THE EXTENT OF THE ATONEMENT
RELATION TO GOD AND THE UNIVERSE.
REV. THOMAS W. JENKYN, D. D.
Sections 1 thru Section 4
ON THE ATONEMENT IN ITS RELATION TO THE PURPOSES OF GOD.
A WRITER upon the decrees of God is generally regarded as one "who meddleth with his Maker;" and his inquiries, however cautiously conducted, are hushed with the aphorism, "secret things belong unto the Lord, things revealed belong to us and to our children forever." The citers of this text suppose that the divine purposes and decrees are among "the secret things," and not among "the things revealed," and that therefore, they do not belong "to us and our children."
Is it true that the divine purposes are not among the things revealed?" If they are not, an inquiry into them is an impertinent intrusion upon the arcana of the Godhead. But if they can be proved to be among the "things revealed," they "belong to us and to our children," as moral means.
It is indisputably "revealed," that there are such things as divine purposes and decrees. In numerous instances it has been revealed what these purposes are. Even if the purposes themselves are not in the list of moral means, the revelation of their existence is undoubtedly so. In the pages of Scripture the announcement or revelation of these purposes is always connected with their influence on practical religion. That the practical tendency of such a development of the divine decrees is beneficial, may be illustrated by the following case:--A general haranguing his army just before a battle, gives them a solemn assurance, that it is decreed for them to have the victory. This announcement, so far from lulling them to indolence and inactivity, acts upon them as a moral inducement to put forth the most determined and vigorous exertion of their agency. If a coward abuse this announcement, to slink from effort; if the enemy abuse it, to charge it with presumption; such an abuse would not, in real life, be regarded as a fair argument against its practical influence. The actual tendency of the announcement is to produce manly effort. This instance illustrates the holy tendency of the scriptural exhibitions of the divine decrees, as a moral inducement to persuade men to obedience, and to perseverance in grace.
THE ATONEMENT THE CENTRE OF THE DIVINE PURPOSES.
The Holy Scriptures represent the atonement of Christ as the centre of all the arrangements, counsels, and purposes of God. The system of the universe contemplated by the eternal mind, was a system intellectual and accountable; a system susceptible of the intrusion of sin; a system, nevertheless, not to be given up to the ravages of evil, but to be restored and repaired; and, consequently, a system to be altogether conveyed over to the hands of a Mediator, who should, by a compensative administration, establish eternal order and holiness.
The moral system of the universe could not, after the intrusion of sin, answer the end of its creation, without being restored or repaired. This restoration, therefore, forms one of its characteristics, and seems as essential to it, as its intellectual and accountable elements. No way of restoring or repairing it has been revealed, except that by a Mediator. As its restoration alone secures the end of its creation, and as this could only be accomplished by a Mediator, mediation is essential to the system. The whole arrangement forms one mediatorial constitution. The system of the universe, then, was not even contemplated, irrespective of a Mediator. The principles of mediation pervade the whole of it, entering into its creation and sustenance, government and restoration, and into its eternal deliverance and glorification.
The entire arrangement of all the affairs of the universe is to be regarded as one grand mediatorial system, the ground and foundation of which is the atonement of the Son of God. By saying that mediation is essential to the system, I mean that it is on account of the atonement, as the ground of a compensative administration, that God carries on the affairs of his government, The whole of the manifold wisdom of God, exercised in the universe, is regulated entirely, "according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Jesus Christ our Lord," Eph. iii. 9, 10, 11.
To ask what would have become of the moral universe, had no atonement been appointed, is just as rational as to ask, what would have become of the material universe, had the principle of gravitation not been appointed. All the proceedings in the moral universe take for granted a mediatorial constitution, just as those in the physical creation suppose gravitation.
In the Scriptures the Lord Jesus Christ is often represented as "the ELECT," "the CHOSEN of God," "the only begotten, the FIRST-BORN of many brethren." The people of God are represented, as "chosen in him," and for his sake. The whole universe is described as under his sway; for he, as "the head of all principalities and powers, ascended far above all heavens, that he might fill all things."
It is one of the most prominent articles in the doctrines of the apostle Paul, that the atonement of Christ is the foundation of all the divine counsels, etc., that the whole system of the moral universe is one entire mediatorial constitution. "We know that all things [the universe] work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For, whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that HE might be the FIRST-BORN among many brethren. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places IN Christ; according as he hath chosen us IN Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him, in love; having predestinated us unto the adoption of children BY JESUS CHRIST to himself according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted IN THE BELOVED. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace, wherein he hath abounded towards us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath PURPOSED in himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of time, HE MIGHT GATHER TOGETHER IN ONE ALL THINGS IN CHRIST, both which are in heaven and which are on earth, even IN HIM. Whom he hath set at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above ALL principality and power, and might, and, dominion and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come; and hath put ALL THINGS [the universe] under his feet, and gave him to be the Head over ALL THINGS to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that FILLETH ALL IN ALL," ROM. viii. 28, 29. Eph. i. 3-10. 20-23.
