THE EXTENT OF THE ATONEMENT
RELATION TO GOD AND THE UNIVERSE.
REV. THOMAS W. JENKYN, D. D.
Including Sections 1 thru 5
ON THE ATONEMENT IN ITS RELATION TO THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD.
ALL PROVIDENCE CENTERING IN THE ATONEMENT.
I HAVE already examined the atonement in its relation to all works of God, considered as the productions of his wisdom, power, and goodness, and as the abodes of intelligent beings, and theatres of divine dispensations. In that chapter, no immediate regard was had to the administrations of providence in this world. In order, therefore, to a due examination of the atonement, in all its bearings and influence, we shall now proceed to consider it, in its relation to the providence which God exercises over our world.
PROVIDENCE is that wise oversight and holy care which the Blessed God exercises over all beings, so as to preserve, direct and order all their agencies for the good of his whole empire and for the display of his own glory. It is the divine disposal and administration of all the works, and of all the events, of time. Time is always shifting its scenes, and, in every change, is producing fresh characters and successive works. Every moment of time is throned with agents and crowded with events. All things, and all beings are at work, and are at work for God, under his cognizance, management, and control. All are working out some amazing plan, of which the operations of every individual is an underplot, and of which, the progress and the upshot shall be according to the wisdom of God and the good pleasure of his will.
The foundation of providence is the existence of God. If there be no God, there can be no providence. Providence without the oversight of infinite intelligence is a fortuitous concourse of events, a series of plots without a meaning. Heathen historians, both ancient and modern, would be puzzled to answer the questions,--What can be the meaning of their histories! For what purposes have all these events come to pass? What is to be the final upshot of all the movements and changes in dynasties and empires? History without a providence is an idle tale, a cipher without an integer, a number of unconnected links, but no chain. Divine providence, on the contrary, gives unity, worth, energy, and weight to all the events of history, by connecting each and all of them with the infinite superintending mind of God.
As heathen philosophers rob history of its importance and glory, by separating it from the providence of God; so, many Christian divines rob providence of much of its beauty and worth, by severing it from the mediation and atonement of Christ.
It has long been the fashion in theology to consider the divine government, as consisting of three kingdoms or provinces, called the kingdom of nature, the kingdom of providence, and the kingdom of grace. The same fashion has represented the kingdom of grace alone, as connected with the atonement of Jesus Christ; supposing the kingdom of nature and the kingdom of providence to sustain no relationship to his mediation. I believe such distributions of the divine empire to be human, unscriptural, and therefore untenable. The advancement of natural philosophy has banished from the science of chemistry, the old orthodox principles of "the four elements," and it is now full time that the progress of scriptural theology should have abolished the human arrangements of the three divine kingdoms. If, however, these arrangements only mean that nature, providence, and grace are imperia in imperio--wheels within a wheel,--works and events of various diameters thrown around one centre, and that centre, the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, such distribution and such language would be admissible. It is the making either of these provinces independent of the central, throne that makes such a division inadmissible and blamable.
To separate nature and providence from the mediation of Christ, is to put asunder what God has united. What is nature but the original constitution of all things? What is the original constitution of all things, but the state in which they were created by Christ, and for Christ? And this is mediation. What is providence? Is it not Christ upholding all things, and governing all things? Is it not all things consisting and holding together in Christ? Providence, then, alienated from the mediatorial administration of Christ, is not the providence of the Scripture. And nature separated from the work of Christ is not the "course of nature" mentioned in the Scripture as a theatre for the scenes of redemption, and as an apparatus of means for the good of them that love God.
Nature, providence, and grace, then, are three immense wheels in one machinery,--the cogs, and revolutions of each, catching and influencing those of the others, and all put in motion by the influence of the great atonement. God does not perform one thing as the God of nature, another thing as the God of providence, and a third as the God of grace. Such language is just as proper as that he does one thing as the God of vegetation, another as the God of geology, and a third as the God of astronomy; or one thing as the God of the earth, another thing as the God of the moon, and another as the God of the sun. He is of one mind, and his system is one. Any one of his dispensations, like a stone thrown into a lake, produces, according to its weight and importance, circles which tell on other portions of his works, and in other places of his dominion.
The atonement of Christ is an event to which all providence refers. "The hour" of atonement was the hour for which all hours were made. It was the hour to which all preceding providences looked forward, and to which all subsequent providences look backward. It was in the fullness of time, at a crisis which providence had matured, that Christ offered the atonement of his death. In this atonement, as the centre of power and influence, Christ stands, amid the numerous revolutions of providence, the same yesterday, to-day, and forever.
THE MEDIATORIAL ADMINISTRATION OF PROVIDENCE FOUNDED ON THE ATONEMENT.
I. The sacred Scriptures regard the atonement of Christ as the ground and reason for committing the administrations of providence into his hands.
Let us hear what Jesus Christ himself says, "All power is given to me in heaven and earth." Matt. xxviii. 19. In this passage christ regards himself as the President of the entire universe. He declares his power to be universal. He has authority over heaven, to employ all its intelligences in his service, and to dispose of all its happiness and honors according to his sovereign will and pleasure. His authority extends over all the earth, over all beings and things, over all times, works, and events,--and especially over the probation and the destinies of man. This language does more than merely assert the universal domination of the Redeemer, it gives also an intimation of the harmonious administration of this immense power. The power exercised in heaven is not opposed to the interests of the earth; and the authority employed on earth is subservient to the great interests of heaven. It is by the influence of the atonement that the will of God will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
The whole language of the New Testament is an echo of this regal proclamation of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Mediator is "King of kings, and Lord of lords." He is "Lord of all." "He has power over all flesh." He has "the keys of Hades and the grave," and is "Lord both of the dead and the living." He is the "head of all principality and power," "the Lord of glory." "Every judgment is committed unto him." Indeed "all things are delivered unto him of the Father, who has constituted him the heir of all things, who has put all things under his feet, and who has issued a public edict from his throne, "that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, of things in earth, and things under the earth."
