THE EXTENT OF THE ATONEMENT
RELATION TO GOD AND THE UNIVERSE.
REV. THOMAS W. JENKYN, D. D.
Including Sections 1 Thru 4
ON THE ATONEMENT IN ITS RELATION TO SIN.
THE ATONEMENT A DEMONSTRATION OF THE EVIL OF SIN.
It was a cardinal article in the creed of the apostles that Jesus Christ "died for sin," They exhibit the Lord Jesus Christ as being a sin-offering--as bearing our sins in his body on the tree--as condemning sin, and taking away the sin of the world. Indeed, according to their doctrine, Christ bears no office, wears no title, and sustains no relation, but what presupposes sin.
The atonement of the Son of God is the greatest proof that can be given of the existence of moral evil in our world. As the institution of a hospital in a neighborhood, is a proof of the prevalence of disease and sickness there, so the provision of salvation denotes the existence of a moral disorder. And as the demanding, or the receiving of a satisfaction by any man supposes a wrong committed or sustained, so the astounding fact that Jesus Christ offered himself up to God, as a "propitiation," is a public and clear proof of the existence of moral evil and wrong.
One of the designs of the institution of typical sacrifices was to bear universal and uninterrupted testimony to the actual existence of moral wrong in the world. They brought sin into remembrance every year, and their vicarious provision supplied the first clue to that scheme of substitution, by which the evils of sin should be taken away by the Lamb of God. The visible inflictions of awful judgments on guilty heads were "far between;" and in the interval, the rebels might think that their crimes had ceased to be wrong, or that God had become tired of the contest. Therefore sacrificial victims were instituted by God, and their crimson tide flowed through all the hamlets, of the human race, a stream of evidence that sin existed. The blood of the atonement takes up this testimony and demonstrates, that if One died for all, then were all dead in trespasses and in sins.
God sets forth, also, the atonement of his Son as a demonstration of the tremendous evil and horrible wickedness, malignity, and turpitude of sin. Perhaps there is no greater proof of the stunning influence on an intellectual being, than the dreadful fact, that there are millions of intelligences who have no conception how sin can be injurious to a Governor of such glory and benignity and is represented to be. If God is not susceptible of physical injury, they cannot understand how He is capable of moral injury. This is, as if they could understand that a king might be injured by corporal ill-usage, but do not know how a king can be injured in his feelings, character, and honor. God always speaks of sin as what he abominates; and he shows that to condemn sin was one purpose of giving his Son to the death of the cross. The withholding of his just rights from a Being of infinite excellence; the refusal of the esteem, homage and obedience which he deserves and demands; and the contemptuous insults offered to him in the atheism, idolatry, blasphemy, and perjury of mankind, must be wrongs and injuries of infinite magnitude, and of unutterable malignity.
I. The atonement proves sin to be an enormous wrong, by showing that God has appointed an illustrious Personage to mediate about its punishment. When a good and wise ruler is offended, he will not precipitately make the offenders feel the immediate effects of a hasty wrath. The benignity of his nature, will make him ready to forgive; but it would suit neither his character, nor his honor, to forgive in such a manner, as to leave an impression that the offence was petty and trivial. To avoid this he would call in a third party, of a rank and dignity corresponding with those of the offended. If, for the purpose of mediating between the parties, this umpire, undergoes great trouble, and cost, and pain, the arrangement will be the more calculated to make, on the offenders, vivid impressions of the heinousness of the offence in the estimation of the offended. We discover in every-day life, that an offender feels that his offence is not lightly regarded, when a third party is called to interpose, and that this feeling will be enhanced in proportion to the dignity of the interposer, and to the trouble which he takes in the affair.
God has adopted this method to impress us duly with a sense of the evil of sin. He has called in the mediation of a third Party: that party is a person of great dignity and worth, yet his mediation costs him unparalleled sorrows, degradations, and sufferings, which he voluntarily and cheerfully endures for the sake of the offenders. It is further revealed that even this Daysman is selected to mediate, on the ground of his well--known abhorrence of the offence. "Thou hast loved righteousness and hated iniquity, therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee," Heb. i. 9. Everything, therefore, in the provision of One to mediate this affair tends to give enlarged views of the greatness of the wrong.
II. The atonement shows the evil of sin, by manifesting the amiable character of the moral governor against whom men have revolted. Sometimes the tyrannical character and the oppressive laws of a king Justify an opposition to his government. These excuses cannot be advanced to vindicate the rebellion of the world against God. God is LOVE. Even the law which he gave was the law of love and liberty. His forbearance and long-suffering towards the offenders who insult him, show him to be a Being of infinite benignity and supreme excellence. The provision of an expedient, to offer even deliverance and pardon to them with honor to his character, is "a far more exceeding" evidence of the transcendent Amiableness, and Goodness, and Worthiness of Him, against whom man has rebelled. This is calculated to awaken every offender to exclaim, "Herein is LOVE!-, not that we loved God, but that HE loved us, and gave his Son to be a propitiation for our sins. What could have maddened us to rebel against a God of such boundless love and clemency!"
Sin was made to appear more exceeding sinful by the contrast which the dignity of the Mediator suggested, between the baseness of the offence and the Majesty of the Great and Blessed God. The mediating Daysman was none other than "God manifested in the flesh." The offence must be heinous to require a mediator of such grandeur. Then, how desolating and ruinous must a state of things be, that requires such a Mediator to become a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief! In such a mediation the offenders can see nothing to extenuate their blame-worthiness--but everything to enhance it. The great sufferings of the Mediator were intended to be an expression of the awful effects of sin, and of its being so abhorrent to God, that he proclaimed it "condemned," by the death of his own Son. The whole arrangements of the atonement exhibit the act of sinning against such infinite excellence, as a crime unutterably vile, and the rebellion that challenges omnipotent abhorrence as infinitely contemptible and eternally ruinous.