These beautiful passages exhibit the mediation of Christ as the centre of all the counsels, and all the works of God--the SUN around which all the divine purposes, and all the divine operations, move.
The apostle John likewise represents all the divine purposes as being administered, in the name, and by the authority, of Jesus Christ. In the fifth chapter of the Apocalypse, the divine purposes and counsels concerning the universe, are considered as a book sealed with seven seals, the contents of which were to be developed and administered, by one in the midst of the throne who was a lamb as it had been slain. The giving of the book to the Lamb, represents the committing of the whole of the divine measures and counsels to the Son of God, The Lamb who takes the book is in the midst of the throne, in the very source and centre of all authority and favor in the universe. In that centre of the universe he is "a Lamb as it had been slain," a Lamb of atonement, the centre of the administration of all moral measures, to which all the plans, and all the decrees, and all the works, and all the ways of God have constant reference.
THE ATONEMENT AN EXPRESSION OF THE DIVINE COUNSELS.
The atonement is, itself, one of the counsels of God, and should be considered as a specimen of all his counsels; an index to their course, and a sample of their character.
I. The atonement is a public expression of the benevolence of the divine decrees.
In the atonement of his Son, the eternal and blessed God unbosoms his purposes, and says, "Fury is not in me;" "I know the thoughts which I have thought concerning you, thoughts of peace and not of evil." Nothing can be so revolting to humanity, and so repugnant to a heavenly mind, as an hypothesis that supposes the great God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, brooding from eternity over a scheme or counsel of evil against the creature.
The counsel of God ordered in all things and sure, is a counsel of peace, and not of evil. The evil is not in the counsel; "For God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of the promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that in two things by which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation." Where, then, do men find despair? Where do they find perdition? Certainly not in the counsel of God; for in this there is nothing but "strong consolation."
God has no counsel against the salvation of any sinner. Let some one point out to us where such a hostile counsel is revealed. Let some sinner be mentioned who has perished in consequence of such a counsel. The whole counsel of God is for good, and for good only. It says, "Let the wicked forsake his ways, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him turn unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." Is it possible that God may have any secret counsel opposed to this public declaration? If it be secret how did Supralapsarians come to know it? He has no decree that operates against his promises. He has no purpose, that contradicts his oath. I believe not. He cannot deny himself.
If nothing else will prove that the decrees of God are not thoughts of evil, let the condescension of Bethlehem--let the death of Calvary, prove it: believe it for the very work's sake. The Son of God was delivered to death "by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God." And how did this counsel run? Take a specimen. "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him might not perish, but have everlasting life." Does the cross, then, express any thoughts of evil against the sinner? No; but it bears the inscription written with the blood of atonement, and addressed to men of all languages, "Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out."
As the atonement itself is a measure of pure benevolence, it is, as such, a specimen of all the counsels of God. Hear what the author of the atonement says: "This is the condemnation,"--not that there is a settled degree of reprobation gone forth, against any number of men,--but, "that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light."
Hence, it is charged against the Pharisees as a heinous crime, that they "rejected the counsel of God against themselves," to their own ruin. This charge alleges that everything in the counsel itself is for the benefit of the sinner, and nothing against him; that all the benefits of the counsel are freely and sincerely offered to the acceptance of the sinner; that the sinner voluntarily, but most perversely, rejects these benefits of the counsel; and that such a rejection is a crime, and makes the sinner and the sinner alone, the author of his own ruin. The purpose, design, and tendency of the atonement, is, "NOT to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved." The supposition that there are, notwithstanding, some decrees secretly opposed to this avowed design of the atonement, is unreasonable, improbable, and impossible.
II. The atonement may be considered, further, as an expression of the non-interference of the divine decrees with the liberty of moral agents.
The whole work of the atonement, from the incarnation of Christ to his ascension, was accomplished without interfering with the free agency of any one being. Its operation in moral government, and its application to man by the Holy Spirit, are carried on without infringing at all on human liberty. And as is the character of the atonement itself, so is the character of the counsel concerning it.
No advocate of liberty, can wish for a freer range for the freedom of the will, than the Jews and the Gentiles had, when the Son of God was engaged in the work of making an atonement; and yet in the whole transaction the counsel of God stands, and free agency is perfectly unconstrained. "For of a truth, against the holy child Jesus, whom God had anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together for to do whatsoever the hand and the counsel of God had determined before to be done." We may puzzle ourselves, and puzzle others, by asking with Nicodemus, "How can these things be?" But it should be considered, that the demonstration of such problems is not given to scholars on our form, that our work is to search the Scriptures "whether these things are so," and to act accordingly. In these Scriptures we discover, that the divine decrees did not interfere with the freedom of any person concerned in the murdering and crucifying of Christ.