Another class of passages distinctly asserts that the person of the Mediator is invested with this authority and dominion on account, and in consequence, of his atonement. Take Phil. ii. 8-10, as a nucleus for the others. "Being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. WHEREFORE God also bath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name--that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is LORD to the glory of God the Father." To possess the universal empire was one design of his sacrifice. "For, for this end Christ died that he might be Lord both of the dead and the living." It was after that he offered one sacrifice for sins, that he forever sat down at the right hand of God. The apostle Peter represents Christ as "gone into heaven, and on the right hand of God; angels, authorities, and powers, being made subject unto him." 1 Peter iii. 22. He entered heaven in his priestly office, and his atoning character, as the high priest entered the holy of holies; and on this official entrance into heaven, he took public possession of all power and authority.
It was not now that the grant of universal dominion was made to him; nor was it now that he commenced his mediatorial government; but it was now that he was publicly inaugurated into the administration of divine providence. Though in virtue of the original and eternal grant of the Father, Christ had been in the actual possession of all power, yet it was not till after his ascension in his atoning office, that he assumed the public exercise of his mediatorial authority over providence. Probably, the new aspect which the administration of providence assumed about this time towards the Gentiles was designed to be a proof of this, as it seemed reserved to honor the coronation, and to adorn the triumphs, of the Mediator. And the copious effusion of gracious influences at this time seemed to give a new character to the dispensations of providence, as royal largeness scattered among the people, to grace the auspicious entrance of Christ upon the public exercise of his mediatorial power, as the official Organ of moral government.
II. Without an atonement there would have been no providence exercised among mankind. If there be no relationship between the atonement of Christ, and the providence of God, it is impossible to account for the continuation of mankind on the face of the earth.
Suppose for a moment that the arrangements of the constitution with Adam in Eden had been carried out into literal execution. In the day that our first parents would eat of the forbidden fruit, "dying they were to die." They did eat. And had this constitution been executed to the letter, they would immediately have died and perished; and, consequently, would have had no posterity. If the threatening had been executed literally, there would have been no human race. They, however, sinned, and became liable to the literal infliction of the threatened punishment, but the infliction of the literal penalty was suspended, and they lived. How did this come to pass? It was by the introduction of a new dispensation, a dispensation that was sparing, restorative, and saving. The ground of this new dispensation was the Seed of the woman's bruising the serpent's head, and obtaining, by his sufferings and conflicts, a mastery over the world, and over all evils.
From the moment that the threatened penalty was suspended by the introduction of another constitution, Adam and Eve lived under a new dispensation, and under this new dispensation Cain and Abel were born; yea, under this new dispensation the whole posterity of Adam has been introduced into the world. This has been long and strenuously disputed, but on no solid and scriptural grounds. I would just ask, if the penal sanctions of Eden had been literally inflicted on our first parents, how was it possible for them to have a race of offsprings? If the human race is born under the Eden constitution, or as it is called, the covenant of works, where is the Eden test of probation? on whom has its literal threatenings ever been executed? who has ever died in the day that he first sinned?
The case of mankind, I conceive, stands thus. In the wise and harmonious exercise of divine prerogative and public justice, the original penalty or curse threatened against Adam was suspended. I do not consider the sentence pronounced on our first parents after the fall, to be the same with the curse that was threatened to them before their fall. The sentence is daily executed, but the original curse or penalty threatened was suspended. It was suspended, on the ground of the atonement of Christ as an equivalent, that is, as an expedient which was substituted instead of it, and which would answer the same public ends. By such a substitution another dispensation was introduced, and by the introduction of another dispensation, our first parents and their posterity were allowed to live.
The human race, then, owes its very existence, with all the blessings and advantages of that existence, to the mediation and atonement of Jesus Christ. For without a regard to the atonement, it is impossible, to view the suspension of a punishment which had been solemnly threatened, to be either honorable or safe to the divine government. If God can, with honor to his government, remit any punishment irrespective of the atonement, he might remit all-- which would make the atonement of Christ altogether vain.
III. If the dispensations of providence be separated from the influence of the atonement, no principle remains to account for the harmonious administration of judgement and mercy in the government of the world.
Take away the atonement of Christ, and the state and the circumstances and the prospects of man present a labyrinth for which we have no clue. If man be what he was first made, and what he ought to be, in the service and in the favor of his Maker and Owner, how will you account for his misery and degradation? If man be abhorred, and spurned, and cursed of his Maker and Lawgiver, how will you account for his mercies, for his probation, for the call on him to repentance, and for the numerous answers which God has given to his prayers?
Man is evidently under a mixed administration. He himself is regarded in the mixed character of a condemned sinner and a probationary candidate. God governs him in the mixed character of a gracious Benefactor and just Judge. Scripture and observation prove that these things are really so. The difficulty is to find some ground or medium in which prerogative and law, or mercy and judgment, shall harmonize. Such a medium is the atonement of the death of Christ.
