WHETHER THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST WERE SUFFICIENT TO REMOVE THE OBSTACLES WHICH STOOD IN THE WAY OF THE PARDON OF SINNERS.
BEFORE the subject of this chapter is introduced, it may not be amiss to call the attention of the reader to a brief review of the preceding one. For, unless the obstacles, which stood in the way of God's pardoning sinners, be distinctly in view, we certainly cannot be well prepared to understand what Christ has done to remove them. Let it be carefully remembered, then, that the atonement was not necessary to soften the feelings of God, and render him kind and compassionate. The divine feelings towards sinners, considered as objects of benevolence and compassion, are not in the least degree altered. God felt the same tenderness and compassion towards them before atonement was made, which he now feels; and if atonement had been impossible, or ineligible, in the view of infinite wisdom, still the divine benevolence and compassion towards them would have been for ever the same. If there had been no atonement, it is indeed true, God could never have pardoned them, but the reason would not have been found in the want of benevolence, or compassion. He would have been prevented by difficulties of quite a different nature. So that, although he would have been, in this case, for ever inflexible, yet he would never have been unmerciful, or destitute of compassion. The insuperable difficulties which stood in the way of God's pardoning sinners without an atonement, have been brought into view. It has been shown, that, if God had pardoned sinners without any, atonement, he must have been altogether-unjust in several things, which are of infinite importance to the system of moral beings.
1. He would have been unjust to his holy law, as he could neither have shown it the respect which it deserves, nor supported its authority. This, however, as a righteous lawgiver, he was under obligation to do.
2. He would have been unjust to his kingdom. He would have done nothing to deter others from disobedience, and thus to secure that order and harmony among his subjects, which the good of his kingdom justly demanded.
3. He would have been unjust to himself. He would not have manifested his regard for holiness, and his hatred of sin; nor any wisdom, or consistency of conduct, in giving the law. In this way he would have ruined his most excellent and glorious character.
These difficulties were an insuperable barrier against the pardon of sinners, without an atonement. To remove these difficulties, the atonement was necessary. That God might be just, in these respects, while he pardoned sinners, was the object of the atonement. And in order that this object might be accomplished, it was necessary that the atonement should answer all the purposes which the complete execution of the penalty of the law would have answered. Otherwise, it would be insufficient. It was necessary that it should manifest as high respect for the law, and do as much for the support of its authority, as the complete execution of its penalty would have done. Otherwise, God could not be just to his law in pardoning sinners. It was necessary that it should be calculated as effectually to deter others from disobedience, as the full execution of the penalty of the law would have been. Otherwise, in pardoning sinners, God could not be just to his kingdom. It was also necessary, that it should manifest God's regard for holiness, and hatred of sin, as clearly as the full execution of the penalty of the law would have done. Otherwise, in granting pardon, he could not be just, to his own character. In short, that his righteousness might be declared, and he be just, and the justifier of any sinner, it was necessary that the atonement should fully and completely answer all the purposes which the full and complete execution of the penalty of the law would have answered.
The way is now prepared to inquire, more directly, in what the atonement of Christ consists; or, in other words, what Christ has done to remove those obstacles which stood in the way of the pardon of sinners. To ascertain this, only two inquiries will be necessary; one, concerning what Christ has done by the way of suffering; and the other, concerning what he has done in the way of active obedience. These two inquiries may determine the point; because these things comprise all that Christ ever did in our world.
