peace. Hence it is that there is no office more difficult, and commonly more thankless, than that of a mediator; that there is no man to whom we are less disposed to listen than to him who undertakes to convince us that we are wrong in such a controversy, and who endeavours to induce us to abandon a position which we have tenaciously or obstinately held, and who would persuade us to be at peace with one from whom we have been long estranged.
b. There is an alienation between God and man; and this is the foundation of all the evil that has come upon the race. It is everywhere in the Bible charged on man that he is estranged from his Maker; and it is everywhere affirmed that God cannot be at peace with men unless something shall be done that shall remove the cause of alienation.
1. On the part of man, nothing is more apparent than the fact of his alienation from God. The history of the world proves it. God is not loved. His law is not obeyed. His arrangements are not submitted to. His government is regarded as harsh, severe, unequal, unjust. There is in the human soul a foundation of estrangement from God lying back of the Divine dealings towards the race, an opposition to his character and claims antecedent to any thing that he does to call forth the feelings of the soul; and this becomes manifest when the Divine law is laid across the path of men and the claims of that law come in collision with the feelings and purposes of the soul. This opposition to God is one of the earliest conscious feelings of our nature, and it is fostered and sustained by all the pride of the human heart, by all its impatience of control, by all its cherished plans as they are developed in life, by all the passions which are engendered in carrying out our chosen schemes, and by the fact that in those schemes we become committed before the world. Nothing is more manifest than the fact that such an alienation exists on the part of man towards his Maker; nothing is more difficult than to overcome this and to make man willing to be at peace with God.
2. Equally manifest is it that there is on the part of God an alienation or estrangement from man. This is clear from the Divine dealings towards the race. Man is not treated as if there was peace between him and his Maker. The Divine dealings towards the race are not such as they would be on the supposition that God is pleased with human conduct. Man is not dealt with as we must suppose unfallen angels are, or as he himself would have been if he had not fallen. We can find, indeed, in the Divine dealings, abundant proofs of the goodness of God; we can see evidence that he is willing to be at peace with the race and that he is ready to forgive sin; we can easily demonstrate that there are and have been prospective arrangements for his becoming reconciled to man; but we look in vain for the evidence that that peace already exists. There is even in the bosom of the guilty themselves--in their sense of guilt, in the feeling of remorse, in the apprehension of the wrath of God, in the pre-intimations in the soul of a coming judgment--much which maybe regarded as designed to be a proof of the fact of such an alienation on the part of God, as it certainly is of an alienation on the part of man; and we may see abundant evidence of such an alienation on the part of God in his dealings. All the calamities which come upon individuals or nations as the effect of sin; all the arrangements in the human constitution for the infliction of suffering as the result of a certain course of conduct; all the forms of disease that invade the human frame and sweep off the living to their graves, are so many proofs that God regards the race as guilty and that there is an estrangement between himself and man. Such things are not tokens of friendship and favour. They are not direct proofs of love. They would not occur in a just and benevolent administration unless there was a foundation in the conduct and character of man for the Divine displeasure.
c. The atonement removes the obstacles to reconciliation alike on the part of God and on the part of man.
1. On the part of God. The obstacles to reconciliation on his part did not arise from any unwillingness to be at peace with man; from any want of a benevolent regard to his welfare; from any enmity in his own feelings towards the race as such; from the causes which often produce and perpetuate alienations among men; but solely from the fact that he is the Lawgiver of the universe, and that his law has been violated; from the fact that the law has a just penalty, threatening death to the violator; from the fact that the perfections of God required that his declared views of the evil of sin should be consistently carried out before the universe; from the fact that if the transgressor was released from the penalty of the law there would seem to be a total disregard of the law and its threatenings; from the fact that, if the sinner was admitted to the favour conferred on those who had not sinned, it would seem as if God was regardless of character and treated the good and the bad alike; and from the fact that such treatment would seem to set aside all the restraints of the law, and abolish all the boundaries between right and wrong, and destroy all the securities set up to secure the interests of justice.
In the idea of the atonement it is supposed that these difficulties have been removed, and that God is in all respects now as free to bestow his favour on those for whom it was made as he is on those who have never violated his law. It is clear that this must be so if it be true that as much has been done by the substituted sufferings of the Redeemer to show regard for the law as would have been by the sufferings of the guilty themselves if they had borne the penalty. If ill has been accomplished by those substituted sufferings which would have been accomplished had the penalty of the law been inflicted on the offenders, nothing can be plainer than that the guilty, so far as this point is concerned, may be released, or that pardon may properly be granted to them. If a debt has been paid, and all the ends of justice contemplated in the obligation to pay a debt are secured, the debtor is discharged of course; if another is willing to become security for the payment of the debt and will hold himself liable to it, and he to whom the debt is due is willing to accept the security, the debtor may in that instance also be discharged.