III. The life and character of the atoning Mediator demonstrated the loveliness, the justice, and the goodness of the law, which offenders had violated and trampled. It was an honor to the moral law to have been obeyed by such a Personage. In proportion as his obedience magnified the law and made it honorable, it condemned the transgression and the transgressors of it. The life of Jesus Christ teaches us that the law is adapted to our circumstances and faculties, that it is possible to observe and keep it, and that it deserves the affection and obedience of all men. The Mediator was "higher than the heavens," in supreme dominion, omnipotent power, and exalted station, yet he regarded this law as worthy of all the respect and honor with which he could invest it by his obedience. If any might think themselves above it, he more. Yet he yielded to it an obedience which the whole divine government contemplates with ineffable approbation and complacency. The life and the character of the Mediator clearly showed to mankind that this law was not unreasonable in its demands. It required no impossibilities. Jesus Christ could not obey it, but with the same faculties that we possess; and we are not destitute of a single power or faculty with which Christ obeyed the law. His were mental powers and intellectual faculties in which he grew and made advances; and in every state of his progress as a child, a youth, and a man, he honored and kept the law.
It was an honor to the law to be exhibited as sufficiently good, and free, and broad, to be the rule even for the mediatorial life of the Son of God. As God and Man he was a Personage new to the universe. The life of such a personage, in a course of transactions between God and man, would be unexampled and eminently extraordinary. The law which he recommended to the esteem of mankind, he himself took for the rule of his own life. He was made of a woman, and made under the law, the very law on which men had trampled. He showed by his obedience to it what kind of life the law required from man. He obeyed to the highest perfection all its perfect commands. In the entire course of his life, he kept his eye fixed on this rule. In him was found no sin; he was completely perfect; yet He was not more perfect than this law required him to be! O how amiable and lovely must that law be, that was a sufficient pattern for the transcendent loveliness of the mediatorial character of the Son of God! When the highest being in the universe took upon him the form of a servant, and entered upon a course of obedience, and suffering, and glory, he observed this law, both in all his stupendous transactions with the divine government, and in all his merciful dispensations towards rebellious man. In all his undertaking he established the law. By his obedience he gave a demonstration to the universe, that he did not wish to save sinners by breaking through the laws and principles of moral government, but by honoring and establishing them, as the immutable and indestructible elements of the divine empire.
IV. An impression of the evil of sin is calculated to be made by the atonement, by its showing at what infinite expense God has been to oppose its progress. The magnitude and strength of an embankment are solid proofs of the power of the tide which they are intended to cheek: and the length and breadth, and the height and depth of the atonement, bespeak the wide extent of the evil against which it was raised. Sin is evil alone, unmixed with any good. It is every way evil. Examine it on every side, and the more it is explored, the more evil it appears. God has provided various means to oppose and prevent its progress, but the atonement of his Son is the greatest and the noblest of them all. and the history of Christianity shows that nothing is so calculated to cheek and destroy sin as a full and faithful exhibition of the cross of Christ.
Had it not been for the atonement, the ravages of sin would have gone on, in an interminable progression of widespread and cumulative evils. Sin would have become the pilot of wrecks without a shore to strand on, the angel of death among undying spirits,--the real Upas of the universe. Through the atonement millions of the tossed and shattered barks of Eden can now throw an anchor to a ground of strong consolation; the Spirit of peace takes the place of the devouring usurper, and breathes life, and health, and joy over all the plain; and the tree of life stretches forth its branches, bearing leaves for the healing of the nations.
The human mind finds it almost impossible to follow out the endless workings of an evil principle, or to take in a Universe of horror. There is one fact that may assist our conception of this terrible subject. It is the incursions and the ravages of sin notwithstanding the provision of an atonement. Sin, after all, awfully prevails. Few transgressors come to hate sin and love the government. Of those who do come, none come of their own accord; they are all drawn by the exercise of gracious influences. Some of the offenders presume that God is so exclusively merciful, that he will never execute the penalty which he has threatened. Others fancy that the atonement has made a kind of commercial payment and satisfaction for their sins, and that now they are no longer responsible for them. They are warned, and exhorted, invited and urged to forsake sin; nevertheless they sin with a high hand, laugh at every remonstrance, ruin their own souls, desolate the creation, and assail every perfection in the Godhead.
Against all this God has reasoned with mankind, by the public sufferings of his own Son. He asks them, "If these things be done in the green tree, what will be done in the dry?" "How shall you escape if you neglect so great Salvation?" For such provisions and remonstrances to be despised, and despised by such a creature as man, seems to merit the most marked infliction of his displeasure. Had it been possible for another god to invade and injure his government, it would have been an aggression to be expected from a peer in infinity; but to be openly insulted by a worm of the earth--to have "the rod and the staff of his own tender mercies converted into spears to assault himself--to have the dreadful denunciations of his law, and the gracious invitations of his gospel, treated as sounding brass, or tinkling cymbal, must be the acme of wrong. It is the higher of the highest towerings of wickedness, around which the thickest and the heaviest clouds of vengeance would gather, and "rain down snares and fire, and brimstone, and a horrible tempest."
THE ATONEMENT AN EXPEDIENT INSTITUTED INSTEAD OF THE PUNISHMENT OF SIN.
In the chapter on the atonement in its relation to the divine moral government, I promised to take up the subject of this section. We have already seen that threatenings are indispensably necessary to the administration of moral government--that distributive justice requires the literal execution of these threatenings, but that public justice can suspend their execution, if some expedient can be found that will as fully answer the ends of government. We have also seen that the Scriptures represent the atonement of Christ to be such an expedient substituted instead of the infliction of the threatened penalty. I will now Proceed to illustrate, this.
I. The Lord Jesus Christ suffered AS IF he had been a sinner.
The sufferings of Christ were perfectly novel to the universe--a new phenomenon in the moral constitution. These sufferings posed and amazed all angelic Intelligences. The annals of moral government supplied no precedent of suffering, but in connection with sin. Angels had witnessed sufferings before, but never unconnected with sin. The sufferings of the Holy One of God were, therefore, to them a problem which they could not solve, and into which they desired further to look.
Jesus Christ suffered as one condemned of men. He was numbered among the transgressors. He suffered from man as if he had been an offender and a criminal. He was charged with crimes of a high and offensive enormity. He was publicly arraigned as a blasphemer of God, a subverter of religion, a seducer of the people, a rebel against Caesar, a vile impostor, a notorious malefactor. His merciless persecutors said to Pilate, "If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee," John xviii. 30. In this character, and under this ignominy, be died by the hand of legal authority, the death of a condemned criminal.