Some suppose that the atonement of Christ consists in what he did by way of suffering. Others suppose it consists in his active obedience. And others, that it consists in both. One or other of these opinions must be according to truth; for nothing but what consists in sufferings, or inobedience, has ever been done by Christ which has any relation to the subject. In order to ascertain, with certainty, in which of these opinions the truth lies; that is, whether the atonement of Christ consists in his sufferings alone, or in his obedience alone, or in both united; it will be necessary to compare his sufferings, and his obedience, severally, with the necessity of atonement. If, on examination, it should appear that the sufferings of Christ fully meet all the necessities of atonement; that is, answer all the purposes which the execution of the penalty of the law would have answered, and that the obedience of Christ does not answer these purposes; it will follow, as an undeniable consequence, that the atonement consists in suffering. If, on the other hand, it should appear upon examination that the obedience of Christ fully meets all the necessities of atonement, or answers all the purposes which the execution of the penalty of the law would have answered, and that the sufferings of Christ do not, then it will follow, by unavoidable consequence, that the atonement consists in obedience. But if it should appear that neither the obedience nor the sufferings of Christ alone are capable of meeting all the necessities of atonement, but that, united, they fully accomplish this end, then the conclusion must be, that Christ's atonement does not consist wholly in sufferings, nor wholly in obedience, but partly, in each, or in both united.
Our first inquiry will be concerning what Christ did by way of suffering. That Christ did suffer, is a truth clearly established in the holy Scriptures. He was a "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world."
Rev.13:8. "In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of his grace." Eph. 1:7. "By his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us." Heb. 9:12. "Who, his own self, bare our sins in his own body on the tree:" 1 Pet. 2:24. "He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows. He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed." Isa. 53:3, 5. "He is our passover, sacrificed for us." 1 Cor. 5:7. "Now, once, in the end of the world, hath he appeared to put away sin by, the sacrifice of himself." Heb. 9: 26. "O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?" Luke 24:25. "Thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead on the third day." Luke 24:46. The Scriptures abound with similar declarations. Let us, then, inquire whether the sufferings of Christ meet all the necessities of atonement. Are they sufficient to answer all the purposes which would have been answered by the execution of the penalty of the law?
1. Do the sufferings of Christ make it manifest that God respects his holy law? Do they manifest as much respect for the law, as the execution of its penalty would have done; so that God, in pardoning sinners out of respect to Christ's sufferings, can be just to his law?
That a satisfactory answer may be given to these inquiries, it is necessary that we be able to state clearly how God would have manifested respect for his law, if he had literally executed its penalty; or in what that manifestation of respect would have consisted. If we can state clearly and definitely how the execution of the penalty upon sinners would have manifested God's respect for his law, then we shall be prepared to ascertain with equal clearness whether the sufferings of Christ manifested the same respect.
The execution of the penalty would not have manifested God's respect for the law, unless it had, in his view, involved in it an evil, in itself considered. The manifestation of respect would not have consisted in simply satisfying the literal demands of the law; but, rather, in submitting to an evil, for the sake, of those demands. By God's submitting to an evil is meant, his consenting that a thing should take place, which must be, in its own nature, disagreeable to his benevolent heart, if viewed independently of all other things. The misery of mankind, which would have been the effect of the execution of the law, would have been such an evil. If, when mankind sinned, God had been entirely destitute of benevolent and compassionate feelings towards them, so that their misery would not have been an evil in his view, he would not, in this case, have manifested respect for his law, by executing its penalty upon them. But if he felt really benevolent and compassionate towards them, so that their misery appeared, in his view, to be a great evil; and if, with such feelings respecting their misery, he had proceeded to execute the penalty on them, he would have shown great respect for his law. Suppose that, when mankind sinned, it had been evident to all intelligent creatures that God felt indifferently towards them, whether they should be happy or miserable; that their happiness and misery, considered in themselves, were equally desirable, so that, independently of the demands of his law, and all consequences to the universe, he was no more inclined to make them happy than to make them miserable; is it conceivable that, in this case, his executing the penalty annexed to transgression, would have manifested any respect for his law? But, on the other hand, suppose it was evident that his feelings towards them were benevolent, and he was disposed to do them good if it could be done with propriety; that he was possessed of kindness and compassion towards them, so that their misery must be, in his view, a great evil considered in itself; and that, notwithstanding these feelings, he had made them miserable because his law demanded it, is it not evident that he would have manifested great respect for his law? If, then, God had executed the penalty of his law, it is obvious his manifestation of respect to it would have consisted in his submitting to an evil on account of it.
