THE EXTENT OF THE ATONEMENT
RELATION TO GOD AND THE UNIVERSE.
REV. THOMAS W. JENKYN, D. D.
Plus Sections 1 thru 6
ON THE ATONEMENT IN ITS RELATION TO DIVINE MORAL GOVERNMENT.
THE ELEMENTS OF MORAL GOVERNMENT.
DIVINE moral government is that control which the blessed God exercises over minds of accountable beings, by reasoning with them; that is, by exhibiting motives and inducements addressed to their hopes and fears on the subject of their DUTY.
God governs everything according to its nature. He manages the sea, and regulates the planets, by physical force, and the various tribes of animals, by the laws of instinct. Every one knows that the waves of the sea, the revolutions of the planets, and the migrations of birds, are not to be regulated by reasoning with them. But man can be governed and controlled by reasoning with him; and his conduct can be regulated by exhibiting to him sufficient motives and inducements. We keep our oxen to the plough by physical force, but we keep the ploughman at his work by moral government, that is, by giving him sufficient motives and inducements to be so. He is not chained, nor bound, nor yoked, but acts freely, even while he is bound by obligations.
Physical force can never become an element of moral government. In proportion as force enters it, it ceases to be a moral government. The more freedom there is in a government, the more purely moral it is. Such a freedom is not the freedom of licentiousness and anarchy, for these always encroach on the freedom and liberty of some of the other subjects.
It is by reasoning, and presenting motives, that we govern our own minds, and influence the minds of other men: and it is by the same means that God governs us, and which he calls "the cords of a man." If minds become, so debased and obstinate as to refuse or to dislike such a control in a community, then coercion will be employed to subdue them. The slaves at the galleys are governed by coercion, and criminals are drawn to the place of execution by force; but this, in a just and wise government, only befalls those who have voluntarily rejected the moral control of reason and justice.
Man is a reasonable being, and as such, is a member of the great moral commonwealth of the universe. That commonwealth supplies him with a law as the rule of his conduct towards the whole universe. This law surrounds him with rich and copious exhibitions of reasons, motives, and allurements, to lead him to the formation of a good character, and to the choice of a wise course of conduct. It forces him to nothing, but leaves him perfectly free. In this government man, as a reasonable being, is free from everything except from the moral obligation to do good, and from accountableness to his Ruler if he do wrong.
Law must indispensably have the sanctions of rewards and penalties. Without these a law would be a mere advice, a recommendation only, and of no authority. The penalties of the moral law are sufferings and pains. In this inquiry, it is no work of ours to account for the reasons why sufferings were annexed as penalties to the moral law, any more than it is to discover why injury and destruction are, in the physical laws, the penalties for falling down a precipice, etc. We can only say, that such is the moral constitution of which we are members; and such, do providence, conscience, and the Scriptures, declare it to be.
By wrong doing, or sinning, man becomes liable to this penalty. Nothing but sin will bring us into contact with sufferings as the penalty of the law. No perfection of God, no decree of God, no measure or work of God, no malice of enemies--in short, nothing in the whole universe will bring us within the reach of the punishments of the law, but SIN.
The sufferings of a sinner, of one who transgresses the law, are right and good for the ends of the government of which we are members. The penalty is inflicted, not for the mere sake of putting the delinquent to pain, nor of gratifying the private revenge of a ruler, but to secure and to promote the public ends of good government. These ends are to prevent others from transgressing; by giving, to all the subjects, a decided and clear demonstration of the dignity of the law, and a tangible proof of the evil of crime.
If a member, then, break the rule of the great moral constitution, it is right that he should suffer, that the evil of his suffering might restrain others from the evil of transgressing. As far as sufferings answer these public ends, they are right and useful; but when they fall short of these ends, or when, in severity of infliction, they go beyond these ends, then, they are only natural evils added to moral ones, without removing them.
It is due to the character of the governor, as the public organ of a commonwealth, and due to the welfare of the government, that the penalty should be executed on the offender. It is right and good that the man who injures you should feel an inconvenience, a pain, a suffering for it,--not to gratify your spleen and revenge, but to prevent others from again daring to injure you. You approve of the penalty when it is executed on others for injuring you; but if you disapprove of it, when inflicted upon yourself for injuring others, it is because you are selfish, and feel no concern for the public good.
Sinners have transgressed the law, they have wronged God they have spoiled his works, and have injured his liege subjects, and therefore, for the public good, they deserve to suffer as transgressors.
THE PENALTIES OF MORAL GOVERNMENT ADMINISTERED ON THE PRINCIPLE OF PUBLIC JUSTICE.
Obedience is the first thing, which man, as a member of government, owes to God. If man give not obedience to the law, then punishment is due from him, for the ends of good government. In the classical writers of Greece and Rome, the "supplicium" or punishment is always represented as being given, or paid, by the offender, and as what was due, from him to the government, and not as what was due from the government to the transgressor. This language expresses the reality of the case of an offender in Moral government. The promotion of the public good by his obedience is first due from him: if he does not promote it in this way, then it is due from him to promote it, by sustaining the penalty of the law.
