THE EXTENT OF THE ATONEMENT
RELATION TO GOD AND THE UNIVERSE.
REV. THOMAS W. JENKYN, D. D. CHAPTER II
ON THE ATONEMENT IN ITS RELATION TO THE PERSON OF THE SON OF GOD
If a peasant offend or injure a peasant, a plebeian umpire might settle the difference between them. If he offend a magistrate in the exercise of his office, the plebeian umpire, will not be competent to treat in his behalf: he must have a daysman of a higher grade. If he offend the king, by treason or rebellion, the one and the other of these umpires would be inadequate to interpose for him: some person high in rank, or official dignity, would alone be thought suitable, competent, and, admissible to such an undertaking.
Should it be proposed to a government that a prisoner, convicted of a high offence, should be set at liberty, at the instance and intercession of another, that is, for the sake of another person, it is natural to suppose that, among all the members and friends of the government, there would be a general inquiry-who and what was that person? The following circumstances would require a very satisfactory explanation: What is his rank in the state? What is the nature of his connection with the offender? What is his character in the estimation of the government? What measure will he substitute instead of the offender's punishment? Why does he interfere? How does the king regard such an interference?
The high rank of such a person in the state is of consequence in such a transaction, because such alone would be competent to treat with the king. With such only could the king treat, on such a subject, without lowering his dignity. The interference of such a personage would draw public attention to the magnitude of the offence. If the personage were nearly related to the king, and obliged to sustain some great inconvenience, humiliation, or hardship by his interference, it would show that the king did not dispense his pardons, except on good, wise, and worthy grounds.
In such a transaction, regard must also be had to the kind of connection or relationship in which the intercessor stands to the offender. There would be no propriety in dispensing pardon at the instance of a stranger, utterly unconnected, either by neighborhood, office, or kindred, with the offender. There is, however, a congruity in showing favor, caeteris paribus, at the instance of a person in some way related to the peculiar circumstances of the offender, say, the Home Secretary of the State, the Lord Lieutenant of the county, the Magistrate for the district, the Minister of the parish, the Colonel of the regiment, etc. The interference of such a person shows that he is interested in the welfare of the district or community in which the offence was committed. It draws the attention of that particular district or community to the heinousness of the crime. His respectability is a pledge that just authority and the public good will not be injured by granting pardon; and it secures honor, love, and esteem to the interposing benefactor, as the means of conveying the pardon; and, through him, reverence and attachment to the government that granted it.
He who would interpose, in such an affair, must be a person possessing great private worth and weight of character in the estimation of the government. It would lower and sully the dignity of any government to treat with one, who had been a sharer in the crime, or who thought slightly of it. In treating with a person of worth and character, the government would show that the throne was quite clear of contributing to the offence, or of conniving at it,--that it did not regard the offence as a trifle,--that it was not reluctant to administer mercy, when practicable with honor and safety,--that its pardon was so dispensed as not to afford the slightest encouragement to the crime,--and that the liberation of the offender came entirely from the sovereign prerogative of the throne, though indeed through the intercession or for the sake of another. In this way the offender could not boast of his case as deserving pardon;--nor could his compeers in guilt boast of his release as a triumph over righteousness.
In such a dispensation of pardon, it is not enough that the character of the government appear honorable, but the interests of it must also be safe. We may therefore suppose one of the friends of the government to rise and say, "It is well known that a law without a penalty is only an advice, a mere recommendation; and that, annexing a penalty without executing it when required, makes government a mere name. If the punishment in this case be cancelled, what provision will the offender's friend substitute instead of it, that will secure the ends of good government? For though the letter of the law be not executed, yet the spirit of it ought to be preserved, that mercy may not clash with public justice."
Another friend might rise and say,--"It should be remembered that the illustrious person who interferes in this affair, is a friend to the government, as well as a friend to the offenders; and withal, is no friend to the offence. He is high in rank and in official dignity, and his character is unblemished. He has suffered much pain and anguish for the offenders; and, in this undertaking, has borne great fatigue and expense, as well as the hazard of his good name. He now pledges that his private worth in his own district, his rank in the state, his nearness to his sovereign, and his high office, will guarantee that no injury shall accrue to the government by issuing forth a pardon. It has been observed that the spirit of the law might be preserved without adhering to the letter of it: I beg also to suggest, that the nearer the provision of satisfaction or atonement comes to the letter of the law, with out being the literal infliction of the penalty, the more full and glorious might such an atonement appear. I am therefore instructed to say that, on this principle, as the offenders are condemned for public execution, the illustrious personage who has interposed in their behalf, will, on a given day, take their place on the scaffold, lay his head on the block, and appear again in court, as the medium of conveying pardon to them."
Upon this information, all considerate persons saw that such an expedient would fully answer the ends of government, viz., to check offenses and promote the public good: and these ends would be more secured by the humiliation and sufferings of such a personage than by the infliction of the penalty on all the offenders.
There would, however, be a farther inquiry concerning this personage, viz, whether his undertaking were perfectly voluntary, and whether in his humiliation he were altogether free and unconstrained. If he were not free and voluntary, such an undertaking would be unjust, unreasonable, unbecoming, and unacceptable to the government.