This, may be illustrated by an easy comparison. Suppose a king should enact a law against some particular kind of wickedness, and should threaten every transgressor with death. Suppose, further, that the first transgressor is one of his favorite generals; one whom the king loves, as is evident to all his subjects, with a peculiarly tender affection. Now let the king proceed to execute the threatening, and take the life of the transgressor, and it is plain, that he would manifest great respect for his law. None would doubt, in this case, whether he were disposed to treat his law with respect. They would see the highest proof of it. This evidence, too, would result from his having submitted to a great evil, rather than not execute his law. And, as his manifestation of respect for his law would consist in his willingness to submit to an evil rather than that the law should not be executed, it must be obvious, that the greater the evil is to which he would submit rather than not execute the law, the greater would be the manifestation of respect for his law. But if the first transgressor, instead of being a great favorite, should be one whom the king is known to hate; one against whom it is evident he wishes to find some occasion to take his life; and should he, under these circumstances, proceed against the offender and cause the law to be executed, this surely would be no manifestation of respect for the law.
However much the king might really respect his law, yet, since it is well known that he wished for some occasion to take the life of the hated person, he would not, by actually taking it, discover any respect for his law; because, in this case, he would have conducted towards the transgressor in precisely the same manner, if, in truth, he had been entirely regardless of his law. Though he executes his law, he does not, for the sake of executing it, submit to any evil. For the same reason, if, when mankind transgressed, God had not viewed their misery as an evil, he could not have manifested respect for his law, by executing upon them its penalty.
From the foregoing reasoning it must clearly follow, that whatever evil God has submitted to on account of his law, must manifest his respect for it. If, then, the sufferings of Christ were really an evil in the sight of God, and he submitted to them on account of his law, it must be evident that they are sufficient to show his respect for his law. It cannot admit of a rational doubt, that the sufferings of Christ were a great evil in the sight of God. His sufferings were of the most ignominious and painful nature. Considered in themselves, his sufferings must have been an evil of very great magnitude. And as Christ was the only begotten and well-beloved Son of God, these sufferings must have been an evil, in his view, peculiarly great. Hence, for God to submit to such an evil, on account of his law, must be a manifestation of respect to it exceedingly great. Thus we see that the sufferings of Christ are sufficient to manifest God's respect for his law.
But it may still be asked, whether it appears that the sufferings of Christ manifested, on the part of God, as much respect for the law, as the execution of the penalty would have done? Are the sufferings of Christ as great an evil, in themselves considered, as the misery of all mankind would have been?
To this it may be replied, that it is not necessary. It is not necessary that the sufferings of Christ should be, in themselves considered, so great an evil in the view of God, as the misery of all mankind would have been. It is sufficient if God shows as much respect to his law, by the sufferings of Christ, as he would have done by the execution of the penalty on mankind. To this end, all that-could be necessary was, that the sufferings of Christ should be, evidently, as great an evil in the view of God, as the misery of mankind could have been manifested to be, in case the penalty of the law had been executed upon them. If the penalty had been executed upon them, it never could have been known, how great an evil their misery was in his view; because, in that case, it never could have been known how much he loved them. It is plain that their misery, which would have resulted from the execution of the law, would have been an evil, in his view, great in proportion to the strength of his benevolence. Of course this evil must appear to other beings great, in proportion to their apprehension of the strength of his benevolence. But the strength of God's benevolence towards sinners never could have been manifested to the degree in which it now appears, if the penalty of the law had been executed. For it is only in the sufferings of Christ for sinners that divine love appears in its glorious fulness. It was in Christ's dying "for us, while we were yet sinners," that God commended "his love towards us." Rom. 5:8. "In this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him." 1 John 4:9. Other beings, therefore, would never have known how "God loved the world," if he had not given his only begotten Son to die on the cross for sinners.
It hence follows, that if the penalty of the law had been executed, God would not have manifested that the misery of mankind was an evil, in his view, in any measure so great, as it now appears to be in view of what Christ has suffered. And yet, executing the penalty would have been all that the law required. By doing it, God would have submitted to an evil sufficiently great, in the apprehension of other intelligent beings, to have manifested all that respect for the law which the circumstances of the case required.