This medium is not necessary to the existence of mercy and justice in God, nor, perhaps, to a separate exercise of them. God has these attributes and perfections irrespectively of the mediatorial constitution, and they harmonize in his nature with perfect loveliness, for in him can be no clashing attributes or contradictory principles. A medium is necessary, therefore, only to harmonize their exercise, in a mixed administration of moral government.
The atonement of the death of Christ is a suitable medium for this. It supposes man to be a sinner, and yet a candidate in probation. It supposes God to be a sovereign Benefactor, and yet a righteous Governor. It exhibits God in the fullness of his character, a righteous legislator who published a good law; a gracious Lord who exercises his sovereign prerogative in infinite wisdom; and a just governor, who, in dispensing pardon and favor, consults the dignity and the honor of his government. The very provision of an atoning expedient supposes all this. The atonement does not exhibit one attribute glorious and lovely at the expense of the other, but it shows forth each and all in unsullied purity, in well-adjusted harmony, and in greater lustre and splendor than any measure in the universe. It enables God honorably to condescend to show favors without sinking his character or his government.
The same atonement in its aspect upon the sinner, contemplates him in his mixed character, under condemnation, and yet in probation. The provision of an atonement tells the sinner, that the moral legislator thought the quarrel between him and the offender of such an importance, as to call in the interposition of a third party, and that third party a Person of great dignity and worth. It tells him that the very friend who interposed for him regards the law which the sinner violated as holy, just, and good. By exhibiting the sufferings of this illustrious Interposer, as substituted instead of the punishment due to the offender, the atonement brings a greater amount of motive to deter sinners from transgression than the tempter can bring to allure to it. God is so well pleased with the atonement of his Son, that he reckons any of his perfections honored and glorified, by being exercised for the sake of it, and on account of it. He is willing to confer any boon and any favor, however great, upon any offender, however unworthy, if he will ask it in the name and for the sake of his dear Son.
In this mixed administration of the divine government, man's transgression will account for his miseries, God's goodness will account for his mercies, and the atonement of Christ will account for the honorable exhibition of favor to him as a condemned offender.
THE ADMINISTRATION OF PROVIDENCE SUBSERVIENT TO THE ENDS OF THE ATONEMENT.
If all the movements in the physical universe are put in subserviency to gravitation, it is valid to argue that gravitation is connected with all the arrangements of matter. By a similar train of reasoning we can prove a connection between the atonement of Christ and all the arrangements of providence. The fact of such a connection is established both by the testimony of the Scriptures, and by the whole aspect of the dispensations of providence.
I. The whole design and aspect of the atonement is "good-will to men;" and to this, the whole administration of providence is subservient.
The entire character and history of providence are summed up in one inspired sentence: "all things work together for good." "All things" in the universe are at "work." All things are at work "together," in order and harmony. The product of the harmonious co-operation of all things is "good." This aggregate of good produced in the universe forms the portion and inheritance of "them who love God." The workings together of good agents produce an immense accumulation of good; and even the workings of bad agents are overruled for good. Indeed all the evils in the universe arise from agents not working their proper work; but even this is made subservient to the production of good upon the whole.
It is a fact which should form the doctrinal creed of every man, that in the whole machinery of providence, there is not a single wheel made and intended to produce evil. Every wheel, and every revolution of every wheel, is intended, placed, and fitted to produce good, and to produce nothing but good. It is true, indeed, that the results of providential revolutions may and will be for evil to some; nevertheless, the reason of this is not in the movements of providence, but in the character and attitude of sinners themselves. The workings of any piece of machinery may be good and productive of good, but if a drunken or a heedless man throw himself within its cogs, the fault of the result cannot be ascribed to the working of the machinery. Picture to yourself a thief at his wicked work, skulking in darkness, and grasping his booty. Will he remain long on the scene of wrong to enjoy his prey? No. See how all the stars of heaven move in their courses--see how the great globe itself rolls in rapid and mighty movement--see how the sun travels in the greatness of his strength. All these stupendous movements are positively good, and produce good: but they are for evil to the spoiler: simply because he is a spoiler, and at a wrong work; they are for good to every honest man, who is at his proper work. Every friend of sin is like a besotted man entangled in the meshes of a good machinery, whose revolutions will eventually crush and destroy him. He is out of his place. The author of the machinery never intended him to be there, and therefore the blame of the evil consequences is not to be ascribed to Him. An evil doer is like a thief and a robber, whose pursuits are not in harmony with the "course of nature," and therefore the course of nature and the revolutions of providence are against him.
History and experience testify that in the present mixed administrations of providence, mercy and judgment, like ingredients in a medicine, or like a thunderstorm in the atmosphere, operate for the public good, and altogether wear an aspect of benevolence and kindness towards man. Judgments are never sent without warnings, which are like the voice of mercy crying before the trumpet of judgment. Judgments keep up a constant memorial of the rectitude of the governor, and a testimony to his concern for the public welfare, in showing that he is as much determined to defend good laws, as he was disposed to make them. These judicial interpositions restrain men from great evils, and really prove blessings to many families, and to many neighborhoods, by removing a root of bitterness and an evil example from among them. Even the severest inflictions of judgments leave more criminals behind than they sweep away, that the others may have a season for repentance. Judgments come very gradually, and when they do come, God never stirs up all his wrath, and he never afflicts with the "greatness of his power." If even the judgments executed in the administrations of providence have such an aspect of benevolence and "good-will to man," what must be the character of the mercies which providence with open hand lavishes on the children of men? In the dispensations of providence, mercy and truth have met together, righteousness and peace have embraced each other.