The question now occurs, "Upon what principle shall this penalty be administered?" Private individuals will answer this according to their own feelings and interests. Some will say "Let power be employed to inflict a severe chastisement and intense sufferings for the crime." Others will say, "Let mercy be exercised to administer the penalty gently and sparingly." Neither of these principles, alone, will administer the penalty safely and honorably for the ends of government. All honest subjects will say, "Let justice administer it, whatever be the consequences." All may assent to this, but the difficulty of administering the penalty with safety is not removed,
Another question occurs, "Upon what modification or principle of justice would you execute the penalty? "Justice takes many modifications. There is commutative justice, which gives to another an equivalent for value received. Divine moral government does not administer the penalty upon this principle; because it is perfectly inconsistent with an administration on moral principles, to deal out a mathematical measurement of punishment for an arithmetical amount of injury and wrong. For though the punishment of the sinner will be no greater than deserved, yet all his sufferings and pains will never be an equivalent, in commercial or commutative justice, for the honor and the homage of which God has been wronged. Commercial or commutative justice cannot therefore be exercised here for the government is a moral one. No moral quality or action can, in this government, be recompensed with a commercial payment. It were absurd to suppose, for instance, a father, a husband, or a master, governing his family, on the commercial principle of paying so much, in money or goods, as equivalent for so much love and obedience received.
The execution of the penalty, also on the principle of distributive justice, is inconsistent with the present administration of moral government, as it is a state of probation and trial. Such an execution would render our present state not a state of trial. If every swearer, or sabbathbreaker were immediately dealt with according to his character, men would no longer be in a state of probation to try whether they would swear and keep the Sabbath or not. If men would be always seeing the immediate and summary consequences of sin, they would not be any longer in a state of being proved, as to what was in their heart, whether they would keep His commandments or no. They would be walking by sight, and not by faith.
The exercise of what is called vindictive justice in the administration of the law, ill accords with the present connection between God and man. There is so much goodness and mercy, so much clemency and bounty, in our present circumstances, as to assure us that God has thoughts of peace and not of evil concerning us. Even the evils and the inflictions of the present state are not vindictive, but are evidently under the control and direction of a benevolent principle.
If the divine justice be regarded as commutative, or distributive, or vindictive, we must suppose that the execution of the penalty is an affair of indispensable necessity, and that it must inevitably be inflicted. Besides, in such a necessary execution, there is also implied a necessary and inflexible adherence to the strict letter and form of the law, so that the Public Ruler cannot inflict less punishment than was threatened, nor confer more favor than was promised, without violating the constitution.
Then we must recur to our former question--"Upon what principle shall this penalty of the law be administered?" I answer, upon the principle of PUBLIC JUSTICE.
PUBLIC JUSTICE is that justice which a government exercises to preserve the public good and defend the public honor of the whole community. In human governments, the chief magistrate has a power of suspending penalties, and of dispensing favors, provided he does not exercise such a prerogative to the detriment of the public good. Public justice is related to civil good, as distributive justice is related to personal good. If the penalty be executed, public justice provides that it shall be executed only. for the public ends of government, and not for private revenge. if the punishment be suspended, public justice provides that the suspension or remission shall not be detrimental to the public good; it provides that the ends of government shall be as fully secured by the suspension as by the execution. On the principle of distributive justice, Junius Brutus delivered his two offending sons to the lictors, and said, "Execute the law upon them." On the principle of public justice, Zaleucus spared his offending son from blindness, by consenting to suffer the loss of an eye himself. The ends of good government were as effectually secured by the public justice of Zaleucus, as by the distributive justice of Brutus. The tendency in either administration to produce salutary impressions on the subjects, is decidedly in favor of that of public justice.
THE SUSPENSION OF THE PENALTY, ON HONORABLE GROUNDS, CONSISTENT WITH PUBLIC JUSTICE.
If the chief magistrate, in suspending a punishment, or conferring a pardon, act beside the letter of the law, he cannot be said to be unjust, while his measures subserve the general design of the law, and answer to the spirit of the constitution.
Suppose one of a gang of robbers to turn king's evidence. Distributive justice would require that the penalty of death be inflicted upon him as "particeps criminis," and the letter of the law would demand his execution. In such a case the chief magistrate thinks that he will promote the ends of justice, and secure the public good, better by suspending the merited punishment than by inflicting it; and, therefore, so far, no honest subject in the kingdom will think him guilty of injustice.
In civil governments, we are, every day presented with instances of the suspension of punishment, when it can be done without injury to the public good. A thief is condemned to suffer the punishment of death, but this punishment is suspended, and transportation for life is substituted instead of it. In either case the end of government is answered, namely, that he should no longer wrong honest subjects.