Hence would arise the question, "How did the king, as the public head of the commonwealth, regard such an undertaking?" If such a spectacle were made without his approbation and appointment, it would be no expression of the king's abhorrence of the offence; it would in nowise strengthen the claims of righteous authority; it would be no satisfaction to the government, as it neither kept the letter nor preserved the spirit of the law; and it would secure no honor or esteem to the intercessor, as his undertaking was self-willed, neither appointed nor approved by any competent authority. But should the king express himself well pleased, in such an undertaking of such a personage, and declare himself willing to pardon any offender, who would ask forgiveness for the sake of the intercessor, such a spectacle of substituted degradation would present all the elements of an ATONEMENT to the public justice of the government.
Let us now apply the supposed topics of the above inquiry to the person of the Son of God, the declared mediator between an offended sovereign and sinful man.
SECTIONS I Thru SECTIONS 6
THE PERSONAL DIGNITY OF CHRIST.
What saith the scripture concerning his rank in the state, his gradation in the scale of being, the grandeur of his person?
The language of the scriptures concerning the person of Christ is never reserved, cautious, qualified, or ambiguous: it is free, open, certain, high-toned, and exulting. It never formally proves the divinity of Christ, as it never formally proves the existence of God. It ascribes unhesitatingly to Christ the same perfections, the same titles and names, the same works, and the same worship as are ascribed to the Father. If these particulars be left out of the induction of proofs for the divinity of the Father, it will be impossible to prove the Father's deity. If these particulars prove the divinity of the Father, they must, by fair sequence, prove the divinity of the Son. And if they do not prove the divinity of the Son, they do not prove the deity of the Father.
There is nothing in the testimony of the scripture to encourage the morbid caution and jealousy that would begrudge the honors of the Son, lest they should infringe on the honors of the Father. There is no such mean jealousy implied in any transaction between the Father and the Son, in any description given of heaven, in the design and tendency of the gospel dispensation, or in the graces of the Christian character. When the Lord Jesus Christ was at the lowest point of his humiliation, the identity of his Father's honor with his own is most clearly recognized, John xii. 28; xiii. 31, 32; xvii. 1, etc. In heaven, the same honor and power and glory are ascribed to the Lamb as to Him that sitteth upon the throne. In the dispensation of the gospel of the Mediator, "Glory to God in the highest," is secured by all its provisions. The faith, and the hope, and the love of Christians, honor the grace, the mercy, and the whole paternal character of God, while they triumph in Christ, and boast and glory in his cross. In the memorials which we have of the lives and doctrines and feelings of eminent saints who excelled in the love of God, we find no dread of displeasing the Father by giving due honors to the Son; no fear of idolatry by calling, like Stephen, on the name of Jesus; nor any checking of their religious affections, saying, "hitherto shall ye go and no farther" No: they felt as free and unconstrained as the heaven they breathed. They saw that the mediatorial constitution was so arranged as to secure "many crowns" to the Mediator, without unsettling, or dimming, a single gem in the crown of the Father. They never used the cold, sophistical, and unsavory language of the modern opposers of the divinity of Christ. They knew that "the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment to the Son: that all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. And he that honoreth not the Son, honoreth not the Father which hath sent him." John v. 22, 23.
The divinity of the person of the Son of God is indispensably necessary to the worth, the sufficiency, and efficacy of the atonement. The grandeur of his person preserved unsullied the public honor of God in treating with a days-man for sinners. It not only vindicated the character of the high party proposing reconciliation, but it magnified that character in the whole of the transaction.
He is one high enough, in rank and personal worth, to draw public attention to this amazing expedient of the divine government. This was his meaning when he said, "And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all [men] to myself;" that is, "I will draw the attention and the gaze of all beings to my person and work."
The humiliation of a Person so exalted, gave a greater expression of God's abhorrence of sin, than any other measure of his administrations. God set him FORTH, an atonement, to declare his righteousness--to make a deep and lasting impression, on all intelligences, of the divine displeasure against disobedience. If Christ was a mere man, like Moses, or David, or Jeremiah, or John the Baptist, whose humiliation was no condescension, and whose obedience and sufferings were mere duty, it is impossible that his sufferings and death could have been a public expression, or declaration of righteousness in forgiving sin. What would be thought of a governor summoning public attention to the equity of his government, by "cutting a dog's neck," or "offering swine's blood?" There would be no dignity in such a medium for expressing either the justice of his law, or the majesty of his clemency. But in the divine administration, the sufferings of a person of such dignity and worth as the Son of God, supplied a medium of sufficient dignity for expressing the righteousness of God, both in his abhorrence of sin, and in his exercise of clemency.
The dignity of his person is calculated to secure the esteem due from offenders to him as the Mediator. If pardon be dispensed in such a manner as is not calculated to secure honor and esteem, for the person who is the medium of conveying it, and through him, for the throne which originated it, the pardon will be prejudicial to the public good. It is, therefore, wise to grant pardon through some person whose rank and character are calculated to secure honor and respect. The Father thought so in the appointment of his Son as Mediator, and said, "They will reverence MY SON." Had the Son been a mere man, we would have esteemed him, something as we esteem the writers of the scriptures, or the ministers of the gospel, and others, who have been the means of conveying to us the knowledge of the truth. But is this the esteem which the apostles expressed towards the person of Christ ? Is such esteem at all adequate to that which the scriptures demand from us towards Christ? Is such a system in any wise akin to "honoring the Son even as we honor the Father?" Even a greater esteem than that which is due to apostles and ministers, is deserved and warranted by the disinterestedness of his condescension, by the amiableness of his mission, and by the magnitude of the blessings which he has procured but, the DIVINITY of his person tends to secure an esteem that will count all things but loss for his excellency, that will exult in him with joy unspeakable and full of glory, that will cast every crown at his feet, that will love him as "all in all." It is his claim to such esteem that can alone fully justify the awful and tremendous anathema, which is denounced against those who do not love him.