The most amazing circumstance connected with his death was, that he suffered as one disowned, reprobated, and "forsaken of God." He was despised and rejected of men. At the same time," it pleased the Lord to bruise him." God "made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin." He delivered him up for us all, to be treated as a sin-offering--as a sin-expiator--a lustration for the world. He became a curse for us; exposed to reviling and scorn, and malediction; devoted and accursed, anathematized to reproach and shame, as one infamous and execrable, deserted and rejected of God. O! how great is the mystery of revealed godliness.
Sufferings are incident to sinners only. How then did the holy Son of God come into contact with suffering?--Did he ever sin? No--he was holy, undefiled and separate from sinners. On what principle, then, can the sufferings of Christ be in harmony with God's eternal justice in moral government, and with his ineffable love to his own beloved Son? There is but one principle revealed that will reconcile them, and that is the principle of substitution--the substitution of vicarious sufferings. In this arrangement the sufferings of "the Just," are substituted instead of the sufferings due to "the unjust;"--"the Just" is treated as if he had been "the unjust;"--the Son of God suffered as if he had been a transgressor. Christ did not suffer as a transgressor, but as if he were a transgressor. Cain suffers, not as if he were a transgressor, but as a transgressor. Christ suffered not as a transgressor, but as if he were one. He was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities. He is often said to have suffered for sin, that is, as if he had been a sinner.
The doctrine of the New Testament concerning the vicariousness of the sufferings of Christ is summed up in 2 Cor. v. 21. "For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." The advocates of a limited substitution of Christ for the persons of the elect, often represent Christ as bearing, not the effects of sin, but actually the very guilt of sin. This arises from a misunderstanding, and a consequent misapplication of the term "guilt". The term guilt has various meanings. It sometimes means consciousness of having done wrong. It means also, desert of punishment, arising from a consciousness of crime. Sometimes the term guilt, is used for liableness to punishment, independent of consciousness of crime.
The Schoolmen had three different designations for these various applications of the term guilt, The consciousness of having done wrong, they called reatus culpae. The deserving of punishment they called, dignitus poenae, or meritum paenae. The liableness to punishment or sufferings, independently of having done wrong, they called reatus paenae. The person in any of these circumstances, they called reus. When Joseph's brethren thought themselves verily guilty about their brother, they considered themselves as rei culpae, conscious of crime, and meriti paenae, deserving of punishment. The children who suffered in the destruction of Sodom, and in the gainsaying of Korah, were rei paenae, liable to the punishment, though no one could regard them as either rei culpae, conscious of crime, or meriti paenae, deserving of punishment. This was precisely the case of the scape-goat. He was neither reus culpae, nor meritus poenae, but he was treated as "reatus poenae."
This I conceive to be the meaning of the above text. In the language of the Schools, I would read it thus. "He hath made him to be reatum poenae for us, who knew no reatum culpae, that we might be non rei poenae through him." Or, in plain English, let it be paraphrased thus: "He made him to be liable to punishment for us, who was not conscious of having done wrong, that we might be not liable to punishment through him."
The principles of commercial redemption, and of personal commutation between Christ and the elect, would require the text to be translated thus: "He hath made him to be 'meritum poenae' for us, who was not 'retis culpae,' that we might be 'non meriti poenae' through him." Indeed, Dr. CRISP, CHAUNCY, and the author of "GETHSEMANE," have argued, as if the words were to be translated thus: "He hath made him to be reatum culpae for us, who was not reatus culpae, that we might be non rei culpae through him: that is, He made him to be guilty of our crimes, who Was not guilty of crime, that we might be made not guilty of crime through him.
The translations of these ultra-Calvinists, take for granted utter and perfect impossibilities. It is no dishonor to God to say that he cannot unmake a transpired event, that he cannot annihilate a fact, that he cannot transfer moral identity. It is utterly impossible to unmake the facts that we are "rei culpae" and "meriti poenae," guilty of wrong, and deserving of punishment. It is, however, possible to make us not "rei poenae," liable to punishment, by a measure which will, in public justice, answer the same ends as our punishment. On the other hand, it is perfectly impossible to make the Lamb that was without blemish, to be reatus culpae, or meritus poenae, guilty of wrong, or deserving of punishment; when it is a transpired fact, that he was "without sin." Yet his sufferings are altogether inexplicable, except on the principle that he was by a divine institution treated as if he were like the innocent scape-goat, "reus poenae," liable to punishment for us. This arrangement could never unmake the fact, that we were guilty of wrong, and deserving of punishment. Nor can our being treated as "non reati poenae," not liable to punishment, for Christ's sake, unmake the fact, that "he knew no sin."
Had he been a sinful man, or even of a peccable constitution, there would have been nothing mysterious in his sufferings. But being an innocent member of the divine government, no principle in the moral administration, but the principle of substitution, will account for his enduring such sufferings.
Unless the sufferings of Christ were vicarious and expiatory, we cannot account for the demeanor of the blessed Redeemer under them. If there be nothing peculiar in the nature and design of Christ's sufferings, there is something unaccountably peculiar in his spirit and temper under them. Before "the hour" of atonement, his character was established for an undaunted firmness, a firmness that never shrunk from danger and suffering. But now, when "His hour is come," he shrinks, with unutterable distress and anguish, from the cup of sufferings. Many men of tender frames, and many too of the more timid sex, have "endured the cross," not only with unflinching fortitude, but also with triumphant bravery. These were sinners, and many of them destitute of religious supports; yet they met their agonies with well-sustained calmness. Here, however, is One suffering, as some say, to give us an example how to bear pain, and also to confirm the doctrines which he asserted to be true. He is strong in his personal innocence, strong in the love of his Father, and, strong in the hope set before him, yet be shrinks from the cup of sorrows, and his bitter cries and tears testify the tremendous tempest that agitated his holy mind, and the inward horror and dismay that racked his heart and soul. The delicate sensitiveness of his holy frame, the pure innocence of his mind, and the high dignity of his person, must have made contact with such sufferings for sin, to be infinitely painful to him. Still, the only principle that can account for his anguish is, that he was set forth as a lustration, as a propitiation for the sins of the world, as a scape-goat led to a wilderness of reproach and suffering. God spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all. He died numbered among transgressors.
