THE EXTENT OF THE ATONEMENT
THERE remains one point to be considered, not necessary, indeed, to the main design of this, Essay, but still of great importance in the bearing which it has on the character and government of God, and on the manner in which the gospel is to be preached. It is the question in regard to the extent of the atonement, or the question for whom it was made; whether it is available for all, or is, in its own nature, or by intention and purpose, limited only to a part of mankind; whether it was designed to refer to mankind as such, or was intended only for the elect. The inquiry to be pursued in this chapter relates only to the human race; for, whatever may be its bearing on other worlds, there is no intimation that it was designed to secure the salvation of any other fallen being than man. For some cause unknown to us, so far as all the evidence goes, fallen angels were suffered to remain in their voluntary ruin, with no arrangement for their redemption.
In reference to the extent of the atonement, the sources of evidence must be the following.
I. The presumption from analogy;
II. The probabilities from the nature of the atonement, and from the rank and dignity of him who made it; and,
III. The testimony of the Scriptures.
I. The presumption from analogy.
The consideration of this point may be presented under two subordinate heads. One is the direct form of the argument; the other is the argument as meeting objections to the doctrine of the atonement, and especially to the doctrine of a general atonement.
A. The direct form of the argument.
The argument here will be derived from the remedial systems which we find as a part of the Divine arrangements on earth, and which in a former chapter were adverted to as furnishing a ground of probability that an atonement would be provided for fallen men. The reference there made was to those natural arrangements which are designed to check, palliate, and remove evil, or, in general, to remedial systems found on the earth, which, it was supposed, might be regarded as preintimations that a remedy of a higher order would be provided for the removal of the ills that have befallen our race. Particular reference was made to the arrangements in the materia medica of the world, and to the healing processes in nature itself.
In reference to these remedial systems, as indicating by analogy what a higher system might be expected to be, the following observations may be made.
(1.) These remedial arrangements, though the knowledge of them may be in fact confined to a few, are of universal applicability. They are as much adapted to one person as to another, as applicable in one clime or in one age of the world as another. There is no limitation in the nature of the arrangement; nothing that would confine the remedy to any one age or to any one rank or class of sufferers. No aristocracy of position in dignity or wealth confers any special fitness for the favours which they are designed to impart; and no inferiority of station excludes from the benefit. The poor man burning with fever finds the bark of Peru as much adapted to his condition as the rich man; and the peasant with a broken limb finds the arrangement for the reunion of the fragments of the bone as efficacious in his case as it is in the case of the prince. Whatever may prevent the success of the remedy, the hinderance will not arise from any want of an original applicability to that case; for it may be always assumed that the laws of healing are the same in all men, and that the remedial system is adapted alike to all.
In respect to the healing art, the race is one. There is one system adapted to one race; and though the specific remedies for disease may be scattered in different lands, with a special adjustment to what may prevail in any one land, yet the principle is of universal applicability, and no distinction is found in nature in reference to those to whom the remedy may be applied. If this may be allowed to be an indication of what a plan of redemption would be, it would, therefore, indicate that the plan would be of universal applicability. The presumption is that such would be found to be the fact; and if this is found to be the fact, we see a new argument for its truthfulness in its correspondence with what we everywhere observe. If in a professed revelation a plan of redemption should be proposed in which this was not a prominent fact, we should be at once sensible of such a departure from the analogy of nature as to constitute an objection to the scheme which it would not be easy to remove. Such an objection would be a constant hinderance to the propagation of the system in the world; for it would impinge on the course of events, and be contradictory to the arrangements existing in all the cases which would be regarded as in any way analogous to the purpose of redemption.
(2.) The remedial systems of nature are inexhaustible. So far as appears, there is no limit to the provisions made for healing disease. There may be cases where the remedy is not found out; there may be a want of skill in the proper treatment of disease; there may be medicines used which are not adapted to the disease which they are employed to cure, and which would only aggravate the disease; there may be a maladjustment of the parts of the system of healing; but there is no failure in the remedy from a deficiency in the amount. At any one period of the world, nature, so to speak, has made ample provision for all that could be required in arresting the progress of disease. So far as appears, the supply is inexhaustible, and the human race entertains no more apprehension that the supply will be exhausted in reference to any future generation of sufferers than that the light of the sun, or the air, or the springs and streams, will be exhausted, or that the earth will become so sterile as to yield nothing more to support its teeming millions of living beings. No cases of sickness, no forms of disease, exhaust the remedial provisions of nature. No case lies beyond the range of the provisions made; no case occurs, however new, malignant, or epidemic, which does not appear to have been contemplated in the remedial arrangement, or which is so pervading, so novel, or so obstinate that it cannot be subjected to the laws of healing.
(3.) Nature, so to speak, invites all men to come to its provisions. The sun shines for all, and invites all to receive its light; the music of the groves is for all, and invites every ear to open itself to its melody; the green carpet on the earth is spread for all, and invites all to look upon its beauty; the fountain flows for all, and invites all who are thirsty to stoop down and drink; the stars of night shine for all, and invite every mariner to guide his course over the deep by their teachings; the balmy air is for all, and invites all to inhale it. In nature there is no exclusiveness and no limit. Everywhere man is invited to enjoy the bountiful productions of the Creator's goodness, and one may feel that he is as welcome as another.
