WHETHER THE OBEDIENCE OF CHRIST CONSTITUTES ANY
PART OF THE ATONEMENT.
WHETHER THE OBEDIENCE OF CHRIST CONSTITUTES ANY PART OF THE ATONEMENT.
IN order to show in what the atonement of Christ consists, it has been judged that two inquiries, and only two, would be necessary. Two inquiries, one concerning Christ's sufferings, and another concerning his obedience, must be necessary, because his sufferings and his obedience are distinct things; and they are sufficient, because these two things comprise all which Christ ever did in this world. That it might be ascertained clearly whether the atonement made by Christ consisted entirely in his sufferings, or entirely in his obedience, or partly in one-and partly in the other, it has been judged needful to compare severally his sufferings and his obedience with what rendered an atonement necessary. The first inquiry has been made, the comparison instituted, and the result seen. It has been found, that the sufferings of Christ fully answer all the ends for which atonement was necessary; they remove till the obstacles which stood in the way of God's pardoning sinners; they answer the same valuable purposes which the literal execution of the penalty of the law would have answered. It clearly results, therefore, that the atonement of Christ might consist entirely in his sufferings. If, however, under the second inquiry, in comparing the obedience of Christ with what rendered an atonement necessary, it should appear that this, also, removes the obstacles which stood in the way of the pardon of sinners, and answers the valuable purposes which the complete literal execution of the penalty of the law would have answered, it would seem to be reasonable to conclude, that the atonement consisted partly in obedience and partly in sufferings. But if, instead of this, it should appear clearly that the obedience of Christ does not answer those ends for which atonement was necessary, either in whole or in part, then no such conclusion can be reasonably drawn; but it must follow unavoidably, that the atonement of Christ not only might, but actually did, consist wholly in his sufferings.
In making the proposed inquiry, the obstacles which stood in the way of God's pardoning sinners without an atonement, or, what rendered an atonement necessary, should be kept steadily in view.
1. The law of God threatened transgressors with eternal punishment; and this law being just, and deserving of respect, must be fully supported.
2. The well-being of God's kingdom requires that disobedience should be totally discountenanced, in order to which it, is necessary that the laws of the kingdom be thoroughly executed.
3. God loves holiness, and is infinitely opposed to sin; and it is necessary, in order to display his true character, that this should be manifested. But if God had pardoned sinners without an atonement, he could neither have supported his law, discountenanced wickedness, nor manifested his abhorrence of sin, and love of holiness. Hence if sinners were pardoned, an atonement was indispensably necessary.
If God had literally executed the penalty of his law on transgressors, he would have been just to his law, his kingdom, and his own character. And if he pardoned sinners he must do it in a way which is consistent with his being equally just in each of these respects. The atonement, therefore, must consist in something which answers all these purposes as fully as they would have been answered by the complete execution of the penalty of the law. It must manifest, on the part of God, as high respect for the law, and do as much to support its authority; it must be calculated as effectually to discountenance disobedience; and it must manifest God's regard for holiness, and his hatred of sin, as fully as the complete execution of the law would have done; otherwise it would be really no atonement; it would not open a way in which God might be just to his law, his kingdom, or his own character, in pardoning sinners. But could the obedience of Christ answer all or even any of these ends?
1. Could God have been just to his law in pardoning sinners out of respect to Christ's obedience? Does the obedience of Christ manifest God's respect for his law as fully as the execution of its penalty on the transgressor would have done?
If it has been clearly shown how God would have manifested respect for his law, if he had executed its penalty, and in what such a manifestation of respect must have consisted, the inquiries now proposed may be easily answered. It may easily be shown with equal clearness whether the obedience of Christ is sufficient to manifest the same respect. It must be carefully remembered here, that, if the execution of the penalty of the law on transgressors had not involved a real evil in the view of God, his causing it to be executed could not have manifested any respect for his law. In case of the execution of the penalty, the manifestation of respect would not have consisted in merely satisfying its literal demands, but rather, in submitting to an evil, for the sake of satisfying those demands. Though it has been shown already, it may not be useless to repeat, that if, when mankind sinned, God had not felt compassionate towards them; if he had been actuated by no benevolence, so that their punishment and misery would not have been an evil in his view, he could not, in this case, have manifested any respect for his law, by executing its penalty upon them. But if he felt benevolent towards them, so that their misery appeared to him a great evil; if, in this view of their misery, he had proceeded to execute the penalty of his law upon them, it is plain he would have shown great respect for his law.
