ON reviewing the foregoing pages, it appears that the opinion which some have entertained that the atonement of Christ was necessary, for the purpose of exhibiting evidence to the minds of intelligent beings that the divine law is just and reasonable, must be entirely erroneous. The truth is, no such evidence was wanting. Intelligent beings well understood that the law was holy, and just, and good. But if it had been otherwise, if such evidence had really been wanting, it would be impossible to find it either hi the obedience or sufferings of Christ. If, previously to the atonement of Christ, there had been any ground of reasonable doubt concerning the justice of the divine law, the nature of the case would have required evidence of a different kind from any thing which results from the life or death of Christ to have removed it. The obedience of Christ could not have answered the purpose. For if the justice of a law be suspected, the justice of him who gave the law must be equally called in question; and, consequently, no conduct of his, founded on this suspicious law, can be considered as free from the same suspicion.
If a king should make a bad law, doubtless the same motives which induced him to make it might also induce him to obey it. His obedience, therefore, could do nothing towards removing the grounds of suspicion. Neither could the sufferings of Christ have answered any such purpose. It has been shown, indeed, that the sufferings of Christ answer the same purposes which the execution of the penalty of the law would have answered. But still they do not prove the law to be just; for this would not have been proved by the execution of the penalty. Should a king give an unjust law and govern his subjects by it, rigorously executing its penalty on every transgressor, it must be obvious, surely, that this could not prove the law to be just. Nor would the mere execution of the penalty of a good law afford any better evidence of its goodness.
But if the ease were otherwise, and it could be shown that the obedience or the sufferings of Christ did actually prove that the divine law is just, still, how could this make the necessary atonement? The atonement was necessary, not that God might he just in condemning transgressors, but that he might be just in justifying and saving them, if they would believe in Jesus. But how could proving the law to be just answer this purpose? In other words, how could proving the law to be just afford any reason for remitting its penalty, and pardoning the transgressor? If it could do it in any way, must it not follow that the more clearly it appears that a law is just, the more easily may its penalty be dispensed with; and, on the other hand, that the more doubtful it is whether a law is just, the more indispensably necessary it must be that its penalty should be rigorously executed?
Equally erroneous is the opinion that the atonement was necessary to show that the divine law may be obeyed by man. What Christ has done and suffered does not prove this. It is true, Christ obeyed the law; but how this can possibly afford any evidence that man is capable of obeying it, does not appear. For Christ was not a mere man. In his glorious person the divine and human natures are united. Hence his obedience no more proves that a mere man is capable of yielding a perfect obedience, than his walking on the sea, raising the dead, and performing other wonderful works is evidence that any mere man can do the same things. But were it otherwise, and the obedience of Christ did prove that man has power to obey as perfectly as he obeyed, still. it would. be difficult to see how this would render it consistent that sinners should be pardoned. Are they less criminal because the law which they have disobeyed is one which they had full power to obey? If they had been incapable of obeying the divine law, would this have rendered it more necessary to punish their disobedience? If God had pardoned sinners on the ground that the law they had violated was shown to be just, and capable of being obeyed by man, how would this support the authority of that just and reasonable law? Would this have any tendency to deter others from disobedience? Would it manifest clearly God's love of righteousness and hatred of iniquity? Would any consistency of conduct appear in giving such a law, and then neglecting to execute its penalty? Would its being shown to be a good law be a sufficient reason why its penalty should not be executed? It is believed no one would choose to answer these questions in the affirmative.
It appears, also, that Crossest death was not a ground of redemption, merely as being a means of sanctification. It is evident, indeed, that Christ's sufferings and death, when viewed aright, must be a powerful means of promoting those dispositions of mind which are necessary to eternal life; and hence some have been led to suppose that the virtue and efficacy of Christ's death should not be viewed in any other light. Since none can be saved unless they are sanctified by his blood, or death, it has been concluded that the only reason why God forgives sins and bestows other blessings on account of his death is, because this is a proper means of cleansing from sin. This scheme supposes that atonement was necessary for no other purpose than to furnish sinners with those personal qualifications without which they cannot receive pardon.