It is not necessary, therefore, that the sufferings of Christ should appear to be so great an evil, in his view, as he has now manifested the misery of mankind to be; but only as great as he would have manifested it to be if Christ had not suffered. If this is done, God will manifest as much respect for his law, by the sufferings of Christ, as he could have done by the execution of the penalty on sinners, although the real evil, in the former case, is less than in the latter. That the sufferings of Christ are as great an evil, in the view of God, as he could have manifested the misery of mankind to be if Christ had not suffered, must be evident to every one who considers that his sufferings were the painful and shameful sufferings of the well beloved of the Father.
Thus we see that the sufferings of Christ may be sufficient to manifest, on the part of God, as much respect to his law as the full execution of the penalty would have done. In view of Christ's sufferings, therefore, God may be just to his law, and the justifier of him who believeth in Jesus. Thus far the sufferings of Christ most amply meet the necessity of atonement.
2. Does it appear that God could be just to his kingdom in pardoning sinners out of respect to the sufferings of Christ? Will the sufferings of Christ be as effectual in deterring the subjects of divine government from disobedience, as the execution of the penalty of the law would have been?
A satisfactory answer to this inquiry, may be easily given. It cannot be difficult to show why the execution of the penalty of the law would have had a tendency to restrain and deter others from disobedience. This being done, it will be easy to show that for precisely the same reason the sufferings of Christ are sufficient to secure the same end.
If God had executed His law on mankind when they sinned, other moral beings would have seen that he was determined to support his law. The execution of the penalty would have appeared to them a great evil; and it would have appeared to be their unavoidable portion, should they follow the example of guilty man. Hence they would be afraid to sin. But certainly the sufferings of Christ must be calculated to produce the same effects in their minds. When they saw that Christ must undergo such dreadful sufferings that rebel man might be pardoned, they would clearly see that God was determined to support his law. Considering the infinite dignity and excellency of Christ's person, his sufferings would appear to them an infinite evil. Hence they would fear that the evil threatened in the law would unavoidably fall on themselves, should they dare to transgress; and especially after such a solemn warning. When the Jews were leading our Saviour to Mount Calvary, to crucify him, he said, "If they do these things in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry?" If Christ, a perfectly innocent and holy being, when acting the part of a Mediator between God and sinners must endure such dreadful sufferings, what may incorrigible offenders expect? The reflection is certainly natural. Since God would not show favor to sinners unless his beloved Son, who was infinitely holy, would die for them, those who continue in their sins cannot rationally hope to escape condign punishment. The sufferings of Christ, therefore, must have the same effect in deterring others from disobedience, which the full execution of the penalty of the law would have had.
Should it be asked how the sufferings of Christ can be as effectual in deterring others from sin as the execution of the law would have been, since the execution of the law would have been really the greatest evil, the answer, which has already been given to a similar question, must be virtually repeated. If the foregoing reasoning is correct, the execution of the law would have tended to deter other beings from transgression, because it would have shown them God's determination to maintain good government, notwithstanding the dreadful evils in which it might involve the guilty.
