Copyright (c)1999, 2000. Gospel Truth Ministries








FEW things have a more deep and extensive influence on our religious opinions than the ideas we entertain respecting the atonement made by Jesus Christ. Having first of all endeavored to establish the necessity of a propitiation for sin, the attention of the reader was then directed to the fact that the Bible expressly reveals this doctrine; and in the preceding chapter the investigation of its nature was commenced. Two opinions, in relation to this branch of the subject, and which differ materially from each other, were there mentioned as having a special claim on our serious consideration. One opinion represents the Lord Jesus Christ as the legal substitute of the elect-as having suffered, in this character, the exact penalty of the law in their stead-and as having released them, on the principles of formal and strict justice, from that curse which was pronounced upon them as transgressors. This representation of the nature of the atonement has been shown to be inadmissible, on the following grounds.


Such a satisfaction as is here defined would imply an exchange or transfer of moral character between Christ and those for whom he died. Christ could not be punished, on legal principles, till he was guilty in the eye of the law-and his people could not be justified by the principles of the law, till its penalty was literally inflicted. This transfer of character so as to render Jesus Christ the sinner, and the soul for whom he died, innocent, appears to us without foundation in reason or scripture. The same system would destroy all mercy in God the Father, in the salvation of sinners, because it represents God as totally disinclined to the exercise of compassion, till every jot and tittle of the legal curse was inflicted. On the same principle grace or pardon in the release of the sinner from future punishment, would be out of the question-for what grace, or pardon, or favor, can there be in the discharge of a debtor whose demand has been cancelled to the "uttermost farthing?" And as to the benevolence of the gospel, it is impossible to discover how such a feature can consist with that idea of the atonement which represent Christ as having suffered the same quantity of penal evil which would have been embraced in the future condemnation of all those who will be redeemed by his sacrifice. What wisdom or benevolence can there be in a plan or expedient which shall inflict a certain degree of suffering upon the innocent who could never deserve it, in order to spare the guilty from precisely the same degree of suffering, and to which, too, their sins had justly exposed them? Thus far has the inquiry respecting the nature of the atonement been already prosecuted. The other view of this doctrine which has been stated, and which will now come under consideration, represents the Lord Jesus Christ as suffering, not the literal penalty of the law, but that which will fully vindicate the divine character and support the divine government, while God, at the same time, offers pardon and eternal life to the sinner, and actually secures these blessings to everyone who complies with the terms and conditions on which they are offered. This, it is apprehended can easily be shown to be the only rational idea of the atonement, and the one too which corresponds with the representations of this subject as presented in the Holy Scriptures.


This subject is discussed in his usual masterly manner by the apostle Paul, in the third chapter of his Epistle to the Romans. In the introduction to this consecutive and logical treatise, he gives us a graphical description of the deplorable state of mankind as rebels against God; and after declaring unequivocally the impossibility of justification by the deeds of the law, he adverts to that plan of restoration which is revealed in the gospel. This plan was contrived for sinners. Justification is by grace, and yet this grace is expressed through an atonement. "Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption which is in Jesus Christ." Whatever this price of redemption offered by Jesus Christ is, it certainly does not so answer the penal demands of the law, as to discharge the sinner, or to admit of his restoration to the favor of God on any other principle than that of grace alone. This "propitiation" God hath set forth, or exhibited to the universe, to declare his righteousness "that he might be just, and the justifier of him who believeth in Jesus." The object of the atonement is here stated in explicit terms. It was required and made in order to open a consistent way for the publication of pardon, or for the exercise of grace to sinners. Its purpose was to declare the "righteousness" or moral rectitude and perfection of God in dispensing, in this instance, with the literal execution of the penalty of the law, and ill bestowing eternal life upon those who deserved to die. This satisfaction was required, that God might be "just"--just to himself as the moral governor, and just or faithful to the interests of the universe over which he presides, even in justifying and saving the believing sinner.


But a more clear and satisfactory illustration of this idea of the atonement, will be attempted in answer to the following inquiries. What were the feelings of God toward our fallen world, without respect to a propitiation? Why was not pardon absolute, without any connection with a sacrifice for sin? And how did the atonement made by Christ, prepare the way for the exercise of mercy to sinners?