To explain the scheme it has been said that God "wants neither our information nor importunity to engage his kind regards; but he requires us to pray to him for his blessing and favors, in order to improve our minds in pious and virtuous dispositions. He wants not our assistance for the relief of the indigent and distressed; but he has made it our duty to succor them, for the exercise of our benevolence. He wants no sacrifice to excite or assist his mercy; but we may want it to increase and strengthen our virtue." And "as our prayers are a reason of God's conferring blessing upon us, because our prayers are means of producing pious dispositions in our minds; so the blood of Christ makes atonement for sin, or is a reason of God's forgiving our sins, because the blood of Christ is a mean of cleansing us from sin." This scheme is unsatisfactory for several reasons.
1. According to this scheme the death of Christ is an atonement only so far as it is a mean of cleansing from sin; and its virtue consists only in being such a mean; from whence it would seem evidently to follow, that any thing else, which is a mean of sanctifying and cleansing from sin, must, at least, so far as it actually produces this effect, constitute as satisfactory an atonement as has been made by the death of Christ. Prayers, alms, and sufferings for Christ's sake, as well as the blood of Christ, are means of promoting pious dispositions in the mind, sanctifying the affections, and cleansing from sin. The institutions of the gospel are all means of sanctification. The preaching of the gospel is particularly designed as such a mean; the word of God generally is so designed; Christ, prayed for the elect, "Father, sanctify them through thy truth, thy word is truth;" and the Holy Spirit is designated to the particular work of sanctification. If, then, the blood of Christ makes atonement, only because it is a mean of cleansing from sin, it must be difficult to see why all these other things do not answer the same purpose; yet neither of them is ever said to make atonement.
2. The scheme in question appears to suppose that the sanctification and cleansing of sinners was all that was necessary to render it consistent for God to grant them pardon and salvation. But certainly it must require some very explicit declaration of Scripture to authorize a belief that had this been all that was necessary, a God of infinite wisdom could not devise any means of sanctifying and cleansing them, which would have been less expensive than the sufferings and death of his beloved Son; or that if such means could be devised, a God of infinite benevolence would not have chosen them. The Scriptures, however, give no intimation of any such thing.
3. However this scheme may be considered as combining the glory of God with the good of his creatures, it seems evidently to make the glory of God but a secondary object; but this appears to be inconsistent with the Scriptures, which plainly represent God as seeking his own glory supremely in all he does.
4. Although, in this scheme, the death of Christ is named as making atonement; yet it represents the atonement as consisting rather in a mere circumstance attending the death of Christ, namely, its tendency to promote sanctification. Indeed, it may be doubted whether even this circumstance would be the very thing; for the value of this must depend on the effect produced in cleansing from sin. So that, after all, the sanctification of the sinner would, in fact, be the atonement This appears to be the precise reason why God exercises pardon. Hence it is not seen why a sinner, who might attain to as high a degree of sanctification in some other way, would not be as proper a subject of pardon, nor why God would not be as readily disposed to pardon him. But this would be yielding to those who have denied atonement all that they have contended for; as it would be granting that atonement was not necessary that God might be just in pardoning and saving sinners; and that he could not consistently with infinite benevolence, withhold pardon from any penitent. It would, however, be very inconsistent with the Scriptures, which declare that Christ was set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, that God might be just and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus; and which plainly intimate, that without shedding of the Saviour's blood, there can be no remission.
Again; from the view which has been taken of the necessity and nature of the atonement, we may learn in what sense the sufferings of Christ may be considered as pleasing to God. It has been said, "Mere pain cannot be agreeable to a God of infinite goodness." From whence it has been inferred, that the sufferings of Christ were of no avail, any further than as they exhibited evidence of his disposition to obey. "The bare distress and pain of the Saviour, in themselves simply considered, had no virtue in them and were of no worth; but the disposition of mind with which he endured those extreme agonies and pains, the temper expressed under them were of infinite worth."
The correctness of this opinion may, be reasonably doubted, It is admitted, however, that if by the sufferings of Christ, considered in themselves simply, be meant his sufferings abstracted from his obedience; And not only so, but abstracted also from all consequences to the universe as it, respects supporting the divine law and government, and displaying the divine, character and glory; in short, so abstracted from every thing in the universe, as to do no good in any sense, it must indeed follow that they are of no worth.