It is the atonement of Jesus Christ that gives to divine providence this character and aspect. The atoning Mediator is, in priority of arrangement, the first in the series of the blessings of infinite providence, the first bubbling in the well-spring of the stream of favors, the first stone in the magazine of all fullness of blessings, and it is out of his fullness that we all have received. It is because God spared not his own Son, but delivered him for us all, that he will with him freely give us all things. All blessings and mercies are dispensed in his name, by his authority, and on his account. It is only so far as our mercies are employed in harmony with the mediatorial work of Christ, that they prove real blessings unto us; they are otherwise traps and snares to our ruin. All good things, and sure mercies are contained in the New Testament of Christ. No blessing has ever come to man but what is contained in the Testament, and the Testament with all its blessings and mercies, is sealed with the blood of the atonement. The Lord Jesus Christ is constituted the sovereign of providence. In this character he sits on the right hand of God, and dispenses his favors. Blessings are dispensed by him, not by his divine authority, but by his mediatorial power; and his mediatorial power is, alpha and omega, founded in the atonement of his death.
II. The subserviency of providence to the designs of the atonement becomes more evident when we consider that providential dispensations are administered with a special reference to the interests of the church of Christ.
The Lord Jesus Christ is himself "the heir of all things," and all his people are "joint-heirs with him." God has placed the Mediator in the throne of dominion at his own right hand in the heavenly places, and has put all things under his feet, and given him to be the head over all things to the church. Therefore, the apostle says elsewhere, "All things are yours, whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come, all are yours, and ye are Christ's, and Christ is God's."
Our blessed Saviour, in his intercessory prayer in the garden, refers to this bearing of his mediatorial government generally, on the interests of the church especially, "Thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him." This passage, while it shows that the mediatorial dominion of Christ is of wider diameter than his church, proves that the exercise of all his mediatorial authority and sway, is subservient to the interests of his people. The entire history of divine providence is an evidence of this special Subserviency. The early history of the Jewish church shows how much the civil politics and the external condition of the nations of the earth were subservient to its protection and establishment. When the church has been in circumstances difficult, painful, and critical, providence in an unthought-of manner interposed to supply suitable means and proper instruments of deliverance--as in Egypt and Babylon, at the introduction of Christianity, and at the Reformation. The plots, and designs, and machinations of men and of nations, laid down with malicious craftiness, and nerved with wealth and power, have been, by a mediatorial providence, suddenly frustrated and destroyed. The dispositions of counsels and states have been, as rivers of water in the hand of providence, directed, or moderated, chastened, or overruled for the furtherance of the church of Christ. Some instances of particular providences, in the lives and labors of individual members of the church, supply the most decisive and interesting specimens of the manner in which the administration of the world is subordinate to the benefit of the church.
III. One marked design of the atonement of Christ is to magnify the law and make it honorable. To this high design all the dispensations of providence are subservient. This is the end aimed at in the inflictions of judgments on individual men and on communities, in the institution of sacrificial rites which have prevailed among all nations, in the miraculous revelations of the divine mind and will to prophets and other messengers, in the prompt and suitable answers that have been given to prayer, in the promulgation and ministrations of the gospel in the world, in the holy lives of renewed men, in the eternal punishment of incorrigible rebels, and in the glorious rewards of the heavenly state.
These considerations warrant the conclusion, that all things are made "for" Christ as Mediator, and "given" to his administration to subserve the ends of his government, and secure the purposes of his atonement.
THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE ATONEMENT ANALOGOUS TO THE ADMINISTRATION OF PROVIDENCE.
PALEY observes, in his Natural Theology, that in all our widest and farthest researches into the productions of Creation, "we never get amongst such original, or totally different modes of existence as to indicate, that we are come into the province of a different Creator, or under the direction of a different will." Well had it been for the christian church had such a thought suggested itself to our theological inquirers and polemical writers. It would have saved much controversy, heresy, persecution, and bloodshed.
The analogy between providence and moral government, BUTLER has established in a position unassailed and unassailable. Many of the controversies which have agitated and unsettled the christian church, have been conducted on the supposition, that in the works of redemption we come, so to speak to the productions of a different God, other than the Lord of providence and the Maker of the world. Human systems of theology seem to take this datum for their basis-but holy writ, sound reason, and daily experience show that mankind are members of one immense system, pervaded by the same mind, regulated by the same will, and administered on the same general principles.
My present design is only to illustrate the analogy between the administration of the atonement and the dispensation of providence.
I. The providence of God has a universal aspect. His tender mercies are over all his works. He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust. Such is the God of providence, and such also is the God of redemption. He has loved the world. He gave his Son to be a propitiation for the sins of the whole world. He willeth not that any should perish, but that all should come to the knowledge of the truth, and he commands all men everywhere to repent. Here are words of equal dimensions. If you will apply some cramping and abridging process to the phrases about redemption, try the same experiment on providence, and the result will show that you serve a system and receive not the truth. On the universal aspect of providence you have no system to serve, but on redemption you have to cut and square these unmeasured expressions to ready-made creeds. Think not in your hearts that the God who openeth his hand and satisfieth the desire of every living thing, is different from the God who spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all. Say not that the God who has provided so bountifully for our bodily and temporal wants, has been ignored, and scanty in his supply for the soul that is to live forever.
