THE EXTENT OF THE ATONEMENT
RELATION TO GOD AND THE UNIVERSE.
REV. THOMAS W. JENKYN, D. D.
Including Sections 1 thru 3
ON THE ATONEMENT IN ITS RELATION TO THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.
THE Holy Spirit has been exercising a distinct and individual agency in every dispensation of moral government, and the whole exercise of this agency is what I mean by the work of the Holy Spirit. As the Father, so the Holy Spirit, exercises no agency but in connection with the great atonement of the Son. The Father has given all things mediatorily to the Son, and of these the Holy Spirit takes, in the exercise of his agency.
THE PERSONAL AGENCY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IN CONNECTION WITH THE ATONEMENT.
I. The Holy Spirit has made the doctrine of atonement the cardinal and principal subject of divine revelation.
The primary revelation, immediately after the fall, announcing that "the Seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head," contained the great elements, and the living germs, of this great doctrine, and foretold a gracious deliverance from evil, to be effected through mediatorial interposition and sufferings. All the future and progressive influences of the Spirit only unfolded, and more fully developed, the power and beauty of this first truth. The whole Scriptures are the history of the development of this doctrine, that, "in all things the atonement might have the preeminence." The atonement is the sum of every message from God to man, and the spirit of every promise, the mark of every prediction, the substance of every ceremony, the burden of every psalm and spiritual song.
In every age, good men become great, in proportion to their growth in the knowledge of the doctrine of salvation by a Mediator. I might mention Abel and Noah, Job and Abraham, men who knew that their Redeemer lived, and who became great as they had clear views of salvation by ransom, and thus "saw the day of Christ." Moses was great, as God's messenger to the Israelites, to expound to them the way of acceptance with God through a sacrificial Victim. Among the constellation of the prophets, Isaiah shines a star of the first magnitude, pointing directly to Bethlehem, more than any others of his age. I am often ravished with the vision of Malachi, who, with an eagle's gaze, beheld a beautiful and glorious system of righteousness and good-will, in the midst of which he saw the Mediator, as the centre of harmony to the whole--the SUN of the glorious system.
Clearer views of the atonement made John greater than all the prophets that preceded him. They had seen victims that brought sin to remembrance every year, and they had predicted a Victim to come; but he pointed to "the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world." The apostles themselves grew in their knowledge of this doctrine, after the effusion of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Before this day Peter scarcely understood it, especially not when he said to Christ, "Far be this from thee, Lord." But after receiving the Holy Ghost, he preached this doctrine clearly and powerfully, and, taking his stand on the broad basis of the atonement, he directed all to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. It is in the knowledge of this doctrine that the apostle Paul appears transcendently great. So great was his admiration of this stupendous doctrine, in its length, and breadth, and height, and depth, that he counted all things but loss and dung for the excellency of the knowledge of it, and made the cross of Christ his only boast and glory.
All these good men attained to this greatness through the influences of the Spirit, whose work has always been to glorify the person and the atonement of Jesus Christ. All his work is connected with the atonement. All that the holy men of God have spoken concerning it, is ascribed to his inspiration. The gospel of the atonement is peculiarly the ministration of the Spirit. Ministerial gifts for expounding and exhibiting the atonement, are at the disposal of the Holy Spirit; and the rejection of the atonement is branded as speaking and acting against the Holy Ghost. These, and such considerations, show of what importance the atonement is held among the doctrines of divine revelation, 1 Pet. i. 10-12.
II. In the arrangements of this great scheme, the work was assigned to the Holy Spirit of forming the character of the Mediator, that he might be a fit person to make atonement.
It is not meant here to refer to the divine character of the Mediator, but to the character of his mediatorial person, as God and man, or the Word made flesh. Suppose the question to be asked in heaven, "Who will be suitable to make this atonement?" The reply would be, "Not one of the rebels, for that would savor of rebellion--the person must be perfect in the sight of God, and yet a friend to sinners." None but the "JUST" could be admitted to die for the unjust. An intercessor or advocate for sinners, must have a relative worthiness of his own to plead; and such has "Jesus Christ, the righteous." The formation of this worthiness of mediatorial character in the person of Christ is ascribed to the Holy Spirit, Isa. xi. 1-5, lxi. 1-3.
When the Holy Spirit is said to have been given to Christ, I understand that the peculiar attributes ascribable to the Third Person in the Blessed Trinity were made to assemble and appear in the character of the Son. In the scriptural revelation of the mediatorial economy, there is a perceivable individuality of character ascribable to the Father, which is not to the Son; and to the Holy Spirit, which is not to either. When Christ appears in majesty and glory, authority and goodness, he is "the express image of the person" of the Father. When he appears in knowledge and wisdom, truth and holiness, grace and kindness he is "the express image of the person" of the Comforter.
The formation of the character of this mediatorial personage is the greatest work of the Holy Spirit. It is greater than forming the character of holy men. It is a work unique in the universe. As there is no person like Christ, embodying in himself all the gradations of existence in the universe, so there is no character like his, embracing the graces of all intelligences. To form this character, therefore, is a work of more grandeur and glory, than the sanctification of a sinner. It will give greater glory to the Holy Spirit than any and all of his other works. All intelligences will know with admiration, that it was through the Eternal Spirit that Christ offered himself without spot to God.
III. The doctrine of the atonement is the great means which the Holy Spirit employs in his administrations in the world.
It is by his agency that the benefits of the atonement are applied to the salvation of sinners. This application by the Holy Spirit is as necessary to salvation, as the atonement of the Son, and the love of the Father. Without the sovereign good-will of the Father, salvation would not have been contemplated: without the atonement of the Son, salvation would not have been honorable to the divine government: and without the influences of the Spirit, it will never be actually effected. "It is convenient for you" the Lord says, "that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you.--When he is come, he will convince the world of sin, of righteousness, and judgment. He shall glorify me, for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you." John xvi.7-14.