The providential government which God exercises over the affairs of this world, shows that threatenings can be honorably suspended, when the ends of good government can be secured by it. The case of Nineveh is in point. The end of divine government, in the threatenings denounced by Jonah, was the reformation of the people. This end was secured without an infliction of the penalty, consequently, no one but Jonah has ever thought the suspension or remission of the punishment wrong. That it is a possible case that a punishment maybe suspended, when the ends of government can be otherwise secured, is evident from the whole history of the forbearance and longsuffering of God. The threatened inflictions are long delayed; many serious warnings are given of the approach of judgments: when judgments come, they are not inflicted so severely as was threatened; and their execution takes place gradually, as if God were reluctant to inflict them, and as if he were waiting every moment for a signal. to withhold his hand. This induction proves that to secure the ends of government, is much greater in the estimation of God, than to execute a literal threatening; and this demonstrates that his denunciations can be honorably withdrawn when their public ends are secured.
It has pleased God to give us a specimen of his administration of moral government over the universe, in the theocracy which he exercised over the Israelites. In the annals of the theocracy, suspensions and remissions of threatened punishments are facts of very frequent occurrence. Indeed the whole of this divine polity was a system of suspensions, founded upon the substitution of sacrifices, as public expedients and honorable grounds for the non-infliction of threatenings and penalties. Since God in this peculiar polity has clearly shown that he can, on honorable grounds, suspend a threatened judgment, without being deemed unjust, he has thus exhibited to us the operation of a principle which is capable of indefinite application to the whole sway of his moral government, and which has actually left well-defined and indelible traces of its operation in the administration of divine Providence.
Even if the arguments from analogy failed us in proving the justice of suspending a threatening, there is one fact that in the history of sinners is boldly prominent, and is presenting itself at every turn: it is the fact that the original penalty threatened to our first parents has been actually suspended. Had it been literally executed, there would have been no human race now existing. The penalty threatened to Adam was, "in the day thou eatest thereof, dying thou shalt die." Adam did eat of the forbidden tree; he was spared, he did not die, his penalty was suspended, his punishment was remitted. Was such a suspension just? On what principle can it be justified? We reply that it was suspended on the principle of public justice, which made honorable provisions, that the spirit of the divine constitution should be preserved without adhering to the letter of it.
THE DEATH OF CHRIST AN HONORABLE GROUND FOR REMITTING PUNISHMENT.
I. The atonement of Christ is a distinct and public recognition of the truth and justice of the sinner's liableness to the punishment threatened in the law.
The apostle Paul, in Col. ii. 14, represents the influence of the death of Christ as paying a debt or cancelling a bond. The chirograph, or bond, means the power of the law to condemn a sinner; that is, our obligation and liableness to suffer the penalty threatened by the law for sins. The sinner owes to the public government the suffering of the punishment. It is this due, this obligation, this liableness, that is represented by the chirograph.
The first part of an honorable payment of a debt, whether commercial or civil is, freely owning the justice of the claim, and acknowledging the reality of the obligation. The whole of the undertaking of Christ proceeds upon this recognition, that what the law requires is holy, just, and good. By blotting out the handwriting and cancelling the bond, he did not mean to imply that its claims were false. or that its demands were unjust. On the contrary, he nailed the chirograph to the cross, as having been once a true and valid indictment.
The death of Christ, or the atonement by his death, supposes the charge against the sinner to be true, and his liableness to the punishment to be just and right. He came to seek and to save, that which is "lost," to call, not the righteous, but "sinners," "children of wrath," "condemned already." If the atonement did not regard sinners, as antecedently given over by sin to suffer the penalty of the law, Christ would not have died to redeem them from under the condemnation of the law. This public testimony to the dueness of the punishment honors the divine government in maintaining and enforcing its claims on the sinner, and marks sin as an inexcusable wrong, and of unextenuated guilt.
II. The provision of an atonement shows the great concern of the moral Governor, for the ends of justice, which are to be secured in his administrations.
God is rich in mercy, plenteous in redemption, and ready to forgive; nevertheless he is concerned for the honor of his justice. He loves right, and he hates wrong. He loves order in his government, and is concerned to prevent disorder. His hatred of disorder and wrong, is commensurate with his love of himself, and with his concern for the public good of the universe. In defending his own rights, the whole of his public character and revealed glory is concerned. He needs no motive to feel compassion and mercy towards sinners; nevertheless, a safe medium is necessary for the honorable expression of that mercy towards them.
Sin is a public injury both to God and to the universe. It is not in the nature of mercy, nor does it become its character, to forgive such a public wrong without an expression of its abhorrence to the crime. Such a mercy would be weak indulgence, a fond and a blind passion. Every one sees that a family, governed on such a principle, would soon become the pest of a commonwealth: and so would a company of servants, or an army of soldiers. Even family discipline requires that, when you forgive a child, there ought always to be some expression of displeasure at the offence.