We take these undoubted principles and come to the contemplation of the plan of redemption. As a part of the arrangements of the same God, we should expect to find the same arrangement in that plan. We should be disappointed, we should feel a shock in our anticipations, if we did not find the same principles there; if we found all in nature free, inexhaustible, inviting, all in redemption limited, exhausted, and repelling. If there are such ample provisions for man's temporal maladies and wants, we should expect to find provisions equally ample for his eternal necessities. In the arrangements of nature we think that we see unmistakable indications of what the Divine character is. We argue from that. Apart from any revelation, and back of any revelation, we form our conceptions of God; and we cannot think otherwise of him than we do. On deep and indestructible foundations our faith is fixed that the provisions of nature are free and inexhaustible; and with these feelings we come to the volume of revealed truth, and ask what are its teachings in regard to redemption. Shall we find a system equally free and liberal there, or a system narrow, limited, exhaustible? We cannot indeed deny that these previous anticipations might be set aside; and we could not impugn the Divine sovereignty if it were done. We must admit--we cannot doubt--that God has a right to bestow salvation, as he does health and property, on whom he pleases. We know that he may come into the midst even of these general provisions, and discriminate among men, giving health to one, and withholding it from another; saving one alive, and leaving another to die; making one rich, and consigning another to poverty; continuing to one the blessing of sight, and causing another to be blind. But the point of the argument now submitted is not this. It is, that, having made ample, full, and free provision for the maladies of men elsewhere, it is a natural anticipation with which man comes to the Bible that he will find the same thing in the plan of redemption. It is an obvious inference that the impressions which God has designed to make in regard to his character in his works will be found to be sustained and confirmed in the provisions for salvation. We know that God might have made the world differently. We cannot doubt that he might, in his sovereignty, and for reasons unknown to us, have actually limited the provisions for human comfort to a part. We cannot doubt that he might have provided a remedial system only for a portion of those who should be prostrated by disease, or that a healing arrangement should have been made for only a part of the maladies to which the race would be subjected. We know that it might have been so arranged that new forms of disease would spring up, in the course of centuries, for which there had been no provisional anticipation; that not only the materia medica of nature would be exhausted in regard to existing maladies, but that for those new maladies no provision would have been made, and that, despite all human skill and wisdom, those maladies must carry desolation over the world. But that is not the point of the remark which I am now making. It is, that since no such arrangement is in fact found in nature, but that all such contingencies have been provided for, we naturally and properly look for a similar thing in the plan of redemption. In the actual arrangements of nature, as far as they go, we know what God is: we infer that the same arrangements will be carried out on the widest scale; and hence, by the analogy, we anticipate that the atonement, if one is made, will be arranged on the same principles of freedom, abundance, and invitation.
3. The analogy in these and similar cases furnishes an answer to the objections which are made to the atonement itself, and particularly to the doctrine of a general atonement. The point of the remark now to be made is, that the same difficulties and objections lie against these arrangements in nature which are alleged to exist in regard to the atonement.
(1.) One of the objections to the doctrine of an atonement, which is often urged, is, that if God had intended that there should be an atonement made for sin, it would have been made at once on the fall of man, or, at least, that there would have been so clear an announcement of the intention, and so full a statement of its nature, that man could have availed himself of it at once. It is incredible, it is said, that an arrangement so indispensable for the salvation of man should have been delayed for so many ages, and that so many generations should have been suffered to go down to death before it was made, with no possibility of being benefited by it. Why, it is asked, should God suffer four thousand years to pass away before the great transaction should occur by which man was to be redeemed? Why should the generations of men, in that long period of time, be left in a condition so unlike that in which they would have been if the atonement had been made?
Now, to this objection the reply from the analogy of nature is obvious. It is that precisely the same thing has occurred in regard to the arrangements for healing the maladies of the body. With the same reason it might be asked why the remedies in the healing art were not at once made known to a suffering race, and why so many generations were suffered to pass away before those remedies were found out and were made available to mankind. For any thing that appears, all the arrangements which exist now might have been as well made known in the first age of the world as to have been successively discovered by the slow researches of advancing generations. Vaccination for the smallpox would have been as effectual at first as it was when its efficacy was discovered by Jenner; and it may be asked, Why were numberless hosts of the human race suffered to die under one of the most fearful forms of disease before a check was put to its ravages by this discovery? The tree producing the Peruvian bark, for any thing that appears, has grown in the lands which now produce it from the beginning of the creation. Why were not its virtues at once made known? Why were multitudes of human beings suffered to languish and die under various forms of burning fever, when that which might have done so much to stay those evils, and to relieve human misery, and to save the lives of men, grew and decayed unknown, being of no practical benefit to mankind, and apparently created for naught?
It should be remembered, also, that the objection would be of the same force in regard to every thing which would promote human comfort and relieve human misery; everything which has been stricken out by the discoveries of advancing ages and generations; every thing by which the condition of an advanced period of the world is made more comfortable than a preceding period; every thing, in regard to health and happiness, to the arts and sciences, to architecture and to agriculture, to navigation and travelling; every thing in which any one generation excels that which went before.
The objection would, in fact, go to this point, that all that could ever promote human happiness should have been made known at the beginning, and that nothing should be left to the slow development of ages; that is, that the world should have been made as complete at first as it ever will be, or that in the universe at large there should be no development or progress. But an objection that is so wide and sweeping as this is, assuredly, can have no solid foundation.
(2.) A similar objection to the doctrine of general atonement which may be met by the analogy of nature is, that it is to be presumed that if an atonement was to be made the knowledge of it would be imparted to all mankind. As all must have an interest in it, as it must be equally necessary for all, as all must be in danger of ruin to whom that knowledge is not imparted, it would seem to be evident that a benevolent and just Being, who had caused the atonement to be made, would also cause the knowledge of it to be communicated at once to all mankind.
But to this objection a similar reply may be made. It is a matter of fact that the most valuable truths known to man, and those which are quite necessary to his welfare, are not made known to the mass of mankind. The time may come when they will be, just as the time may come when the knowledge of the atonement will be communicated to all men; but as a matter of fact they are not thus made known to all mankind. The truths which constitute science, properly so called, are known to but few of the race. The truths connected with the healing art are known to few. The knowledge of the most valuable discoveries and inventions is as yet confined to a small portion of the race. The knowledge of the best modes of agriculture, of the best style of architecture, of the mechanic arts, is, and always has been, confined to a comparatively small portion of the race. Indeed, there is no one thing that seems essential to human comfort, or desirable for the best interests of mankind, that is, as yet, not confined to a few of the human family. With an adaptedness indeed to the entire race, the knowledge of these things is in fact limited; and it is obvious, so far as the principle is concerned, that the same objection might be urged against this arrangement which is urged against the manner in which the knowledge of the atonement has been communicated to mankind.
But further: the objection, if a valid one, would not be removed until the entire race should be, in respect to all kinds of knowledge, and to all things that pertain to well-being and comfort, placed precisely on the same level. Indeed, the objection must go further than even this. It must go to the point that all the human race should be precisely alike; that no one should have any thing in health, complexion, beauty, strength, stature, property, raiment, friends, intelligence, length of life, which every other one has not also. But it is obvious that an objection which would lie thus against the whole structure of the world must be without any solid foundation. And it is equally obvious that if the knowledge of the atonement is made to mankind on the same principle as knowledge on other subjects, it has this presumption in its favour, that it is from the same source; that is, that it is from God.