What were the feelings of God toward our fallen world, without respect to a propitiation for sin? The representation which has often been made of the divine character, as connected with the moral law and the doctrine of the atonement, we have often thought highly derogatory to the Godhead. The eternal Father is exhibited before us, as a being of unbending justice, and as determined, at all events, to maintain the honor of the law by inflicting the last particle of penal evil which it has denounced against the sinner. The mercy exhibited in the gospel, is considered an attribute or feeling altogether superinduced by the propitiatory sacrifice which was offered by Jesus Christ. When all the suffering which was included in the penalty of the law, had been endured by a substitute, then and not till then, is the compassion of God excited for perishing sinners. This description poorly corresponds with that character of God which is delineated in the Bible. All his attributes are independent of time and circumstance. The scriptures teach us, that God was inclined to mercy, in his treatment of our apostate world, irrespective of any atonement or satisfaction whatever. So far from being the effect or consequence, mercy is the exciting and efficient cause of that propitiation which was made in the person of Jesus Christ. "For God so LOVED THE WORLD, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life."


God was not only inclined to exhibit the attribute of mercy, in our world, but he positively and irreversibly determined, in his own infinite mind, to unfold this perfection here below, and to rescue multitudes of our race from the curse of that law which they had violated. This feeling of compassion, in Jehovah, was infinitely strong; this determination to save sinners, was settled and eternal. It is the deliberate purpose of God to set aside the penalty of the law, at least, so far as it respects the salvation of many sinners in our world. Mercy is to be displayed and glorified in the salvation of men; and the grand question now is, not what shall be done to excite the compassion of God for a ruined world, but in what way shall that eternal love which is in active operation, be expressed, so as to shield the sinner from the curse of the law, on the one hand, and to secure the divine honor and integrity, on the other?


But this leads us to the second inquiry proposed: why was not pardon absolute, without any connection with, a sacrifice for sin? Finite minds should speak, and even think, with reverence and caution of the processes of the infinite mind; hence it would be bold and presumptuous for man to undertake to determine and explain all the reasons which may have influenced the counsels of God in requiring the atonement. 'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are his ways higher than our ways, and his thoughts than our thoughts.' Some of these reasons, however, lie within the reach of the human powers, and others have been made the theme of special revelation; and they have been glanced at in the chapter on the necessity of a propitiation for sin. Without traversing again the field then trodden, a few considerations may here be suggested in answer to the inquiry stated above. The spirit of the inquiry is this. If sinners are to be saved by grace, and by grace alone, why was not pardon or forgiveness directly and absolutely bestowed upon them, without the intervention or sufferings of a mediator? To the humble christian we might reply, that this was not the plan of salvation adopted by infinite wisdom-and this reply to such an one, would be deemed sufficient. The Bible has so informed us. If any, however, are still disposed to push the inquiry, why pardon could not have been extended to the sinner without an atonement, the reply is, that there was the same necessity for an atonement that there originally was for the penalty of the moral law; the same reason there is, that this penalty should be executed upon the transgressor.


The penalty of the moral law was intended to operate as a powerful motive to obedience; and the execution of this penalty, whenever it takes place in the universe, becomes an awful warning to deter others from transgression. Now if the penalty of the law were never to be executed, its whole moral power or authority would be annihilated. It would become more feeble and inefficient, than if no threatening had ever been annexed. If the order and happiness of the universe, under the moral government of God, require laws with suitable penal sanctions, and require, too, that these laws be executed; then it would seem, that, whenever pardon is to take the place of the penalty of the law, a substitute for the execution of the threatened curse, would be proper, in order to preserve the divine authority from aspersion, and to guard the throne of heaven from encroachment. Should it still be urged, that human governments frequently grant absolute pardons, or exempt the criminal from the legal penalty without any reference to a propitiation, the answer is, that from the imperfection of human governments, this may sometimes be the best thing which can be done; but every interference with the direct operation of the law, weakens its authority, and gives countenance to crime. It is a well known fact, that in every country, offenses abound in direct proportion to the difficulty of conviction, and the facility of pardon. In the moral government of God, which is the only perfect government in the universe, the penalty of the law is always equally important and necessary; and in case this penalty is to be set aside and not executed, in any particular instance, there is the same necessity that the moral governor should furnish a public substitute for the infliction of the curse, as there was that the law should originally include a penal sanction. The conclusion from this mode of reasoning would be, that in the government of God, pardon could never be granted except through the intervention of an adequate atonement; that is, the penalty of the moral law could never be set aside without the adoption of those precautionary measures which would secure the order and prosperity of the universe, as effectually, to say the least, as the infliction of the penal curse itself could do. Under this government, then, we may always expect the infliction of the penalty according to its original and literal intention, or an adequate atonement, as a succedaneum or substitute.