In the atonement it is supposed that Christ has done as much to maintain the honour of the law as would have been done, had it been personally obeyed by all who will be saved by him; that he has done as much to maintain that honour as would have been done had its penalty been literally borne by all for whom he died; that he has done as much to deter others from violating that law as would have been done by the infliction of the penalty on the offenders themselves; that he has done as much to show the sense entertained by God of the evil of sin as would have been done had the fearful consequences of sin come upon the guilty themselves. If all this was done, then it is clear that there would be no obstacle on the part of God to reconciliation with those who had violated the law.
2. The atonement removes the obstacles to reconciliation on the part of man. Those obstacles do not arise from any reference in his conduct to the interests of the universe; but they arise solely from the love of sin and the unwillingness of man to be reconciled to his Maker. The object to be accomplished, so far as man is concerned, is to bring him to a willingness to be at peace with God and to accept of pardon and salvation on the terms proposed. The question is whether there can be introduced into the work of the atonement such an influence as will overcome the unwillingness of the sinner to be at peace with God.
We have seen that in human administrations of law one great difficulty in the way of pardon is that there is no security for the reformation and future good conduct of him who is pardoned, but that, if an influence could be connected with the instrument of pardon which would secure this, the difficulty would be removed. This is contemplated in the atonement. It is an essential idea in its nature that it will secure this effect, that in the gift of a Saviour, in his character, in the manifestations of his love, and in his sufferings in behalf of others, there is that which will secure repentance and reformation on the part of the sinner. By the greatness of the sufferings of him who made it, the atonement is adapted to convince the sinner of the evil of those sins for which he died; by the manifestation of love, it is adapted to make an appeal to the gratitude of man; by the fact that those sufferings were endured in our behalf, it is fitted most deeply to appeal to the hearts of the guilty. We are always more deeply affected with the sufferings of the innocent than with the sufferings of the guilty. The guilty we feel ought to suffer, and our judgments approve of the punishment if it be not beyond the desert of the offender. The feeling of compassion is checked and bounded by the fact that what is endured is deserved. We are deeply affected by the sufferings of others if they are the consequences of our own offenses. A young man might care very little about the calamities that would come upon himself as the consequence of a career of folly and dissipation, while he might be deeply affected at the suffering which he has brought upon a sister or a mother. When all else is ineffectual in recovering an intemperate man from his course of life, when his own disgrace and suffering fail to lead him to reformation, there is still one source of appeal that may be effectual. The sufferings of his wife and children may still be appealed to, with the hope that his heart may be touched with a sense of the calamities which he is bringing upon others, though insensible to the woes which he brings upon himself. So, also, in a penitentiary, as has been intimated before, there is no hope of the permanent reformation of an offender from the mere infliction of punishment. Probably a case has never occurred in which the darkness of a dungeon, severity of labour, starvation, chains and stripes, have melted the heart of an offender and brought him to repentance. So well is this now understood that the only hope of securing repentance and reformation in a prison is from a side-influence, an influence that goes forth from sympathy and compassion; not from the turnkey, but from the heart of some coward, who comes to show the prisoner that he has another purpose than that of riveting more closely his chains. It is not law that reforms: it is love, compassion, kindness. In accordance with this view, it is a fact that the reformation of the world has been accomplished, as far as it has been accomplished at all, not by judgment and wrath, but by the gospel of Christ. The great instrument in bringing men to repentance and securing their reformation has been the story of the Redeemer's sufferings. Floods, flames, wars, earthquakes, the plague, the pestilence, have done little to reform the guilty. The human heart grows hard under the infliction of judgment; and though punishment may restrain the guilty and awaken them to reflection, it does not convince and convert. Crimes are multiplied even in the ragings of the pestilence, and men abandon themselves to licentiousness and to corruption when the plague is sweeping away its thousands of victims. It has been, in fact, the manifestation of mercy that has been made the means of melting the hearts of men and of turning them to God.
d. Reconciliation is in fact produced between God and man by the atonement. God becomes the friend of the pardoned sinner. He admits him to his favour and treats him as a friend. The sinner becomes the friend of God. He changes his view of the character of God; he submits to his arrangements; he no longer opposes his plans; he is pleased with his government and his laws. He loves him as he loves no other being. He lives to promote his glory. He loves what God approves, defends what he has stated to be true, advocates the plans which he has formed, vindicates the doctrine which he has revealed, trusts in trial to the promises which he has made, flies to him in times of trouble and sorrow, leans upon his arm in death, finds in the mortal agony his highest consolation in the belief that God is his friend, and expects to find felicity in the future world only in God. There is no friendship so strong, so sincere, so tender, so enduring, as that between God and the reconciled sinner; and no work ever undertaken is so complete as that by which the reconciliation of God and man has been sought. It survives all changes through which man passes here; it is confirmed in death, and will exist forever.