But it may be doubted, also, whether the disposition manifested by such sufferings in the same sense abstracted from every thing, would really be of any more worth. Indeed, if the sufferings of Christ be considered in any sense which would render them useless, it is not seen how a disposition to endure them can be of any worth. What wisdom or virtue can appear in a disposition to endure useless or worthless sufferings? If the sufferings of Christ were of no worth except as a medium through which Christ displayed the strength of his disposition to obey, it will follow that the atonement consists in the strength of his disposition to obey. It would hence follow, that whatever would answer to display the strength of Crossest disposition to obey as fully as his sufferings did, would answer the same purposes in respect to the atonement. If, then, it be true that "without shedding of blood there is no remission" of sins, it must follow that there was no possible way in which an infinite God could display the strength of Christ's disposition to obey, so fully as by his sufferings and death. A conclusion which necessarily results from this is, that since the display of Crossest disposition to obey was of infinite worth, his sufferings must be of equal worth, because they constituted the only possible medium through which this disposition could be displayed.
From what we have seen of the necessity and nature of atonement, it is evident that notwithstanding the disposition of Christ to obey was of infinite worth, it did not, however, constitute any part of the atonement. As has been shown, it did not answer any of those purposes for which atonement was necessary. To answer these purposes, the sufferings of Christ were indispensably necessary. If, then, there was any worth in the atonement, the same worth is found in the mere sufferings of Christ, because in these sufferings is the atonement found; and if there were any thing pleasing to God in the atonement, then were the sufferings of Christ pleasing to him for the same reason.
It is an unquestionable truth, that God is, in some sense, pleased with whatever answers a valuable purpose. Things may answer valuable purposes, and be objects of choice on account of those purposes; and in connection with those purposes may be viewed as pleasing, all things considered, though they am in their own nature displeasing, and would, if they did not answer those purposes, be highly disgusting. This is this mm with the misery of the damned. Undoubtedly that would be highly displeasing to infinite benevolence, if it did not, answer a valuable purpose. But as far as that misery is necessary to support the authority of the divine law and the honor of the divine government, it is unquestionably, on the whole, pleasing to God; nor is it seen why the sufferings of Christ, if they be supposed to answer the same purposes, may not be, in the same sense, pleasing.
The sufferings of Christ were designed as a substitute, not for the punishment of sinners, but for the execution of the penalty of the law. They answer the game purposes which would have been answered by the execution of that penalty in case there had been no atonement. But, if it were pleasing to God to annex a penalty to his law, and if he be a consistent being, it is not seen why it may not be pleasing to have that penalty executed upon transgressors. But, if the execution of that penalty might be pleasing, why might not any thing else, which would answer the same valuable purposes, be equally pleasing?
The sufferings of Christ were designed to answer these purposes, and it has been shown that they do answer them fully. Hence, it is evident, they are agreeable to God. It is not supposable that they were agreeable in any other sense; nor is it supposable that Christ would have consented to suffer, or that the Father would have consented that he should suffer, if they had not been agreeable in this sense
Hence we may conclude that he suffered nothing more than an infinitely wise God judged necessary, that these important purposes might be fully answered. He suffered nothing in vain. What he began in the manger, he finished on the cross. Nothing more can be intended, by his suffering under Pontius Pilate, than that he then finished the great work. He then completed that course of sufferings which was necessary to answer the great ends of his incarnation.
It may be observed further, that in God's requiring the sufferings of Christ in order to pardon believing sinners, there is nothing arbitrary. He did not require this without sufficient reasons. The honor of his law, the glory of his character, and the interests of his kingdom rendered it necessary. Some have supposed that the constitution of the gospel, which requires full atonement before sinners can be pardoned, represents the Supreme Being as deficient in goodness. But this, surely, must be a great mistake, unless he would have appeared possessed of more goodness if he had executed the penalty of his law on all transgressors, without having mercy on any of them. For, surely, no one, can rationally suppose that God would have appeared as possessing more goodness, if he had suffered his holy law to fall into contempt, his subjects to transgress with impunity, and the affairs of his kingdom to go to confusion and ruin. Such a procedure, on the part of the divine Being, might, indeed, have rendered the state of incorrigible offenders less deplorable; but it would have been totally inconsistent with the blessedness of holy beings, or the general good of God's universal kingdom.
The doctrine of atonement, therefore, instead of lowering our ideas of God's goodness, greatly exalts them, Indeed this is the doctrine which, above all others, produces this effect. The sufferings of Christ declare God's goodness, as well as his righteousness. Herein "was manifested the love of God."