Since, then, it appears plain, that God could no otherwise manifest respect for his law, in executing its penalty, and making the transgressor miserable, than by submitting to what he evidently viewed as an evil, how is it possible that his respect for his law could be manifested by the obedience of Christ? Was that an evil? Was it, could it possibly be, a great evil in the view of God? How could Christ, who was "holy, harmless, undefiled," do any otherwise than obey? Would he not have obeyed perfectly if he had come into the world for any other purpose? If he had not obeyed, would not this have constituted him a sinner, and brought him into a state in which, instead of procuring pardon for others, he would have needed it for himself? Was his obedience more than perfect? Could it have been less? Christ obeyed the divine law, and thus showed it his respect. But how does this manifest God's respect for the law? Angels, too, obey the law perfectly, and thus show it their respect. But this no more proves that God respects the law, than the disobedience of angels and men proves that God is disposed to treat his law with disrespect. If the obedience of Christ be not an evil, in the view of God, it is not seen how it can manifest his respect for his law, so as to constitute an atonement, out of respect to which he can be just to his law in pardoning sinners.
2. Can God be just to his kingdom in pardoning sinners out of respect to the obedience of Christ? Can the obedience of Christ possibly be as effectual in discountenancing wickedness, as the execution of the penalty of the law would have been? It can scarcely be pretended.
If when mankind fell God had executed the penalty upon them, this would have given other moral beings evidence that he was determined to support his law. The evil, involved in the execution of the penalty, would have appeared to them great; and they would have concluded that it must be their unavoidable portion in case they should transgress. Convinced of the divine determination to punish transgressors, they would have been under a powerful restraint. But can it be supposed that the obedience of Christ is calculated to produce the same effect? How can it? What can the obedience of Christ do towards convincing moral beings that God is determined to support his law? Moral beings, who have never sinned, do not consider obedience to God an evil. So far from it obedience is, in their view, a great good. It is delightful to obey themselves, and to see others obey. The obedience of Christ, therefore, is not calculated effectually to deter moral beings from sin. It may, indeed, by way of example allure the righteous to press forward in obedience. But, certainly, it cannot impose any restraint upon the ill disposed. It cannot produce any such effect upon them as would have been produced by the execution of the penalty of the law. It cannot, therefore, answer the same valuable purposes in relation to the support of government. Of consequence, it could not make any atonement, out of regard to which God can be just to his kingdom in pardoning sinners. That it might be a satisfactory atonement, it must be calculated to deter others from disobedience as effectually as the full execution of, the penalty of the law would have done. So far as it falls short of this, it must be utterly inadequate to the purposes of atonement. But since the obedience of Christ cannot be viewed, by holy beings, as an evil, or any token of the divine displeasure, it must be obvious, that it cannot have this tendency in any degree. Hence it is evident, that it must be utterly insufficient to constitute any part of the atonement.
Suppose, for further illustration, that one law of a certain family is, that one child of the family shall attend school, unavoidable hindrances excepted, every day; and that if he needlessly absent himself, he shall feel the rod, as a punishment for his disobedience. After a time, however, the child becomes weary of his school, and, instead of attending according to the command of the parent, spends several days in play or idleness. The parent, informed of the transgression, calls the child to account. He is convicted, and the parent prepares to inflict the punishment. At this instant another child of the family intercedes for the offender, and offers to make satisfaction. Being asked how, he replies, that he will attend the school himself, as many days as the delinquent has been absent. Now if the parent should accept the offered satisfaction, and dismiss the offender, would this support the law of the family? Would it be calculated, effectually, to deter the child from future disobedience? Would it convince the rest of the family that punishment must be the certain portion of the disobedient? Would it effectually restrain them from trifling with the laws of the family? It cannot be pretended. With as much propriety might a criminal, convicted of murder, be pardoned out of regard to the intercession of some kind and benevolent friend, whose intercessory plea might be, that he, himself, had never murdered.