(3.) The atonement may be an important means of sustaining the Divine government, and may thus have an important bearing on other worlds.
This is a point, indeed, on which we cannot argue with much certainty; for it lies at present beyond the sphere of our observation. But there are some things which may render it not improbable that there may be bearings of the atonement on other worlds which are now very imperfectly understood by us, and which must be in a great measure hidden until we are admitted to the revelations of the future state. In such passages of Scripture as the following it seems to be implied that the work of the Redeemer may have an important bearing on other parts of the universe, and may furnish to other worlds an illustration of the character of God which could be obtained from no other source. "Which things the angels desire to look into." (I Peter i. 12.) "And to make all men see what is the fellowship of this mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ; to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Eph. iii. 9, 10, 11.) "For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell, and, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven." (Col. i. 19, 20.) The same idea may be expressed also in Eph. i. 10: "That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth."
It is not to be supposed that we could fully comprehend all the bearings of the work of the atonement on other worlds, or the grounds of the interest which angelic beings are represented as taking in the incarnation of the Son of God; but even with our imperfect and limited vision we can see that there must be important reasons why the inhabitants of other worlds should feel an interest in the redemption of a lost world.
(a.) The revolt of a world is an event which must attract attention. Nothing gives more conspicuity than crime. A man before insignificant and unknown becomes at once exalted into notoriety by becoming a murderer; a commander of a vessel at sea who would have been otherwise undistinguished attracts the attention of nations by becoming a pirate; an officer in an army who would have been soon forgotten in performing the common duties of his station sends down his name to future times by becoming a traitor; a world that might have been undistinguished may become known to all the hosts of worlds by a revolt from the government of the Creator. The earth, therefore, though among the least of the worlds which God has made, may be among those most distinguished; for it is the theatre of revolt from the government of God, and is illustrating in scenes of sorrow the effect of a violation of the Divine laws.
(b.) The question whether a race of rebels could be pardoned would be one that would be of interest to distant worlds. In illustration of this, we may assume the truth of the statement in the Bible that one other order of beings has fallen, and that the sentence of the broken law was executed upon them with no arrangements made for pardon. If we suppose that the fallen angels have been left in their state of rebellion with no provision made for their recovery; if we suppose that their revolt made it certain that they would never be restored to favour; if we suppose that there were no incipient and perceived arrangements made for their restoration; if we suppose that this had continued for a period which would constitute ages as we measure duration, and if we suppose that a new revolt, under their influence, should break out in a new world and under circumstances materially different from the former revolt, it would be too much to infer that the question about the pardon of revolted subjects of the Almighty was so definitely settled by the former revolt that it should awaken no interest in the yet unfallen ranks of beings before the throne of God. The inquiry could not but occur whether this race would be consigned also to punishment with no hope of remission, or whether some arrangement would be made to check and stay the evil and to prevent the consequences of the apostasy. And though the question would be one on which no light could be thrown from experience, yet it is not unreasonable to suppose that all the difficulties would occur in regard to the question of pardon which we have found actually to encompass it. To angelic beings the difficulties might be as much beyond their range of observation as they are beyond ours. What has surpassed all the wisdom of legislators and statesmen--the proper adjusting of the exercise of mercy with the claims of justice--might be also beyond the reach of angelic intellect. There is no reason to suppose that the device of an atonement would have occurred to them as a practicable arrangement; it could not be supposed that they would infer that even the Divine benevolence would suggest this. It might not be that any of the expressions of that benevolence before made would suggest or justify the inference that it would prompt to the exercise of mercy. From any thing that appears, the question of pardon would be as much above the comprehension of angelic beings as it has been above the practical adjustment of the most wise and benevolent of the legislators of earth. And yet the statements in the Bible which imply that they did feel an interest in the question are such as naturally follow from all the conceptions which we must form of the benevolence of unfallen beings.
(c.) We may suppose that the inhabitants of other worlds may see in the atonement some development of the Divine character which could not be elsewhere seen. The reasons for this opinion are such as the following.