The more exalted their apprehensions might be of his benevolence, the more effectually would the execution of his law convince them of his inflexible determination to restrain wickedness. Because the more benevolent be might be, the greater would be his unwillingness to make his creatures miserable. His benevolence would render their misery, in his view, a great evil. It would be such an evil as his benevolence would never consent should take place, unless, in his apprehension, the circumstances of the case rendered it indispensably necessary. In the execution of the law he would submit to a great evil for the sake of deterring others from transgression. And the greater that evil might be the more irresistible would be the evidence which would result from it, that the guilty must suffer. Intelligent beings then, would feel the force of this restraint (not necessarily, according to the real greatness of the evil to which God would submit, but) exactly in proportion to their apprehension of the greatness of it. All that is necessary, then, in order that the sufferings of Christ may be as effectual in deterring others from transgression as the execution of the law would have been, is, that his sufferings should be evidently as great an evil, in the view of God, as the misery of mankind could have been manifested to be, in case the penalty of the law had been executed. If the penalty had been executed, however, it never could have been known how great an evil their misery was, in his view, because in that case it could not have been known how much he loved them. It is not necessary, therefore, that the sufferings of Christ should appear to be so great an evil in the view of God, as he has now manifested the misery of mankind to be; but only as great as he would have manifested it to be, if Christ had not suffered. If this is done, other intelligent beings will be as effectually deterred from transgressing the law, by the sufferings of Christ as an atonement, as they could have been by the execution of the penalty on sinners, although the real evil in the former case is less than in the latter. In view of the sufferings of Christ, therefore, God may be just to his kingdom, and "the justifier of" sinners who believe in Jesus. In this respect, also, the sufferings of Christ amply meet all the necessities of atonement. But,
3. Do the sufferings of Christ manifest God's regard for holiness, and hatred of sin, so that, out of respect to these sufferings, he can be just to himself in pardoning sinners?
Most certainly. If it be asked how, the answer is, In the same way that the execution of the law would have done it. If Christ, the beloved of the Father, must shed his blood in order that sin may be pardoned, it proves that God is irreconcilably opposed to it, as clearly and as fully as this could have been done by the execution of the penalty of the law on mankind. If the misery of mankind which the execution of the penalty of the law must have occasioned, being a great evil, was capable of manifesting God's abhorrence of sin; then, for the same reason, the sufferings of Christ must be capable of manifesting his abhorrence of sin; for these are, also, a great evil.
It is most evident, from Scripture, that our Lord's sufferings and death were indications of divine displeasure against sinners. The Scriptures abundantly teach that it was God who brought the sufferings of Christ upon him. He was the great agent, and wicked men and devils were only instruments in his hand. The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. It pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief." Isa. 53:6, 10. Natural evil is that which God uses to show his displeasure against his disobedient creatures. Now, if God was not displeased, why did he bring the most exquisite sufferings upon his beloved Son? Nothing can be more certain, however, than that God was not displeased with Christ himself, when these sufferings were inflicted. Never was the Son more an object of the Father's complacency, than at the very moment when he was expiring, in excruciating anguish, upon the cross. Hence, the Scriptures teach us, that on account of these very sufferings, he is raised to distinguished glory. Because "he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, therefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every, knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Phil. 2:8-11. But if God was not displeased with his beloved Son, then, unquestionably, he was displeased with sinners, for whose transgressions Christ "was wounded;" for whose "iniquities" he "was bruised." For that he was really displeased is certain. Accordingly, in the sufferings he inflicted upon our blessed Saviour, he is represented as making use of such instruments as express anger, as a "rod," and a "sword;" "Awake, O sword, smite the shepherd." Zech 13:7. Here God is figuratively represented as striking and smiting his Son with a rod, and a sword, as a man smites his enemy. The circumstances attending his death, also, indicate the divine displeasure. He was left of God to the rage of his enemies; to their bitter reproaches, and cruel insults. He was even denied the common civilities paid to the worst criminals. When in the most excruciating pain on the cross, and surrounded by insulting foes, he exclaimed, in the agony of his soul, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
Since it cannot be admitted that these memorable words of our expiring Lord expressed any sense of divine displeasure against himself, they must necessarily be understood, as importing the overwhelming sense which he had of God's anger against sinners, on whose account he was then delivered up to death. It is certain that the Father did, in some sense, forsake the Son, when in the most critical and awful situation imaginable, when expiring in the utmost agony for a sinful world; for this Christ asserts. It is certain, too, that this was something which he considered a dreadful evil. But if God were not displeased, why did he give up the beloved Son to such a cruel death? Why did, he, in any sense, forsake him in this critical and awful moment? Let any one candidly consider, that all the evils which Christ endured, were brought on him by the Father; that God is represented as the prime agent in the surprising work; as using hostile weapons; as chastising and correcting, with a rod and a sword; let him behold the tremendous scene on Mount Calvary, and hear the groans of our expiring Lord; and let him recollect that he thus suffered and died for sinners; and, surely, he cannot fail of seeing a most striking manifestation of God's opposition to sin. He must perceive as much opposition to sin manifested on the of God, as the misery of mankind could ever have manifested.