II. Jesus Christ endured his sufferings instead of the sufferings due to the sinner.
In the atonement there is not a substitution of persons only, but also a substitution of sufferings. The Lord Jesus made atonement, not by enduring the identical sufferings due to us in the curse of the law, but by sustaining other sufferings which had been laid on him by a separate "commandment received from the Father." I mean to say, that the penal sufferings due to man were suspended by this measure, and that another class of sufferings was substituted instead of them. Jesus Christ did not suffer the infliction of the idem in the penalty threatened, but the tantundem, the equivalent to that infliction, what would answer the same ends as the literal infliction. I submit the following reasons as proof that our penalty was not inflicted upon Christ:--
1. The sufferings of Christ were, both in nature and kind, different from the sufferings due to sinners. The sufferings due to a sinner consist of a painful consciousness of having done wrong-a sense of having offended God--bitter self-reproach for having broken the law of love-and the stormy horrors of a guilty and condemning conscience. In all the various and dreadful forms of Christ's sufferings, there was nothing like this. His conscience never had a sting. He never felt the hell of self-remorse. He was encompassed with sufferings, as an island in an ocean of anguish, but the waves which dashed and foamed around him, found nothing in him to crumble and destroy.
2. The quantity and the degree of the sufferings of Christ were different from the sufferings due to the sinner. The Scriptures never speculate on the intensity of the sufferings of the Adorable Jesus--they merely reveal his sufferings as being a sufficient atonement for sin. The sufferings of Christ were, no doubt, of indescribable intensity-, but they had not the same elements of intensity with the torments of perished sinners. The sufferings of lost souls are intense, from a keen perception of the unreasonableness and unjustifiableness of their offence, and from the utter and eternal hopelessness of any relief extenuation, or diminution of their pain. And these awful sufferings extend to a multitude which no man can number, and, accordingly, would form a dreadful amount of misery. The sufferings of Christ were, after all, the sufferings of ONE human nature, of one of the seed of Abraham. And amid these sufferings, "the glory that should follow" sparkled through the dark tempest of Calvary, and "the joy that was set before him" garnished the margin of his sepulchre. His sufferings were not a punishment. His consciousness of personal rectitude, and his confidence in his Father, never forsook him. In the darkest hour of his anguish, his assurance of God's approbation and acceptance was in the highest exercise; "Father," he said, "into thy hands I commend my spirit." Such elements as these are never found in the curses executed on sinners--nothing can unsting the worm that dieth not, or calm the surges of the lake that burneth forever and ever.
3. If Christ endured the identical sufferings due to the sinner, his sufferings would not be a satisfaction or an atonement for sin, but a literal execution of the penalty of the law.
If a man gives a tooth for a tooth, or an eye for an eye, he gives literally the penalty which the law demanded. If such a payment be called an atonement it is called so improperly, and in a lower sense. If he give something, instead of an eye, say money, or land, or anything else, of equal consideration in the estimation of the injured person, or the injured government, he would make an atonement, a satisfaction. An atonement is a measure or an expedient that is a satisfaction for the suspension of the threatened penalty. A suspension, or non-execution, of the literal threatening is always implied in an atonement. If Christ then endured the real suffering due to the sinner, his sufferings are not of the nature of an atonement, but are a literal infliction of the penalty threatened by the law.
A passage in the Epistle to the Galatians is frequently quoted to prove that the literal curse of the law was inflicted on the person of Christ. I will transcribe the whole passage, that it may be under the reader's eye. "For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. * * * * Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree." Gal. iii. 10-13. * * * *
This language of the apostle has been supposed to settle the question that Christ endured the idem, the identical punishment due to the sinner. Before you come to the same conclusion, steep these three thoughts in your mind.
a. How were sinners accursed? By being denounced as transgressors of the law. They are accursed, FOR not continuing in all the things which are written in the law to do them. No one will say that Christ was accursed in this sense.
b. How was Christ accursed? By being hanged on a tree. He was made a curse by being exposed to reproach and shame on a cross. The reason why Christ is called a curse is--not, FOR cursed is every one that continueth not in the law, but--FOR cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree. No one will say that the curse threatened on the sinner was hanging on a tree.
c. Did the moral law ever curse Christ? Let not this question be thought too startling. The meaning is, Did the law ever denounce Christ a transgressor? He kept the whole law, in every point. He magnified the law, and made it honorable. It is therefore impossible that Christ could have been accursed by the law. To be made a curse, or to suffer a curse, is to be made and exhibited an expression of displeasure and scorn. The sinner suffers the curse of the law, when he is made to be an expression of its opposition and malediction against transgression. The Blessed Son of God condescended to be made such an expression, when he was "set forth" to declare the righteousness of God against sin. This he became not by being denounced as an offender, but by being delivered up to public scorn, malediction, and ignominy, This passage, then, so far from proving that Christ suffered the idem in the penalty, proves the contrary. And when Christ is said to have suffered "the chastisement of our peace," I believe the meaning to be, that the sufferings of Christ were substituted instead of inflicting the chastisement due to us; and that they are called by this name, because they answered the same ends, as if our chastisement had been literally inflicted upon us.
4. Every sinner is liable to the penalty of the law until he believe in Christ.
If Christ endured the literal punishment, the identical curse, due to any man, or to all men, such men are no longer liable to it. Upon no principle of Justice, or of Truth, are they liable to a punishment which has been literally inflicted on another in their stead. If this punishment was literally inflicted on Christ, it can never be executed again, and it never can be threatened again. Look for a moment on the bearings of such an hypothesis as this. On the supposition that Christ died for all men, all men are perfectly free-the curse of the law can never be indicted on them, and on their substitute. Then it is a cunningly devised fable that there is "wrath to come."