(3.) A third objection to the doctrine of the atonement may be met in the like manner by the analogy of nature, while at the same time that analogy may furnish an argument in defence of the doctrine itself. It is an objection to the doctrine of a general atonement. The objection would be, that, on the supposition that Christ died for many who will not be saved, the atonement is so far a waste; that is, that he who made the atonement, to just the extent to which it would not be applied, endured sufferings which would avail nothing, and which benevolence required should not have been inflicted on him. To what purpose, it would be asked, were those uncompensated sorrows? Why should the Redeemer be subjected to sufferings which would be of no avail? How could a benevolent God give up all innocent being to sorrows which it was known would never be made available to the salvation of men, and which it was never intended should be thus available?
It is not needful now to inquire how far this objection is founded on a commercial view of the atonement, or on the idea that it was necessary that precisely the same amount of suffering, and the same kind of suffering, should be endured by him who made the atonement which would have been endured by those for whom he died; but the objection, even if that were the correct view of the atonement, may be met by considerations drawn from the analogies of nature.
(a.) There is, in fact, much suffering in the world, and especially much that is endured in behalf of others, which seems to be mere waste, or which accomplishes none of the ends for which it was endured. Not a little, for example, of the toil of a mother, and the anxiety of a father, in training up their children, seems to be mere waste. The child nurtured with so much care is cut down by death just as he approaches the period of usefulness, and all the hopes cherished in his case are blighted forever; or he becomes early a victim of dissipation, and by his vices and follies breaks the heart of a mother and brings down the gray hairs of a father with sorrow to the grave. Much of the hard service expended in defence of a country's rights seems to be a waste. The liberty that is sought is never gained; and, after prolonged and dreadful sufferings, the chains of tyranny are again riveted upon helpless millions, and for ages the nation groans in hopeless bondage. Thousands bleed on the field of battle; thousands of wives are made widows; thousands of children are made orphans; fire and famine spread over the land; but nothing apparently is accomplished as a compensation for so severe and protracted sufferings. In like manner, not a few of the sacrifices made in the cause of benevolence seem to be mere waste. Hundreds of valuable lives are lost before there are any indications of success; schemes of benevolence, formed apparently under the direction of God, and prosecuted under much suffering and self-denial, are ultimately abandoned, and all that remains to mark the effect and to perpetuate its memory may be the gravestones of those who have fallen in the field of toil and disappointment. If we should make an exact estimate of the suffering thus endured that seems to be mere waste, we should be surprised at the amount which the investigation would disclose; and, from the analogy, we should not be surprised to find that the same principle existed in the work of redemption.
(b.) But it may be true, after all, that this is in appearance only; for we may not have seen all the ends to be accomplished by suffering. Though it seems to be wasted, it may have bearings as yet imperfectly known to us, which, if known, would satisfy us of the wisdom and benevolence of the arrangement. We assume more than we have a right to assume, that we know all that is to be known of any of the arrangements of God. We cannot take it for granted that his plans may not have ends and uses as yet unknown to us. We assume more than we have a right to assume when we say that the toils of a parent in behalf of a child that is early cut down by death, or that the sacrifices of patriots who are unsuccessful in the establishment of freedom, or that the sufferings of those who have laboured to spread salvation abroad and who die seeing no fruit of their labours are in vain. To be able to settle this point, we must take in the whole of the Divine plan, and see all the effects which may, by any possibility, grow out of such acts of toil, self-denial, and suffering. In each and every case the mere manifestation of benevolent feelings, the development and the display of character, may be a great object, perhaps an object in itself sufficient to justify all the sacrifice that is made. It must be remembered that the display of character seems to be the main design of a large portion of the arrangements of the universe. Indeed, it is commonly held, and the position cannot be demonstrated to be an erroneous one, that the great and leading design of the universe is to display the Divine perfections. If this be so, then anything that would exhibit benevolence, wisdom, power, or skill, would fall in with that general design, though it should seem to accomplish no other end.
(c.) But it should be remembered further that though the atonement may appear to be made in vain; though there may seem to be a superabundance of merit which will never be of avail in the salvation of men; though many for whom Christ died may perish, yet that even such a fact would fall in with what is undoubtedly the analogy of nature. How much is there in nature that seems to be in vain! How often does the rain descend on barren rocks or on sterile fields, where are neither man nor beast, to our eyes apparently in vain. What floods of light are poured each day on barren wastes and untraversed oceans, to our eyes in vain! How many flowers shed their fragrance and 'waste their sweetness on the desert air,' apparently for naught! How many majestic trees rear their heads in the wilderness, and stand there for ages in undiscovered grandeur, and then fall and decay, apparently in vain! How often does fruit ripen and fall in regions where there is no man to gather it, apparently in vain! What vast prairies have been covered for ages with flowers, apparently in vain! What mines of coal, and diamonds, and gold are buried deep in the earth, so far as we can see, in vain! What mighty powers of intellect are created in each generation that remain undeveloped and uncultivated or that are wasted in wild and visionary schemes, to our eyes apparently for naught! How many 'Hampdens' and 'Miltons' lie in 'village churchyards,' when far inferior intellectual endowments than they actually possessed would have been ample to accomplish all the purposes which they did accomplish in their lives! And how often do healing fountains run for ages before they are discovered, flowing apparently in vain, while thousands suffer and die for whose maladies their wasted waters would have been an alleviation or a cure! No one can stand near the fountains at Saratoga, for example, and not have before him an illustration of the very point now under consideration in regard to the atonement. So far as appears, and so far as we have any evidence, those waters have been flowing on a barren region since disease and suffering began. Day and night, summer and winter, those streams flowed forth in abundance, and apparently with no tendency to exhaustion, for thousands of years. Yet they flowed apparently in vain. No one knew of their existence or their healing powers, and myriads suffered and died who might, if they had known of them, have been kept alive. And even now what a waste! What vast quantities of those waters flow off and mingle with common streams, and make their way to the great waste, the ocean! Why did God make these fountains in the wilderness so long before they were needed? Why did he not cause their healing qualities sooner to be made known to the suffering? Why did he at first--why does he now--create more than is absolutely necessary for the purposes of healing the sick? Why suffer these healing streams still to flow off on barren sands, lost as to any healing purpose, while so many suffer and die for the want of them? He that can answer these questions can answer most of the questions which are asked about the atonement, perhaps can solve all the difficulties which press upon the mind on the supposition that an atonement has been made which will never be available to large portions of a suffering and dying race. How much like those running fountains is such a plan of redemption, so full, so free, so adapted to the suffering and dying, and yet apparently so much of it in vain!