Some have supposed, that if Crossest sufferings constituted a full atonement for all those for whom he died, he must have endured as much pain as all those for whom he died would have endured, in case they had suffered the full punishment due to them for their sins; and that, if this is the case, there is nothing gained by the substitution, because the evils which the damned would suffer would no more than counterbalance the evils which Christ has suffered, leaving nothing gained in favor of the general good. To this it may be answered, that, even on this ground, much would still be gained. Though it is true that nothing would be gained by avoiding positive evil, yet much would be gained by obtaining positive happiness. For while the two evils exactly balanced the happiness secured by the everlasting redemption of a great multitude which no man can number, would greatly overbalance the sum of happiness which the man Christ Jesus lost during the short period of his sufferings, if this could be considered as loss, on the whole, to himself. But even this is not to be admitted. On the contrary, there was a gain of happiness even to Christ himself, in consequence of his sufferings. Hence we are assured that, "for the joy which was set before him," he "endured the cross, despising the shame." There would, therefore, even on this ground, evidently be a great gain of happiness in the universal system.
But besides, there is no reason to believe that the sufferings of Christ were of an amount, in point of quantity, equal to all which those for whom be died must have endured. It does not appear to have been necessary, considering the innocency and dignity of his character, that the real evil endured by Christ should be so great as the evil of the sufferings of those whom he redeemed must have been. It is, quite sufficient if God's regard for his law, his opposition to sin, and his love for the general good, be as fully manifested in the sufferings of Christ, as they could have been by the execution of the penalty of the law.
The objection, which has sometimes been made, that the doctrine of atonement represents God as being inexorable, is also groundless. For certainly no one can rationally suppose that God is inexorable, merely because he will not pardon sinners in a way which is totally inconsistent with the honor of his government, the well being of his kingdom, and the glory of his own character. Instead of inexorability, or a deficiency of goodness, every display which God has made of himself in the great work of man's redemption, has been a display of infinite benevolence or love, Even his anger is to be viewed as the result of benevolence.
We read much in the Scriptures of the anger of God. "He is angry with the wicked every day;" and his "anger burn; to the lowest hell." But from these and, other similar passages, we are to understand no more than the eternal opposition of God's benevolence to every thing which opposes his glory, and the highest good of his kingdom. God never indulged any other anger towards any creature, however rebellious and wicked, than what necessarily results from his supreme regard to the glory of his own name, and the highest good of the universe. Nor does the death of Christ render God propitious to sinners in any other sense than this; as it supports the authority of his law and kingdom, it renders the pardon of sinners consistent with the highest good of his kingdom, and with his own glory.
It hence appears, moreover, that the atonement of Christ is, in a strict and proper sense, for all mankind. Christ tasted death for every man; for the non-elect as much as for the elect. Indeed, election has nothing to do with atonement, any more than it has with creation, resurrection from the dead, or the general judgment.
From the necessity and nature of the atonement it is evident that its extent is necessarily universal. It was necessary to remove obstacles which stood in the way of God's pardoning sinners. These obstacles have been considered; and it has been shown that the death of Christ completely removes them. Nothing, therefore, now remains in the way of God's pardoning any sinner whatever of the human family, who will comply with the conditions of the gospel on which pardon is offered. Neither the compliance of sinners with these terms, nor their non-compliance can, in the least degree, affect the nature or the extent of the atonement. Though the operations of the Holy Spirit are necessary to produce in the hearts of sinners a compliance with these terms, and though these operations are indeed granted to some, while they are withholden from others; yet this is not owing to any thing particular in the nature of the atonement; but it is owing merely to the "purpose of God, according to the election of grace." The Scriptures are remarkably plain on the point now before us. Christ testified that "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." John 3:16. And the apostle John, addressing his Christian brethren, said, "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." 1 John 2:2.
But though the atonement is, strictly speaking, for all mankind, one as much as another, this does not imply any obligation on the part of God, either to Christ or to sinners, to save any of them. Notwithstanding the atonement, God is at full liberty to save, or not save, just as the general good may require, and his unerring wisdom dictate. If the general good require that any of those for whom Christ died should be left to continue in impenitency, and to perish in their sins, God may thus leave them, in perfect consistency with the nature and design of the atonement.
Whether the general good requires the salvation of a great or a small number, is a question which cannot be decided merely from the nature of the atonement For if God had designed the salvation of only a small number, the same atonement, for aught we are able to see, would have been necessary to render his conduct consistent in pardoning that few, which has now been made as a ground of offering pardon to the whole. Indeed, if instead of designing the salvation of any, God had only designed to make a free and gracious offer of pardon and salvation to all who would repent and believe, leaving them entirely to their own choice whether to repent and believe, or not, still the same atonement must have been made. For it is plain that God could not consistently offer pardon to sinners on any ground which would not fully justify him in actually granting it, in case they comply with the conditions on which it is offered. But whether they shall be made to comply with these conditions, by the sanctifying agency of the Holy Spirit, or whether they shall be left to follow the dictates of their own wicked heart, and finally perish in unbelief, or whether there shall be an election of grace among them, and some be called and sanctified, while others are left to their own choice, are questions to be decided on other grounds than atonement. Because the direct object of atonement might be fully accomplished in either case.