Here, again, it can be no valid objection that the misery of mankind which the execution of the law must have involved, would really have been, in itself, the greatest evil; because, as already shown, it never could have been manifested that it was the greatest evil, in the view of God, if Christ had not suffered. Still, therefore, the sufferings of Christ must be capable of manifesting as much opposition to sin, on the part of God, as the sufferings of mankind could ever have manifested. But if God is opposed to sin, he must regard holiness. The sufferings of Christ, in this way, fully manifest the wisdom and consistency of divine conduct in giving the law. In view of Christ's sufferings, therefore, God may be just to himself, and yet be "the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus."
Thus it appears that the sufferings of Christ most fully meet all the necessities of atonement; that is, answer the same valuable purposes which the execution of the penalty of the law would have answered.
Various similitudes have been used by writers on this subject for the purpose of illustration. But, perhaps, no one is more pertinent, or has been oftener repeated, than the story of the atonement which Zaleucus made for his son. Zaleucus enacted a law against adultery. To give it authority, that it might answer the end for which it was enacted, he enforced it with a penalty. He threatened the transgressor with the loss of both his eyes. His own son transgressed. Zaleucus loved his son, felt compassionate towards him, and desired to pardon him, provided certain difficulties, which stood in the way, could be removed. These obstacles were similar to those which, as we have seen, stood in the way of God's pardoning sinners.
1. Zaleucus perceived that if he should pardon his son without doing any thing to answer the demands of the law, he would treat his law as if it were not good, and would not show it that respect which it deserved. In order, therefore, to be just to his law, he found he must put out the eyes of his son, unless something else could be done, which, as a substitute, would show equal respect for his law, and equally tend to support its authority.
2. Zaleucus perceived that if adultery was not checked, it would greatly disturb the peace and mar the happiness of his kingdom. He also knew that nothing was so well calculated to restrain his subjects from this crime, as the prompt execution of cogent laws. And he knew, moreover, that if be should pardon his son without any thing to express his abhorrence of his son's crime, this would have no tendency to deter others from the like offence but would rather greatly encourage them in it. Thus he perceived that the peace and happiness, if not even the very existence of his kingdom, depended much on the execution of his law; so that if he would be just to his kingdom, and do what was incumbent on him to promote its happiness, he must proceed against his son and execute the penalty of his law upon him, unless something could be done, which, as a substitute, would be equally effectual in deterring others from the like disobedience.
3. Another difficulty stood in the way of pardon. Zaleucus was really opposed to adultery, as his law declared him to be. He knew, therefore, that he could not be just to his own character, unless he manifested his hatred of this crime. If he proceeded against his son in the execution of the law, and put out his eyes, this would manifest this hatred. But if be granted a pardon without showing his hatred of adultery in some other way, it could not appear that he did hate it. Hence he found it was absolutely necessary, in order to do justice to his own character, that the penalty of the law should be executed upon his son, unless something could be done which, as a substitute, would equally manifest his hatred of his son's crime.
Zaleucus, it appears, was determined to show respect for his law; to do what he could to deter others from disobedience; and to show to his subjects his hatred of adultery, even at the expense of his son's eyes, unless it could be done as fully some other way. But if all this could be as completely effected in any other way, he was anxious to spare his son. That he might secure all these ends and be just to his law, to his kingdom, and to himself, and at the same time spare his son from total blindness, Zaleucus caused one of his own eyes to be put out, and one of his son's. But how does it appear that this would answer the purposes designed? Particularly,