3. Neither can God be just to himself, in pardoning sinners, out of respect to the obedience of Christ. The reason is obvious. The obedience of Christ cannot make a manifestation of God's hatred of sin, and regard to holiness, to that extent, which would have resulted from an execution of the penalty of the law. Nor is it very conceivable how the obedience of Christ should manifest God's abhorrence of sin, and love for holiness, to any extent, beyond what appears from his giving the law at first. If the obedience of Christ is considered, as perhaps it ought, merely in relation to his human nature, it does not appear that it is capable, any more than the obedience of angels or men, of showing what God's feelings are towards holiness and sin. In this sense it is true, when Christ obeyed he manifested his regard for holiness. And it is equally true, that the obedience of angels manifests their regard for holiness. But neither the one nor the other furnishes evidence that God regards it. If, however, one could, the other must, for the same reason, and, of course, the mission of Christ must have been altogether unnecessary; because the obedience of angels would have answered the same purpose. Nothing can be plainer than this, that the obedience of one being cannot manifest the opposition of another being to disobedience, If it could, then a judge might pardon every criminal, because some honest man had not transgressed the same law; and, at the same time make a full display of his hatred to disobedience, than which nothing can be more absurd.
In favor of considering Christ's obedience to the law, in relation to his human nature merely, it may be observed, that, in his divine nature, he was the lawgiver. And obedience to a law always supposes a previous obligation to the lawgiver. Hence it would seem that Christ, in his divine nature, could not have been under the law, at least in the same sense that men are. In his divine nature, therefore, he could not have rendered precisely that obedience which man failed to render. Neither can it be supposed, that, in his divine nature, when he was incarnate, he obeyed the divine law in any sense different from that in which God has obeyed it from eternity. It is not seen, therefore, how Christ's obedience to the law could manifest God's regard for holiness, on account of his personal union of the divine and human natures, any more than if no such union had existed. It is not necessary, however, that this point should be urged. Let it be admitted that Christ, even in his divine nature, was made under the law; that Deity in his person, in a strict and proper sense, assumed all the obligations which the divine law imposes on men, and discharged them, and still it could not be shown that this proves God's regard for holiness. If giving the law did not manifest a regard for holiness, certainly obeying it cannot. For if God might be supposed to give the law, from any other motives than a regard to holiness, he certainly might be supposed to obey it, from the same motives. No obedience of Christ, therefore, on account of his being divine, can be a ground for pardoning sinners, any more than his giving the law at first can be a reason for pardoning; that is, a reason why the law ought not to be literally executed; because one no more manifests God's regard for holiness than the other.
How would a king appear who should attempt to justify himself in pardoning every criminal, on the ground that he had never himself transgressed; alleging, that his not transgressing his own law was a sufficient proof that he was utterly opposed to transgression; and that, therefore, he would not punish others? How would this support the authority of his laws? How would it deter his subjects from disobedience? How would he manifest his unshaken attachment to good order among them? Zaleucus enacted a severe law against adultery. His son transgressed Now what if he had pardoned his son on the ground that himself and others had obeyed the law? Would this have manifested on his part a proper respect for the law? Would it have supported its authority? Would it have had the least tendency to restrain others from the same offence? Would it have manifested any abhorrence of his son's crime? Would his subjects have concluded that Zaleucus was determined, at all events, to support his law; that every transgressor must suffer? It is obvious no such conclusions could be drawn. His obedience could not have been viewed as any atonement whatever. The pretended satisfaction must have appeared to them a mere imposition. They would have viewed it with contempt.