This object, as has been shown, was to make a manifestation of the divine character, to declare the righteousness of God. This manifestation God has made. He has shown his hatred of sin and love of holiness. He has shown his regard to his own glory and the best interest of his kingdom. He has, also, manifested a merciful and gracious disposition towards sinners; for he has offered them pardon and eternal life, on condition that they believe in Jesus. These things constitute the object of atonement, and these things will for ever appear, even though no sinner should ever believe, or be saved. It will for ever appear that all was done on the part of God which was necessary, in order that salvation might be freely offered. It will also appear that the free offer of salvation was actually made. God may for ever say, in view of these things, "What could I have done more in my vineyard, that I have not done in it?" And Christ may say to a world of ruined sinners, "Ye would not come unto me that ye might have life." The direct object of atonement, therefore, may be accomplished, though no sinners should be saved.
Notwithstanding all the atonement has done, there still remains an obstacle in the way of salvation. The unbelief of sinners must be removed. They must believe in Jesus, or his atonement can never save them. This is an obstacle which the atonement of Christ does not remove. Neither is there any thing in the nature of atonement which requires that God should remove it. The truth is, mere atonement has nothing to do with its removal. God may remove it or not, as in his view the interest of his kingdom and his own glory may require. If the interest of his kingdom and his own glory require that this obstacle be universally removed, no doubt it will be done.
But we have no evidence that this is the case. We indeed have evidence that the glory of God and the interest of his kingdom require, that this should be done in some instances because we see that it is done. We see that the unbelief of sinners is removed, and they become believers in Jesus. But there are multitudes of others concerning whom this does not appear. The Scriptures also assure us that some believe, and they assure us, too, that some do not believe "All men have not faith." They describe mankind as constituting two classes, the righteous and the wicked, the believing and the unbelieving. Nor, have we any evidence that these two classes will not continue to exist for ever.
The mere goodness of God certainly does not afford proof that they will not thus continue to exist. For if the existence of sinners, in unbelief and misery, were inconsistent with the goodness of God, they certainly could not thus exist at the present time. We know, however, that they do thus exist. But if their present existence in this state is not inconsistent with divine goodness, then we have no evidence that their future state may not also be sinful and miserable. No doubt God is as able to make all mankind holy and happy in this world as he will be in the world to come. But since he does not make them holy and happy now, notwithstanding his infinite goodness, we have no evidence that he will do it hereafter. Doubtless the reason why God does not make all his creatures holy and happy in the present world is, because his own glory and the general good require otherwise. But if the glory of God and the general good may require that some of God's creatures should be suffered to continue in unbelief and misery in this world, we have no evidence that his glory and the general good may not require that they should be suffered to continue in the same state, in the world to come and during eternity. It is certainly as conceivable that sin and misery should be subservient, or even necessary to the glory of God and the general good in the world to come, as that they are so in this world.
It has been shown that the atonement of Christ answers the same Valuable purposes, at least in relation to all that believe that the complete execution of the penalty of the law would have answered. Nothing more than this was necessary. Nothing less than this was sufficient. If, then, God should give faith to an mankind, he might, out of respect to the atonement, save them all, and at the same time promote his own glory and the good of the universe to the same extent which might have been done by the execution of the law.
But it does not hence follow that God will give faith to all; nor, if he should, that this would promote his glory and the good of his kingdom in the highest degree. It might, indeed, promote these objects in as high a degree as they could have been promoted by the execution of the law; but the execution of the law could not have promoted them in the highest degree. If it could, then certainly the law would have been executed. For surely no one can suppose that God would have given up Christ to the sufferings of death, if his glory and the interest of his kingdom might have been as well secured by the execution of the law. And yet all that was necessary in order that the sufferings of Christ should constitute a complete atonement was, that they should answer the same valuable purposes respecting the character and government of God, which the execution of the law would have answered.