This non-interference with free agency, the atonement maintains in all its operation and influence in moral government. The gospel exhibits the atonement, as an open medium of reconciliation with God, and as a motive to deter from sin, and persuade to holy obedience. The benefits of the atonement are freely offered to the unconstrained acceptance of every one who hears the gospel. Any acceptance of it that is not free and unconstrained, is not pleasing to God, nor is it available to the benefit of man. In accepting it, and choosing it, as a motive of holiness, and as a medium of pardon, the believer is free and unconstrained and in rejecting it as the means of salvation, every sinner acts according to his own free and uninfluenced choice.
When the Holy Spirit opens the heart to attend to the claims and influence of the atonement, there is no more violence offered to the freedom of the will, than there was in Christ showing his wounds to Thomas to make him "not faithless but believing." The atonement effects no change whatever in the laws of liberty. It does not constrain God to exercise mercy; and it does not constrain the sinner to accept of pardon. As, therefore, this "counsel of God" can be administered without infringing on free agency, it is a sample and a proof that ALL the purposes of God may be so too. All the works of God are the products of his mind and counsel, and are, therefore, all of the same nature and tendency. The works of God do not contradict his thoughts, nor do his thoughts contradict his works. His works are always the open and sincere expression of his thoughts and purposes, and as the atonement is one of his chief works, it is an expression and a specimen of the benevolence of all his decrees, and of their non-interference with the laws of free agency.
THE ATONEMENT A VINDICATION OF THE DIVINE PURPOSES.
In the history of moral dispensations, the divine purposes have been liable to many charges, as having been accessory to the intrusion of sin, as throwing an air of insincerity on divine warnings and invitations, as being arbitrary in determining to communicate gracious influences, and as occasioning the eternal perdition of unbelievers. As God works all things in his government according to the counsel of his own will, it was necessary, for the ends of government, that the character of the divine counsels should not only be explained and illustrated, but be clearly and publicly vindicated, by the atonement.
First. The atonement of Christ vindicates the divine decrees from having been accessory to the intrusion of sin.
Jesus Christ is not a minister of sin, and his atonement is not an apology for sin. There is nothing in the measure of atonement that is designed or calculated to favor sin, or to extenuate its enormity, but everything to oppose, to destroy, and to prevent it. The atonement is a demonstration to the universe, that there never was, in the eternal mind, a decree accessory to evil; for everything in its provisions is purposed, and designed, and fitted to suppress all sin. God, indeed, foresaw that evil would intrude into the universe, and he made provisions against its entrance; but his mind and counsels are quite guiltless of it. To vindicate his decrees from the suspicion of any share of evil, he has, at an infinite expense, shown how repugnant sin was to their order and character, by publicly condemning it in the person of his own Son.
God does nothing but good. To purpose not to do good is to purpose to do NO-thing, and a purpose to do No-thing is surely NO purpose, No decree; that is, the absence or the reverse of good is not the product of design, evil is not the result of arrangement. PALEY has observed that in the bodily frame of man there is nothing intended or designed to produce pain. Whatever, therefore, of pain may be in the human frame, it is not the result of design or purpose. That which is true of the frame of one man, is true of the frame of every man in the world; yes, it is true of the frame of the entire universe. In the whole vast, multifarious, and boundless system, there is not one principle, not one movement arranged, designed, and intended to produce evil.
Suppose an objector, viewing an emaciated man "in sore pain upon his bed," to say, "This pain is not accidental, there must be some cause for it, there must be something in the formation of man, contrived, purposed, and secretly introduced to give pain, which argues the want of benevolence in the author of his frame." We would reply, "No, you are wrong. If you knew well the constitution of man, you would know that there is nothing introduced that is calculated to give pain; there is no sinew, nor muscle, neither gland nor duct, that is calculated and designed to produce disease. But if your knowledge of the frame of man does not convince you of the benevolence of its author, look at the provision of medicinal virtue which he has plentifully stored in vegetables and in minerals, and in the air and the water around us, and see that all his designs and purposes are--to produce health, and to prevent disease."
If the same objector, viewing the shattered moral constitution of the universe, were to say, "This evil was foreseen, and might have been prevented; its existence, therefore, argues the want of benevolence either in the nature, or in the purposes, of its author." We would again reply, "No, you are wrong. If you knew thoroughly the constitution of the universe, you would know that there is in it no law, no motive, no power, no influence, that is calculated or intended to produce evil. But if your knowledge of the arranged constitution of the universe does not convince you of the benevolence--of its maker, and justify to you the ways of God to man, examine the splendid compensative provision which he has made, in the atonement of HIS OWN SON, a measure of pure benevolence and unmixed good."
If we are not to judge of an agent's design and purposes from the adaptation of his means, the fitness of his actions, and the tendency of his measures, then, there must be an end to all reasoning, for the agent must be either without contrivance, or without sincerity. In the measures of a wise agent, the benevolent tendency of the means is a proof, and a vindication, of the benevolent nature and bearings of his purposes. The atonement is a measure of pure benevolence "set forth" as a vindication of the pure benevolence of the purposes and decrees of God, and of their being guiltless of the origin and ravages of sin.
This reasoning is not pretended to be sufficient to account for the origin of sin, but it is sufficient to show that sin is not the result of Divine Decrees.