1. It is reasonable to suppose that the inhabitants of other worlds desire to become acquainted with the character and government of God; and it is equally reasonable to suppose that, in a great measure, they become acquainted with that character and government from what they see in his works. The universe seems to have been designed to convey to intelligent creatures a knowledge of God; and we have no reason to suppose that, as a great law, even unfallen beings can become acquainted with him except through his works. Those works, so vast and so varied, appear to be adapted to the eternal contemplation of created minds. It was a great problem so to create mind, and so to adapt the universe to it, that it might have employment forever, that the works of God should be such that there would never come over any created intellect, however exalted, the feeling that the subject was exhausted; that there remained nothing of God to be learned; that there were no fields of unexplored inquiry and thought.
2. Each one of the worlds appears to have been so made as to furnish some peculiar view of God; to teach some lesson which could not be learned from any other world; to convey some truth about the Divine character which could be seen nowhere else. This seems to be manifest from the wonderful variety in the worlds which God has made, the variety in their size, their motions, their appendages, their orbits. Even with our very imperfect knowledge of the subject, we can see that there would be things to learn of God on the planet Mars which could not be on the earth; on Jupiter, which could not be on Mars; on Saturn, which could not be on Jupiter; on the sun, which could not be on any of the planets; on double stars, which could not be on one solitary sun; on the distant nebulae, which could not be on the galaxy or milky way--the nebulae of which our solar system is a part. It is not improbable that on each of those worlds there may be a development of some attribute of God of which we can now form no conception; some trait of character a knowledge of which could not now be conveyed to beings with our imperfect powers, though it might be to those of a higher order; and that even beyond all this, there may be depths in the Divine nature--an infinity of attributes and perfections which even those higher orders of intelligences have now no powers to penetrate or comprehend,as far above them as their knowledge is above us.
3. It is probable that what is to be learned from our world of the works and ways of God is to be in connection with the manifestation of his character in the salvation of the guilty; and perhaps this is to be learned in our world alone. The greatness, the majesty, the wisdom, the goodness of God may be seen in other worlds in lessons far surpassing in impressiveness and grandeur those which can be learned from the earth. The angels do not need to come to our world to gain wisdom and knowledge on any of these subjects. The earth is not distinguished for its magnitude, for peculiar beauty, or for grandeur of movement, above other worlds. The dwellers in other worlds need not come down to us to learn lessons of grandeur from our hills and mountains, from our oceans or rivers, from our caves or cataracts. To those who have ranged from world to world amidst the works of God, there might not be any thing that would attract attention in the vast ocean, so sublime in the view of man; in the storm and tempest; in Mont Blanc or in Niagara. Still less would they be attracted by the monuments that man has reared; the works of art and power that so impress our minds; the Pyramid, the mausoleum, the triumphal arch, the monuments that have been raised to mark the place where sleep the illustrious dead. Hence, in the visits of angels to the earth, we are never told of their being attracted to Thebes or Palmyra, to the Pantheon or the Parthenon, to Marathon or Leuctra. We find them in the humble abode of Mary, and at Bethlehem; in the Garden of Gethsemane; at the grave of the Saviour; at Mount Olivet. Frequent as have been the visits of angels to our world, there is no evidence that they have been attracted to the Vatican or the Louvre, that they have felt the slightest interest in the Cartoons of Raphael, the Last Judgment of Michael Angelo, or the sculptures of Canova.
If it be asked, then, what angelic beings could be supposed to learn on earth which they could not learn in other worlds, what gives to our world any distinction or peculiarity as illustrating the perfections of God, our answer must be that this is to be found in the arrangements for the pardon of sin, in blending together in the work of redemption the attributes of justice and mercy. In no human government, as we have seen, have these attributes been blended. In no individual character on earth have they been perfectly combined. In no other world, so far as we know, have they been united. Angelic beings, therefore, could see in the work of redemption on earth a manifestation of the character of God more interesting by far, as we must suppose, than the exhibition of power and wisdom in the work of creation; and hence they were attracted to Bethlehem, to the Garden of Gethsemane, to the sepulchre where the Redeemer had lain, and to Mount Olivet; and hence they are attracted to every spot where a sinner weeps over his sins and seeks for pardon and salvation through the blood of the cross.
There may be bearings of the atonement on other worlds which we cannot now understand; for as yet we see but little of the effect of the great work of the incarnation of the Son of God. It is possible that some of the highest developments of the effects of the atonement may yet be made on distant worlds. No one can demonstrate that the remark of Lord Bacon will not yet be found to be true: "All things in time and eternity have respect to the Mediator, which is the great mystery and perfect centre of all God's ways, and to which all his other works and wonders do but serve and refer."