1. How could Zaleucus in this way manifest respect for his law?
The answer is, in the same way precisely in which he would have manifested respect for his law, if he had caused the penalty to be literally executed upon his son. If he had caused his son's eyes to be put out, his manifestation of respect for his law would evidently have consisted in his appearing to be willing to submit to an evil on account of its demands. But in causing one of his own eyes to be put out that one of his son's eyes might be spared, he surely manifested an equal willingness to submit to an evil on account of his law. This, therefore, was as capable of showing respect for his law as the other. When his subjects perceived that he would not so much as spare one of the eyes of his son but at the expense of one of his own, they could not fail of being, impressed with the idea, that he had great respect for his law; because they could not but perceive that he was willing, on account of his law, to submit to a great evil. It matters nothing as to the respect shown to the law, whether, the evil consisted in one thing or another, provided it was a real evil, and was submitted to on account of the law. Zaleucus, therefore, in what he did, manifested great respect for his law. It is evident, however, that the real evil in this case was not so great as must have been suffered if the penalty of the law had been literally executed; for it is not so great an evil, in itself considered, for two men to lose one eye each, as it would be for one to lose both eyes. Yet it seems evident, that Zaleucus manifested as much respect for his law as he could possibly have manifested by causing the law to be executed literally on his son.
The reason is obvious. He submitted to an evil which, every one must see, could not be otherwise than very great in his view, because it inflicted severe pain and loss upon himself. Whereas, if he had executed the law upon his son, his subjects could not have known how great that evil was in his view, because they would not have known how much he loved him. If he had not felt an uncommon degree of love for his guilty son, he would probably have chosen to execute the law, rather than adopt the expedient so painful to himself. If his love for his son had been only of an ordinary character, he would, in all probability, have considered the execution of the law a smaller evil than that to which he actually submitted. If he had executed his law, his subjects would have had no reason to-believe that he had any more love for his son than the ordinary affections of a parent. Indeed, this would have been enough to have rendered the execution of the penalty a sufficient exhibition of respect for the law. But it seems he had more than the ordinary affections of a parent. His love was peculiarly strong. Indeed, it was so wonderful, that he chose to inflict severe pain upon himself, rather than execute the full penalty upon his son. It was his uncommon love for his son which rendered the expedient he adopted the smallest evil in his view; while, at the same time, it was the adoption of the expedient which developed the existence of his uncommon affection for his son, in the view of his subjects. It is not necessary, therefore, that the expedient adopted of destroying one of his own eyes, for the sake of saving one of his son's, should be so great an evil in his view, as he has now manifested, that the loss of both his son's eyes would have been; but only as great as he would have manifested it to be, in case he had executed the law upon his son, and, of consequence, made no disclosure of uncommon affection for him.
Suppose another king, in a neighboring kingdom, had enacted precisely such a law as Zaleucus did. Suppose that his son, also, had transgressed. And suppose that he had proceeded against his son according to the letter of the law, and caused both his eyes to be put out. Would this king have manifested a willingness to submit to a greater evil than that to which Zaleucus submitted? Is it not evident, on the contrary, that if Zaleucus had loved his son no more than this other king would have appeared to love his, he, too, would have spared his own eye, and caused his law to be literally executed, and both the eyes of his son to be put out? On the whole, is it not plain that Zaleucus manifested, at least, as much respect for his law in saving one of his son's eyes at the expense of one of his own, as he could have done by causing the law to be literally executed?
2. How could Zaleucus, in this way, as effectually deter others from the crime of adultery, as he would by the strict execution of the penalty of the law?
To this it may be answered, that when his subjects perceived that he would not even spare his own son, in any other way than that of submitting to so great an evil, they would certainly possess the highest evidence that he was determined, at all events, to support the authority of his law. They would have as much evidence of this, as even the execution of the penalty upon his son could have given them. Hence, so far as the authority of law could restrain, they would be effectually restrained from the prohibited crime. Nor is it less evident,
3. That what Zaleucus did, would manifest his utter abhorrence of the sin of adultery. It must have manifested his irreconcilable hatred of it as fully as the literal execution of his law, even upon his own son, could possibly have done it.
Hence it is evident, that Zaleucus might be just to his law, to his kingdom, and to himself, in pardoning his beloved, though guilty son, out of respect to his own sufferings.Return To ATONEMENT BY BURGE Index Page