But how did the atonement made by Jesus Christ, prepare the way for the exercise of mercy to sinners?


That the object of the atonement was, not to pay our debt, or to obliterate our guilt, but to prepare the way for a free pardon, and a gracious acceptance with God, appears from the whole drift of the Apostle's reasoning, in the paragraph to which reference has already been made in this chapter. Sinners are represented as being justified freely by grace, and yet this is effected through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ. God required an atonement, that he might declare his "righteousness" or the moral propriety of his administration, in saving sinners "that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" in other words, that God might be both just and merciful.


This is the proper place to inquire in what sense the justice of God was satisfied by the atonement made by Jesus Christ. That very incorrect ideas are not infrequently attached to this expression, ideas entirely different from those intended to be conveyed by the Apostle in the passage referred to, and in which he represents the atonement as a declaration of "the righteousness of God, that he might be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus," there can be but little doubt. The term justice, it should be remembered; is used in different senses. Its legal acceptation, or its use as connected with the operation of law, is twofold, which critical writers have distinguished by the epithets of commutative and distributive. Commutative justice, which may with equal propriety be styled pecuniary or commercial justice, is wholly confined to the regulation of property and the payment of debts. It is hardly necessary to say, that this kind of justice can have nothing to do with a violation of the moral law, or with that atonement which has been made for sinners by Jesus Christ. And yet, plain as the case is, many have been misled and bewildered by placing a literal construction upon the figurative language of the scriptures in relation to this transaction. The august business which involved the honor of the divine government, the death of the Son of God and the redemption of immortal man, is degraded to the level of a pecuniary transaction, is brought down to a mere matter of debt and credit. The declaration ought to be repeated, and the truth contained in it never forgotten, that commutative justice has nothing to do with the affair. It is not a pecuniary or commercial transaction. If the blood of Christ, or the atonement, is the price of our redemption, it must be so in this sense, that it furnishes a consistent ground for our free pardon and gracious acceptance. It is the condition or consideration which rendered the salvation of sinners practicable; and in this sense, it may with propriety be called the price of pardon,-the price of redemption, the price of heaven.


Distributive justice respects the moral character and conduct of creatures individually considered, and consists in rewarding, or punishing them severally according to their merit or demerit. Now this kind of justice has a connection with the subject of the atonement, or in other words, the atonement is a transaction which has intimate and vital relations with moral character and conduct. Many of the difficulties attending this subject, may, no doubt, be settled at once if we can determine the question whether distributive justice was or was not, satisfied by the death of Christ. Many contend, that this is the fact. Man had broken the law of God-Christ became his substitute-stood in his place-and was punished to the full extent of the penalty of the law. In consequence of this vicarious sacrifice, man is acquitted by the law, because justice is satisfied, and there is no further penal demand against him. This is the representation sometimes, and not infrequently, given of the atonement. But can this statement of the affair be defended on the principles of distributive justice?--Certainly not. In the transaction under consideration, neither Christ nor the sinner is treated according to his character, or according to the terms or principles of the moral law. Christ had perfectly and uniformly obeyed the law, and by this law he must be justified, and not condemned and punished. On the other hand, the sinner had violated the moral law, and this law could never acquit him. The death of Christ, in itself considered, had no influence upon the moral character of the sinner. He may, by the grace of God, be rescued and saved through this death, but in the eye of the law he is still a sinner and deserves to be punished. The law knows nothing of punishing the innocent and acquitting the guilty. The principles of distributive justice sternly forbid it. The idea of such a substitution and imputation, as would render Christ guilty and the sinner holy, has been considered on a former occasion-and may with safety be pronounced unworthy of a place in a system of enlightened theology. The conclusion then is, that distributive justice, or justice in its common and appropriate sense, in relation to rewards and punishments, was not satisfied by the atonement made by Jesus Christ. The moral law, when violated, has but one demand, and that demand is the death of the transgressor. But in the gospel, of which the atonement is an essential part, the principles of distributive justice are overruled or set aside. The innocent and meritorious suffers, and the guilty is screened from punishment. This is a sovereign act of God as the moral governor. Should it be again asked-if the arm of distributive justice can be arrested, and is to be arrested, and the law that threatened, in this instance, is not to inflict the curse, why was not this sovereign and special interposition so managed as not to involve the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ? We must here recur to the doctrine which has been already stated and defended, that the penalty of the law is essential to the existence and happiness of a moral government; and the only method in which the execution of this penalty can be suspended, is to furnish an adequate and practical, and public substitute in its place. The ends or objects of distributive justice must be secured. And this substitute by which these ends or objects are effectually accomplished, is to be found in that atonement which is revealed in the gospel.