II. The presumptions from the nature of the atonement, and from the rank and dignity of him who made it, are, that it was designed to be general.
The atonement, in respect to the points now under consideration, is such as it would be on the supposition that it was intended to be applicable to all men. In other words, looking at the atonement as it is represented in the Scriptures, it is such that, unless there were positive evidence to the contrary, we should naturally infer that it was intended for all mankind, as light, air, water, flowers, and healing fountains appear to have been designed for all men. Or, to express the same thought in another form, if it were revealed that the atonement was designed for all men, it is actually such in respect to its nature, and to the rank and dignity of him who made it, as we should suppose it would be if that were the idea.
This general thought may be presented under two subordinate heads: the nature of the atonement; and the rank and dignity of him who made it.
(1.) The nature of the atonement.
I refer to it now as an exhibition of suffering in behalf of others; and the idea is that, as a general principle, all suffering in behalf of others is of such a nature as to have a general applicability, or such that any number of persons may avail themselves of the benefit. It is true that the purpose of suffering may be intended only for a few. It may be limited by express statement to a particular class of persons. A friend may submit to voluntary sacrifice for a friend, intending that the benefit shall be confined solely to him. A father may submit to toil and sacrifice for his children, expecting, and perhaps designing, that the benefit of his toil and suffering shall be extended only to them. A sufferer might state that his toil and sacrifice were only for a particular object, or to benefit only a particular circle of friends, and no one could doubt his right to do it. If such a limitation were found in the Scriptures in regard to the atonement, no one could question the fact in regard to the limitation of the design, as no one could question the right of the Redeemer to die for any portion of the human race that he might select. But if there is no such limitation, then it is right to argue from the nature of the transaction, and to see whether we can find any thing in it to determine the question whether it is general or is limited.
It is to be admitted that the atonement must be limited, and that we should expect to find an explicit statement of that fact in the New Testament, if the following ideas expressed the true nature of the atonement.
(a.) If it were a literal payment of a debt; for a payment of a debt could not be general; that is, the payment of a specific sum of money due to another would not be a transaction of such a nature that a third person could avail himself of that payment as a reason why he should be discharged from the obligation of paying a claim on him; and still less could it be the ground of a general statement that all debtors might be discharged from the obligation to pay their debts. The amount paid can be of avail only in the case where the payment was due. If, therefore, the atonement was a commercial transaction, the exact payment of a debt due to justice by the sinner, it could be applicable only to those for whom it was made; and all who embrace this view of the work of the Redeemer must maintain the doctrine of limited atonement, and all offers of salvation made by them to those for whom Christ did not die, must be based on falsehood and insincerity.
(b.) If the proper idea of the atonement is that the same kind and amount of suffering were endured by him who made it which would have been by those for whom he died, then also the doctrine of limited atonement must be held, and we should expect to find that doctrine plainly laid down, or fairly implied, in the New Testament. For the idea in this view of the atonement is, that there has been no gain to the universe, but that there has been merely a transfer of so much pain from the guilty to the innocent. Whether the substitute or the guilty person himself suffered, the entire amount of suffering, and the same kind of suffering, have been endured which would have been under any circumstances. Of course, according to that view, the atonement would not be of a general nature, and could be made available only to those for whom this identical suffering was endured. The doctrine of a limited atonement, if this idea is correct, must be found in the New Testament, and all consistent preaching must be based on the supposition that no one can be saved except the elect for whom Christ died, and all offers of salvation made to others must be based on falsehood and insincerity.
(c.) If the true idea of the atonement is that Christ endured the literal penalty of the law, then the doctrine of a limited atonement must be true. For, in that case, all that the law demands bus been accomplished; all that a penalty implies has been endured. But there is no such thing as a general penalty. The penalty of law pertains always to individuals. The demands of the law are demands on individual men; the penalty for violating law pertains to the individuals who do it. If they could themselves bear the penalty, they would have a right to a discharge; and if another should bear it for them, they would have an equal right to it. If, therefore, the literal penalty be borne, the transaction must pertain to the individuals in reference to whom the claims of the law have been satisfied, and can be extended to no other. If a murderer pays the penalty of the law on the gallows, that fact cannot avail to the acquittal of another murderer; still less can it be the ground of a proclamation that all murderers may now be acquitted. The murderer himself, if he should return to earth, could not be again indicted, convicted, and executed for the offence; for he has met all that the law prescribed as a penalty, and, so far as the laws of human legislation go, he is free. If a man who is sentenced to a penitentiary for a certain number of years 'serves out' that time, he has a right to a discharge. He has endured all that the law has prescribed in the case as a penalty. He cannot be tried and convicted again for the same offence. But the fact that he has borne the penalty of the law cannot be made available to the benefit of any other offender; still less could it be made the ground of a general jail-delivery, or of a proclamation that the doors of all the penitentiaries in the land might be thrown open and all convicts be discharged. In like manner, if Christ bore the literal penalty of the law, it could avail only for those for whom he endured it. No offer of pardon could be made beyond that; or rather, since the penalty of the law has been borne, and the law has been 'satisfied,' there can be no pardon in the case, any more than there is 'pardon' when a burglar has borne all that the law prescribed as a penalty, and now claims, as an act of justice, a discharge. If this were the true nature of the atonement, then it would follow that the doctrine of a limited atonement must be found in the Bible; and then also, as in the other cases, all offers of salvation made to those for whom Christ did not bear the penalty of the law must be based on falsehood and insincerity.