From whence it must follow, that the execution of the law would not have promoted the glory of God and interest of his kingdom in the highest degree. The sufferings of Christ, however, in order to constitute complete atonement needed only to answer the same purposes which the execution of the law would have answered. Nor have we any evidence that they do, in themselves, answer any other purpose. Neither the execution of the law, nor the atonement of Christ, therefore, in itself, is capable of promoting the highest glory of God, or the best interest of his kingdom. If one could, the other must, for the same reason.
It may be asked, then, why should infinite wisdom choose the method of atonement, rather than the execution of the law? The answer is, the atonement, though it does not of itself promote any object which might not have been promoted by the execution of the law, yet it opens a way in which God can introduce other measures, and accomplish other purposes, which could not have been introduced and accomplished in case the law had been executed; and these other measures and purposes promote his glory and the interest of his kingdom in the highest degree. If the penalty of the law had been executed upon all transgressors, God never could have displayed his justice and mercy to the degree in which they now appear. The atonement, however, opens the way in which God makes this display in the highest perfection.
It is by means of atonement that God has opportunity of displaying his justice in the highest degree. If the penalty of the law had been executed on all transgressors, it is true the justice of God would have appeared in some degree. It would have appeared in as great a degree as that state of things would have required. But it would not have appeared to that degree which the present state of things, under the gospel, requires. For, in order that the glory of divine justice may fully appear, it is necessary that the evil nature of sin should fully appear. But this never could have appeared to the extent that it now does, if atonement had not been made. Indeed, by the atonement, sinners are brought into a new situation in relation to their God, in which their sins become vastly more aggravated than was possible before. If no atonement had been made, the guilt of sinners would have been incomparably less than it now is. Sin now appears to possess a degree of malignity which never could have appeared if Christ had not come into the world as a Saviour. Hence he declared, "If I had not come and spoken unto them they had not had sin, but now they have no cloak for their sin:" We are not to understand by this declaration of our Saviour that he meant that mankind, strictly speaking, would have been free from sin if he had not come. We are rather to understand that the sins of those who reject him are much greater, in consequence of this rejection; indeed, that they are incomparably greater. If he had not come, the sins of mankind, in comparison with what they now are, would have been as nothing. Yet, in order that the justice of God in the punishment of sinners may appear in the highest degree, it is necessary that the evil nature of sin, in its full extent, should appear.
Antecedently to all consideration of atonement, mankind, as sinners, actually deserved endless punishment. If no Saviour had appeared, and no offer of pardon been made, God would have been just in the infliction of this punishment. No doubt holy angels, who beheld, would have glorified his justice. In this case, however, the depth of human depravity, and the extent of the malignity of sin, could not have appeared. It could not have been seen that sin was so exceedingly malignant, and mankind so exceedingly full of it, as to be ready to reject a Saviour and his salvation when freely offered. If any one, except the Supreme Being himself, had informed angels that mankind had become so exceedingly depraved that even if a Saviour should be provided and salvation should be freely offered, on the most reasonable condition, they would all make light of it, and ungratefully reject the offer, it is probable angels would have doubted whether such wickedness were possible. If mankind, antecedently to the revelation of God's purposes of mercy, had been so informed, probably they, too, would have rejected the idea, and with indignation. All this, however, is true, and must be seen, before the justice of God, in his opposition to sin, can fully appear. But this is what could never have been seen, if the penalty of the law, without atonement, had been inflicted. Neither could it have been seen, if, when atonement was made, God had given faith to every sinner. Because, in that case, it never could have appeared that the wickedness of mankind was so great, that, if left to their own choice, they, would forever reject a bleeding Saviour. Yet all this must appear, in order that the justice of God, in his opposition to this wickedness, may fully be seen. And if the nature of sin is really so bad that a sinner, left to himself, will continue his opposition to divine, grace, during eternity, then this must be manifested, in order that the justice of God, in punishing such wickedness, may fully appear.
Divine grace, also, must forever appear great, in proportion to the greatness of the wickedness that is pardoned. If, then, God would display the full extent of the riches of his grace, to the view of intelligent beings, he must so order his providence respecting sinners, as to make a clear manifestation of the evil nature of sin, even though it. should be at the expense of leaving some to their own perverse and wicked choice, to be forever living examples of what all sinners must have been, had not divine grace plucked them as brands from the burning.