But there is a third sense in which the term justice is frequently used, and the consideration of which will lead us directly to the nature of that satisfaction which Jesus Christ has made for sinners; we mean what is commonly denominated general or public justice. In order to distinguish it both from pecuniary and legal justice, it has been called moral justice. In this acceptation, it has no direct reference to law, but, embraces those principles of virtue or benevolence by which we are bound to govern our conduct; and by which God himself governs the universe. It is in this sense that the terms [_______] "just" and [__________] "righteousness," occur in the passage cited from Paul to the Romans. These terms are precisely of the same import except one is a substantive and the other an adjective; and in this connection they stand directly related to the atonement. The apostle teaches us, that God required a propitiation for sin, that he might declare his righteousness or justice; that he might be righteous or just, and "the justifier of him who believeth in Jesus," Now we conceive, that this passage, thus explained, throws much light upon the nature of that satisfaction which Christ has rendered to the justice of God. This atonement was required, that God might be "just," or righteous, that is, that he might do the thing which was fit and proper, and best and most expedient to be done; and, at the same time, be perfectly at liberty to justify, "him which believeth in Jesus." Thus the legal obstacle to man's salvation was removed by the sacrifice of Christ. The whole doctrine of the atonement, so far at least as its nature is concerned, can now be placed before the reader in a few words. Commutative justice was not satisfied by the atonement, because the whole transaction was of a moral and not of a commercial character. Distributive justice was not satisfied by this transaction, because the innocent suffered, in order to open a way for the pardon of the guilty. The penalty of the law, strictly speaking, was not inflicted at all; for this penalty in which was embodied the principles of distributive justice, required the death of the sinner, and did not require the death of Christ. As a substitute for the infliction of this penalty, God did accept of the sufferings of his Son. The relation of the sinner to the curse which this law pronounces against the transgressor, is legally-not evangelically-just the same which it was without an atonement. He is the same guilty creature that he was before satisfaction was made. The law has the same demand upon him, and utters the same denunciation of wrath against him. The law, or justice, that is distributive justice, as expressed in the law, has received no satisfaction at all. The whole legal system has been suspended, at least, for the present, in order to make way for the operation of one of a different character. In introducing this system of mercy, which involves a suspension of the penal curse, God has required a satisfaction to the principles of general or public justice--a satisfaction which will effectually secure all the good to the universe which is intended to be accomplished by the penalty of the law when inflicted, and, at the same time, prevent all that practical mischief which would result from arresting the hand of punitive justice without the intervention of atonement. God can now be "just" that is, he can secure his own honour as the lawgiver, and promote the best interests of his universal empire, and, at the same time, stay the curse of the violated law, and extend pardon to the chief of sinners. This was the great desideratum order to bring consolation and hope to a dying world. This could not have been done without the atonement of Christ; for" without shedding of blood is no remission." These views of the atonement are clearly stated and ably defended by the Rev. Dr. Dwight, in the Sixty Fourth Sermon in his System of Theology. "Christ in his sufferings and death made a complete atonement for the sins of mankind. In other words he rendered to the law, character, and government, of God, such peculiar honor, as to make it consistent with their unchangeable nature and glory, that sinners should, on the proper conditions, be FORGIVEN. But the atonement inferred no obligation of justice, on the part of God to forgive them. They were still sinners, after the atonement, in the same sense, and in the same degree, as before. In no degree were they less guilty, or less deserving of punishment.