On the supposition that Christ died only for the elect, then, they are free from punishment ever since the hour which Christ sustained their penalty,--they were never born the children of wrath even as others, for it had been exhausted on the cross,--they were never converted by the terrors of the Lord, for these terrors could not have been true concerning them. Yea, they have never passed from death unto life, for they never were under death, as Christ had long ago died the death that was supposed to have been due unto them. This very hypothesis is the ground-work of the Babel structure of "eternal justification." If the elect were justified from eternity, will any supralapsarian Calvinists be pleased to tell us at what period were the elect in a state of condemnation, and if they were never in a state of condemnation, from what could they be justified.
5. Even believers in the atonement are not exempt from sufferings in this world.
If the Lord Jesus endured all the identical sufferings due to his people, how come they to suffer such tribulations and inflictions here? Though these sufferings may be regarded as the chastisements of a Father, they are intended to embitter sin; and they can embitter sin only by expressing how repugnant and displeasing it is to a holy God and Father. If the displeasure of God due to the sins of his people was vicariously suffered by Jesus Christ, it is difficult to account how other expressions of his displeasure have been reserved for the elect themselves. The agonies of self-condemnation and remorse, the anguish of repentance, and the distress of contrition are, certainly, elements of the curse of the law. Did Christ suffer, that the elect might not suffer these things? Thousands of people dear to God have, in their own persons, sustained the waves and the billows of these painful emotions, which demonstrates that they had not been vicariously sustained before.
6. If Christ paid the identical penalty due in law, then, by the atonement there has been no remission, no forgiveness.
This hypothesis supposes that God has remitted nothing. He has forgiven nothing, for every jot and tittle of the punishment due from us has been exacted of our Substitute, and has been fully and perfectly discharged by him. Then, what has God remitted? On this system, he does not forego a single particle of suffering threatened in the penalty, but inflicts every iota of it; be remits only when the utmost farthing is paid. If a man be sentenced to the stocks, and another suffer the stocks for him, it would be absurd to say that the sentence was remitted.
This absurdity proceeds from viewing the remission of sin, as the forgiveness of a commercial debt. Such commercial views of redemption are justified by some, from scriptural declarations, such as the parable of the two debtors, the prayer "forgive us our debts," etc. On this it is enough to say, first, that these are only commercial figures employed to express a moral transaction, and as such cannot give the whole view of the case; secondly, that in the cases supposed, the "debt" actually forgiven, is the liableness to punishment for neglect of duty, and not the duty itself.
When we say, "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,"--we do not mean that we release all men from all obligation to love us, but merely from liableness to our displeasure for having wronged' us. So when we say to God, "forgive us our debts," we do not mean to pray, that he would release us from the obligation to obey him, but from our liableness to punishment for having disobeyed him.
Then, when God is said to forgive sin, sin is considered a debt, not in the sense of obligation to duty, but in the sense of liableness to punishment. On the supposition that God has actually inflicted this identical punishment on the substitute, it can never be said to have been remitted. To say that through the death of Christ the punishment is remitted as to us, is worse than saying nothing; for it seems to imply that it is a matter of indifference with God, who sustains the sufferings, provided he has them duly inflicted. Of all absurdities, this is the most revolting.
Sin, when it is said to be forgiven, is considered as an indictment against us, as a bond binding us to punishment. We have seen, in a former chapter, that sin, in the sense of a transgression of the law, can never be properly called a "debt." This, from the nature of the case, would be sheer absurdity. No one will say that we owe sin to God. It were the same as to say that the transgression of his law is what is due from us to him. Sin then as an indictment against men, renders all men liable to punishment, to the curse of the law to the displeasure of God. Think, then, of the dreadful amount of misery due to the elect for sin. Is all this misery really to be inflicted? It matters not to the argument, whether the aggregate fall on one hundred, or on one,--is the amount really to be inflicted? I think the answer of the Gospel is this: 'The infliction of this penalty is suspended as to all, during a state of Probation, for the sake of the sufferings of Jesus Christ. To those who accept the atonement of Christ as a sufficient demonstration of the evil of sin, this penalty is entirely remitted and forgiven; but on those who reject the sufferings of Christ in the character of an atonement for sin, the suspended penalty shall be inflicted, because they believed not in the only begotten Son of God.'
7. If Christ suffered the identical penalty threatened, the remission of the penalty is not an exercise of grace, and mercy in God, but an act of mere equity.
If a commercial creditor is paid the exact sum due to him from a debtor, the debtor's release is not a matter of grace, but of justice. If the volunteer death of a friend, instead of a condemned malefactor, be allowed to take place, the deliverance of the malefactor is not a matter of favor and grace, but of debt and justice. And if Jesus Christ paid our identical penalty, no one will ascribe his redemption from punishment to mere favor and grace, when every jot of the punishment has already been fully exacted and literally paid.
The pardon of this hypothesis is a pardon given after every demand has been exacted to the utmost: Is this the pardon of plenteous mercy, the forgiveness according to the exceeding riches of grace? The mercy and grace of the Redeemer, indeed, may appear glorious in this pardon, but the mercy and grace of the Father and moral governor are totally eclipsed. The advocates of this system say that, his grace and mercy appear in providing and accepting a ransom, Even this is only like the mercy of Dionysius the tyrant, in the affair of Damon and Pythias, which allowed a substitution of person, but not a substitution of sufferings, a mercy which no one could admire, because it was a mercy that remitted nothing.
Besides, this view of the case supposes that the atonement is some kind of inducement to God to be gracious and merciful. The language of many theological writers of the high school, seems to imply that the atonement was a kind of reimbursement to God for his lost honor, and even a premium for the exercise of his mercy. If the atonement were the motive for mercy, then, what motive, first of all, suggested the atonement itself? If God has been refunded for pardoning, and paid for mercy the praise of the glory of his GRACE is hushed in eternal silence.
These seven arguments are the grounds of my persuasion, that Christ did not suffer the identical penalty due to sinners, and that the sufferings which he endured in making atonement, were substituted instead of inflicting on him the literal threatening. I allow that the death of Christ may be alluded to in the New Testament as the act of one generous friend dying instead of another. This, however, is but one class of images employed to represent the unparalleled wonders of this great subject, and could never be intended to mark out the entire outlines of this infinite transaction.