The most powerful expression of mercy's abhorrence of sin, and of its concern for the ends of public justice, has been given in the substitution of the Son of God. A father, for instance, will not be afraid of relaxing the bonds of good discipline in forgiving a child, when, a mother in tears and anguish, is the expression of an abhorrence of the child's offence. God has consulted the ends of public justice in the exercise of his mercy, and has therefore set forth the death of his Son as the honorable ground on which he is just in justifying him that believes. God spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, as a clear demonstration of his great concern for his justice, and as a public expression at what a dear rate he forgives the sin which his righteous soul abominates.
Such a provision for securing the ends of justice, honors the divine government, because it shows that the reins of just authority are not at all relaxed. All the subjects will feel, from the whole of such an arrangement, that the moral Governor thinks very highly of justice. No friend of the Mediator can slight the law and the government, and no one, who slights and disregards the law, will ever be deemed a friend of the Mediator.
III. In the atonement the suffering of death by Jesus Christ was substituted, by the blessed God, instead of the suffering of the punishment that was due to the sinner.
Jesus Christ suffered for us, the just for the unjust. He was made a curse for us-and a sin-offering for us. When it is said that Christ suffered for us, it is not meant that he suffered the sufferings due to us in law, but that his sufferings were endured as substituted instead of our sufferings. An atonement goes on the supposition that the identical sufferings which were threatened against man, are suspended, and that other sufferings are substituted instead of them.
This exchange, or commutation of sufferings, in the expedient for redemption, was intimated in the first promise made to Adam. Man by transgression had become liable to the literal sufferings which were threatened in the penalty annexed to the law. From these sufferings he was to be delivered by the Seed of the woman. This deliverance was to be effected, not by power, but by a price of substituted sufferings, designated the "bruising of the heel," a very different kind of suffering from that which was threatened to Adam.
This view of the vicarious and substitutionary character of the sufferings of Christ will give some definiteness and this phrase is not scriptural, it is not to be treated contemptuously, as it is not constantly used, with much sweetness and unction, by many Christians, and in our spiritual songs.
"What are the debts which Jesus Christ has paid for us?" Some answer the question by saying that Jesus Christ obeyed the law for us; gave, in our stead, and in our name, that obedience which we owed to the law, so that the law cannot now demand perfect obedience of us, because this was given to it in our stead by Jesus Christ.
To understand the theology of such a phrase, let it be duly considered-- Did Jesus Christ pay our debts in this sense ? Did he obey the law that we might not obey it? Did he do what the law required, that we might be discharged from our duty? Did he love God and love his neighbor, in our stead, so that we are delivered from the obligation to do so? I am sure, I wrong my reader by supposing for a moment that he does not perceive, at once, that in this case, Christ has paid no debts for us. Paying for us the duty which we owed to the law, would be redeeming us from God, and not to God, and would be an axe at the root of all moral-government. No class of rebels would ever be restored to their allegiance, by any high officer so obeying the law in their stead, as to discharge them from all fealty and homage.
It is, therefore, evident, that by Jesus Christ's paying our debts must be meant, not the debt of duty, but the debt of penalty. The handwriting, or chirograph, which he cancelled, was not the bond of obligation to duty and service, but the bond of liableness to punishment and sufferings.
It will be inquired, "How did Jesus Christ pay our debt of penalty?" This question is frequently answered, by saying, that Jesus Christ suffered the identical punishment to which we were exposed in law. This sentiment is embodied in a phrase not at all uncommon, that "Jesus Christ suffered the hell of his people."
I shall refer a fuller discussion of the commutation of sufferings to the chapter on the atonement in its connection with sin. I shall, now, only remark farther, that the atonement of Christ cancelled the obligation to punishment, not by paying the idem in the duty, nor by suffering the idem in the penalty, but by substituting his own sufferings instead of the sufferings due to the sinner.
IV. The sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ answer the same ends as the punishment of the sinner.
We have already remarked that an offender is publicly punished by a wise government, not for the sake of putting him personally to pain and torture, but for the sake of deterring others from committing crimes and offenses. It was upon this principle that an English judge once remarked to a criminal before him, "You are condemned to be transported, not because you have stolen these goods, but that goods may not be stolen."
The ends of government, in the punishment of offenders are--to show the goodness and benevolence of the law--to demonstrate the impartial justice of the governor-to exhibit the evil consequences of breaking the law,-and to impress offenders with the hopelessness of escaping the punishment due to crime.
You may be doubting the benevolence of a law that punishes an offender. But suppose your house robbed, or your child murdered, you would account that law really benevolent, which would kindly throw around you the shield of her sympathy, and would rid the country of such robbers and murderers. It is true that the murderers themselves would not regard such a law as good and benevolent, but every honest man would admire and welcome it. Sinners generally judge of the laws of God, as criminals judge of the laws of their country. Public punishments tend to show that the design of the law is good, and that it watches kindly over the interests of the poorest subject.