"The supposition, incautiously admitted by some divines, that Christ satisfied the demands of the law by his active and passive obedience, in the same manner as the payment of a debt satisfies the demands of a creditor, has, if I mistake not, been heretofore proved to be unfounded in the scriptures. We owed God our obedience, and not our property; and obedience in its own nature is due from the subject himself, and call never be rendered by another. In refusing to render it we are criminal; and for this criminality merit punishment. The guilt, thus incurred, is inherent in the criminal himself, and cannot in the nature of things be transferred to another. All that, in this case, can be done by a substitute, of whatever character, is to render it not improper for the lawgiver to pardon the transgressor. No substitute can, by any possible effort, make him cease to be guilty, or to deserve punishment. This (and I intend to say it with becoming reverence) is beyond the ability of Omnipotence itself. The fact, that he is guilty, is past; and can never be recalled.


"Thus it is evident, that the sinner, when he comes before God, comes in the character of a sinner only; and must, if strict justice be done, be therefore condemned. If he escape condemnation, then, he can derive these blessings from mere mercy only, and in no degree from justice. In other words, every blessing which he receives, is a free gift. The pardon of his sins, his acquittal from condemnation, and his admission to the enjoyments of heaven, are all given to him freely, and graciously, because God regards him with infinite compassion, and is therefore pleased to communicate to him these unspeakable favours."


If the views which we have stated of the nature of the atonement be correct, then the demands of the law upon the sinner, remain unimpaired and undiminished. This declaration is true, as it respects both the precept and the penalty. And yet there is a strong tendency in almost every human heart, to feel a kind of security from the mere consideration that Christ has died for sinners. The fact, that he expired upon the cross in order to open the door of mercy to a ruined world, ought, no doubt, to be the cause of ardent and eternal gratitude. It should fill the earth, as well as heaven with rapturous songs. But on this fact the unbeliever, continuing such, has no right to build his hope. As we are liable to receive incorrect impressions of the atonement, and to derive from it a security which it was never intended in itself to inspire--let us examine, for a moment, the condition of man notwithstanding the sacrifice offered by Jesus Christ upon Calvary! What is there in this sacrifice which has impaired the demands of the law upon the sinner or changed his, heart? Whether we consider the obedience of Christ to the perceptive requirement, or his death as a substitute for its penalty, we can find nothing which repeals the original injunction, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbour as thyself." Now this precept stands, and will forever stand, just as it would if no atonement had ever been made.


But we are still more liable to ascribe to the atonement an influence over the penalty of the law which it never possessed, and which, in accordance with the principles of moral government, it never could possess. There is a secret and perpetual recurrence to the idea that Christ has paid the demand, or suffered the penalty of the law, so that its claims are now quieted and the sentence of condemnation repealed. But this is a fundamental, and may prove a fatal error. There is nothing in the character of Christ's sufferings which can affect or modify the penalty of the law. These sufferings were not legal. They constituted no part of that curse which was threatened against the transgressor; neither do they insure, in a single instance, aside from the stipulations of the covenant of redemption, the repeal of that curse as it respects the sinner. His moral character while he continues in impenitence and unbelief, is just what it would have been, if no atonement had ever been made. He is just as much the slave of sin and the heir of death now, as he would have been, if Christ had never expired. All that the atonement has effected for the sinner, is to place him within the reach of pardon, to make it consistent with the perfections of God to have mercy on whom he will have mercy. But the unbeliever, continuing such, must perish. Even the blood of Christ cannot save him while under the damning sin of unbelief, rejecting that blood! The sentiments advanced and supported in the preceding discourse, will enable us likewise, to reconcile full atonement with free grace.