Thus it appears plain, that the obedience of another can be no ground of pardon for an offender. The obedience of Christ is not sufficient to answer any of those purposes for which atonement was necessary, that sinners might be pardoned. It cannot furnish any ground, on which can be just to his law, to his kingdom, or to his own character, in pardoning the guilty. It appears safe, therefore, to conclude, that it constitutes no part of the atonement. Indeed, it is not possible that any demonstration can be more certain, unless the view which has been given of the reasons why atonement was necessary is altogether incorrect. It is confidently believed, however, that no reasons can be given why an atonement was indispensably necessary, which will not also evince a necessity, equally indispensable, that it should consist in sufferings. Those who have placed the atonement in Christ's obedience, have always found a difficulty in showing why any atonement was necessary. Indeed, that there was any necessity for it, many have actually denied. But unless atonement were necessary, it is inconceivable that a holy and wise God should ever have given up his beloved Son to be a propitiation for sin. And if atonement were necessary, for the reasons which have been assigned, then it is certain that it consisted in sufferings; because the sufferings of Christ fully meet that necessity, whilst nothing else can answer the purpose.
This doctrine is also abundantly evident from the event of Christ's death. For unless the sufferings of Christ were necessary for an atonement, it must be impossible to show any purpose for which they were necessary. But, certainly, they were necessary for something. Christ, surely, did not die in vain. He never could have willingly consented to the death of the cross, if it had not been to answer some valuable purpose. No man, of even common wisdom and goodness, would willingly consent to great sufferings, unless his sufferings might evidently be productive of great good. Much less can we suppose that Christ, who was infinitely wise and good, would have consented to such sufferings as he sustained, unless it had been for the attainment of some good of proportionable value. But what wise and valuable purpose was answered by his death, if it were not the purpose of atonement? What was the great good attained by his sufferings and death, unless it were a consistent ground for pardoning sinners? It is easy to see that his obedience was necessary, even though it constituted no part of the atonement. But his sufferings could not be necessary on the same ground. His obedience was necessary for himself. Being made under the law, if he had not obeyed, he must have become a sinner. If he had not obeyed, he could not have been the brightness of the Father's glory, and the express image of his person; he could not have been the chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely; and instead of being the well-beloved of the Father, he must have incurred his displeasure.
But though his obedience was necessary for himself, his sufferings were altogether voluntary. They could not have been for himself. They must, therefore, have been for the purpose of atonement, or for no purpose of which we are able to conceive. It is inconceivable, moreover, that the Father should have consented to his sufferings on this ground. The Father loved him with peculiar affection. Yet he was "delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God," and "by wicked hands" was "crucified and slain." "It pleased the Father to bruise him, and put him to grief; to lay the chastisement of our peace upon him."
Now, how can we possibly account for this, if his sufferings were not necessary for atonement? Are human parents, who tenderly love their children, willing to bruise them and put them to grief, when it is not necessary? Are they willing to give them up to the smiter, and to consent to their death, when it can answer no valuable purpose? How, then, could God, who is infinitely benevolent and compassionate, be willing that his beloved Son should be put to grief, be despised, and even crucified, when it was not necessary? If the sufferings and death of Christ we're not necessary to the pardon of sinners, why did not the Father send his angels and deliver him, when he saw the anguish of his soul in the garden, and heard his fervent prayer that, if it were possible, the cup of his afflictions might pass from him?
Besides, the Scriptures are unintelligible if the atonement of Christ consisted in his obedience; for they plainly ascribe it to his sufferings and death. "Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sin, should live unto righteousness; by whose stripes ye were healed." 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. 53:4,5. "The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all." Isa. 53:6. "Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; be hath put him to grief." "When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed--he shall bear their iniquities and he bare the sins of many." Isa. 53:10-12. "Who was delivered for our offences." Rom. 4:25. Nothing can be more plain than these declarations of Scripture.