Above all, the Godhead of the Son unites in one person and in one administration the honors of the Mediator with those of the Governor, and blends the interests of the Saviour with those of the Lawgiver. He doe's not exalt the Mediator by sinking the Governor. He never gives salvation in a manner that is calculated to beget low sentiments of his legislative character.
These considerations fully justify the deductions of scripture, that the value and efficacy of the death of Christ as an atonement, arise from the grandeur and dignity of his person. It is the blood of Jesus Christ, HIS SON, that cleanseth from all sin. It is He, "who being the brightness of his Father's glory and the express image, of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, that by HIMSELF purged our sins." It is because "God spared not HIS OWN SON, but delivered him up for us all, that he will also give unto us all things."
THE PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP OF CHRIST TO MANKIND.
We have already seen that, there is a propriety in dispensing pardon to offenders, at the instance of a person in some way related to them, either by neighborhood, office, or kindred. The scriptures represent the Author of the great atonement for sinners as sustaining a near and intimate relationship to them.
He is related to men by office, having "power over all flesh;" by kindred, being "made of a woman;" and by neighborhood, having "tabernacled among them, full of grace and truth." It became him for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, to offer reconciliation, and to bring many sons to glory, by SUCH a personage. "For both he that expiates, and they who are expiated, are all of one; for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren. Forasmuch then as the children were partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same, that through death, he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil: and deliver them, who through fear of death, were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For verily he took not on him the nature of angels, but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren; that he might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people." Heb. ii. 11, 14, 15, 16, 17.
Let this energetic and beautiful passage be applied to any good man, to any deliverer, to any prophet, to any apostle, to any martyr; or let it be read irrespective of the doctrine of atonement; and the whole becomes pointless, vague, and flimsy. The atoning priesthood of the Saviour, on the contrary, gives it body and consistency, weight and edge.
The expedient of an atonement was introduced into the administration of God's moral government to "declare" the righteousness, or the public justice, of God in forgiving offenders. It was therefore necessary that the atonement be "shewn forth," that is, that it be effected, and published, in the province where the offence was committed. An atonement effected solely by the divine nature, or by an angelic being, could not have been "shewn forth," and made visible and tangible to mankind; consequently the author of atonement took upon him the nature of the offenders, "before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth crucified among them." An atonement, thus visibly wrought, in the nature, and in the province, of the offenders, was calculated to produce salutary impressions on them. It would humble the offenders to witness, in the moral government of which they were members, such a decided demonstration of firm justice. It would gain their confidence, by showing that the divine government had been devising means for the honorable exercise of mercy in their district. And the whole arrangement would endear to them the friendly Mediator "who though he was rich, yet for their sake became poor, that they through his poverty might be made rich."
The nature of things, and the order of society, also, seem to show the propriety, that an atonement should be as much like the infliction of the threatened punishment, as could, under the direction of infinite wisdom, be consistent with its nature as an expedient for the suspension of the literal penalty. Hence, the illustrious Mediator assumed a nature that could sustain visible sufferings, and endure a public death, even the accursed death of the cross. By such an arrangement, the whole government has been honored in the nature, if not in the persons of the offenders. "If one died for all, then did the ALL die."
To pardon an offender for the sake of the relationship which a friend of ours sustains towards him, and, especially, to pardon at the instance of that friend, is a fact in common life every day. A child disobeys his father, and, through the intercession of his mother in his behalf, is forgiven. We receive a wrong at a neighbor's hand, but at the interposition of a mutual friend, we overlook it. Such a circumstance often occurs also in the administration of civil government, when it is deemed honorable and safe; as when the life of a condemned criminal is spared through the petitions of the respectable inhabitants of his native place, or when a king shows favor to any one on account of his connection with an honorable and worthy family. It was something of this kind that we see in David showing kindness to Mephibosheth for the sake of Jonathan his father, 2 Sam. ix. 1-8. David as a king felt that there was no impropriety, danger, or dishonor, in restoring Mephibosheth to all his inheritance in such a way as this. By doing it for Jonathan's sake, it showed that he had a high regard for Jonathan, that he considered nothing in the house of Saul as forming a claim on his clemency; and, consequently, no friends of that house could think that the king was relaxing his government, and that they might, therefore, safely rebel against his crown.
It is in this manner that God is, in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself--but it is for Christ's sake. For Christ's sake, he is willing to forgive the greatest sin, to accept the vilest sinner, and to confer the greatest favor. In thus acting for Christ's sake, the boasting and the worthiness of the sinner are excluded, and the divine government is safe and honorable in proclaiming pardon.
THE PERSONAL CHARACTER OF CHRIST; OR, WHAT IS CALLED, HIS ACTIVE RIGHTEOUSNESS.
Mere relationship to the offender is not a sufficient ground for a safe dispensation of pardon: the person who intercedes must have also a worth, and weight of character, in the estimation of the government.