Thus it is evident that the glory of God may require that the extent of his justice, and the riches of his grace, be forever manifested, by leaving some sinners to their own chosen way, in perpetual unbelief; that he may, as saith the apostle, "show his wrath and make his power known on vessels of wrath fitted to destruction." Nor is it difficult to see how the universe of holy beings may be constantly benefitted by such a display. Certainly, all holy beings must always be interested in every display of the justice and grace of God. Even when the smoke of the torment of the damned ascendeth up forever and ever, inspiration assures us that they cry "Alleluia." Especially will redeemed sinners feel a deep interest in these displays. Our Saviour has plainly taught us, that he to whom much is forgiven, will love much.
If, then, the happiness of saints in heaven will principally consist in loving God, for his rich grace in their salvation, they will certainly be much interested in every display which is made of the depth of wickedness from which they have been delivered, and the awful but just punishment from which they have been saved. But this is what they never could have clearly seen, if divine grace had brought every sinner to embrace the Saviour by faith, as soon as his atonement had been announced. We have no reason to doubt, therefore, that divine justice, notwithstanding full atonement, does actually require that unbelieving sinners should be finally punished, according to the full demerit of their sins.
By their unbelief, they not only make a much greater manifestation of the evil. nature of sin, but they also become much more guilty. Their sins are much more heinous. They really deserve a much greater punishment for rejecting the blood of Christ, than they ever could have deserved if atonement had not been made. If, then, the divine law should take its course on them now, since they have go much enhanced their guilt by neglecting a Saviour, surely its demands must be much more awful than they ever could have been, if no Saviour had bled. Had the original penalty been executed and no salvation their sin, and consequently their desert of punishment, would have been nothing in comparison with what they now are.
What, then, if the sufferings of Christ do answer all the valuable purposes which the execution of the law would have answered, provided no atonement had been made? Does this prove that the execution of the law can answer no valuable purpose now, when, in fact, the guilt of sinners is actually increased to an incomparable degree, by their sinning against the atonement? If a delinquent debtor, at a time when his debt amounted only to a hundred pence, was offered a free discharge of it, provided he would perform a certain condition, would this entitle him to a discharge afterwards when instead of performing the required condition, he had increased his original debt to ten thousand talents? Vain is every hope of eternal life which is not founded in the blood of Christ, and authorized by a living faith!
For, as has been abundantly shown, the same obstacles which stood in the way of God's pardoning sinners without an atonement, stand equally in the way of his pardoning those who do not receive Christ by faith, as their Redeemer and Saviour. God cannot be just and the justifier of any who do not believe in Jesus. If, then, the general good required that none should be pardoned without an atonement, it must still require, notwithstanding the atonement, that none be pardoned except they believe. Withholding pardon from unbelievers, therefore, is so far from being inconsistent with full atonement for all mankind, that it is required by it. Both are on the same ground equally necessary.
Benevolus, in the atonement made for his wife, is supposed to have been actuated by a regard for the public good; a desire to support the authority of the law, and the interest of the community. If, having suffered, he had communicated a knowledge of the fact to her, and she had wholly disapproved of the substitution, and clearly manifested her determination to continue in the practice of the same wickedness for which she had been condemned, could be consistently with his regard to the good of the community, the very motive from which he consented to suffer, even desire her pardon? If he should in this case insist on her being pardoned, would he not contradict all the evidence which he had before given of being actuated by a regard to the laws and interests of the community?
If the son of Zaleucus had disapproved of his father's expiation, called it folly, and openly avowed his determination of persisting in his crime, it is evident the good king could not have pardoned him. The atonement he had made was indeed ample, but his son's wicked opposition and contempt presented a new obstacle in the way of his being pardoned. The father had made an exhibition of high respect for his law. If, therefore, the son had remained in open and manifest opposition to this law, the father could not have justified him, without justifying opposition to the very law which himself had suffered to support. If he should now justify his son in this opposition, he would completely counteract all the effect of the atonement which he had made. He would appear very inconsistent destroying, at one time, what he had done, at great expense at another. His subjects would have no evidence that he was determined to support the authority of his law. The immorality which it prohibited would not be prevented. The laws and authority of his government would fall into contempt, and his kingdom would be ruined.
Delusive, indeed, are all the expectations and hopes of the wicked, which are built merely on the universality of the atonement; or, on the ground that Christ has tasted death for every man; while the very nature of the atonement is such, that God cannot be just, and the justifier of any who do not believe in Jesus; while the very blood which was shed "for every man," reiterates, the awful declaration of Christ, He that believeth not shall be damned."Return To ATONEMENT BY BURGE Index Page