Secondly. The atonement vindicates the divine purposes from the suspicion of throwing an air of insincerity on the invitations of the gospel.
The invitations of the gospel are open, universal, and obligatory; but men constantly abuse them, or neglect them, by indefinable guesses at the nature and the order of the divine decrees. Their sophism generally runs in this way: God has predetermined to whom he will impart gracious influences to bring them to accept his offers: and since he has not predestinated to do this for all he cannot sincerely will that all should comply with his invitations.
This sophism is grounded upon two suppositions, which are unsound and shallow. It supposes that a disposition to obey, is indispensably necessary to the accountableness of a sinner, and essential to his power of obeying. As if a governor could not justly make any laws which some of the subjects had not the disposition to obey: or, as if no king could make any laws against smuggling, but such as smugglers felt disposed to obey. This view of the case is subversive of all government, as it insinuates that it would be a sufficient apology for disobeying the law or command, that the smuggler said, he could not obey it, for he felt no inclination or disposition to submit to it, and therefore, it is unjust to make him accountable for it. The above sophism has another glaring error. It supposes that the rule of the subject's homage is not the published enactment of the government, but his individual apprehension of what might be the private mind, and secret purposes, of the king, which, by the bye, is supposed to be at variance with his published and avowed declaration. This stultifies all legislation and all accountableness. Whatever purposes and counsels are unrevealed, they are not among the moral means to be employed by us and as far as they are unpublished, they are never the rule of human conduct, and consequently will never be the rule of final judgment. The decrees published to us in the gospel are not the rule of conduct to the heathen, until they are published to them; but the moment they are published, a great and eternal change is made, both in the measure of their accountableness, and in the rule of their conduct. We shall not be judged according to what WE deem to be the secret mind of God, but according to what HE has promulgated as his declared Will.
In all the concerns of life and business, men never pose themselves about the decrees of eternity. They never consult the eternal decrees to know what trade to pursue, in what town to set up, what physician to call in, what medicine to take, etc. In all such transactions men reason and calculate on the general character, aspect, adaptation, bearing, and tendency of things; and they regard such arrangements as pretty clearly denoting to them the mind and the purpose of their Maker and providential Governor. In all their speculations and transactions, the farmers never make a supposed unrevealed decree their rule, because "the bow in the cloud" always vindicates the purposes of God from any suspicion of hostility to their "seed time and harvest time." Let us be as wise in our generation; and, in our spiritual transactions, believe that the atonement of Christ vindicates all the decrees of God from any aspect opposed to the published declaration, "Him that cometh I will in no wise cast out.
The purposes or decrees of God are revealed and published, not in audible sounds, but in the nature, tendency, and meaning of the things which he expressly commands, or offers, or prohibits. To suppose any design or purpose opposite to these is to suppose the most horrible monstrosity in the universe,--God contradicting himself.
It is true that in numerous instances the event is very different from the design and purpose declared. In a moral government, during an economy of probation, in which millions of free agents are at work, such a difference and such a failure are, as we have seen in a former chapter, to be expected. This assertion may sound startling, but try to evade it as you may, you can not avoid the conclusion, that the moral government of free agents in a state of trial, must be susceptible of failures. It is a FACT that such failures have taken place; and to attempt to wrest, or alter this fact, is to try to change the universe.
The will of God is publicly revealed for public ends, and it is impossible to show what private ends he can have, that are opposed to his public avowals. The universe is a public commonwealth. Of this commonwealth God is the public head, and chief member. In administering its affairs he does everything in his official capacity and public character, as the Governor of it. All the measures proposed and executed in it are for the public good of the whole commonwealth. In its government every wrong and every sin is treated, not as a private offence, but as a public injury, to be publicly noticed, whether in punishment or in pardon. As the public and official organ of this moral commonwealth, God has announced his purposes, requirements, prohibitions, offers, and invitations.
These form his PUBLIC WILL: public, not in opposition to secret, but in opposition to private or unofficial. I call this public will, as I call the great principle on which divine moral government is administered, PUBLIC JUSTICE; as consulting the public good of the commonwealth, as well as the private interests of individuals.
The atonement of Christ is a public vindication of this public will from any suspicion of insincerity. In the atonement all the promises, invitations and offers, are yea and amen in Christ, to the glory of the divine character and purposes. The nature of God, as the God of truth in real works and words of verity--the accurate adaptation of the provision to the case of the sinner--the actual experience of every applicant at the door of mercy--the perpetuation of gracious offers and invitations in the world, after so many forfeitures--the pressing earnestness with which men are invited and courted to accept them--the aggravated and sorer punishment which befalls those who refuse them--and, the worthy name and character of the Mediator, who reveals and confirms all these by his death; all these are "things in which it is impossible for God to lie," and which impress, upon all his proposals and overtures, the image and superscription of verily undissembling sincerity.