When Amyntas interceded with the Athenian senate for the life of his brother AEschylus, he pleaded, by lifting up the stump of his arm, the honors which he had achieved for the government at the battle of Salamis. The senate, at the instance of a person of such character and worth, granted the pardon. It was on this principle that Abraham interceded for the sparing of Sodom and Gomorrah. His plea was the moral worth of fifty righteous souls: and the efficacy of the plea is distinctly recognized by the Angel Jehovah. Paul also interceded with Philemon for Onesimus, by pleading his own character in the estimation of Philemon, as "being such a one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ." This is the principle on which the Lord Jesus Christ makes intercession for transgressors, by representing, to the moral governor, his own infinite worth as an honorable ground for sparing them. It is as THE JUST, that he died for the unjust. It is as THE RIGHTEOUS, that he is now an advocate with the Father.
Hence we learn the design, and the place, of what is called the active obedience of Christ, in the plan of the atonement. The atonement did not consist in the death of Christ, simply as death, or as the death of a person so related to the offenders, but it consisted in being such a death of SUCH a person. The Lord Christ would not have been SUCH a person in his sufferings and death, had not the perfect obedience of his life preceded his agonies. The obedience of his life gave him a mediatorial character in the estimation of the divine government, so that it is an honor to the moral law to honor him.
The personal worthiness of Christ is so great and meritorious, that were we to consider him in his moral character alone, irrespectively of his divinity, it would have been no wonder, but rather the expectation and the delight of all intelligences, had the divine government in all its authorities interposed, in the justice-hall of Calvary, to vindicate and to honor such a character; to give him the "life" promised in the law which he had honored, and to confer upon him the recompense Of THE JUST. But, to the eternal astonishment of all the worlds of God, there on that spot, he stood, THE JUST for the unjust; in their stead; and voluntarily suffering death, not as the inflicted penalty of the law--because for a person of his character the law had no penalty-- but, voluntarily suffering death, as an agreed arrangement, and as a received "commandment" from his Father. The result is that the divine government has been more honored by the obedience of such a person, than it has been dishonored by the disobedience of the offenders. The obedience of Christ is worthy of honor from the law, because that he himself was not worthy of its threatened death. He did not die because the law required it, for the law could not require a just person to die. He died because he had received a commandment to die from his Father, in order that, for the sake of the dying of a person who did not deserve to die, he might pardon those who had deserved death. In such an arrangement, no subject will think lightly of the divine government, for mercy is exercised only for the sake, and in the name, of one who has done so much to honor the law; far rather must every one, in obedience and homage, fall down before the Lamb of atonement, saying, "Thou art worthy to take the book, for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood."
THE PERSONAL SUBSTITUTION OF CHRIST.
A mediator interposing for offenders puts himself in their place, and, as we have seen, proposes to substitute some expedient instead of their punishment. Thus did Paul in his interposition for Onesimus. Philem. v. 17, 18. On the same principle the Lord Jesus Christ has mediated for sinners.
The sin of man is a public injury to the divine commonwealth; and for such a public injury the law has provided a public punishment. Before this public punishment can be honorably suspended, some public expedient must be substituted, that will answer the same ends. Why? The very reasons which required the original penalty to be annexed as a sanction to the law, require, in case of its suspension, that what is substituted for it should secure its ends. It is not the letter of the penalty that is essential to good government, but the influence of the penalty on the subjects, and the ends aimed at in legislation.
What Zaleucus substituted for the infliction of the total blindness due to his son, was honorable to his government as a king, and to his character as a father, and was likewise full of grace to the offender. The principle of substitution is recognized, owned, and acted upon, by every man in the world. It is only the application of substitution to "the offence of the cross" that makes men stumble at it. Every victim that has ever bled on a sacrificial altar, every trouble and expense which it has cost a father to relieve and forgive an offending son, every instance of kindness shown to one for the sake of another, every instance of giving and taking hostages among nations, every honorable exercise of a government's clemency towards offenders at the intercession of worthy characters, recognizes the principle of substitution.
The persons who deny the substitution of the atonement of Christ, nevertheless recognize the principle of it, by asserting that the repentance of the sinner is a sufficient reason for suspending his punishment; or, in other words, they assert that the repentance of the sinner is a satisfaction to the divine government, as furnishing it with an honorable ground for his acquittal; and as such, to be substituted instead of his punishment. The theology of this assertion is, indeed, unscriptural and bad; but its testimony to the necessity, and to the propriety of some substitutionary satisfaction is distinct and irrefragable. Our opponents then believe in substitution, but not in the substitution of Christ. They are for substituting, as a safe ground for pardon, the sufferings of a sinner in repentance: we are for substituting the sufferings of Christ. They believe that the tears of repentance speak well enough for pardon: we believe that "the blood of sprinkling speaketh better."
What measure, then, do the Scriptures reveal as THE GREAT EXPEDIENT, substituted in moral government, instead of the punishment due to offending mankind ? This is its testimony; "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God hath set forth to be the propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God: to declare I say at this time his righteousness, that he might be just and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus." "The Son of man came to give his life a ransom for many." "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us." "Him that knew no sin, he hath made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." Rom. iii. 23-26. John xx. 28. Gal. iii. 13. 2 Cor. v. 21.
The substitution of Christ was twofold,--a substitution of his person instead of the offenders; and a substitution of his sufferings instead of their punishment. By this substitution is meant a voluntary engagement to undergo, for the ends of divine government, degradation, trouble, reproach, and sufferings, in order that the penalty threatened by the law may not be executed on the offenders. Such a substitution implies no transfer of moral character, no commutation of delinquency and responsibility: for the nature of things makes such a transfer and commutation impossible. This substitution of suffering also, excludes the idea of a literal infliction, upon the substitute, of the identical penalty that was due to the offender.