If language is capable of conveying ideas, these passages certainly prove that the atonement of Christ consisted in his sufferings. In Scripture Christ is frequently called a sacrifice. "For even Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed for us." 1 Cor. 5:7. He is said to have "given himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God, for a sweet-smelling savor." And "now once in the end of the world," to have appeared, "to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." When he is called a sacrifice, reference is evidently had to his shedding his blood. He is the great propitiatory sacrifice to which the Jewish sacrifices pointed. From these sacrifices, too, an undeniable argument may be adduced, in confirmation of the result of the inquiry already made. The Jews were commanded to offer beasts in sacrifice for their sins. These sacrifices were considered as making atonement for the people. "And the Lord called unto Moses, and spake unto him out of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, If any man of you bring an offering unto the Lord, ye shall bring your offering of the cattle, even of the herd, and of the flock. And if his offering be a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish; he shall offer it of his own voluntary will, at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, before the Lord. And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him, to make atonement for him. And he shall kill the bullock before the Lord; and the priests, Aaron's sons, shall bring the blood, and sprinkle the blood round about upon the altar. And he shall slay the burnt offering, and cut it into his pieces,-and the priest shall burn all on the altar, to be a burnt sacrifice, an offering? made by, fire, of a sweet savor unto the Lord." Lev. 1:1-7, 9.
Thus were the children of Israel commanded concerning their sacrifice for sin; they were to kill the beast, and bum it on the altar; and this sacrifice was to make an atonement for their iniquities. That these sacrifices were designed to prefigure the great propitiatory sacrifice which the Son of God should make of himself, is evident from the account which is given of them in the New Testament; particularly in the epistle to the Hebrews. The apostle calls these sacrifices a shadow of things to come; an example, pattern, and figure; and be refers them to Christ. "Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is Christ." Col. 2:17. "Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things." Heb. 8:5. "It was therefore necessary that the pattern of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these." Heb. 9:23. "But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins, forever sat down on the right hand of God." Heb. 10:12. "For such an high-priest became us, who needeth not daily, as those high-priests, to offer up sacrifice first for his own sins, and then for the people's; for this he did once, when he offered up himself." Heb. 7:26, 27. From these passages it is evident that the Jewish sacrifices had reference to the sacrifice which Christ would make of himself for the sins of the world. Indeed, they were of little, if any consequence, any, further than as they pointed to this great atoning sacrifice. If, then, we can ascertain what it was in the Jewish sacrifices which was considered as making atonement, we may know what constituted the atonement of Christ.
Now, it is evident, the conduct of the priests did not make atonement. They were no more than the instruments by which the atoning sacrifices were offered. This is all that is intended, when they are spoken of as making the atonement. God required that the beasts which were to be offered should be free from blemishes. But the atonement did not consist in this ceremonial purity. This was only a prerequisite. But the atonement consisted in the sacrifice itself; or in the life or blood of the beast which was offered. This God has expressly declared. "And the bullock for the sin offering, and the goat for the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement." Lev. 16:27. The children of Israel were forbidden to eat blood; and God assigned this reason for the prohibition, that he had given the blood to make atonement for them. "And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, that eateth any manner of blood; I will even set my face against that soul that eateth blood and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar, to make an atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul." Lev. 17:10, 11. Thus God assures us that it was the life, or blood of the beast offered upon the altar, which made the atonement in the Jewish sacrifices.
This naturally and even necessarily leads us to the conclusion that the atonement of Christ consisted in his offering up his life or shedding his blood; otherwise the Jewish sacrifices were not proper representations of this great propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of the world. For how could these sacrifices be types, and Christ's sacrifice of himself the antitype, if the atonement by these consisted in shedding blood, but the atonement by Christ in something else? How could these bloody sacrifices be typical of Christ's obedience? On the ground that they were, where would be the resemblance?
It may be further observed, that almost every thing in and about the tabernacle was to be sprinkled with blood, that it might be rendered ceremonially clean. When Moses had spoken every precept to all the people, according to the law, he took the blood of calves find of goats with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book and all the people, saying, This is the blood of the testament. which God hath enjoined unto you. Moreover, he sprinkled likewise with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry. And almost all things, by the law, are purged with blood." Heb. 9:19-22. Particularly, the high-priest could not enter into the holy place, which prefigured heaven, without the purification of blood. Now what could be the design of this ceremonial cleansing by blood? Why could not the high-priest, without being cleansed by blood, enter into the holy of holies? Does not all this teach us that we are cleansed from sin and saved from wrath only by the precious blood of Jesus Christ? Does it not show us that it is only by virtue of his blood that we can ever enter into heaven? Does it not necessarily lead our minds to the blood of Christ as that which alone makes atonement for sin? If it do not, in vain do we attempt to derive any instruction from these things.