III. Sinners are treated by the blessed God, on account of the sufferings of Christ, as if they themselves had suffered.
If a person sentenced to imprisonment be admitted to pay a fine, the result is to him as if he had suffered the imprisonment. If a colony of slaves are ransomed by a munificent friend, they are treated as if they had been at the cost themselves. If a band of rebels are spared for the sake of the worthiness of the king's son, they are treated as if that worthiness were their own. On the same principle, if a sinner be pardoned at the intercession of an Advocate with God, the result to the sinner is as if he had interceded himself. The Son of God was treated as if he were unworthy and unjust, on our account, and we are treated as if we were worthy and just, on his account.
This moral transfer of the benefits of Christ's mediatorial worthiness takes place according to a settled arrangement in God's moral government. An inquiry into the modus of this arrangement is idle and unprofitable. This arrangement is observed and acted upon every day in the providence of common life. I will suppose a case. An utter stranger of mean exterior knocks at your door, and wishes a share in the hospitalities of your house. You know nothing of him, you are surprised at his request, and dismiss him, perhaps, unceremoniously. He knocks again, makes use of the name of your son, or brother, or some intimate friend, declares that he calls at his request, proves that he is on intimate terms with him, and that he had received assurances from him that if he knocked at your door, and made use of his name, you would show him every kindness and hospitality. Your conduct towards the stranger is now very different. In him there is no difference, except that he has made use of another's name. But why should you act differently towards him on that account? The reason is that you promptly and spontaneously obey a certain arrangement of providence, and you impute to the stranger a portion of the character, or worthiness and respectability, of the person whose name he has used; that is, you treat him better on account of that name. In such a case you never think that there is an actual transfer and commutation of personal worthiness; nor do you stay to inquire how you come to treat the stranger better for making use of your friend's name. Let the first application of the stranger in his own name and character stand for a sinner's approach to God on the ground of his own righteousness. God says, "Depart, I know you not." He knocks a second time, and makes use of the worthy name of the Son of God, and begs to be admitted into God's favor for the sake of Jesus Christ. He is then cordially "accepted in the Beloved." He is found in Christ, and is well-received on account of Christ. We perceive no incongruity, but due propriety, in such a transaction in common providence; and we would see no absurdity, but wise benevolence, in such an arrangement in the mediation of Christ, if we were apt to "discern spiritual things."
On our part this communion of benefits with Christ takes place by faith, trust, or confidence, in him; or, to use the figure above, by using his name. If a sick man be restored to health through his faith and confidence in the science and skill of his physician, he enjoys the blessings of health, as if he had had that science and skill himself. If a passenger cross in safety a tempestuous sea, through his firm confidence in the knowledge and ability of his pilot, the result is to him, as if he had been at the helm himself. In the same manner, if a sinful man is delivered from his sin, through a firm belief and persuasion that the sufferings of Christ are an awful expression of the evil of sin, and supply an honorable ground for vindicating God's righteousness in pardoning him, the result is to that sinner, as if he had suffered to vindicate that righteousness himself
The doctrine of the Scriptures concerning substitution appears entirely free from the objections which are brought against the exhibitions of it in some theological systems. When we consider that Jesus Christ suffered as if he had been a sinner, that, nevertheless, his sufferings did not partake of the elements of the literal curse of the law, and that in consequence of them, sinners are treated as if they had suffered themselves, the doctrine of substitution appears in bold prominence, and appears to consist in a substitution of sufferings, as well as in a substitution of person.
THE ATONEMENT THE APPOINTED MEDIUM OF SALVATION FROM SIN.
1. The Scriptures represent the atonement of Christ as supplying an honorable ground for offering and for dispensing pardon to sinners.
I have defined an atonement to be any provision, or expedient, that, for the purposes of good government, answers the same ends as the punishment of the sinner. An atonement is provided, in order that the ends of government being answered, the governor may be left at liberty to pardon offenders in what way, or on what terms, he pleases. An atonement only provides that the governor might be just in pardoning, or that he might pardon, and his justice be unsullied; but not at all that he must pardon or be unjust. A pardon through an atonement is one honorably admitted by justice, but, most assuredly, not one imperiously demanded, as if it were the remission of a commercial debt.
It is in this sense that Jesus Christ is said to have given his life a ransom for all, 1 Tim. ii. 6. The death of Christ is the ransom-price (the ______) of our deliverance. The ransom-price is a sum of money, or any other equivalent consideration that influences the holder of a captive to set him at liberty. It is in reference to this sense that we are said to be, justified through the "redemption" that is in Christ Jesus--that is through the ransom-price, the valuable consideration of his death, which exhibits God just in justifying. The language is of course, analogical, and must be so understood and explained. The meaning is this; that as the ransom-price is the ground of the liberation of a captive, so is the atonement of Christ the ground and reason for delivering a sinner from liableness to punishment, and from the thraldom of sinful habits and passions.
2. The atonement of Christ is, not only the ground on account of which pardon is proclaimed and offered, but it is the medium through which pardon is dispensed and conferred.
Christ is represented as "the way" to the Father. Redemption is described as being "through Christ." God meets the sinner for reconciliation "in Christ;" and the offender draws near to God "in the name of Christ." The atonement is not the salvation itself, but the medium of salvation; as the ransom-price is not the redemption of the captive, but the medium of his redemption. Therefore, the atonement, as such, does not secure the salvation of any, but is the medium of salvation to all. Just so is providence: it infallibly secures health to none, but is the medium of health to all.
The atonement was not designed to deliver, at once and summarily, offenders, simply as offenders. It never intended to acquit them of their offence irrespectively of their own disposition towards the government. In the atonement, God consulted not alone the sinner's good, but, pre-eminently, his own glory: but an indiscriminate pardon dispensed without any regard to the disposition of the sinner, would be inconsistent with the wisdom of the divine government, and with the public justice which, in this provision, sought the good of the whole commonwealth. To deliver captives, who despise their Deliverer and their deliverance, cannot be wise; and to ransom criminals, only to make them lawless, cannot be good.