It is not sufficiently borne in mind that, the substitution of Christ is a measure introduced by God, as the public organ of moral government, on public grounds, and for public ends, and that consequently it did not need the infliction of the literal punishment on the substitute. Had Pythias actually died for Damon, Pythias would have endured the identical penalty due to Damon. But, except in the principle of substitution, this case is not at all analogous to the substitution of Christ for sinners. The case of Damon and Pythias was one of mere private friendship, and not of public principle; consequently it is not a case in point for illustrating the atonement of Christ. Pythias did not substitute himself for Damon, from any love to the government of Dionysius, nor from a wish to express his abhorrence of the offence of Damon. Had Pythias actually died, Damon would have loved and honored his friend, but he would never have honored the government. As the result of the death of Pythias, he would claim his release as a matter of justice, and never beg it as a matter of grace. After all, he would hold the character of the king in utter contempt; because the king did not admit of the substitution of Pythias from love to Damon, but from a desire of revenge, and a thirst for blood, contriving that if the offender himself did not suffer, he would have the sufferings of his nearest and dearest friend.
Such assuredly is not the substitution of Christ instead of sinners. For though the Scriptures represent the death of Christ to be fully and literally "in the room and instead" of others, as that of Pythias, instead of Damon, would have been, yet they never connect it with private feelings of attachment, but always with the public principle of government. The substitution of Christ is more like the substitution of the person and sufferings of Zaleucus, instead of the total blindness of his son, which at once manifested his high regard for his law and government, his abhorrence of the offence, his love and mercy towards the offender; while it also showed how vain it was in any subject to expect to offend with impunity. In this substitution there was no interchange of character, and no transfer of blameworthiness; the innocent was innocent still, the offender was offender still. Zaleucus was treated AS IF he had been the offender,--but the character of the adulterous son was never the personal character of his father. No one ever thought of calling him the adulterer; much less the greatest adulterer in the world. No: he knew no offence, though he was treated as if he had been an offender.
In this very case the literal penalty was not executed upon the substitute. The letter of Zaleucus's law threatened total blindness, and this blindness is threatened only to "the soul that sinned; "yet in the substitution and sufferings of the father were found a sufficient satisfaction and atonement to the law without a literal infliction of the penalty. The substituted sufferings of the father preserved the spirit of the threatening, and were as much like it as was deemed suitable without being identical with it. It supplied safe grounds to the government for dispensing pardon. The substitute made a sufficient atonement to the law without suffering total blindness. In like manner, I think, the atonement of Christ did not consist in bearing the identical punishment threatened to the sinner. The letter of the law never could have reached the person of Christ with its penalty; for he had, both personally, and in his representative character, kept the whole law, and consequently, was honorably entitled to the life which the law promised to the obedient. Nor could the letter of the law have met him as the substitute in the offender's room; for such a substitute was beside and above the letter of the law.
Except in the mere article of dying--of separation between soul and body, there was scarcely anything, in the sufferings of Christ, identical with the original penalty threatened in the law. In the sufferings of Christ there was no pang of remorse, no consciousness of demerit, no moral and eternal death, no execration of the authority that inflicted the pains. On the contrary, there was in him a consciousness that he was JUST, and that the law did not curse him, and also the assurance that God approved of him in his sufferings, as obeying his will, and doing his pleasure.
"The hypothesis of a literal infliction of the penalty on the person of Christ destroys the benevolence and weakens the authority of the divine government. It supposes that the divine government would not admit of any diminution of misery, or any accession of happiness, in the universe, but would bring about the entire flood of sufferings due for sin. It must, on this showing, have every iota and tittle of the misery incurred, either by the person of the offender himself, or by his substitute. It supposes also that the penalty cannot with justice be executed again on the offender himself, after it has been once inflicted and exhausted on his substitute, though we know that it will be actually inflicted upon the rejecters of the gospel. Such views make the offender secure, presumptuous, and licentious. The substitutionary atonement of Christ does not abrogate a single claim of the law upon any sinner, until that sinner believe in Christ, and "walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit." While therefore the sinner rejects the Lord that bought him, and atoned for him, he is still liable to the curse of the law;" and if he die impenitent, this "curse of the law" will be inflicted on him, notwithstanding the atonement that had been made for his sin.
THE PERSONAL VOLUNTARINESS OF CHRIST.
To render a substitution valid, honorable, and efficacious, there must be free and perfect voluntariness in the substitute.
The atonement of Christ was to be an index to the whole operations and bearings of the mediatorial system; to point it out as a system adapted to reasonable, free, and voluntary intelligences. It was, in fact, to be a specimen of the voluntariness of the whole economy. "Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might have it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command have I received of my Father." John x. 17, 18.
Man was free and voluntary in the offence. God was free and voluntary in providing an atonement. The Father was free and voluntary in accepting the satisfaction, and the Spirit is free in applying salvation to sinners, dividing to every one according as he will. The sinner is free in rejecting or receiving the atonement; and the divine government is free and voluntary in forgiving the sinner; the Christian is free and voluntary in his course of obedience and holiness; his admission to heaven is entirely of free grace and unconstrained good will; and all the employments and exercises of heaven are free and voluntary. Free, uninfluenced voluntariness, then, is stamped on the whole transaction, and is exercised by all the parties concerned.