I have endeavoured (ch. vii.) to show that these are not just views of the atonement; and if they are not, then the way is open for the inference which I am endeavouring to show necessarily follows from its nature. If, as I endeavoured to show, the atonement is (a) 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 have done; (b) that it secures reconciliation between God and man; and (c) that it is a manifestation of the character of God to the inhabitants of other worlds, in showing to them how justice and mercy may be blended in the pardon of offenders, then it would seem clearly to follow that it may be general in its nature, and may be applicable to any number of individuals. So far as appears from this view of the atonement, the benefit might be extended to any number of offenders. It has no peculiar adaptedness to one more than to another. It is in this respect like the light of the sun, or like running fountains or streams, adapted to all; like medicine, applicable to no one class of the human race exclusively, but having an original applicability to disease wherever it may be found.
Thus it is with the sufferings of martyrs. The benefits of those sufferings are unlimited. Any number of persons, through any number of generations, may be benefited by their sufferings in the cause of religion. Those benefits flow over all lands, and will flow on to the end of time. So far as their applicability is concerned, they have no limitation; and so far as we understand the Divine purpose in permitting the sufferings of martyrs, there appears to have been no intention of limiting the benefits of those sufferings to any one class of mankind. But even though there should have been an intention of that kind, yet the might of those sufferings was manifestly such that the benefit might be extended to any number of individuals, and that the world at large, and to the end of time, might be made more happy by what prophets and apostles have endured. Indeed, we may suppose a real, if not a formal, invitation to go forth from every rack on which a sufferer has been stretched in the cause of religion; from every stake where the flames have kindled around a believer in Christ; from every prison where the patience and power of religion have been manifested by one who loved the Saviour, to partake of the benefits of those sufferings. For those sufferings were endured to show the reality, the power, and the Divine origin of the religion of Christ; to secure its establishment and perpetuity on the earth; to furnish examples of what it is fitted to produce; and all who choose may avail themselves of the benefits which have resulted to mankind from what those sufferers have borne.
The same is true in regard to the sufferings of patriots in behalf of their country. The benefits of their sufferings are limited to no class of men, to no time, and, in an important sense, to no land. This whole nation is reaping the benefit of the sufferings endured at Valley Forge, and the world at large may yet acknowledge a debt of gratitude to Washington; for his patriotic self-denials may yet be among the means of diffusing the blessings of liberty afar among the nations of the earth.
In such cases we should feel that a statement that the results of benevolent suffering were limited to any particular class, or that there were any who were shut out from the privilege of availing themselves of the benefits which flow from such sufferings, would be as much a departure from the arrangements of nature as a similar statement in regard to the light of the sun, to running fountains, or to the materia medica of the world. The idea of being originally applicable to one as well as to another; the idea that all may avail themselves freely of all the benefits which flow from them, seems to be enstamped on every thing. Why should we not expect to find the same idea pervade the doctrine of the atonement?
(2.) A presumption in favour of the doctrine of general atonement may be derived from the rank and dignity of him who made it. His rank and dignity were such as we should infer that they would be on the supposition that the atonement was intended to be general, but are not easily reconcilable with the supposition that it was limited. In other words, the doctrine that the atonement was general better fits in with that rank and dignity than the doctrine of a limited atonement; for it seems necessarily to follow from the fact that one so exalted was selected to make it, unless there is an express statement that it was designed to be limited.
If the sufferer had been a mere man, then it would seem necessarily to follow that the atonement must have been limited. It would be impossible to conceive how a mere man, however pure in character, elevated in rank, or lofty in virtue, could have such merit that his sufferings could avail to the redemption of the entire human race, or could constitute a basis on which an offer of pardon could be made indefinitely to the dwellers in an apostate world.
If the sufferer were an angel, the same inference would follow. Limited as an angel must be in his capacity for suffering, occupying a rank far indeed above that of any man, but farther below that of a Divine being, it would be difficult to see how, on the supposition that an atonement could be made by him, his sufferings could have such merit that they could constitute a basis for an unlimited offer of pardon to all the dwellers in a fallen world. That is, it would be impossible to see how his sufferings could so express the Divine sense of justice; how they could so supply the place of the punishment of all these fallen beings themselves; how they could so become a security for the good order of the universe; how they could be made so effectual in bringing fallen millions to repentance and to holy living; how, in one word, they could meet and remove the difficulties which, as we have seen, everywhere attend the subject of pardon, that it would be proper for God, on the ground of these sufferings, to offer unlimited pardon to all the dwellers in a fallen world. It may be mere feeling, but the feeling is a very strong and a very natural one, that an angel could not be the redeemer of a world.
But we have no such feeling on the supposition that the Redeemer was Divine. There is no incongruity in the idea that he was Divine, and that the atonement was for all mankind. The one doctrine is adapted to the other; and if the one is true, the other seems naturally to follow from it. We cannot but be impressed with the idea that one design in the selection of such a being must have been to guard against the supposition of any limitation in the case. And although we would admit the idea, on an express Divine statement, that there was a limitation, yet, looking at the rank and dignity of the sufferer, we could not but ask the question why it was limited to a portion of the human family.
To see the force of this remark, we may place ourselves in three imaginary positions, and endeavour to interpret the nature of the atonement from each point of observation.
(a.) We may look at the rank and dignity of the Redeemer as such. Supposing that he was in a true and proper sense 'God manifest in the flesh;' that in him 'dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily;' that he was a strict and proper incarnation of the Deity; the question would be, what would be the proper interpretation of his work in regard to its extent from the contemplation of that fact. It would seem that there would be but one answer to such a question. The idea of its being designed for all the human race would be at once suggested by that fact; the idea of its being limited to a few would appear to be wholly incongruous with it, more incongruous than the idea of limitation attached to a running fountain, to the air which we breathe, or to the light of the sun. It might, indeed, be limited by the express purpose of a sovereign God, for man has no claim to a pardon, even after an atonement is made, and God must in all things retain his right to bestow his favours as he pleases; but even in such a case the idea could not be avoided that the limitation must be in the mere purpose of God, and not in the nature of the transaction.