II. The measures of providence are liable to failure. A medicine may fail, notwithstanding the virtue which providence has given it. The crop of the husbandman may fail, notwithstanding the provision that seed time and harvest time shall continue. The morbid fear of acknowledging such a liableness to failure in the measure of providence is unaccountable when God declares his own government of the Jews, under the theocracy, to have failed of its ends. "In vain have I smitten; they have refused to receive correction," Jer. ii. 30. The work of God distinctly and expressly recognizes the same liableness to failure in the great measure of atonement. Are you sure that it is not attachment to system, rather than attachment to the truth, that makes you hesitate to avow this? The Scriptures openly state that the atonement may become of none effect in some cases, as in Gal. v. 2, 5. The apostle Paul was afraid of the Galatians, lest he had bestowed upon them labor in vain, i.e., lest the ministry of the atonement should fail of its ends. The same apostle pleads with the Corinthians in earnest entreaty, that they would not receive the grace of God in vain, which he must have supposed to be a possible case. The prophet Isaiah introduces the Messiah, the Lord Mediator himself, saying, "I have labored in vain, and spent my strength for naught." In perfect harmony with this prediction are the very words of the Redeemer himself "How oft would I have gathered thy children, as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not?" As I have here only to notice the analogy between the atonement and providence, no candid reader will suppose that this language implies an utter failure--it merely implies susceptibility of failure. The failure in either case does not dishonor God, the blame of it is entirely with the sinner-and the possibility of the case is quite consistent with the laws of trial in a free and moral government.
The character of any measures of divine providence is to be tried by the fitness and adaptation, and design, of such measures, and not at all by their final results. It is in this manner we always judge of an evil measure in the world. We judge of a dagger, a sword, a cannon, by its fitness and design. We judge of deceit, cunning, extortion and oppression, by their tendency and aim. Thus should we judge of providence. No wise man judges of a medicine by the death of its patient, of wealth by a miser, of learning by pedantry, or of liberty by anarchy. The deluge was a fit measure to clear the earth of evil doers, but you will not judge so by the final results. The final result does not prove that the selection of the family of Abraham would preserve a people from idolatry and sin--nevertheless the measure itself was adapted and intended to do this. The miracles of Egypt and the wilderness were fitted and designed to bring the Israelites to obey God, and to trust him --but the result was otherwise. You do not judge of the ministry of Christ among the Jews, by its final result, but by its tendency and design. Why then will you judge of the atonement only by its final results? Why not judge of it by its adaptation and fitness and design? If the final result of any measure turn out to be the same with the ultimate end for which it was instituted and adapted, then the final result is a good criterion by which to test the design and tendency of a measure. In illustration, we may say that our present state of trial and probation is adapted, calculated, and designed to work out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; but the final results, in countless instances, will prove otherwise. Will you say then, that this state was fitted and intended to prove thus disastrous? You are not to judge of probation by what it may be, or shall be in given instances, but by what it is now, by what it is fitted and intended to effect. Nor are you to judge of the atonement by what it may and shall be in some instances, "the savor of death unto death," but by what it is now,-and what it is calculated and designed to be, "the savor of life unto life" to all who will accept it.
III. The principle on which general providence becomes available to particular cases, and thus becomes particular providence, is by personal application only. So when a farmer takes into cultivation a piece of land from the common, on which no corn has ever grown before, he applies, to his own individual case, the broad offer and promise of general providence, that wherever there shall be a seed time there shall be a harvest time. This general providence becomes as suitable and as effectual to him, as if it were made and intended for him personally, and for him only. He never thinks of consulting the secret decrees of heaven, to know whether such a plot of ground was eternally predestined to bear a crop. The general promise is quite enough for him. Thus he acts in the thousand affairs of life; say, in taking medicine, he never waits to unroll the private manuscripts of heaven. for information: he merely ascertains the general fitness, adaptation, and tendency of the remedy, and applies it to his individual case. Why will not men act thus about the atonement? General atonement and particular redemption are no more inconsistent than a general and particular providence. No argument can be brought against a general atonement which will not fall with the same weight and edge upon a general Providence. There are no difficulties connected with particular redemption which do not adhere as closely to particular providence. It would be regarded as the drivelling of silliness to argue that if there be a particular providence there cannot be a general one. Of the same estimate is the reasoning that if there be a particular redemption the atonement can not be universal. As general providence becomes particular only by personal application, so does general atonement become particular redemption. "Whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely;" "and him that cometh I will in no wise cast out."
The supposed farmer never suspected that he was not personally intended in the general promise of Providence. If his crop has not answered his expectations, he sees and feels that the failure was owing to the nature of the soil, and not to a deficiency in the promise; for it was never promised, that if he ploughed the rock, or sowed the seashore, he should have a harvest. And why should any sinner suspect that he is not personally interested in the atonement, and that the general atonement is not available to his particular and personal case? There is not in the Scriptures even the most remote allusion to any class of sinners for whom Christ did not die. In the whole history of salvation and of man, there is not on record a single instance of a personal application of the general atonement failing of success. No personal applicant at the door of the atonement has ever perished. Christ has never said to any suppliant,--"I never meant you individually." If any sinner who knows of the atonement perishes, even in his destruction he sees, that his perdition is not through a deficiency in the atonement, for the atonement had never promised or provided, if he sowed to the flesh, that from the flesh he should reap everlasting life. If you heard some of the family of the supposed farmer quibbling about the divine decrees, and saying that they were never designed to be farmers, and that they did not think providence would ever bless them in such an undertaking, you would conclude that at heart they had no liking for the work. It is, I believe, universally true, that no sinner quibbles about the secret designs of the atonement, but when he has no liking to the personal application of it, to condemn himself and to justify the divine government. When Paul's fellow-passengers laid hold on the "boards and broken pieces of the ship," they had no time to quibble about secret decrees, they made the provisions of general providence available to their particular cases, and they all succeeded. Let every sinner go and do likewise.