To suppose that the atonement is only a semblance of benevolence and love, put forth to impose on mankind, to mock the applicant, or to tantalize the inquiring penitent, is nothing less than "to trample under foot the blood of the everlasting covenant." In the atonement there is provision purposely intended for all, and all are sincerely invited to partake of it freely. The all-sufficiency of the atonement is the foundation laid for the universal invitations of the gospel. An all-sufficiency, yet not intended for all who are invited to partake of it, is such an awful imposture, that I grudge the very ink, that mentions it in connection with the gospel of TRUTH."
If the atonement does not prove the faithfulness and sincerity of God, where shall we look for proof? Ought we not to shudder at the very surmise of God's using a mental reservation in the atonement of his own Son? and in the offers and invitations and assurances of his grace? Was the blessed Saviour himself insincere in his laborious toil, in his bloody sweat, or in his ignominious death? No, he was full of grace and truth. If the character of God for sincerity, and the character of a theological system for consistency, come in competition, which must give way? In a well-ordered mind there cannot be a moment's hesitation. Let us rather renounce our theological systems, or confess our ignorance of the whole of the case, than suspect for a moment any mental reservation, insincerity, and dissimulation, either in the divine invitations, or in the poses and counsels. In the atonement God has given a public testimony of his truth and sincerity; and "he that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true. Then let God be true, though all human theologians were liars."
Thirdly. The atonement vindicates the divine purposes from the charge of capricious arbitrariness, and partiality, in the operations of sovereign and gracious influences.
The Bible asks the question, "Who maketh thee to differ?" On the answer to the question hang all the controversies in polemical theology. The Bible itself answers this question. "Unto you it is given, in the behalf of Christ, to believe on him." "God worketh in you to will and to do of his good pleasure." "God giveth the increase." That the difference in the spiritual conditions of men, and the change of men's hearts, is produced by divine influences, is asserted by the whole Scripture, and is recognized in every one's prayers, though not in every one's creed.
It ought not to escape notice, that it is only in the transaction of saving a sinner, that men dare ask God, "Why doest thou this?" God has not "seen it good" to give a detailed account of this matter, or to answer the question, except, indeed, with a warning voice, "Who art thou, O man, that repliest against God?" Nevertheless, he has introduced into his government, the measure of atonement to be an interpretation of his purposes, and a vindication of his counsels, against suspicions of unjust specialty or unreasonable sovereignty.
The exercise of a sovereign speciality in the application of the atonement is indisputable. No hypothesis that admits the death of Christ to be an atonement, can deny this. There are in its application three instances of specialty which are signal, broad, and evident. There is a specialty in its application to mankind, to the exclusion of fallen angels. There is a specialty in its application to believers, to the exclusion of its rejecters. For, the Word of Reconciliation, perfect and powerful as it is, will "not profit the hearer," unless it be "mingled with faith" in the hearer. There is a third specialty, in the application of its benefits more largely to some believers than others, in proportion to their works and labors for Christ. I shall not enter now on a consideration of these subjects, as it will be more in place when we come to the chapter on the atonement in its relation to the work of the Spirit.
Here we have three well defined, indisputable, instances of sovereign specialty in the application of the benefits of the death of Christ: What shall we do with them? How shall we evade them? They are not capricious, for they are the uniform laws observed in the application of the atonement. Shall we say that they are unjust, and that God has exercised a prerogative, in dispensing his favors, to which he has no right? Try it. Did you ever think that for God to take mercy on man, was really a wrong to the devils? Was the salvation of Saul of Tarsus an evil in itself, and a wrong to all the Pharisees? Is conferring gracious honors bountifully, upon those who have sown bountifully, a wrong to those who have sown sparingly? Again, I say, here they are, three prominent, stubborn, immovable, and imperishable facts of specialty: what will you do with them? Betake yourself to the feet of Jesus Christ, and there learn to say, "Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight." If there be no evil, injury, or wrong in the actual, practical, and tangible exercise of this specialty, there can be no evil, injury, or wrong, in purposing and determining thus to exercise it.
It may, perhaps, be surmised by some, that the determination to apply the atonement with this specialty was partial and capricious. Let us briefly consider the state of the case between God and man. God has a claim to the whole existence and to the entire service of man. Man, by sinning, revolts from these claims. Though man refuses these claims, God still maintains and defends them. God, as moral governor, is not bound to give to a revolting subject a disposition to own his claims, or else to cease from urging his claims. The punishment of a revolter is due to the governor, for the ends of good government. The punishment due may, indeed, be suspended, provided the ends of good government be not thereby weakened; that is, provided some measure or expedient can be introduced, which will answer the same ends as the punishment of the criminal. Such a measure we have asserted the atonement of Christ to be--a measure devised and instituted by God himself.
Fourthly. The atonement of Christ is a vindication of the divine purposes, from the suspicion of having been the cause, or the occasion, of the perdition of the rejecters of the gospel.