(b.) We may look at the manifested character of the Redeemer. So far as this would be a guide in regard to the extent of the atonement, it would seem to be clear that it must be unlimited, or that he would be willing that its blessings should be imparted to all who needed pardon. In other words, if we take our views of the atonement from his character, and allow those views to interpret the atonement, we could not fail to come to the conclusion that it was designed to be unlimited. For in the benevolence of his character there was no limit or stint. There was no class of men for whom he showed any exclusive or especial favouritism. There was no class of sufferers who were excluded from his bounty, and no portion of any class. There was no act of his life which would imply that there was any limitation of design in imparting relief to the suffering and the sad; no indication of exhaustion in his capability of relieving those who were in distress and want. In respect to the blind, the only condition for receiving his aid was the fact that they were blind. There were no blind persons who might not freely come to him; there were no cases in which it could be supposed that there was any limitation of his willingness to heal them, or in which there was any indication that his power of restoring sight had been exhausted. In respect to the deaf, there were no cases so obstinate that he could not cause the deaf to hear; in respect to the lame, there were none so lame that they could not be made to 'leap like an hart;' in respect to disease in any form, there were no cases so obstinate that he could not remove the disease in a moment; in respect to the suffering and the sad, there were none whose hearts were so deeply stricken, so crushed, so broken, that he could not give them 'the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;' and the numbers of the sad that thronged his path were never so great that he could not grant them relief. So of those whose hearts were crushed by the remembrance of sin. None ever came to him whose sins were so great that he could not forgive them; none so unworthy, so debased, so degraded, that he was not willing to receive them. If we go to the records of his life, and look at his acts of benevolence when on earth, and ask what would be likely to be the character of an atonement made by him, we should be at no loss for an answer. We should anticipate most confidently that it would be a general atonement. If assured that it was general, we should feel at once that this fact was in perfect harmony with his whole character. If told that it was not general, we should be conscious of a shock on our anticipations, and should ask at once how such a fact could be reconciled with the other actions of his life.
(c.) The same result would be reached if we took our point of observation from his sufferings. The idea here is, that the atonement, in respect to suffering, as such as we must believe it would be on the supposition that it was intended that it should have reference to the whole of the human race. In other words, if it is assumed that the atonement was general, the sorrows which the Redeemer endured in making it were just such as they would be on that supposition. The whole transaction would be harmonious in respect to the design and to the manner of accomplishing it; for in contemplating the Redeemer on the cross we cannot but feel, in the language of Dr. Chalmers, that he "bore the burden of the world's atonement;" in the language of Isaiah, that "The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all," (Isa. liii. 6;) in the language of Paul, that he "tasted death for every man," (Heb. ii. 9;) in his own language, that "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.
III. The remaining point is, the testimony of the Bible in regard to the extent of the atonement.
(1.) It is declared in the Scriptures that he died for all mankind. Such passages as the following would seem to place the matter beyond all doubt; for the doctrine is expressed in them as clearly as it is in the creeds of any who profess to hold the doctrine, and so clearly that if this language does not convey the doctrine it would be impossible to express it in any forms of speech. "God so loved THE WORLD that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." "God sent his Son that THE WORLD through him might be saved." (John iii. 16, 17.) Such declarations are as general as they could be made. It is not the 'Jewish world' which is specified; nor the 'elect world;' not the 'world' of wealth, refinement, rank, honour; not the 'world' of poverty, servitude, and wretchedness: it is the 'world' as such, embracing all ranks, all classes, all complexions, all conditions. If Christ died only for a part of the human family, though that fact were known only to Him who gave him to die, then the declaration should have been such as to embrace that fact, and not such that its obvious interpretation would be contradictory to it and irreconcilable with it. Then the doctrine should have been expressed in some such language as this: 'God so loved the elect world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish.' But this is not the language of the Saviour in explaining the purpose for which he came into the world. It may be added further, in explanation of these passages, that they occur in a formal statement of the Redeemer as to the design of the plan of redemption. Nicodemus came to him for information. The Saviour intended manifestly not only that he should personally receive a just account of the nature of that work on which he had entered, but that, being one of the Great Council of the nation, he should be able to convey to that body a fair statement of the peculiarity of his doctrines. He gave to him, therefore, this statement of what he purposed to accomplish. He showed him that his religion was designed to overstep the narrow boundaries of Judea, and that he purposed that its benefits should extend to the whole world. It was to a Jewish mind a new idea that a system of religion could embrace the world, or that any could become the friends of God without first becoming Jews. These statements contain the first intimation with which we meet in the ministry of the Saviour of that glorious feature of his gospel which afterwards became so prominent in his own preaching and in that of his apostles, that the benefits of his religion were intended to be limited by no age or country; that the plan of redemption was adapted to human nature as such; that it was regardless of colour, caste, or rank; that it demanded, as the condition of receiving its benefits, only the consciousness of guilt and a willingness to accept of it. If these passages stood alone, they would demonstrate, by every fair application of the rules of interpretation to language, that the death of Christ was designed for the human race as such; that the atonement was for all mankind. But they do not stand alone. Such statements as the following show that this is the natural and regular mode of speaking on the subject in the New Testament: "We see Jesus . . . crowned with glory and honour, that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man." (Heb. ii. 9.) "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." (I John ii. 1, 2.) No language could express the universality of the design of the atonement more clearly or strongly. No rules of fair exegesis can make this language consistent with the idea that he died for a part only of the race of man. No one can explain the fact that, if the atonement was only for a part, the sacred writers should have used language so unguarded; so certain to convey erroneous views of the subject on which they wrote, and to deceive mankind on the most vital of all the doctrines of revealed religion: language which, if the atonement is limited, has actually led, and will forever lead, a large part of the world into error.
(2.) On the ground of the atonement made by the Redeemer, salvation is offered to all mankind. The fact that in the New Testament salvation is offered to all mankind cannot be disputed. The only question that can be raised on the point is, whether it is offered on the ground of the atonement, or in connection with the death of the Redeemer. If it is, then that will settle the fact that the atonement must have had such a reference to all mankind as to constitute a basis for such an offer, or such a reference to all men that if they should believe they would obtain eternal life. In regard to this point, it will be admitted, by all who hold to the necessity and the truth of the Christian revelation, that no offers of salvation have been made to man except in connection with the atonement made by the Redeemer. If salvation could be offered on any other ground to one, it would be to all; and if it could be thus offered, then the work of Christ was unnecessary. God would not have two plans of salvation. He would not offer eternal life to one class without any reference to an atonement, and make the offer to another class in such a form as to involve the Redeemer in the sufferings of the Garden of Gethsemane and Calvary.