The opposers of the doctrine of the atonement, have often objected to what they consider a palpable absurdity in that system which teaches, that God first required an ample satisfaction for sin, and then claims the honor of bestowing a free and unmerited pardon on the penitent and believing transgressor. They say, that this doctrine represents God as executing the whole penalty of the law upon a substitute, till justice is satisfied,--till the law has no farther demands, and that he then takes to himself the credit of releasing those from punishment, on the principles of grace, whom the law could not, in these circumstances, justly condemn. On this point hear Dr. Priestley, the great champion of Socinianism. The following is his objection to the doctrine of the atonement. "We read in the scriptures, that we are justified freely by the grace of God. But what free grace, or mercy, does there appear to have been in God, if Christ gave a full price for our justification, and bore the infinite weight of divine wrath on our account? We are commanded to forgive others, as we ourselves hope to be forgiven; and to be merciful as our Father, who is in heaven, is merciful. But surely we are not thereby authorized to insist upon any atonement or satisfaction, before we give up our resentments towards an offending penitent brother. Indeed, how could it deserve the name of forgiveness if we did? It is impossible to reconcile the doctrine of satisfaction for sin by the death of Christ, with the doctrine of free grace, which, according to the universal tenor of the scriptures, is so fully displayed in the pardon of sin, and the justification of sinners. It is only from the literal interpretation of a few figurative expressions in the scriptures, that this doctrine of atonement, as well as that of transubstantiation, has been derived; and it is certainly a doctrine highly injurious to God; and if we who are commanded to imitate God, should act upon the maxims of it, it would be subversive of the most amiable part of virtue in men. We should be implacable and unmerciful, insisting upon the uttermost farthing."


Thus far the Doctor. How learned and how blind! It needs but little discernment to see, that the objections here urged, have no application to the doctrine of the atonement as it has been stated and defended in this treatise. They fail of their mark, and utterly fall to the ground. They apply exclusively to that system which represents the atonement under the literal notion of repairing damages or paying a debt; and this view of the subject is utterly disclaimed in this work. If the legal demand against the sinner was literally and fully cancelled by Christ, it is frankly conceded, that there would be no grace in his subsequent justification. Forgiveness could have no place in the gospel system.


But if we consider the atonement as required by the moral governor, not for the purpose of taking away the demerit of sin, but for the purpose of rendering the pardon of sin admissible; if we look upon this great transaction as intended, not to incline God to the feelings or exercise of mercy, but as intended to save his authority and government from prostration, and his compassion from becoming a real curse to the universe; if we consider the blood of Christ, not as extinguishing the sinner's individual debt, but as rendering such a satisfaction to the general or public justice of God as would make him "a terror to evil doers" while he forgives and saves the guilty, then the charge of Dr. Priestley, that "it is impossible to reconcile the doctrine of satisfaction for sin by the death of Christ, with the doctrine of free grace," and his insinuation, that the atonement represents God as "implacable and unmerciful, insisting upon the uttermost farthing," is inadmissible, and totally unfounded in matter of fact! The atonement we hold, is, in every sense, consistent with free grace.


The Doctor's parallel between the forgiveness of God, and our duty to forgive one another, is more plausible than solid. His argument, when stripped of its imposing drapery, is this, we are required to forgive one another without an atonement, and therefore God must have forgiven sinners without an atonement. This reasoning contains, as we shall be able to show, two fundamental errors.


The first error is this there is no distinction here made between a public and a private character; between God as the moral governor of the universe, and man in his individual moral capacity. The atonement was not required in order to produce a change in the divine feelings, but it was required in order to remove difficulties of a public nature which stood in the way of the sinner's pardon. And a civil governor, or any other man who sustains public responsibilities, may act in the same way, and not subject himself to the charge of being "implacable and unmerciful, and insisting upon the uttermost farthing." A criminal, for instance, may receive a real pardon, and yet this pardon may be founded on some consideration which, in this instance, will sustain the government in this act of mercy: and aside from this consideration, clemency might have been a crime rather than a duty.


But the second error is greater than the first. It consists in confounding the atonement with the legal punishment which the crime deserved. Such a satisfaction, and forgiveness could not coexist. But this point has been thoroughly discussed both in this and the previous chapter.

As to the insinuation, that the doctrine of the atonement, and of transubstantiation rest upon the same basis, it more resembles the sneer of the infidel, than the declaration of a candid christian. There is a disingenuousness in this remark, which we have rarely witnessed in any man who was not either grossly ignorant, or essentially wanting in self-respect. As to, transubstantiation, it is well known to rest upon the alleged but falsely literal construction of a single figurative expression; while the atonement is a web running through the whole of the Old and the New Testament scriptures. The whole typical economy of Moses-and every page of the gospel, point directly to this important doctrine. So much for the candor of a man who places all religion in liberality of sentiment! His people too are all full of charity-for every thing but the truth!