By public punishment the magistrate shows that his justice is impartial and fair. He is above private motives; his concern is for the public good. The insulted rights of the, lowest subject shall be vindicated by him: and the rank, or power, of an illustrious offender shall not thwart the measures of righteousness. The effect will be that all will stand in awe of the majesty of unsullied justice.
The spectators of a public punishment are likely to be impressed with the evil of the crime. They perceive that they who know the interest of the nation best, regard the deed of the culprit as being injurious and wrong to every honest subject. They feel that if every one did as the culprit did, there would be no living in any community. They will know that by the conduct of the culprit some families have suffered severely, and that, if he had been spared, many more would have suffered. They would see that such a mode of life, however easy and pleasant for the moment, is sure, eventually, to end in sorrow, infamy, and ruin; and that such an ignominious end of such a character will be approved and praised by all honest men everywhere.
The other end of government, in executing punishment, is to convince all offenders of the hopelessness of escaping the law. The criminal may long hide himself, but eventually he will be apprehended, and caught in the firm grasp of the law. Neither his obscurity nor his rank, neither his entreaties nor his bribes, can shelter him from the execration of the law and the constitution. The impressions of this every spectator and every hearer of the execution will carry with him to his home and to his retirement.
If a man transgress a law he must, in a just and firm government, be punished. Why? Lest others have a bad opinion of the law and transgress it too. But suppose that this end of the law can be secured without punishing the transgressor; suppose that a measure shall be devised by the governor which shall save the criminal and yet keep men from having a bad opinion of the law. Why, in such a case, all would approve of it both on the score of justice, and on the score of benevolence. For public justice only requires that men should be kept from having such a bad opinion of the law as to break it. If this can be done without inflicting what, in distributive justice, is due to the criminal, public justice is satisfied because its ends are fully answered.
In the moral government of God, the death of the Lord Jesus Christ does this. It secures all the ends of the law, as if the sinner himself had been punished. This view of the atonement is, I think, what Paul meant when be said, that "Christ was the end of the law for righteousness;" that is, that the very end which would have been secured by the punishment of the sinner himself has been amply and fully secured by the death of Christ. It is on this account that the death of Christ is represented in Scripture as an atonement, a satisfaction, or an equivalent, for suspending the literal execution of the penalty on the transgressor.
There are two sorts of equivalents, one belonging to commercial transactions, and the other to moral and civil affairs. A commercial equivalent is an exchange of one kind of property for another, as between a buyer and seller, and which particularly defines the kind and the quantity to be thus exchanged. A moral or civil equivalent does not regard kind or quantity, but secures the same ends, and produces the same effects, as the other moral or civil measure, instead of which it is substituted, would have produced. Why in the social circle do you accept of an expression of sorrow for a fault, instead of inflicting the pain of your displeasure ? It is because you think such sorrow will answer the same ends as the infliction of your displeasure. Why was the death of Zimri and Cozbi, by the zeal of Phineas, accepted by God as an atonement, instead of inflicting the threatened death on all the Israelites who had joined Baalpeor? It was because it answered the same ends for preventing idolatry as if all the idolaters had died. Why were the sufferings of our Lord on the cross substituted, instead of inflicting the curse of the law on man? It was because that, in the estimation of the moral Governor of the universe, these sufferings of his Son would answer the same "end of the law," as would have been secured by the destruction of the transgressors themselves.
The death of Christ secures this end. It magnifies the law and makes it honorable in the sight of the universe, as holy, just, and good, both in its commands and in its threatenings. It is a demonstration of God's justice, as it shows that he would not exercise even his mercy without an expedient to honor his justice, though at the cost of the sufferings of his illustrious Son. It is a testimony to the evil of sin--that it is regarded by God as an evil, that it has actually inflicted evils on many, and is likely to inflict more; that it tends to misery, infamy, and death. It demonstrates the impossibility of escaping the law: for if God spared not his own Son as the substitute, "how can we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" Thus the death of Christ tends to deter men from breaking the law and answers the ends of punishment.
The sufferings of Christ not only secure the same ends of government as the death of the sinner, but they answer them more fully and abundantly. They better express the benevolence of the character of God; they better show the, evil of sin; they supply better motives for holiness; and they bring a greater accession of happiness to the universe, for they not only prevent miseries that might have come but they suspend those which were really due. The sufferings of a Personage of such grandeur and worth are calculated to make, on the universe, deeper impressions of the rectitude of God's government, and of God's displeasure against sin, than a literal infliction of the penalty on sinful and degraded creatures. Yea, they answer other and higher ends than the prevention of sin. The sufferings of millions of sinners could never have been made a ground and medium for exercising mercy; could never bring any sinner that was under the penalty into repentance; and never could save other sinners: but the sufferings of Christ can do these things, and do them gloriously. Thus did the blood of Christ speak BETTER things than the blood of Abel.