This representation also agrees with the general tenor of Scripture on this subject. We have already examined a considerable number of passages, which expressly point us to the death of Christ as that which makes atonement. It may be shown, moreover, from many other Scriptures, that every thing belonging to our salvation which may be considered a fruit of atonement, is also grounded on the love of Christ. If we are redeemed, or bought, the blood of Christ is the price; if we are cleansed, or sanctified, it is by the blood of sprinkling; if we are reconciled, the blood of Christ hath broken down the partition wall. Indeed every blessing of the gospel is a blood-bought blessing.
Christ is abundantly represented as redeeming and purchasing his saints, as captives are redeemed from captivity by the payment of a price. "Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world." Gal. 1:4. "Christ hath loved us, and hath given himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savor." Eph. 5:2. "Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity." Tit. 2:14. "Ye are bought with a price." 1 Cor. 7:23. These passages have evident reference to the death of Christ as the ransom or price which he gave for us. "The church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood." Acts 20:28. "Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ." 1 Pet. 1:18, 19.
The atonement of Christ is that which lays a foundation for our sanctification and deliverance from sin. "Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water, by the word." Eph. 5:25, 26. "But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour towards man appeared, not by works of righteousness, which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which he shed on us abundantly, through Jesus Christ our Saviour." Tit. 3:4, 5. "For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth." John 17:19. But, according to the voice of inspiration, it is the blood or death of Christ, which is available here. "Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood, he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us." Heb. 9:12. "For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh; how much more shall the blood of Christ, who, through the eternal Spirit, offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" Heb. 9:13, 14. "The bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary for sin, are burnt without the camp. Wherefore, Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate." Heb. 13:11, 12. And agreeably with this, the apostle John says expressly, "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin." 1 John 1:7.
It is through the atonement surely, that sinners are brought into a state of reconciliation with God. But this, the Scriptures assure us, is effected by the death or blood of Christ. "For if when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son." Rom. 5:10. "But now in Christ Jesus, ye who sometimes were far off, are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both [Jews and Gentiles] one; and that he might reconcile both in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby." Eph. 2:13, 14, 16. "And having made peace through the blood of his cross." Col. 1:20. "And you, that were sometimes alienated, and enemies in your minds by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled, in the body of his flesh, through death." Col. 1:21.
The atonement of Christ is certainly that on account of which saints are pardoned and justified. But in the Bible, saints are said to be pardoned and justified by the blood; and death of Christ. "Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood." Rom. 3:24, 25. "Being now justified by his blood." Rom. 5:9. "In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins." Eph. 1:7. Said our Lord at the institution of the ordinance of the supper, "This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." Matt. 26:28. And the apostle in his epistle to the Hebrews, declared. "Without shedding of blood there is no remission." Heb. 9:22. According to these Scriptures, believers are forgiven and justified solely on account of the death of Christ, or the effusion of his blood as a sacrifice for sin.
Once more. It is evident from the sacred oracles, that all, who obtain salvation, are saved by virtue of Christ's atonement. The whole gospel is proof of this. But there are several passages which very plainly show that salvation is on account of Christ's sufferings and death. "And for this cause he is the Mediator of the new testament, that by means of death for the redemption of the transgressions, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance." Heb. 9:15.
Now once, in the end of the world, hath he appeared to put away sins by the sacrifice of himself. Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time, without sin, unto salvation;" that is, unto the complete salvation of an that look for him. Heb. 9:26, 28. "For when we were without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. Much more, then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him:" Rom. 5:6, 9. "For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us." 1 Thess. 5:9, 10. Here the apostle plainly tells us, that we receive eternal salvation through Christ, on account of his death. "We see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with, glory and honor, that he, by the grace of God, should taste death for every man. For it became him for whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings:" Heb. 2:9, 10. "Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; and being made perfect [through sufferings], he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him." Heb. 5:8, 9. "Having, therefore, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus:" Heb. 10:19.