Now we cheerfully confess that this objection would be valid, if the atonement were to be considered as a satisfaction to commutative justice, or in the nature of the payment of a debt. In this case to cancel the demand is to annihilate every thing like grace or favor in the discharge. The objection, that there would be no grace in the sinner's release would be equally well founded if the atonement had rendered full and literal satisfaction to the claims of distributive justice. If the penalty of the law was once inflicted, what more could that law demand? It has but one penalty. If Christ suffered precisely what the law had threatened against an individual sinner, then it would be wrong to inflict the same punishment upon that sinner. And if it would be wrong to punish him, then there must be an obligation on the part of God to release him; and, in this case, there could be no grace in his discharge, or exemption from punishment. Pardon or forgiveness, supposes that the creature is guilty, and that the law might justly punish him.


But when we consider, that the atonement includes no such satisfaction as is here contemplated, the objection will vanish. The atonement paid no debt, it involved the infliction of no penalty. It was a substitute for the curse which was due to the sinner; it merely prepared the way for the proclamation of mercy to rebels, and the extension of actual pardon to every believer in Christ Jesus.


With this idea of atonement, free grace is perfectly consistent. If the debt were paid, or the penalty of the law exhausted, then the sinner's release could be by law and not by grace. But if the atonement merely rendered pardon compatible with the glory of God and the public good--if it did not require, but merely permitted God to extend forgiveness to sinners--then full atonement and free grace may go hand in hand. And thus it is represented in the scriptures. "In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of his grace." The price of redemption was the blood of Christ; but this merely opened the channels into which are poured the streams of rich and abundant mercy.


Finally, the view which has been taken, in this discussion, of the nature of the atonement, will go very far towards settling the question in regard to its extent. A full examination of this point, which is here appended as an inference from the foregoing trains of thought, will form the subject matter of the succeeding chapter. But it may not be improper to glance at it, in this place, as it stands connected with the principles already established. The whole question respecting limited or general atonement, is settled by the notions which we entertain of its intrinsic nature. If the atonement consisted in Christ's suffering the exact amount of misery due to all those who will be saved, if it were a transaction regulated by the principles of commercial justice, then we might, with propriety, talk of its being limited to the elect. In this case the sufferings of the mediator must have been measured out according to the number of individuals who were to be saved. But if the atonement consists, not in cancelling the demand for one man or all men, but in opening the door of hope, in rendering the pardon of sinners consistent with the character, law and universe of God, then the question of extent is settled at once. There can be no limitation in the case; for the same sufferings which would vindicate the divine character in offering or extending salvation to one, would equally vindicate the divine character in offering or extending salvation to many--leaving, as this system does, the disposal of pardon and eternal life at the sovereign option of Jehovah. This does away the common objection against a general provision, that there is a loss to the universe, if Christ died for all, and a part only are saved. This objection goes upon the supposition, that the atonement is the payment of a debt; and if the debt was paid for all, and a part only shall be released-then there is a loss of treasure or a sacrifice of funds. This representation of the case has been already proved to be mistaken and inadmissible.


And thus the system of the gospel ever where either explicitly or virtually acknowledges the general character of the atonement. The invitations of the gospel are to all; the Bible every where testifies, that there is provision enough and to spare; sinners are blamed and upbraided for rejecting the atonement; a more aggravated condemnation is represented as awaiting those who perish under the gospel, than those who perish under the simple operation of the law; and unbelief, and not the limitation of the atonement, is every where in the inspired volume, declared to be the cause why sinners die. What an amazing responsibility does the gospel of Jesus Christ impose? If the despisers of law die without mercy, there will surely be no excuse for the despisers and rejecters of proffered grace! Here are claims which make new and thrilling appeals, claims which fasten directly upon the heart and conscience, claims ratified and sealed in blood, and these claims ought to be pressed by every herald of the cross, and felt by every dying man. To preach more, and more copiously, on the offers of the gospel, is a desideratum in the protection and improvement of the christian ministry. To understand them in their nature and relations, to elucidate them to men, to show the condescension and sincerity of God in them and the necessity of accepting them, were this more largely and competently done in the official ministrations of the church of God, how great the good that might be expected in the salvation of men!


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