This voluntary principle was conspicuous in the whole life and character of the Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter. His whole undertaking was an act of free choice, of--perfect voluntariness: without constraint without reluctance. When he disappeared from among the Jews, who sought to kill him, it was only because "His hour" was not yet come. When the right period arrived, he said, "Father, the hour is come;" I am ready; ready to go to Calvary, ready to be sacrificed on an accursed altar, ready to make an atonement for the sin of man.
When this "hour" came upon him, he felt as a man, and prayed, "Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done." Yet, this circumstance betrayed no reluctance to his work. Aversion from sufferings is an affection essential to every living being. Such an affection is in itself innocent and sinless; without it, man would not be the subject of hope or fear, and, consequently, not a fit subject of moral government. Had the blessed Mediator been without such aversion to pain, he would not have appeared really and truly a man; nor would he have appeared so great a sufferer. He loved his Father; and in proportion as he loved his Father, he would be averse to any effects of his displeasure. His love to his Father, his innocent aversion from suffering, the nice susceptibilities of his holy frame, put his obedience to the fullest trial; yet, as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth, except to say, "not my will, but thine be done."
This voluntariness originated in himself, He emptied himself and made himself of no reputation. No one took his life from him, but he laid it down of himself. He said, "Lo, I come to do thy will." He had in himself the absolute right of self-disposal. No creature in the universe can possess this right; for his all, all that he is, and all that he has, is owing in duty to the law. He, then, who could say of his life, "I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again," must be above law, above a creature--he must be God. This absolute right, and this unconstrained voluntariness of self-disposal, were essential to the lawfulness of his undertaking, and to the acceptance of his work, as Mediator.
Though substitution is often above law, it must never be against law. An involuntary substitution would be a measure void of all justice, and void of all grace; but voluntariness makes it just and gracious. The law of the land does not constrain any man to become a surety; but if any person voluntarily become a surety for an insolvent, the law is not unjust in allowing him "to smart for it." The law does not constrain any man to undertake great trouble and expense, and to part with a great portion of his estate, to deliver a thoughtless and profligate friend or relation; but if he voluntarily do so, the law is perfectly just in letting him bear such a loss, though he never personally deserved it. The law will not force any man to enter into recognizances for the good behavior of another person; yet if he voluntarily enter on such an engagement, and his friend break the peace, no one thinks the law unjust in making the bail suffer the loss.
When Judah voluntarily substituted himself instead of Benjamin, and when Zaleucus substituted his sufferings for the punishment due to his son; no one thinks of charging such transactions with injustice and wrong. It is not right reason, nor the moral sense, but it is jaundiced prejudice, that sees any color of injustice in the voluntary substitution of Jesus Christ for sinful man. It must be something wrong, something that sees not as God seeth, that can detect injustice in the very measure which God himself, with all authority, "sets forth To DECLARE his righteousness." If God declares the substitution of the atonement of Christ to be a demonstration of his righteousness--and any set of men declare it to be an evidence of injustice, we cannot be at a loss whose declaration to receive as truth.
An involuntary substitution would, indeed, have been unjust, unreasonable, and inadmissible; therefore much of the acceptableness of the work of Christ is, in connection with the dignity of his person, ascribed to the grace, the love, and the voluntariness which he so freely displayed in the whole undertaking. We are enriched through his poverty, because it was from mere grace, that he, though he was rich, for our sakes became poor. Christ hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor. That Jesus Christ came to the world to save sinners was a step cordially approved of by God, and is worthy of all acceptation among mankind. "Him hath God the Father sealed" to be a Mediator; and his great atonement he has appointed to be the only medium of communication between the offenders and the throne. "Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved."
THE PERSONAL SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST
We have now seen, in the substitution of the Lord Jesus Christ, all the elements essential to the reality and sufficiency of an atonement to a government: viz., dignity of person, relationship to the offender, worth of character, voluntary substitution, and appointment by the authority of the government. In this enumeration of the essential elements of atonement, I have not inserted the article, intensity of suffering, simply because, that to the atonement, as an atonement, I did not consider it indispensably or essentially necessary. The reasons for it will be found in the following remarks
The reality of the atonement has, in this discussion, been tried by the connection of its great elements with the person of Christ; let us now try the question of the extent of the atonement by the same test. It is self-evident that not one of these great elements of atonement could possibly be more or less than it is; from which we argue, that neither could the atonement itself be possibly more or less than it is.
The atonement of Christ is generally represented in the writings of men, and generally believed, to consist in an actual suffering of the identical penalty due to the offenders for whom he suffered.
They who take this view of the atonement argue thus: "Some offenders will eventually endure the penalty of the law themselves, as some of them already endure it now in misery. It would be unjust to inflict the penalty on the offender which had already been endured by the surety; therefore the surety did not endure the penalty for those offenders who shall suffer it themselves."
This hypothesis measures the atonement by the number of the persons to be saved. The measurement is just as reasonable as measuring a king's prerogative to pardon by the number of culprits whom he has actually reprieved; or measuring the power of the sun to give light, by the number of eyes that actually see it; or the efficacy of a medicine, by the number of patients actually cured by it.
Many of the advocates of this view of atonement argue farther than this, and their argument arises naturally from their premises. "Jesus Christ," say they, "suffered the identical punishment or penalty due to the elect; this penalty is always justly proportioned to the greatness of the offence. Consequently had the elect been more or less in number, or had their individual and aggregate sins been more or less in amount of number and guilt their surety would have had to suffer more or less for them."