It should be borne in mind that when an offer of salvation is made to man it is God, and not man, who makes the offer. Whoever is employed to make the offer, it is as really his as though it were made by a distinct and audible voice from heaven. Man has no offer of salvation of his own to make to his fellow-men; he can make none except as he is authorized to do it from on high.
Supposing, then, that the numerous and free invitations found in the Scriptures addressed to all mankind are actually the language of God, it remains only to ask whether God would make such a proclamation to those for whom no atonement had been made. Can it be believed that he would offer heaven to those for whom no heaven has been prepared? Can it be believed that he is tantalizing his creatures with offers which are insincere, hollow, and unmeaning? Can it be believed that he assures men that if they will accept of Christ they shall be saved, when he knows that Christ did not perform any part of his work with reference to them, and that salvation through his merits would be impossible? Not thus does the Eternal Father deal with men; and of nothing can we be more certain than that when he makes an offer of pardon he is sincere; when, on the ground of the gospel of Christ, he assures men that he is ready to save them, nothing can be more certain than that the Redeemer died for them.
It will not meet the case to say that the atonement is 'sufficient' in its own nature for all men if God had chosen that it should have been made with reference to all. So far as he may choose to apply it to any portion of the human family, when made, there can be no doubt that that right remains in him as a sovereign. And so, if he had chosen that the atonement should have been made for only a part of the race, there could have been no reason to call in question his right as a sovereign to do it, as he has, in fact, made such a discrimination between fallen man and the apostate angels. But the point now does not relate to this question. It is this:that the offer of salvation is made not on the ground of an original sufficiency in the atonement itself, but on the ground that it had such a reference to sinners as to justify an offer of pardon. So far as that offer is concerned, there is no difference between those who will be saved and those who will not be; between the elect and the non-elect. It is not offered to the one class on the ground that it was made for them, and to the other on the ground that it was sufficient for them though not intended for them. Of any such distinction there is no trace whatever in the Scriptures.
If there had been such a distinction in the mind of God, every consideration of sincerity and truthfulness required that all the facts should be made known; or, at least, that the communication made to men should not be so made as to leave a false impression. A number of men are captives in a foreign land. There is a settled price demanded for their ransom. A messenger comes from a man who is known to be able to ransom them all. They are told that he who has undertaken to ransom them is able to redeem them all, or that his wealth is sufficient for this. 'All that may be very true,' would be the reply; 'but that is not what we wish to know. What we wish to know is, whether it is his intention thus to appropriate his wealth; whether the offer now made is based merely on the fact that he is a man of wealth, or on the fact that the ransom has been so paid, or will be so paid, that we may avail ourselves of it. Is this proclamation designed merely to excite our admiration at the ability of the man of wealth, and to mock our misery by the exhibition of wealth which cannot in any way be ours? or is it made in good faith? Has his wealth been appropriated in any way to our release? May we avail ourselves of it? Or is it intended to release only a part, while there shall be, by the language used in the proclamation, a wholly erroneous view conveyed. of the real character of him who is a benefactor towards a part, but who wishes to secure to himself the reputation, on false grounds, of being a benefactor in the largest sense?' Who would tantalize miserable men in an Algerine prison with vain and hollow declamation about the vast wealth of some man in a distant land, or about the 'sufficiency' of that wealth to ransom any number of Algerine captives, when it was certain that there was no intention of applying that wealth to their release, or when it was known that the arrangement contemplated only the release of a part? And yet does the doctrine that the atonement was 'sufficient' for all, but was not intended for all, mean any thing more than this? If we should find it difficult to vindicate the conduct of a man in causing such a proclamation to be made, can we easily vindicate the character of God if he does the same thing?
(3.) It is a proof that the atonement is general, that it is made in the Scriptures the basis in proving other doctrines. Thus, it is said in II Cor. v. 14, "For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead." That is, on the supposition that one died for all, or assuming that to be an admitted fact, then, by fair inference, it follows that all were dead. Or, in other words, from the fact that Christ died for all men, the doctrine of universal depravity legitimately follows. On this passage it may be remarked: (a.) That the apostle assumes it as a well known and admitted fact, a point about which there could be no difference of opinion, and which might be made the basis of any inference that might follow from it, that Christ died for all. He did not deem it necessary to go into an argument to prove it, or even to state it formally. The fact that Christ died for all, or that the atonement was general, was so well known, and so universally admitted, that he made it a first principle; an elementary position; a maxim. (b.) It is the obvious interpretation of the language used, that Christ did die for all men. It is the sense which would commend itself to any one on reading the passage, unless he had a theory to make out to the contrary. It is impossible now to express the idea of a general atonement in words more unambiguous. They who maintain the doctrine of a general atonement can find no more appropriate words with which to express their belief than these; and, as they use this very language in their creeds, it may with as much propriety be doubted whether they really believe the doctrine as whether the apostle believed it; for if these words do not convey it, it would be impossible to express so plain a thought in human speech. So in similar cases. If a man affirms that all men are mortal, the obvious interpretation of the language is that the statement applies to each individual of the race. If we are told that all the passengers on board a steamboat were drowned, the obvious meaning is that the statement includes each individual on board. If told that in a case of shipwreck a raft was constructed for all the passengers, it would be inferred that it was for each individual; and it would be right for each individual, under such a general statement, to avail himself of this means of escape; nor could any one reconcile it with honesty or benevolence should he attempt to escape on the raft, if he was told that he was not included in the arrangement. If, in such a case, language like the following should be used; 'We infer that if a raft was made for all, then all were in danger of perishing,' the fair inference would be that the danger pertained to each individual in the ship; and if it should appear at last that the raft was not made for all, then, so far as the argument was concerned, there would be no proof that all were in danger of perishing. If we should be told that all the inmates of a hospital are sick, the obvious interpretation of the language would be, that there was no one who was in health; and if we were told that medicines were provided for all because all were sick, we should infer that the healing arrangement contemplated each one in the hospital, and that each one might avail himself of it. Just such as this is the argument of the apostle, that it is proper to infer because Christ died for all that all were dead. The one fact, that Christ died for all, is commensurate with the other, that all were dead in sin. (c.) If this interpretation is not correct, then the passage affords a case of false reasoning. The proof of universal depravity on which the apostle relies is, that Christ died for all:"If one died for all, then were all dead." But let it be supposed that the apostle believed that Christ did not die for all; that he died only for a part, for the elect portion of mankind, and that the atonement was limited in its nature and intention to them: then what must have been the real fact in the case as it lay in his mind, and what must have been the form of the argument if it had been put into words? It would have been such as the following: 'Christ died for the elect: therefore all men are dead in sin.' Such reasoning would be of the same nature as the following: 'Medicine is provided for a part of an army, therefore all in the army are sick; pardon is offered to apart of mankind, therefore all are guilty; arrangements were made to save a part of the crew on board a ship, therefore all were in danger.' Paul never reasoned in this way. He undoubtedly believed that Christ died for all mankind; and on the ground of that he inferred that all men needed such an atonement, for that all were dead in sin.