IV. The providence of God treats men as moral and free agents. Providence will do for a man nothing that he can do for himself. Providence will give seed to the sower, but it will not sow it nor reap the crop for him. Providence will fill the sails of the vessel with gales, but it will not steer at the helm. Providence makes no arrangement to encourage the idleness--or inactivity of man, but all its provisions require and demand the full exercise of his agency. God promised to feed the Israelites in the wilderness with manna, but they themselves were to gather and prepare it for food. Providence gives us our "daily bread," but not in baked loaves falling from the sky. Providence supplies us with raiment, but not in garments ready made, descending upon us without any agency of our own. Providence has made bread to be the staff of life, but here it meets us as free agents, for if we do not exercise our own agency to partake of it, it will avail us nothing. The administration of the atonement meets man in the same manner, as a free agent. It does nothing for him that he can do himself. It presents to his eyes, "Him whom he has pierced," but he himself must repent and weep. It shows to him "a new and a living way to the Father," but he himself must walk it. It supplies him with a sovereign and sufficient remedy," but he himself must "receive" it. If he refuse the balm of Gilead, it will not heal him. If he neglect this great salvation, it will not save him. If he will not have this man to rule over him, he will not be delivered from the kingdom of darkness, As providence deals with free agents, so does the atonement. Take these statements about the atonement simply and candidly as they are presented to yon, and you will admit, you must admit, that they are the real facts of the case. Will you venture to wrest them because they ran not parallel with the lines of your theological system? These arrangements about the atonement are no more dishonorable to the character of God, than are the similar measures about the providence of God. Whatever may be the failures of providence during the economy of probation, we know that the upshot of the whole will be to the everlasting glory of God, and that all his perfections and purposes will appear guiltless of those failures. So will the administration of the atonement of Christ be unto God a sweet savor, even in them that perish. Though his death prove of none effect to those who are bent on being justified by the law, and to them who would not obey him, yet the illustrious Redeemer shall not fail of the travail of his soul. It should be remembered that the mere salvation of sinful men was not the only thing for which the soul of Christ travailed. He travailed for the glory of God, for the honor of the law, for the condemnation of sin, for the free overtures of the gospel, for the gracious acceptance of sinners, for the inexcusableness of wilful rejecters, and for the righteousness of their sorer punishment. Of all this travail he shall see. And while he is glorified in his saints and admired in them that believe, he will be justified and adored in the punishment of the refusers of his salvation, for the language of all intelligences will be "Amen, just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.
These remarks show that the moral Governor who directs the administration of the atonement is not a Ruler different from him who regulates the dispensations of providence. In proceeding from one to another, we make no transition into the works and principles of a different God. We have already considered that the whole system of the universe was of a mediatorial character, and that, had it not been for the substituted sufferings of the Seed of the woman, there would have been no providence exercised towards the human race, for they would never have come into being. The dispensations of providence, therefore, must take their character from the medium through which they are administered; and this medium is the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. Providence began with the atonement--it continued to be administered through the atonement--and it will forever close with the closing dispensation of the atonement. The close of one is the close of the other. A season will come when there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin, when the merits of the atonement will be no longer available to our world, when the time of probation for receiving the benefits of the atonement will close, and then will providence close forever. Then, "Let him that is holy be holy still, and him that is filthy be filthy still.
From the whole of this train of observations, the inference is inevitable that God exercises no providence in this world with which the atonement has not a close and constant relation, and that they are both administered upon the same principles of moral government.
A LIMITED ATONEMENT INCONSISTENT WITH THE ADMINISTRATION OF PROVIDENCE.
I. An atonement designed for a limited number only, is inconsistent with the general claim which Jesus Christ makes to govern and regulate the duties, the affections, the homage, and the destinies of every man on the face of the earth.
The Lord Jesus Christ claims the heathen for his inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession. This passage is sometimes interpreted as meaning that the inheritance which Christ claims consists only of his elect people among the heathen. If so, the rest of the heathen, who remain unconverted, are not rebels against Christ. Against what can they be said to have rebelled? Is it against his claims to them? No; according to this limited hypothesis; for he does not claim them personally, but only the elect who lived among them. In such a case, their non-submission to his rule and government is no sin to be laid to their charge, for the mediatorial king is supposed to lay no claim to them. Can it be a crime in any of the heathen not to submit to a claim which has never been made on them? When the mediatorial judge will say, "Slay those enemies that would not have me to rule over them," might they not silently murmur or retort, "I would not?" Was it ever offered to us to have thee to rule over us? Didst thou ever lay claims to our homage and obedience?" Suppose that these foes themselves dared not mutter such a retort, would not thoughts and hints of this kind suggest themselves to holy intelligences, who actually knew the truth and verity of the case? I should like to hear an abettor of limited atonement remonstrate and reason with a class of rebels who said, "We will not have this man to rule over us." His theological system would require him to say, "You will not have him? Stop, are you sure you could have had him? Did he ever ask you to have him? Since you have rejected him it is a proof that he never sincerely intended you to receive him, or else he would have made you to receive him before now." After such an address let him try to impress on the minds of these very men, their accountableness to this mediatorial Ruler, the inexcusableness of their destruction, the guilt of their rejection of Christ, and the justice of their sentence according to the truth of the case.