This hypothesis measures the atonement not only by the number of the, elect but by the intensity and degree of the suffering to be endured for their sin. It adjusts the dimensions of the atonement to a nice mathematical point, and poises its infinite weight of glory even to the small dust of a balance. I need not say that the hand which stretches such lines, and holds such scales must be a bold one. Such a calculation represents the Son of God as giving so much sufferings for so much value received in the souls given to him; and represents the Father as dispensing so many favors and blessings, for so much value received in obedience and sufferings. This is the commercial atonement, the commercial redemption, with which Supralapsarianism theology degrades the Gospel and fetters its ministers; which sums up the worth of a stupendous moral transaction by arithmetic, and, with its little span, limits what is infinite.
They who take this view of the atonement call it, indeed, infinite; but infinite it cannot be in the sense of unmeasurable or unlimited. The number of the actually saved is certainly definite, and, accordingly, the sufferings of the blessed Redeemer might have been more or less, and therefore, not infinite.
I have hinted that I do not consider an infinite intensity of suffering essential to the sufficiency of the atonement. My hand trembles lest I should write a single word, or syllable, that would convey a low idea of the greatness of Christ's sufferings. The sufferings of Christ were indeed infinite, not simply in intensity of agony, but, as they were the sufferings of a person of infinite dignity, purity and worth. Probably, the sufferings of some martyrs may have exceeded his, as far as the mere infliction of physical pain is concerned. Even the sufferings of the damned spirits are not infinite, except in duration. In reading the accounts of the sufferings of Christ, we cannot avoid the supposition that they might have been greater, or they might have been less, without affecting the reality or the sufficiency of the atonement. There might have been, for instance, more or fewer thorns in his crown; the scourges might have been more or fewer in number, or administered with more or less energy, without adding to the sufficiency of his satisfaction or diminishing from it.
The design of atonement is, as we have seen, to answer the same ends in the administration of government as the punishment of the offender. The end of a government in awarding punishment is, not simply to give pain to the offender, but, by giving a demonstration of the government's abhorrence of the crime, to deter others from committing it. This is precisely the design of an atonement. As the infliction of pain is not indispensably necessary to the design of punishment, neither is it necessary to the design of the atonement.
The Scriptures never ascribe the efficacy of an atonement to intensity of sufferings. In the Jewish sacrifices, there is a recognition of a proportion between the costliness of the sacrifice, and the rank of the offender, as the sin of one priest required the same atonement as the sins of all the people. In such recognition there is no trace of any proportion between the magnitude of the offence, and the degree of the victim's sufferings; or between the intensity of the sufferings, and the sufficiency and extent of the atonement so effected. Take a case. A family of Israel, in a given year, having no children, would present their lamb for a sacrifice; and it bled and died, Annually for ten or twenty years, they offered a "lamb for the family:" but in that time the number of sinners, and the number of sins, in the family had greatly increased, possibly in aggravation as well as in number; yet the lamb of atonement was not put to greater torture than in the first year. Take another case. The tribes of Israel, in a given year, might be larger in population, and might have committed, nationally, some greater enormities than at any previous time; yet, on the great day of atonement for the whole congregation, the sacrificial victim was not to die a more excruciating death than on former occasions.
When scripture and analogy are opposed to such a principle of proportion, we can have no solid grounds for applying it to the death of Christ, or for measuring the extent of his atonement by the intensity of his sufferings. The number of the saved, and the degrees of the sufferings of Christ, are the only things connected with the atonement that we can suppose to be capable of being greater or less, more or fewer. And these, we have seen, are not indispensably necessary either to the reality or to the sufficiency of the atonement. We cannot suppose that the atonement would have been less real and extensive, had, for instance, the articles of the crown of thorns, and the scourges, been left out of the list of his sufferings. Nor can we think that the atonement would have been more extensive or efficacious, had his body, while hanging in agony, been pierced with a thousand spears. The sufficiency and the extensive aspect of the atonement would be the same, even if not one soul were saved and the greatness of Christ's merits is no more to be measured by the number of the saved, than the demerit of Adam's sin is, by the number of mankind.
All the elements essential to an atonement are utterly incapable of increase or diminution. Let us think: Could the Son of God have had more or less dignity of person than he actually had? Could he have been more or less nearly related to the offender, that is, more or less incarnate, than he really was? Could his moral worth and active obedience to the law have been more or less perfect than it was? Could the voluntariness of his substitution have been increased or diminished? Could his mediation have been instituted with more or less authority and approbation than it was? These elements are, even in thought, incapable of being more or less. They are infinite, unlimited, unmeasurable. They are immutable, and are as unaffected by the number of the objects which they benefit, as the light of the sun is by the multitude of objects which it unfolds.
Not only all the elements, but all the effects of the atonement, with the mere exception of the number of the saved, are likewise incapable of variableness, increase, or diminution. Let us think again; could the divine perfections have been more or less vindicated and glorified than they were? Could the evil of sin have been more or less powerfully demonstrated than it was? Could God's determination to defend his law have been more or less proved than it was? That is, would a less atonement have done these things sufficiently: or would a greater atonement have done them efficiently? I trow not.
The honors conferred on the person of the Redeemer are among the effects of the atonement. These also, with the exception of the number of the saved, are incapable of being more or less than they are. The Son of God could not have been more or less suitable and able to be, an advocate and a judge than he is. To say, the greater the number there will be in heaven, the more honor there would be to the Saviour, is true; but it is true only by giving another meaning to the word honor. The honor of the Saviour is the same and unalterable, but this sentiment only means that, in the supposed case, there would be a greater ascription of honor to him, but it forgets that it is an honor due, and already rising from his atonement, even if such a number were not there to ascribe it. Daily accessions to the church, and to heaven, do not give honor to the atonement, they only own and ascribe to it the dignity, and the worth, which they have already found in it.