(4.) The next point in proof that Christ died for all men is, that it is expressly said that some for whom he died will perish, thus showing that he died for some who are not of the 'elect' and who will not be ultimately benefited by his death. Thus in II Peter ii. 1: "But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction." In the expression" the Lord that bought them, there is, by fair interpretation, undoubted reference to the Lord Jesus Christ. When the word 'bought' occurs elsewhere in the New Testament with reference to redemption, the allusion is to him. Thus, in I Cor. vi. 20: "For ye are bought with a price;" in I Cor. vii. 23: "Ye are bought with a price." So the corresponding word purchase: (Acts xx. 28:) "Feed the Church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood." So also the word redeem: I Peter i. 18, 19: "Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ." Rev. v. 9: "Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood." In the passage now under consideration, it is affirmed of the 'teachers' referred to, that, though they had been bought, they would deny the Lord who had made the purchase, and would bring ruin upon themselves. There could not be a more unequivocal declaration that some for whom Christ died would perish, and consequently that the atonement must have been made for some who would not be saved. The case is similar to the following. An American citizen is made a captive. The price that is demanded for his ransom is paid by the consul, and he is told that he may go at liberty and return to his native land. He refuses; disowns all allegiance to his country; scorns the interposition of the consul; enlists in the armies of the foreign power; makes war on his own country, and is ultimately slain in battle, and 'brings upon himself swift destruction.' So he who embraces error; he who denies his Saviour; he for whom Christ died. He rejects his claims and his offers; throws in his influence with the enemies of the Saviour; is found among those enemies, and perishes, bringing upon himself swift destruction, though Christ died for him, and though he might have been saved.
(5.) Another argument may be derived from the fact that the atonement is found to be ample for all. For eighteen hundred years the offer of salvation has been made to mankind on the ground of the atonement. All classes and conditions of men; men of every complexion and in every condition of life, have applied to God for pardon on the ground that Christ died for them. Not one who has urged that ground of appeal has been rejected. It is susceptible of all the proof that the case will admit of, that not one sinner has ever been rejected on the ground that the atonement was not made for him, or that its efficacy had been exhausted. Not one has gone to God with a broken heart and been 'sent empty away;' not one has come to the cross and been told that the blood that was shed there was shed for others, not for him. Thousands of the profane have been pardoned through the blood of Christ, and not one profane man has been told that his blood was not shed for him; thousands of the intemperate have been saved, and not one intemperate man has been repelled because the blood of the atonement was not shed for him; thousands of the gay, the proud, the unbelieving, have been made sensible of their sins, and have supplicated pardon on the ground that Christ died for them, and not one has been rejected on the ground that Christ did not die for them; and should millions more of the same classes come, they would find the fountain that is 'set open for sin and uncleanness' as full as ever, and would be as welcome as those were who went before them. For in the gospel there are no symptoms of decay or exhaustion; there are no indications that it is losing its power; there are no evidences that the streams of salvation will ever be dried up. Of the profane man it is just as certain now that he may be forgiven as it was of the first scoffer that made an application for salvation; and the fact that the first one who made the application was forgiven, constitutes the fullest demonstration that all who come with the same spirit will be accepted and saved. Of the proud or the unbelieving man it is just as certain that he may be pardoned as it was of the first proud man that was humbled before the cross, or the first infidel that came and sought mercy through the atonement; and the fact that they were saved is a proof that all of the same character may be saved also. Of the worldly and the vain it is as certain that they may be saved as it was that the first worldly and vain sinner might be; and the fact that the first was saved is a proof that all of the same character now may be. Of the guilty female, the wanderer from the paths of virtue, it is as certain that she may be saved as it was of her who washed the feet of the Saviour with her tears and wiped them with the hairs of her head; and the fact that she was saved is a proof that all, to the end of time, and in every land, who come to the Redeemer in the same way, will be saved. Of the infuriated persecutor now it is as certain that the merits of the atonement are ample for his salvation as it is that they were for the salvation of Saul of Tarsus; and the fact that he was pardoned will be to the end of time a standing demonstration that all of the same character may be saved. (Compare I Tim. i. 16.) The merit of the Redeemer is unexhausted by time. The stream of salvation never runs dry. As healing fountains flow from age to age, no matter what numbers apply for healing; and as they retain their power, no matter what the forms of disease which are healed; and as they flow in large abundance above all that is needed and is applied, pouring their streams on the sands of the desert, or mingling with other waters, so it is with the waters of salvation. The fountain ever flows, by day and by night, in seed-time and harvest, in summer and winter. It is ample for all that apply. It is unexhausted by the numbers that come, and by the nature of the maladies that are healed. It flows in large abundance above and beyond all that is needed, and though it seems to be useless or wasted, it is neither; for, whether men avail themselves of it or not, it is a standing proof of the inexhaustible and illimitable benevolence of God. It will flow on to the end of time. When all the fountains that now pour forth healing waters for the cure of the sick shall--if they ever do--exhaust the source of supply, the streams of salvation will still pour forth their unexhausted floods over a lost world. Never till time shall end will the sentiment of the beautiful stanzas with which this Treatise on the atonement may appropriately close, cease to be true:
Drawn from Immanuel's veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.
"Dear dying Lamb, thy precious blood
Shall never lose its power,
Till all the ransom'd church of God
Be saved, to sin no more."