Every one will allow, that the advocates of sovereign predestination have used very incautious language upon this subject, partly to exalt the freedom of divine grace, and partly to impress the unbeliever with the certainty of his condemnation, and fate. Of this incautious language, the opponents have made a most abundant use, and, it is to be observed, that generally the doctrine of predestination is attacked, chiefly as it has been represented by the most incautious writers. Many writers have written against the divine decrees as represented by Toplady, Hawker, Vaughan of Leicester, etc., but few or none against President Edwards, Dr. Edward Williams, Andrew Fuller, etc. Indeed, I might say that, there is scarcely one author who has written against predestination to life; all the attacks have been directed against a decree of reprobation, which, as a human and unscriptural doctrine, has been found more easily assailable.
The divine purposes have been sometimes represented as the cause of a sinner's perdition. Such representations may have been made to demonstrate to the sinner, the infallible certainty of his condemnation, under the impression that making his destruction to be a subject of inexorable decree, he would see the impossibility of escaping it.
As it is a general impression that an event to be certain must be decreed, I crave the indulgence of a few lines, even at the charge of metaphysical prolixity, to show that an event may be certain without being decreed. The difference between truth and falsehood, right and wrong, is certain, without being decreed; for no decree can possibly cause it to be otherwise. Things are not right merely because God does them, but He does them because they are right, and right irrespective of any decree to make them so. The whole is greater than its part: two straight lines cannot inclose a space: one and two will not make four: if two mountains are created, there must be a valley between them. No decree can cause these things to be otherwise. So, if God produce a creature, that creature must be inferior to the Creator. This cannot be the result of a decree, for no decree can alter it; and none will say, that God can decree to create a being equal to himself. The dependence of the creature, then, on the Creator, is an event certain, and yet not caused by a decree. If such a created dependent being be separated, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, from its supporter, the result will be ruin. This ruin, whether physical or moral, cannot be the result of a decree, for no decree can cause a creature to be independent of its creator.
Let us now apply these clear principles. By sin man falls voluntarily from his dependence on the Creator, consequently moral ruin is perfectly certain without being ascribed to the divine decrees. This moral ruin is another word for all the miseries of sin. The evils of sin are not contrivances of God, for they would have been the same had we never heard of the divine decrees. Let us suppose a case. A man, by lies and falsehoods, brings himself into trammels and difficulties exceedingly detrimental and injurious to his personal interests. He is not to blame divine providence, and the divine decrees, that such are the natural consequences of falsehood, for no decree can make them otherwise. Divine decrees may interfere to prevent the consequences from taking place, but they never can cause it that such consequences will not arise from lying. And surely such a sovereign prevention in any given case, is not the cause, causa causans, why the natural consequences of lying, actually take place in other instances. The liar himself is alone to be blamed. This reasoning is applicable to every other sin as well as to lying. If there be one doctrine in the Scripture more clear than another, it is that the destruction of the well-being of man is entirely of himself, irrespective of any decree. After all, it is a fact that both the friends and the opponents of predestination agree, that nothing worse shall befall any sinner, than JUSTICE. No human being shall be WRONGED even in perdition.
These metaphysical principles are fully borne out by tangible FACTS, which take place now in the present administration of moral government. Within our own observation, there have been persons on whom the wisest and the best means of improvement have been used in vain. These persons fully know their duty and their master's will, yet habitually live in sin. They have been on the bed of sickness, and nigh unto death; their remorse was excruciating, they earnestly prayed for respite, and vowed that on the restoration of health they would lead very different lives: they have recovered, and they have been more hardened and reckless in sin than ever. These things have occurred to them again and again: and now all say that they seem as if given up of God to the hardness of their own hearts. This is, alas! a very common case. But when such language is used concerning such a sinner, is there any impression that such a giving up is unrighteous? Does any one think that such a hardened character is the product of any divine decree? NO: every candid and holy mind may indeed view such a character as a case for his pity, but more for blame and reprehension. This case is not solitary. It is the case of every sinner that has ever perished. It is the case of every instance of reprobation, a reprobation not the result of divine decrees, but the natural result of a character hardened in wrong, "to love darkness rather than light, because his deeds were evil."
As a vindication of this character of the divine purposes, the atonement is "set forth," for there is no reprobation in the atonement. The atonement in its design and in its aspect, in its testimony and in its influence, has no reprobation in it except for those who voluntarily reject and reprobate it. It is a propitiation for the sins of the whole world; it is a testimony of love "to the world," and consists in a "death for every man." "The blood that speaketh better things," never speaks reprobation. It speaks salvation in every syllable. It speaks and pleads for pardon in every case, and on every application. There are indeed some cases, which are not pleaded by the blood of Christ, but there is not a single case reprobated by it. The cases not pleaded by him are those, which sinners refuse to entrust him with; the Intercessor himself rejects none. Every drop of the blood of atonement says, "Reprobation is not in me." An atonement exhibited to vindicate absolute reprobation, would convulse the universe.
THE EXTENT OF THE ATONEMENT EXPLAINED BY THE CHARACTER OF THE DIVINE PURPOSES.