In this last passage, we perceive an evident allusion to the high-priest's entering into the most holy place of the tabernacle, through the cleansing of blood. By this, the spirit of inspiration would evidently teach us that the way in which we must enter into heaven, is by being cleansed in the blood of Christ. Indeed, all these Scriptures direct us to the blood of Christ, as being emphatically that on account of which believers are saved. The redeemed in heaven, undoubtedly, must know precisely what that is, on account of which they are admitted to that blissful world. Yet from a passage in the book of Revelation, which describes their heavenly worship, it appears that they consider the blood of Christ as the foundation of all their glory, "And they sang a new song, saying, thou art worthy to take the book and to open the seals thereof; for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood." Rev. 5:9.
Thus the sufferings and death of Christ are singled out in Scripture, and spoken of by way of eminence in a multitude of places, as being the price of our purchased and as laying a foundation for our sanctification, for our reconciliation to God, for our forgiveness, and, finally, for our eternal salvation in heaven. The sufferings and death of Christ, too, completely secure all the ends for which atonement was necessary; remove all the obstacles which stood in the way of God's showing favor to mankind, and making them eternally happy after they had sinned; and answer all the valuable purposes which could have been answered by the execution of the penalty of the law.
How, then, can there be any room to doubt whether the atonement of Christ consisted in his sufferings and death? Is not this idea plainly supported by all the representations of Scripture on the subject? Indeed, is it possible that the subject should be more plain? Especially, when we reflect that the obedience of Christ does not secure any of the ends which rendered an atonement necessary, as it could not in the nature of things answer the purposes which might have been answered by the execution of the penalty of the law, the very thing which was necessary in order that the penalty might be consistently remitted; and when we consider, moreover, what still more ought to satisfy every believer in revealed religion, that the notion that the atonement of Christ consisted in his obedience, by no means agrees with the uniform voice of inspiration on the subject.
Indeed, it may justly be questioned, whether there is a single passage in the Bible, which fairly implies that the active obedience of Christ constituted any part of the atonement. Perhaps there is no passage more liable to be so understood than Jer. 23:6. "This is his name whereby he shall be called, The Lord our righteousness." But what is there, even in this, which fairly implies that the obedience of Christ constituted the atonement either in whole, or in part? What is there in it which any common reader, unbiased by preconceived opinions, would be liable to understand in that way? This passage was a mere prediction that a name, by which Christ should be called, would be, "The Lord our righteousness." Undoubtedly, the reason why he should be so called was, because he would make an atonement for his people, and open a consistent way for their pardon and admission into heaven; to that happiness to which they would have been entitled by their own righteousness, if they had never sinned. The passage may be considered as implying this. But it certainly does not give any intimation concerning the particular thing which Christ would do to make that atonement, or the manner in which he would open that consistent way of pardon. If his atonement had consisted in his active obedience, this text would have given no intimation of it; nor could he, with any more propriety, be called "The Lord our righteousness," than he now can, in view of his sufferings and death. He is, also, said to be made unto his people "wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption:" But, surely, no one would think of arguing from hence, that wisdom constituted any part of the atonement.'
Another passage which has been supposed, by some to favor the notion that the atonement of Christ consisted in his obedience is, Isaiah 42:21, "The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness' sake; he will magnify the law and make it honorable." If it were unquestionable that this should be considered as referring to Christ, and should it be granted that he did magnify, the law and make it honorable in any sense, which may be supposed; still it would by no means follow, that this constituted any part of the atonement. Doubtless our Lord did many things on earth which were never designed as any part of his propitiatory work. So that if all were granted concerning this passage which can reasonably be asked, still it would avail nothing. The needed proof must still be sought somewhere else. Many good critics, however, suppose the passage has no reference to Christ. They think it might be more correctly translated, "Jehovah delighteth in his righteous one; he will prosper and honor his administration." (See also, Poole, in loc.) Those who have considered this passage as evidence that the atonement of Christ consisted in his active obedience, have generally supposed that the atonement was necessary to show the justice of the law. They have apprehended that, if God had forgiven sinners without an atonement, the justice of the law could not have appeared; that, therefore, Christ obeyed the law, made it appear just and reasonable, and so made atonement.