If Christ does not claim the homage and the service of every man, every man is not bound to take him for a King, and to yield obedience to him. No advocate of a limited atonement has ever seen a man to whom he could not say, and that on Scriptural grounds, that he was bound to receive Christ as his Lord. The Lord Jesus Christ has made laws for every man on the globe, laws that bind every man to repent, and to believe the gospel, and to accept salvation for his sake. If every man on the earth has not yet heard of these laws, the fault is in them who were commissioned to publish them, and not in Him who enacted them. These laws were meant and intended for "the world," and they were to be preached to "every creature." There is no limitation in the commission, or in the aspect and design of the laws. With what grace, or on what principles, could the Lord Jesus Christ enact laws to make the homage of the world to him binding upon them, if he laid no claims to that homage? We would think it unaccountable for a king to send edicts and messages to a province, where, in reality, he had no power and authority. Christ lays to the services of the sinner no claim which is not founded on the blood of redemption. The sinner would never have had his existence had it not been for the mediatorial interposition of "the Seed of the Woman:" to that Mediator, therefore, he owes everything: and it is on the ground of that mediation that Christ claims everything that he is, and everything that he has.
The authority which Christ has by his mediation over every man is analogous to the authority which God by his providence has over every man. God's providential power over every man is founded in every man's relation to God. It is founded upon the immutable fact that God is the Creator and the Supporter of every individual. God had not authority over Jonathan, on the ground that he was the Creator of David, but on the ground that he was the Creator of Jonathan himself He had not power over Judas because he was a benefactor to Peter, but because he was a benefactor to Judas himself Of the same character is the mediatorial power of Christ over sinners. He had not power over Saul of Tarsus because he died for Stephen, but because he died for Saul. He had not authority to "gather" the inhabitants of Jerusalem, under his mediatorial wings because he died for his disciples, but because, he made atonement for these very citizens. His intercession for his murderers was not founded on his death for his friends, but on his death for these identical murderers. These must be self-evident verities.
On this subject, there is an argument of this kind frequently used: If Christ has authority over all, by an atonement for all, how comes it to pass that all are not saved? I can only say, that there is no difficulty in this question which does not bear as hard upon the providence of God, as upon the atonement of Christ. The long-suffering of God is as much, in tendency and design, "for salvation," as is the atonement. Let us form the query, by substituting the one word for the other, this: If God's long-suffering towards all, be designed for the salvation of all, how comes it to pass that all are not saved? How will you parry it?
The fact is that both providential authority and mediatorial authority are exercised over free agents who are in a state of probation, and are therefore liable to be rejected and renounced. The rejection of providential government does not invalidate the claims of God which are founded upon his relations to man as his Maker and Owner; nor does the rejection of the mediatorial sway of Christ, founded on his relations to the sinner as his Mediator and Saviour, destroy his claims to homage and love. You do not limit "the goodness of God" to the boundaries of the mere number that it actually "leads to repentance;" you know it is infinitely larger than that. You do not think that it is a dishonor to the "long-suffering of God" that it is not really successful "for salvation" to every sinner to whom it is exhibited. These things you yourself hold as indisputable, and you do well. Then, why judgest thou thy brother, and why settest thou at naught thy brother, because that, on your own principles, he thinks the atonement of Christ, like "the goodness of God," may be of wider extent than the number of sinners that actually repent; or "the long-suffering of God," that it is not less glorious, because it does not actually save those who neglect and reject its benefits.
I am aware that the proposition, that the universal power of Christ is founded on his universal atonement, is combatted by the statement that, on this showing, Christ has died for the beasts of the field, and for devils, over whom he certainly has authority. As brutes and devils are not under moral government, ruled by hopes and fears, much less in a state of trial and probation, the quibble appears so irrelevant and sophistical as not to deserve a serious reply.
II. A limited atonement is inconsistent with the bountiful favors and mercies which Providence confers on all men universally.
If God has conferred any favors on offenders independently of the atonement of the Mediator, it is difficult, if not impossible to say why He could not confer all favors without it. If so, there was no necessity for the atonement. This sentiment leads straight-forwardly to Socinianism. We have already considered all providential favors as being founded in the mediatorial atonement, and administered on account of it. To evade this doctrine it is asserted that the ungodly obtain their mercies and favors, only for the sake of the elect, or through the church. Then, whenever an ungodly man asks a blessing on his food, he should ask it "for the elect's sake," not for Christ's sake--and he should return thanks to God in the church's name, but in the name of Christ. The Papists would be glad of such a doctrine, because it would place at their disposal the entire worthiness and merits of the church; though it would be difficult to persuade any Christian church to believe that it has all this worthiness in it.