The advocates of a limited atonement have always appealed to the divine purposes as the impregnable defenses of particular salvation. The real state of the question, I deem to be this--Did the Father decree, and did the Son design, that the atonement should be a medium of salvation to all men, or to a select chosen number only?
The question is not to be decided by the event, but by the nature of a "design" in a moral government. Thus were we to inquire, whether God designed that the moral law published on Sinai should preserve all the Jews in his service and worship?--no one would answer and decide the question by the event, without reflecting unfavorably on the sincerity of the divine character. We may justly say, that a thing is designed to produce and to secure any end when it is fitted and adapted to it, though eventually it may fail of it. The arrangement with Adam in the garden of Eden was adapted, and consequently designed, to keep him from falling, The event indeed was otherwise, but the purpose was sincere and real. So the atonement of Christ is adapted, and therefore designed, to save man from sin, though the event in numerous instances may be otherwise. Some will not come unto him that they might have life; they will not have him to rule over them; they neglect their great salvation; they tread under foot the blood wherewith they were atoned, and they deny and reject the Lord that bought them.
Commercial views of the atonement of Christ engender sentiments about the divine decrees which are unfavorable to the character of divine veracity. If the atonement consist in the literal suffering of the real penalty due to a certain number of offenders, it is evident that there was no decree that the identical penalty due to the others should have been suffered, and consequently that there is no provision whatever made, and designed, for their salvation. This commercial atonement gives the sinner no alternative. The penalty, on this hypothesis, must be suffered before he can be saved; and if Christ has not suffered it for him, be must suffer it himself; and if he suffer it himself he will not survive it, he will be lost--and lost because the quantum of his punishment was not enumerated in the amount of penalties allotted for the atonement. Yet, notwithstanding this, he is condemned and punished for not availing himself of the sufferings of Christ as the means of his salvation; whereas, according to the true verity of the case, these sufferings were never provided or decreed, or designed to be at all available for him: indeed, it was never decreed that Christ should profit him. If the divine purposes run thus, the universal aspect of the atonement is an imposing semblance; the urgent general call of the gospel is serious trifling; and the condemnation for unbelief-for not believing what was really not true,-for rejecting what he verily was never welcome to,--such a condemnation is an enormity, for which all the languages of the globe have no epithet.
The friends of a particular and limited atonement argue that the Father's election, and the Son's redemption, are of the same extent, or relate to the same individual persons, to all such, and to none else: so that all the chosen people are redeemed, and all the redeemed are the chosen to salvation. They also plead that there is not, in the Scriptures, the least intimation that Christ's redemption either exceeds, or falls short of, the Father's election, in one single instance or individual person.
The fallacy of this argument is in the word "redemption." This word has various meanings. Redemption means, either the ransom price, or the price of redemption--or it means the act of paying down that price:--or else, by metonymy, it means the effect of such a payment, meaning the state produced by such a ransoming. The effect, in the case of a sinner is, a state of forgiveness, acceptance with God, and admission to heaven. In the above argument the effect of paying the ransom price is confounded with the act of paying it. In the argument, "redemption" means, not the act of paying the ransom, but the effect, or the final result of paying the price. This final result of the atonement will not derange any of the plans of God, as to his determination "to exhibit specialty in the application of the atonement to Believers only. Our question is, was the act of paying the ransom price by Christ designed to be available to all, so "that the world through him might be saved," or was it only designed for a certain chosen number? We say fearlessly, that the final results of the atonement will only be realized by those who receive Christ, and believe in him; but the act of making that atonement, and the offer of the benefits of that atonement, are designed and purposed, to be a medium of salvation to all men, without excluding one individual. If the word "redemption" be taken in the sense of "actual salvation," then Christ's redemption neither exceeds, nor falls short of, the Father's election. If "redemption" be taken in the sense of paying down the ransom price, or a valuable and honorable consideration, as a medium for delivering sinners, then Christ's redemption and the Father's election are not commensurate and of equal extent, taking "the Father's election" as meaning the will of God revealed in the final results of the atonement. It is supposed, even by our Saviour himself, that the result will not be commensurate with the gracious design of God, and with the large aspect of the atonement. God loved the world, and, gave his Son, that THE WORLD through him MIGHT BE SAVED but it is only whosoever believeth in him, it is he only that will answer the design, and share in the result of the atonement. The atonement is a measure of government, not of private love and friendship, but of a public commonwealth. In such a public measure, the public will of the Father, as moral governor, and the public design and intent of Christ, as mediator, are commensurate. God willeth all men to be saved, therefore Christ gave himself a ransom for all.
From the divine purposes, the advocates of a limited atonement argue, that since Christ foreknew the results of the atonement, and since he foreknew who would believe in him, why should he die and lavish his blood for those who, he knew, would not believe in him.