Now if it were admitted that an atonement was necessary on this ground, still it would not be easy to see how the obedience of Christ could make the law appear reasonable. If the law were, not reasonable in itself, aside from the obedience of Christ, his obedience surely could not make it reasonable. Indeed, unless the law were good, antecedently to his obeying it, there could be no reason why he should obey it, nor any merit in his obedience. The reasonableness of the law, therefore, instead of resting on the obedience of Christ, is itself the very foundation on which the reasonableness of his obedience rests. And if the obedience of Christ did not make the law reasonable, it certainly could not make it appear to be reasonable in the view of creatures. For, if the law appeared to creatures to be unreasonable, they would, of course, perceive no reason why it should be obeyed by Christ, or by any other being. The truth is, the law is in itself most reasonable; and nothing more is necessary that creatures may perceive it to be reasonable, than that they should understand those things on which its reasonableness depends. But its reasonableness does not depend on the conduct of any being in the universe, either of God, or of Christ, or of creatures. It depends on what the law itself requires, on the capacities of the beings to whom it is addressed, and the relations they sustain to God and to each other. Only let creatures clearly understand these things, and they could not fail to perceive the perfect reasonableness of the divine law. A little candid and impartial attention to the word of God would teach them this, which, from the mere obedience of Christ, they could never learn.
Another consideration which clearly shows the incorrectness of this scheme is, that it manifestly inverts the order of divine truth. For, if the obedience of Christ makes the law appear reasonable, and so makes atonement, it must certainly follow that instead of discovering the grace of the gospel, in the reasonableness and holiness of the law by which men are condemned, we must go to the gospel itself to learn that the law is reasonable. Besides, if we do not perceive the reasonableness of the law, aside from any consideration of what is contained in the gospel, how, can we ever obtain any just views of the gospel? For, unless the law first appear holy, just, and good, how can we view the gospel as any other than a dispensation designed to deliver us from the unjust punishment of an unreasonable law? It is evident, therefore, that neither Christ's obedience, nor his atonement, was designed to manifest the reasonableness of the law. So far from this, that the reasonableness of the law is the very foundation of the gospel, and must be perceived before the propriety of that dispensation can be discovered.
Besides, as has been observed, Jesus Christ, both as God and was as much bound to obey the law as any other being in the universe. It is true, as God he was not under law in every sense as a creature is; for there was no being above him to command him, to threaten him with a penalty, or to promise him a reward. Yet he was as really bound by the moral law, that eternal rule of rectitude, as any creature is. It is the glory of the divine Being, that all his feelings and all his conduct are in perfect conformity with this unerring rule. And, as a creature, Jesus Christ was, in every sense, as much bound to obey the law as is any other creature. Neither as God, nor as man, therefore, was he any more holy than he ought to be. How then, could his obedience, any more than the obedience of any other being, make the law appear reasonable, or make atonement?
The notion that atonement was necessary to make the law appear reasonable, is evidently incorrect. No obscurity attending the law premuted any obstacle in the way of God's pardoning sinners. The real difficulties which stood in the way of this have been brought into view. But these the obedience of Christ could not remove. If God had pardoned sinners without an atonement, he could not have appeared just; he would not have shown that he approved of the law, loved holiness, hated sin, and was determined to maintain good government. How, then, could he omit punishing the transgressors of his law? Here was the necessity of atonement, which Paul stated, "to declare God's righteousness, that he might be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus:" What, then, if the obedience of Christ did make the law appear reasonable (which, however, it neither did nor could), how would this remove any difficulty which stood in the way of the salvation of sinners? Surely, God would not show the righteousness of his character by refusing to punish the transgressor of a law which was made to appear so reasonable and good ! Hence, it appears) that the scheme which places the atonement in the obedience of Christ, is totally without foundation, either in reason or the word of God.
There is another scheme, which. while it allows that the sufferings of Christ atone for sin, supposes that his active obedience procures heaven for believers, which, with the most important passages adduced to support it, will be considered in another place.Return To ATONEMENT BY BURGE Index Page