There are two stupendous facts, in the administration of moral government, which prove that the death of Christ answers all these ends. The first is, that though God declares sin to be an infinite wrong to him, yet he never asks any sinner to make an atonement for his sin. The reason of this is, that He himself has found a ransom and has set forth his own Son as the propitiation for this. The second is, that God will not treat any man as a sinner, if he will believe that the death of his Son was a propitiation for sin. The reason is, that in Christ he is reconciling the world unto himself without imputing their transgressions unto them.
V. The death of Christ provides that pardon shall be dispensed to the offender in such a manner, as shall fully sustain the interests of moral government.
Pardon is proclaimed through an atonement which, by its very provision, supposes that the honor and authority of the law are not weakened. If God had had no regard for the honor of his law and government, he would not have provided an equivalent. He was just, independently of the atonement, but he provided an atonement that he might be just in justifying sinful men.
The sinner is forgiven on his repentance, which reflects a disgrace and reproach upon sin. God, indeed, has always the disposition and the power to forgive, independently of the state and feelings of the sinner, but the sinner's discharge from the liableness to the penalty of the law is not passed, as a judicial act, until he repents of his transgression. As God has given an expression of his abhorrence of sin in proclaiming pardon, so has he ordained, for the ends of government, that the sinner also should give an expression of his abhorrence of it. This the sinner does by his repentance. When one comes forth from the ranks of the revolters, and returns to his allegiance, it is as far as his influence and example go, a reflection both on the revolt, and on the revolters. A repenting sinner blames both himself and others for rebellion against God, and thus promotes the interest of the divine government.
Forgiveness is offered freely and sincerely to all the offenders, which preserves the divine government from the charge either of capricious partiality or of arbitrary severity. God calls upon all men everywhere to repent, and this is an intimation to all men everywhere that there is for them forgiveness with God. He exhibits his pardons as in every way suitable and adequate to the case of the greatest offender, for he is plenteous in mercy and able to save to the uttermost, He publicly promises free pardon to every penitent sinner, and sincerely offers it to every sinner, with a solemn declaration that "him that cometh he will in no wise cast out."
Hence no offender can despise the government for partiality, or blame it for undeserved severity.
The pardon of the gospel comes from sovereign grace, and unmerited favor, and this excludes all boasting, claim, and presumption. Notwithstanding the reconcilableness of God, and notwithstanding the atonement of Christ, yet no sinner can claim pardon. Some persons, indeed, have represented pardon as due from God to the elect; and have said, that it would be unjust in God not to pardon them. There is nothing in the holy Scriptures, there is nothing in the nature of grace itself, to support such a bold and impious sentiment. Try it yourself. Did you ever feel in prayer that you could claim the blessings which you asked? Does a happy soul feel so on his entrance to heaven? Does Gabriel feel that he has a claim even to his own crown? No: it is all of sovereign grace. The offender accepts the pardon by believing it, that is, by faith. The whole of this arrangement excludes presumption and self-gratulation. The reprieve is not the prisoner's own, until be accept it; he accepts it merely by believing it. Would any prisoner think that he deserved the reprieve because he believed it? Would he demand his reprieve as a claimant, or would he beg it as a supplicant? Would he on account of the reprieve presume on the king's favor and continue to live in rebellion? No the king has freely, of his own prerogative forgiven him, but it is in a way, "that he might be feared" and served.
The dispensation of pardon still perpetuates and continues man in a state of probation, and this checks all inclinations to licentiousness. God pardons, not that he might be trifled with, but that he might be feared and served. Man when pardoned is not taken out of a state of probation and trial. He is still accountable to law, he is still liable to break that law, he is taught to pray daily for pardon, he is chastened and afflicted for his sin, and he will have to appear at the reckoning of the judgement day. By such an arrangement the honors of the divine government are safe.
The exhibition of pardon has in itself a tendency to affect the heart, and to restore a rebel to his allegiance. There is forgiveness with God, not that he might be dreaded, but that he might be esteemed, revered, and served. There is no tendency in the dispensation of wrath to make the sinner relent and return; it hardens more and more. Sinners who have been beaten with many stripes become harder and harder. Satan, Cain, and Judas, are now harder than when the storm began to fall on them. It is mercy that conquers the heart, and wins the rebel from his revolt. It is mercy "that restores man to his allegiance,' that God may be served. Wherever this mercy is prominent in the ministry of the gospel, thither do guilty criminals flock, as doves to their windows. After all, it is not mercy to rebellion, but mercy to rebels; therefore, there is nothing in forgiveness to connive at revolt, though it smile on the sinner.
A LIMITED ATONEMENT INCONSISTENT WITH THE PRINCIPLES OF MORAL GOVERNMENT.
By a limited atonement, I understand, an atonement that consists in suffering the limited amount of punishment due in law, to a certain number of offenders, the benefits of which are limited to that number, and to that number only. Such an atonement is at variance with the declared principles of divine moral government. It is at variance with the accountableness of sinners to the law, in their present state of probation; and it is inconsistent with the principles of justice on which the divine government is administered.