The gradations of gracious reward and heavenly glory among the saints made perfect, are never traced to the capableness of the atonement being more or less; but to the personal exercise of moral agency in faithful services for God. It is he that soweth sparingly that shall reap also sparingly; and it is he which soweth bountifully that shall reap also bountifully. It is not because more glory was purchased for one, and less for the other, that one star shall differ from another star in its glory. Such considerations as these persuade me, that, the atonement would not have been greater or less, had the agonies of Christ been more or less; and, therefore, that the sufficiency and extent of the atonement do not at all depend upon the degree or intensity of his sufferings.
This view of the atonement does not destroy the propriety and necessity of the sufferings of Christ. It might be asked, if the value and sufficiency of the atonement arise from the dignity, worth, and voluntariness of the person of Christ, and not from the degrees of his sufferings, then, what was the necessity of his suffering to such a degree as he did suffer? and where is the propriety of the Scriptures so constantly referring us to his cross and sufferings?
It must be remembered that the atonement is not a measure of law, but of prerogative and grace. Had the atonement been a measure of law, it would have been under the direction of pure equity; but as it is a measure of grace, it is, like all such measures, under the direction of infinite and benevolent wisdom. This infinite wisdom arranged the time and period in which the atonement was to be effected; and, no doubt the same wisdom ordered and regulated the degree of sufferings and humiliation which were to be endured in its execution. There is no incongruity in supposing that, had infinite wisdom seen fit, the time of atonement might have been otherwise; nor is there any absurdity or impiety in supposing also, that the degree of humiliation and suffering might have been otherwise.
In accounting for this, we cannot tell all the reasons of the divine government, for annexing such a penalty to the law, or for executing such a punishment on offenders. But we are not afraid to assert, that the humiliation of the Son of God to assume, on account of sin, the nature of man and the form of a servant, was, even without personal sufferings, an event of such unfathomable degradation, as to appear more calculated to secure those ends of government, than would have been the eternal degradation of the whole human race under the penalty. Therefore, when we stand on the shore of the great atonement, and pose ourselves with questions, and weary ourselves with guesses, as to why he was wounded for our transgressions, and why he was bruised for our iniquities, infinite wisdom only says, "IT BECAME HIM for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through SUFFERINGS."
The perfection of infinite wisdom demands our implicit confidence and gives us an assurance that if the sufferings of the blessed Mediator might, for all the ends of atonement, have been of less intensity, they would have been so arranged. We think, however, that right reason and analogy point out to us a propriety, and a congruity, in an atonement being as much like the threatened punishment as might be consistent with the nature of a satisfaction. To answer the same ends as a penalty, the atonement must be somewhat like it.
As an attempt to account for the relation between the sufferings of Christ, and the atonement, we submit the following thoughts. All rational intelligences are capable of hope and fear, of praise and blame, and consequently, of pleasure and pain. An aversion to blame and pain is inherent in every moral agent; and so is the desire of praise and pleasure. It is to these affections that the whole administration of moral government addresses itself. Without them moral government cannot exist; as its promises and threatenings would be mere nullities. The threatenings of the law cannot be safely suspended by any expedient or atonement, unless the atonement be calculated to impress our hopes and fears as powerfully as the original penalty itself. This, according to our habits of conception, is most effectually done by the exhibition of sufferings; as, by addressing itself forcibly to our aversion from pain, it is adapted to deter us from offending. As offenders were to be delivered from sufferings, it was arranged by infinite wisdom, that they should be delivered by the sufferings of another, in order to impress them with a sense of the evil of their transgression, of the benevolence of the divine government, and of their obligation to the Mediator. Sufferings were, therefore, introduced into the atonement, because they supplied the greatest number of motives to deter from sin, afforded the greatest amount of reasons for returning to allegiance, gave the soundest grounds of assurance of a cordial reception and pardon, and laid the most numerous and pressing bonds of obligations on the offenders.
One of the ends of the divine government in annexing a penal sanction to the law, was to deter us from sin, by addressing our hopes and fears; and, this was the reason why it threatened sufferings to the sinner. If the atonement that justifies the suspension of the threatening, answers this end of the government more effectually than the original penalty, then, the atonement is of a greater value to the government than the penalty itself. The, history of salvation shows that the atonement is of greater value than the original penalty, because it contains, in its arrangement, a greater number of motives to deter from sin, and to attach the subjects to the government. It is invested with this kind of value by the introduction of amazing sufferings. I say, this kind of value; because I do not consider this value essential to the atonement, as it works upwards towards the divine perfections, but I consider it as auxiliary to the atonement, as it works downwards, towards the feelings of the sinner.
The great sufferings of the Son of God were not intended, nor were they calculated, to affect the character of a single attribute in God; but they are intended, and eminently adapted, to affect the disposition and the character of the sinner. Hence arose the necessity and suitableness of perfecting the atonement by sufferings. The sufferings of one so illustrious in rank and worth, of one so full of love to the offender, of one so much abhorring sin, of one so much honoring the law--and such sufferings-are more adapted to deter men from sin, than the tidings, or even the sight, of the sufferings and the torments of all the fallen beings of the universe.Return to the JENKYN ON ATONEMENT Index Page