The atonement is a medium of redemption, and must be employed as such before redemption will ever be effected. God employs it as the medium of declaring his righteousness, and expressing his mercy in forgiving sin; and the sinner must employ it as the medium of obtaining access to God. The atonement will avail the sinner nothing for his salvation, unless it be used by him. It is a "remedy," but it must be taken; it is a "way," and it must be walked in; it is a "satisfaction for sin," but it must be pleaded at the throne of God; it is "the blood of the Lamb," but it must be sprinkled, before it will avail for our safety from destruction. Until this be done, "there is no salvation; but the wrath of God abideth on every sinner. The atonement is the amnesty of a government to an army of rebels; it may be as comprehensive as the whole army, but it will actually benefit only those who accept of it.
The New Testament never represents the atonement as the procuring cause of salvation, but the MEDIUM of dispensing it. Eternal love is the sole procuring cause of salvation through the atonement. Such a statement is supposed by some to derogate from the dignity of the atonement. Accordingly, MR. M'LEAN argues thus; "To represent Christ's death merely as a medium through which spiritual blessings are conveyed, and not the meritorious procuring cause of them, is to ascribe no more to it than to the preaching of the gospel, which is also a medium through which salvation is conveyed."
On the objection of this able and distinguished divine, I submit the following notes.
I. Here it is, supposed that a meritorious and a procuring cause are the same. For an illustration of the difference between these two causes, take the case of Amyntas pleading for the relief of his brother AEschylus, The Athenians had condemned AEschylus to death; but his brother pleads for his pardon on account of the arm which he had lost in fighting the battles, and defending the honor, of his country. In this instance the procuring cause of release was Amyntas' love and good-will towards his brother, the meritorious cause was the loss of Amyntas' arm at the battle of Salamis. It would not be correct to say that the loss of Amyntas' arm procured his brother's release; for the loss of the arm, as such, procured nothing for him; but when viewed, as sustained in the cause of the government, and now made to bear on the case of AEschylus, it became the meritorious cause of his release.
II. If the atonement be the procuring cause of salvation, what is the procuring cause of the atonement itself? The procuring cause of the atonement must be the procuring cause of every other blessing. There can be no impropriety in saying that sovereign grace is the procuring cause of salvation, and the atonement the procuring medium of it.
III. What MR. M'LEAN says about the death of Christ being a medium, and the gospel being a medium, is only a play upon words. For instance. In the case of AEschylus, Amyntas was the medium through which the Athenian government granted the pardon; the document authoritatively expressing the pardon was the medium by which the government conveyed it. Thus the love of God is the procuring cause of salvation, the atonement is the meritorious cause; or, if you like, the medium for procuring it, and the gospel is the medium of conveying it, Even in commercial exchanges, money is not the procuring cause of merchandise ; it is only a procuring medium, and so is the atonement in moral government.
3. The death of Christ forms a ground of encouragement to the sinner to hope and to plead for remission of sins.
As a sinner, even on the ground of the atonement, he can claim nothing. Christ did not die to make God just, nor did he die to constrain him to exercise justice, but that he might be just in justifying the ungodly. It does not become the sinner to demand pardon as a claimant , but to crave it as a penitent suppliant. There is no instance in Scripture of the sobs of penitence assuming the tone of demand.
"Sue out your right," is a phrase very common in religious parlance, and has been frequently used by "the olde Dyvines." If this phrase means that a sinner should demand his salvation as a right due to him, it is an egregious error; it shocks every christian grace, and horrifies all common sense. But if "to sue out" means to plead with all the earnestness of a humble suppliant, and with the firm resolution "if I perish I perish," then the phrase is good, and may be used, and used safely; but only when the tears of penitence glisten in the sinner's eye.
To sustain earnest entreaties and importunate pleadings at the throne of grace for pardon, the atonement affords a broad, firm, and free ground. To a sinner praying for free mercy for the sake of the atonement we can say, "Ask what thou wilt, thou canst not be too bold."
4. The death of Christ furnishes the believer in it with a safe foundation for peace of conscience, for confidence towards God, and for every other blessing.
Hence, the death of the Son of God is represented as sealing a testament, ratifying a compact. and confirming a charter. This charter says, "There is no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus!" With this in the hand of faith, the Christian exclaims, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?" "Who is he that condemneth?" "Who shall separate us from the love of God?" This gives him "the full assurance of hope." The conscience, which none but the God who had been offended could hush, finds joy and peace in believing. The trembling sinner has his mind stayed upon a reconciled God, and says, "I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
He shows forth the Lord's death in all his duties, in all his conflicts, in all his fears, and in all his privileges and enjoyments. He shows it to God as the ground of his hope; he shows it to the accuser of the brethren as the ground of his justification; he shows it to the world as the medium of all his blessings, and he shows it to his own heart as the greatest motive to holiness and joy.
PARTICULAR ATONEMENT INCONSISTENT WITH THE SUBSTITUTIONARY SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST.
The hypothesis that Jesus Christ endured the identical punishment due to the sinner, is one of the substrata of the doctrine of particular or personal atonement. It has been, I think, proved that this substratum is not of the formation of apostolical times, but the recent alluvium of modem systematic theology. Such a sandy deposit cannot, therefore, be a safe foundation for such a weighty doctrine.
I. The sufferings of Christ regard all the sins of mankind.
No passage of Scripture can be adduced which limits the atonement to the sins of the elect. Whenever the death of Christ is mentioned in connection with sin, it is always with sin universally and as a whole. The Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all. He is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. John, indeed, seems. expressly to guard against every shadow of a supposition that Christ made atonement only for the sins of the elect. "He is the propitiation for our sins", and not for ours ONLY, but, ALSO is, in the sense, "for the sins of the whole world." When Paul says that God condemned sin in the flesh, he does not suppose that he condemned only the sins of the elect. He condemned every sin. By the death of Christ he branded the entire revolt of mankind with infamy and condemnation. "The blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin." This passage, does not mean that it cleanseth all who are actually cleansed, but that it is the means to all of cleansing from all sin. Blood is not in the class of agents, or means used for cleansing in the sense of washing or cleaning the person, as by the application of water. The "cleansing" therefore ascribed to the blood of Christ, is the cleansing of expiation, a cancelling of liableness to punishment. The passage, therefore, means, "the blood of Christ expiates from all sin." It will be immediately objected, "then why are not all men saved?" You perceive that this very objection goes. on the principle, that Christ could not expiate from all sin, unless he endured the identical penalty due to all sin; and that if this penalty had been endured by him, it could not again be justly inflicted on the sinner. It supposes that if Christ expiated all sins of all sinners, then must all sinners go free, as if expiation for sin were a commercial transaction. The objection "why are all men not saved?" is not removed by reading "the blood of Christ cleanseth, instead of expiates from all sin." The scape-goat expiated all the sins of all the tribes, nevertheless many who would not repent and afflict their souls, were "cut off." Expiation is not the deliverance, it is only a medium of deliverance, and must be used for deliverance. Therefore, "all men are not saved," merely because all men will not use it for their salvation.