A limited atonement is established on the principle that the penalty threatened by the law must, of indispensable necessity, be executed, executed literally and fully, or otherwise the justice of the divine government would be weakened and dishonored. It supposes further, that if the punishment of the law be not executed on the offender, it must be executed on the substitute. Then it proceeds to argue thus,--some offender's are through grace delivered from the punishment, therefore their punishment must have been inflicted on their substitute. And again,--some sinners will themselves forever suffer the punishment of the law in hell, but it would be unjust to inflict the punishment again upon them, if Christ, as a substitute, endured it for them; and THEREFORE the punishment of these sinners was never sustained by Jesus Christ in his atonement.
Sometimes the necessity of the sufferings of Christ as an atonement is made to arise from the inexorableness of vindictive justice; and then, vindictive justice is represented as impossible to be satisfied and appeased, except by the awful intensity of the sufferings of the Mediator. Nothing less would propitiate it. Our ears and our hearts have been pained a thousand times by representations of the blessed God as if revelling in the agonies of the cross, and in the blood of his own Son. When "it pleased the Lord to bruise him," it was not for the undivine gratification of inflicting pangs and tortures of intense pain; but "it pleased the Lord" to deliver him up a sacrifice for our offenses, to substitute his sufferings instead of ours, as an expedient, for honoring the law and saving man God still held his Son in undiminished love, and had infinite pleasure in his vicarious undertaking, and had, in all the mysterious sufferings of the cross, sincere good-will towards the salvation of man. If we suppose the compensative scheme of atonement to consist, not in a substitution of person only, but also in a substitution of sufferings, the atonement cannot be represented as satisfaction to vindictive justice, but it will appear to be what it really is, an atonement to satisfy the ends of public justice, in promoting the purposes of mercy.
Upon the principle of distributive justice, it is impossible to account for the atonement of Christ and for the salvation of man. Some divines constantly affirm that divine justice required the death of Jesus Christ as a substitute, and that the death of Christ thus satisfied divine justice.
Is this, indeed, true? To ascertain this, think, What is justice? Justice is giving to every one his due, or treating every one according to his character. Now, let us ponder it; "Was this justice satisfied in the death of Christ? "Justice is satisfied when it gives to every one his due, or treats every one according to his character. But, were the sufferings of an ignominious death really DUE to Christ? Did he DESERVE the treatment which be received? Is the salvation which sinners receive through his death really DUE to them? In short, is either Christ, or the sinner, treated in this transaction according to character?
I conceive that any man looking at this stupendous scheme, not through the colored medium of a theological system, will see that Christ received sufferings which he never deserved, and that the sinner receives blessings which were never due to his character. Divine justice treats neither party according to character: for "the Just" who "did this," and deserved to "live," dies; and "the soul that sinned," and deserved to die, lives; both cases being contrary to the principles of distributive justice.
The remark is probably ready, that, "this is a peculiar exercise of justice, as the "just" is substituted for "the unjust," that the unjust might be saved for his sake." Very well. Such a measure will be deemed and admired by all as an expedient of transcendent benevolence and clemency; but the original question still presses on us; "How is justice satisfied in it, when neither party has what is due to his character?" In this critical difficulty, reason and revelation meet us with the assurance, that though this expedient of substitution is not distributive justice, either to Christ or to the sinner, yet it is a measure of entire justice towards the interests of the community under divine moral government, because the ends of justice are as fully secured by the substitution, as if the offender himself had suffered. It is therefore evident that the justice which admitted of substitution is not what is called distributive justice. It is PUBLIC JUSTICE.
The exercise of public justice is suitable to the relations existing between God and man, because it is free, benevolent, and honorable. Public justice is voluntary and optional. The standing order of the divine government is not that God must be just in executing punishment, but that he might be just in showing clemency. It makes the infliction of the penalty not indispensable, but admissible and it makes the suspension of the penalty admissible too, only when the ends of its infliction can be otherwise honorably secured.
Public Justice is benevolent. It shows that God is on the side of good; that he had good-will to each subject, and to all his empire. "Therefore will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious; and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you; FOR the Lord is a God of judgment." Public justice is honorable. By its exercise God humbles himself without being dishonored; and man is condemned without being injured, and he is saved without reproach. God himself regards its exercise for a pleasure, a joy, and a glory. It is as a just God and a Saviour, that he rests in his love, and joys over the universe with singing.
The hypothesis of a limited atonement is founded upon commercial views of the justice of God. It supposes that justice was administered to Christ, the substitute, upon commutative principles. The hypothesis stands thus: A certain number of souls was given to Christ to be saved--certain amount of punishment was due to them for so many sins--Christ suffered that amount for them, and for them only; therefore, the benefits resulting from that suffering is limited to them, and to them only.