This arguement is founded on three things, which are wrong, and inconsistent with moral government. It is supposed, first that foreknowledge is the rule of Christ's conduct and actions; secondly, that to save believers was the chief end of his sufferings; and, thirdly, that consisted in suffering the identical punishment due to sinners; for it supposes, that he would not knowingly suffer the punishment of those, who, be knew, should suffer the punishment themselves. If the question be repeated, Why did he suffer for those, whom he knew to be sure to prove unbelievers? The reply is, he suffered to vindicate the character of God in offering pardon to them--and he suffered, to show how inexcusable they would be in their own destruction, by which the Gospel would be a sweet savor even in them that perish.
But why should this influence of foreknowledge be confined to the atonement of Christ only? The Lord Jesus Christ knew that his own would receive him not, yet he came to them. He knew that the Jews would reject the overtures of his ministry, yet he said, and he said it with tears of regret, that he would oft have gathered them. He knew that many would neglect his great salvation, yet he gave himself a propitiation for the sins of the whole world. I might remark, in passing, that he would not have foreknown that any would disbelieve in him, without foreknowing that they would have the offer, the warrant, and the opportunity to believe in him; and also that the only firm ground for such an offer and warrant was his own death for them.
Another argument, borrowed from the character of the divine decrees, to maintain particular atonement is, that a general atonement throws an air of uncertainty around the plans and purposes of God, and of disappointment around the travails of the soul of Christ.
It must be remembered that we are concerned in the divine decrees, only as they are administered within the circle of moral-government; and that beyond that line they are "secret things," unrevealed, and belong to God only. Within this boundary, it should not be evaded nor blinked, that the divine plans are susceptible of failures. When God by Isaiah remonstrates with the Jewish church, and asks, "What could I have done more," it is implied that all the measures which had been used had failed of their ends. It is implied in the sentiments of Jesus Christ himself, when he supposes his Father to say, "They will reverence my Son," though after all he was slain and murdered. It is therefore a morbid squeamishness that makes us afraid to avow what are daily matters of fact. This failure has taken place in creation--it was made "very good," but now is groaning and travailing together in pain. It takes place in providence, for in it, God has determined the bounds of men's habitation, that they might seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him; but they are all gone astray, every one in his own way. It takes place in the atonement; Christ died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live to themselves, but unto him who died for them--but many live to themselves, deny the Lord that bought them, and renounce his reign over them.
It is sometimes vauntingly asked: "Where does the Scripture speak of Christ's death and the ends of it, in terms of uncertainty; or represent him as coming short of his aim and intention in dying for sinners?" In Heb. iv. 1, the apostle warns some who might seem to come short of the rest remaining for the people of God. God has no rest to offer to any sinner but through the death of Christ. To fall short of it is a possible case, and it is evident that no one can fall short of a thing that was never provided and intended for him. This rest could not have been provided but through the death of Christ. It is also a supposable case that an uncharitable Christian may "destroy him for whom Christ died," and cause a "weak brother to perish, for whom Christ died;"--that men may deny the Lord that bought them, and bring destruction upon themselves, notwithstanding his death for them.
I may here be interrogated, "How do you reconcile the liableness to failure in the divine measures, with the certainty that God's counsel shall stand, and that he will do his pleasure?"
I state at once most frankly and distinctly, that I do not know how to reconcile them. I believe it is not my duty to show how to reconcile them. It is enough for me that they are not only reconcilable, but actually reconciled. I, therefore, have nothing to reconcile. It is a fact, in experience, that God has reconciled them, and worked them out in harmony. A chemist is not expected to show how two virulent poisons, such as chlorine and sodium, could be made to produce a wholesome article for the use of mankind. To such a demand, his reply would be, God has done it in common salt. Philosophers did not require NEWTON to demonstrate how two antagonist forces, the centripetal and the centrifugal, could exist in the same body at the same time. He knew that as a philosopher his work was to demonstrate the fact, not the mode; for God himself had reconciled these different forces, and by them, had produced a system of order and beauty. The theologian ought not to be expected to show how God's firmness in government, and man's abuse of free-agency, can be reconciled. All the FACTS of the Bible prove that God has reconciled them, and that he still works both principles so harmoniously as to make the opposition and wrath of man to praise him.
Even if such an argument were not valid, a belief in particular atonement does not at all remove the difficulty. A limited atonement may seem to tally with the certainty of the actual and final results of the death of Christ but it clashes most gratingly against such indisputable verities, as the universal aspect of the atonement, the sincere invitations of the gospel, and the sorer punishment of unbelievers. This difficulty cannot be avoided by escaping to any other creed. It presses on the Heathen and the Mohammedan, upon the Jew and the Christian. Philosophers, metaphysicians, and theologians, have endeavored with Herculean labors, to push this subject up to light and distinctness; but after all, like the stone of Sisyphus, it rolls back to its own awful mystery and dread profundity. There never was a creed on the face of the earth, and there exists not a creed, that accounts for the difficulty. Yes, there is one, but it is a creed so severely simple, so unsophisticated with metaphysical reasonings, and so unamalgamating with theological systems, that few deign to take it up; it is the creed of Jesus Christ, "Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight,"--the creed that "judges nothing before the time,"--the creed that sings,
And he will make it plain."Return to Index Page