An atonement that is limited by the commercial principle of paying so much suffering for so many blessings would be, in respect to Divine Providence, a measure of sheer absurdity. According to this commercial scheme, Christ has suffered as much punishment as the sins of each of the elect deserved, and has purchased for them blessings in proportion to the worth of the sufferings, which he endured for them, and these blessings he demands for them by his intercession. Then the reason why some Christians are so poor is, that the Lord Jesus Christ did not actually purchase more blessings for them. This also accounts for the low amount of their Christian graces and religious comforts: as, if Christ demands all that he has purchased for them, the amount communicated is small only because the amount purchased is small. Here is no encouragement to grow in grace, unless we believe that more grace is purchased for us than we actually possess. Every Christian and every minister, on this scheme, enjoys quite as much usefulness and success as has been purchased for him, and no more. No other doctrine could provide so soft a cushion for those who are at ease in Zion.
Let us follow this commercial principle a little farther. The greater sinner an elect person is the greater sufferings did Jesus Christ endure for him. The more Christ suffered, the more blessings did he deserve. Christ will by his intercession demand that every elect person shall have his due share in the purchased blessing. The result is, that the greater the sinner is, the greater is the amount of merit in his behalf, and the greater will be his share in the benefits of the atonement: and the more a man sins, the more will God confer blessings on him through his Son. More has been suffered, and consequently more has been merited for the sinner of sixty years, than for the sinner of six years, consequently the sinner of sixty , than the for the sinner of six years, consequently, the sinner of sixty years will be entitled to more blessings than the sinner of six years. The meaning of such an arrangement is that the less a man sinned, the less has Jesus Christ merited and purchased for him: and the fewer his sins, the fewer will be the blessings purchased for his inheritance. Such an atonement, exhibiting such a bonus on aggravated transgression, is a disgrace to theology as an ethical science: Scriptural theology therefore renounces it as utterly inconsistent with the whole of the manner in which God has conferred, and has promised to confer, the mercies of his providence.
III. The limitation of the atonement to a certain number is at variance with the broad principles on which Christ carries on his intercession in heaven.
I consider the intercession of Christ to consist in the four following articles. It consists in his public and official appearance before God as the mediatorial representative of man, and the President of the universe, in his administration of all the providence of God, publicly and officially, on the ground of his atonement;--in his publicly and officially presenting to God all the services, and all the prayers, entrusted to him for presentation;--and in an official and public expression of his will, and desire, that these services and prayers may be graciously received and accepted.
In the first two articles the intercession of Christ is unbounded and interminable--of the same length and breadth, and height and depth, as the divine empire. In the last two articles the intercession of Christ is limited only by the limited services and prayers which are entrusted to him by others for presentation. He cannot possibly express a will or desire that services and prayers be received which are never offered. It would be ridiculous to argue that the power of presentation, in a Receiver-General of the revenue, is limited by the amount which he actually presents-- that the liberty of a representative in the Senate to present petitions is limited by the number actually presented--and that the ability of an advocate to plead is limited by the number of clients who actually employ him. Yet this is the kind of argument that has been employed to limit the intercession of Christ. And after throwing a boundary around the intercession of Christ, the abettors of a limited atonement have thought themselves as invulnerable as if they were in a magic circle.
There is no limitation given to the intercession of Christ, except the limitation which men give to it by their limited services and limited prayers. The intercession of Christ is capable of the same extent as his atonement. This very commensurateness is the ground of the apostle John's argument; "If ANY MAN Sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world." The propitiation for the sins of the whole world is the ground of intercession for any man that sins, and any man that sins is said to 'have' this advocate, as one to whom we can have access.
The Lord Jesus Christ has taught his people to make intercession, on large principles, for "all men." They have no grounds for intercession but those on which Christ himself intercedes. He would not encourage them to make intercession of wider dimensions than his own. Their intercession for all men could be of no avail, if the blood of Christ the advocate did not second their plea: and it cannot plead for all men, if it was not shed for all men.
The various specimens which Jesus Christ has given of his intercession, declare it to be open, broad, and unlimited, in its character and aspect. In the xvii. chapter of John he makes intercession distinctly for his ministers and for his church. When Christ says, "I pray for them, I pray not for the world," it is evident that by "them" he means his apostles, for he mentions one of "them" as being Judas, who was a son of perdition. He prays not for ministers only, but for "all who shall believe through their word." What is the design which Christ has is view in praying for ministers and believers? Hear his own language. He prays and intercedes--"that THE WORLD may believe that thou hast sent me." He prays that the world may believe. Believe what? Believe the Gospel-and that whosoever "believes" shall be saved. The intercession of Christ then is a benefit and an advantage which is accessible to the world, and in which the world is interested. Much stress is sometimes laid upon the words of Christ, "Father I will that they who follow me shall be with me." No one doubts the full force of this language without implying that it expresses either a fiat, or an imperious demand. Christ in Gethsemane had no will different from the "will" with which he wept over Jerusalem, and said, How oft "would I" have gathered thee. There can be no incongruity between his intercession in the garden, and his intercession on the cross. On the cross, he prayed for all his enemies--"Father forgive them, for they know not what they do:" and we believe that in heaven his intercession is of the same character.
It seems to be known, to all heavenly intelligences, that all the favors that come to this sinful world, come under the direction, and at the intercession of Jesus Christ. One part of his intercession is his official and public administration of providence on the ground of his atonement. If he can, as commercial redemption implies, only demand the blessings which he has purchased for a certain number, then it is impossible, or at any rate, it is unintelligible, how he can officially, as public organ of government in Heaven, distribute the bounties of providence universally to ALL MEN; even when, according to the combated doctrine, it is well known to principalities and powers in heavenly places, that he purchased these favors ONLY for a few.Return to Index Page