The supposition of God acting on the principle of commutative or commercial justice, taking and receiving a quid pro quo, completely perverts and destroys the moral dignity of the atonement, and also all its influence as a medium of saving man with honor to the divine government. It makes God to exact punctually from Christ the identical punishment threatened to the sinner, as none other could have been due, to be inflicted. It makes God to proportion the sufferings of his Son to the number of sins imputed to him, as it would have been unjust to have inflicted more or less than the proportion really due. It represents the Father of mercies as doling out favors, in proportion to the number and degree of his Son's sufferings, giving neither more nor less to any man than the purchased quantum. It represents the elect as claiming salvation as what is justly due to them from God, for value which he has received from their substitute, because it would be unjust to exact the same debt twice. It represents the salvation of some men as utterly impossible, because their debt has never been paid. It exhibits the great and blessed God as mercenary in his gifts, unwilling to yield a single boon but for value received in the sufferings of his Son--sufferings which are represented as inducing, not to say bribing Him to be propitious and merciful. All these limitations of the atonement are to be traced to commercial views of divine justice; and surely such troubled and unwholesome streams should make us seriously doubt the purity of their source. I will now introduce a few citations from two of our most masterly divines, partly to supply specimens of what I mean by commercial views of the divine administrations; partly to show that such commercial views naturally produce the doctrine of limited atonement; and partly to indicate how much those commercial views have colored a great portion of systematic theology. The number of citations of this character, either from these two authors themselves, or from other theological writers might be indefinitely increased--but these are sufficient.
The first author is Dr. THOMAS GOODWIN, a great master in the Israel of his day, whose works are marked by deep research, independent thinking, and evangelical suavity. The extracts are made from his "DISCOURSE OF CHRIST THE MEDIATOR," found in the third volume of his works in folio. Ed. 1692. In b.i. chap. 5, Dr. Goodwin introduces the sinner as proposing to God for his pardon, "rivers of oil, the first-born of his body, etc," but all being too low, the Doctor remarks, "There is no proportion. God would never have turned away so fair a chapman, if his justice could afford so cheap a commutation." In b.i. chap. 7, he says of Christ, "He must pay God in the same coyn we should, and therefore, must make his soul an offering for sin--and if he be made sin, he must be made a curse; and which is more than all this, God himself must be the Executioner, and his own Son the person who suffers, as no creature could strike stroke hard enough to make it satisfactory." In b. i. chap. 8, he says, "As his Father recommended the business to him [Christ] so also he gave special recommendation of the persons for whom he would have all this done-viz., those who were given to Christ. Then he observes--"a strange gift it was, which he must yet pay for, and must cost more than they were worth; and yet he takes them as a gift and favor from his father." "So as Mediator (and though a Mediator) he saves NOT A MAN, but whom his Father gave him, nor puts a name in more than was in his Father's BILL. You may observe how careful he was in his account, and how punctual in it. John xvii. 12. He is exact in his account as appears, in that he gives a reason for him that was lost, that he was a son of perdition, and so excuseth it." In b. i. chap. 9, he represents Isa. xlix. as "the draught of the covenant, or deed of gift betwixt Christ and his Father for us "--and then says, "His Father offers (as it were) low at first, and mentioneth but Israel only as his portion. Then as he [Christ] is thinking them too small an inheritance, too small a Purchase for such a price,"--"God therefore answers him again, and enlargeth and stretcheth his covenant further with him." In the next chapter he says, that "Christ laid down a price worth all the grace and glory we shall have."
The next author is DR. JOHN OWEN, the Lebanon of English theology. The great extent of his learning, his accurate sagacity in searching the workings of the heart, and the prominence which he has given to the person of Christ, have recommended his works to such acceptance and circulation, as to give their own hue and character to much of the theology of his country. But the principle of a commercial atonement, of paying quid pro quo, is interwoven with his whole system of divinity, as Phidias's name in the shield. Take a specimen, or two, from his 'Death of Death,' etc., "God spared not his own Son, but gave him up to death for us all--that he made him to be sin for us--that he put all the sins of all the elect into that cup which he was to drink of; that the wrath and flood which they feared did fall upon Jesus Christ "--"so all the wrath that should have fallen upon them, fell on Christ, etc."--"He charged upon him, and imputed to him all the sins of all the elect, and proceeded against him accordingly. He stood as our surety, really charged with the whole debt, and was to pay the utmost farthing." "The Lord Christ (if I may so say) was sued by his Father's justice unto an execution, in answer whereunto he underwent all that was due to sin, etc." "Christ underwent not only that wrath (taking it passively) which the elect were [actually] under, but that also which they should have undergone, had not he borne it for them."
I have quoted enough. An atonement of such a commercial character as this appears a measure of niggard calculation, and dribbling mercenariness. It will be a glorious day for the doctrines of the gospel, and for practical godliness, when commercial views of the death of Christ shall be entirely rejected by both christian divines and christian churches. Thanks be to God! these views are fast disappearing; as is evident from the fact, that they are scarcely ever mentioned in the creeds of young ministers at their ordination.Return to Index Page