II. To expiate the crimes of a certain number of offenders, by sustaining the identical punishment due to them, is impracticable and absurd in a moral government.
Such an expiation is not an atonement: it is a literal infliction of the law, as far as the penalty is concerned. It is true that where the punishment can be numerically portioned out, the penalties of a certain number of persons might be borne. If seven men be sentenced to receive thirty-nine lashes each, a friend of strong frame might sustain the whole amount for them. If seven men were sentenced to the stocks for a day each, one might be found, who would for seven days bear this for them. But this would not be an atonement. It would be a literal infliction of the law only on another person. The deliverance of the seven men would not be of grace and favor, but of justice--for the literal penalty due to them had been literally sustained by their friend.
The Scriptures nowhere give us any such views of expiation and atonement. Did the lamb of the daily offering expiate sin, by bearing the numerical amount of punishment for the day? Is the displeasure of God against sin a thing capable of being numbered and counted out? Is sin itself capable of being calculated in weight and number? The wrong which Ham did to Noah could not be numbered by items, nor was Noah's displeasure doled out by weight. Such a thing could not be made a matter of commercial measurement.
There is a theological phrase in very frequent use, but I think very few understand it. It is, that "the suffering of a mere man cannot give satisfaction to the law." I suppose it is meant, that he cannot give satisfaction to the law and survive his sufferings. The law says "Do this--or dying thou shalt die." If the man "do this," the law is satisfied. So, if the disobedient dies, the law is satisfied, for it has received what it required of the disobedient. The law is perfectly satisfied as to its penal sanctions, in the case of every sinner in the place of torments.
A thousand times has the necessity of the Mediator's being God, been founded on this proposition, that "no man could endure the curse of the law." This phrase, and others of the kind, always conveyed to my mind the idea, that the curse of the law was something, like a dark cloud loaded with a stormy tempest which if made to pelt on any one, would require infinite physical and muscular strength to sustain it. Then, Christ, according to this illustration, was able to bear this storm,-which would have destroyed the human race, merely because he was God. I appeal to all my readers, whether they have not had such thoughts about the death of Christ? My reader will find that he did not come by these thoughts from reading the Scriptures: they can he traced to some excellent divine, to some popular preacher, or to some sweet singer of our Israel. All such imaginations proceed on the opinion, that Christ suffered or sustained every drop of the identical shower, that was to have fallen on the elect. This argument can never be valid for the divinity of Christ, for were there no greater reason for Christ's being God, than that he might be able to bear the storm, God, no doubt, could have imparted to an angel sufficient strength to sustain any infliction.
III. It is inconsistent with substitutionary atonement as MORAL MEANS, to be peculiarly designed for particular persons. In the arrangements of providence every one will allow, that God designs the light of the sun, as means to enable all men to do the duties of the day; and the man would not be deemed sane, who, at sunset would argue, that God had not that design towards those who had turned out to be idle loungers and slothful servants, and that he had really and truly, only designed it for those who had done their work. In like manner will men consent that God had designed the brazen serpent to cure all who were bitten in the wilderness; nor will any one reason, that it was specifically designed and purposed only for those who were actually healed. Men will not argue so perversely in such instances, because they have no theological system to maintain. Yet, because sinners perish by rejecting the atonement, men will persist in arguing, that it was actually designed for those alone who accept it.
IV. The bearing of this principle of substitutionary sufferings on the principal controversies connected with the atonement, shows how opposed it is to particular redemption. If an ultra Calvinist can gain the point, that Christ suffered the identical punishment threatened in the law, he has entrenched the doctrine of particular redemption within lines that are impregnable. For he will argue thus thousands will suffer this punishment in their own persons, which could never again be justly inflicted, if the substitute had once borne it for them. They themselves bear it, ergo, He did not bear it. If the Arminian concede that Jesus Christ endured the identical curse of the law due to the sinner, he must, with it, give up the general call of the gospel, and the obligation of the sinner to accept salvation. If the wrath due for sin to all mankind has been endured by Jesus Christ, there is nothing in revealed theology that will vindicate the justice of inflicting it again. On this hypothesis it is undeniable, that if the wrath of God shall actually be inflicted on the culprit, no one else could ever have previously borne that wrath for him: for all on the left hand of the Judge in the last day, will endure a wrath that was never inflicted on another instead of them. We can suppose that, an Arminian brother had been calling on some of those very persons on the left hand to believe that Christ bad already suffered the curse of the law for them--and now, when sentenced according to truth, they cannot fail to perceive, either that that doctrine was not true, or that the second infliction is unjust.
An atonement consisting of substitutionary sufferings will be opposed both by the ultra Calvinist, and by the Socinian. The Socinian will oppose it, because it silences all his objections against redemption through the merits of Christ. If he be not allowed for his weapons--the wrath of the God of love,--the transfer of moral character, the infliction of legal punishment on the innocent, his gauntlet can grasp no other. The doctrine of a substitutionary atonement, not only blunts, but breaks and shivers, these favorite and long-used lances of Socinianism. The ultra Calvinist will oppose this doctrine, because he thinks it will spring a mine under particular redemption. Though this principle will completely subvert the opinion of particular redemption, I most confidently believe that it will not in the least affect the doctrine of personal election. Particular redemption and sovereign election are supposed to be alter et idem, because they regard the same persons; but the difference between them, as measures in a moral government, is infinite. The doctrine of particular redemption, like the doctrine of "divine right" of despotism, is a figment; but sovereign election is like "particular providence," a FACT in the divine government, which no controversy can shake. Sovereign election of believers is the exercise of the Governor's prerogative, but particular redemption divides the empire of God into a system of "caste."Return to Index Page