If Christ had not "gone away" to suffering and death, to Gethsemane and Calvary, the influences of the Comforter had not come unto us; nor would he have been supplied with solid and honorable grounds for comforting us. The atonement of "Christ crucified," is the great doctrine employed by the Spirit to prove the glory of Christ, and to win the revolters of our world to allegiance and obedience. "He shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you." "He will go to Bethlehem and Calvary, and take of mine--he will take the history of my undertaking, and explain the principles of my atonement; and will convince the world, and lead you unto all truth." This doctrine is "the sword of the Spirit," which he delights to wield. This will open the heart, when the lightnings of Sinai, and the flaming sword of the cherubim, shall have failed. This is the doctrine which the Holy Spirit delights to honor, as has been proved in the experience of thousands of God's witnesses in the history of churches, and congregations, and in the narratives of missionary labors. If Christ be lifted up, and his atonement openly exhibited, sinners will be drawn and captivated; but on every church, and on every religious institution, that will not honor the atonement, the Holy Spirit fixes the stigma or "Ichabod," the glory is departed.
IV. To secure and honor the designs of the atonement is the great end and aim of the administrations of the Spirit.
The great aim of the Holy Spirit in all his operations, is to bring sinners to use the atonement as a medium of access to God, and to plead it as a ground of pardon. "He shall glorify me," that is, "my atonement shall be magnified and made honorable in the sight of the world, by his agency." All the work of the Holy Spirit tends to bring men to think highly of Christ, and of his atonement. He will never take of the things of Christ, to give men low and degrading thoughts of them. If any have low thoughts of Christ, and his atonement, let them not be ascribed to the Holy Spirit, whose work it is to glorify Christ; "for every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh," that is, is become incarnate, "is not of God."
Under the gospel dispensation the Holy Spirit argues the cause and pleads the claims of Jesus Christ to all the honors which he has received in heaven, and to all the obedience he demands on earth. Of these things he will convince the world. There has been a controversy between God and the world. The world was placed under moral government, and against this government the world has rebelled; nevertheless God continues to enforce his claims, and still men oppose and refuse them. This controversy is of long standing, and is still pending; and the Holy Spirit is the agent sent to the world by the Father and the Son to argue the case, and to decide the controversy. When this advocate, this Arguer, will come, he will make the world see what it never saw before; he will convince the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.
In whatever way the Spirit comes, whether by the word, or by miracles, or by gracious influences on the heart, his aim is to promote the ends of the atonement, in the condemnation of sin, and the salvation of sinners. The WORD gives clear views of the evil of sin, and brands unbelief as the blackest rebellion against Christ. It reveals the glories of Christ, and claims the highest honers as due to him. It unmasks the malignity of Satan, and threatens eternal destruction to all his allies. MIRACLES have never favored sin, but have demonstrated and aggravated its daring hardihood. They were wrought in the name of Christ, and confirmed his testimony against the world. They have exhibited him who had the power of death, as conquered, and have showed all things as subservient to the gospel. His gracious INFLUENCES always destroy sin, honor the righteousness of the Saviour, and vindicate the eternal condemnation of all who rebel against God.
Whatever be the topic on which the blessed advocate argues, whatever be the manner of his operations, he never loses sight of the atonement of the Son of God. In whatever light we contemplate his character, whether as Arguer or Sanctifier, Guide or Comforter, Earnest or Seal, the atonement is connected with the whole of his offices and ministration. In all things he is "the Spirit of Christ." He does not build but where the atonement has prepared the foundation; he does not cleanse, but in the laver of the atonement; he does not plead, but where the atonement furnishes an argument; nor does he guide, but where the atonement has opened a way.
THE INFLUENCES OF THE SPIRIT RENDERED ACCESSIBLE TO ALL BY THE ATONEMENT
I. The influences of the Spirit are exhibited in the Scriptures, as exactly adapted to meet the case of sinners.
When we see, in the whole government of God, that "one thing is set over against another," we judge rightly when we conclude that one is designed for the other.
The Scripture describes the state of man as requiring these influences of the Spirit. "The natural man discerneth not the things of the Spirit of God, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." "The carnal mind is enmity against God, and is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." "No man can come unto me except the Father draw him." These passages do not mean that the powers of man are insufficient for the designs of probation, and for the discharge of duties--but that the fact will turn out, that they never will be exercised in discharging duties without divine influences. They teach that man's opposition to God, and indisposition to what is good, are so inveterate and perverse, that nothing will conquer them, but the influences of the Spirit. Man is darkness, and darkness can, by no process, produce light; he is dead, and the dead cannot quicken himself; the state of his mind is enmity against God, and enmity can never work itself into love. A foreign influence is necessary to produce a change: and the means of Light, of Life, and of Peace must come from God, for they will never come from man.
Divine influences are exhibited as fitted to meet such a case of perverse inefficiency. "I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh; and I will put my spirit within you, and CAUSE you to walk in my statutes," Ezek. xxxvi. 27. If any person were to exhibit to you bread when you are hungry, medicine when you are ill, pardon when you are condemned, liberty when you are in bondage, you would reasonably conclude from their fitness to you, that you may obtain them, that they are all accessible to you.
II. The Scriptures declare that God, for Christ's sake, is disposed and ready to distribute most bountifully every blessing that a sinner needs for his salvation.
One evangelist speaks of the readiness of God to give us "good things;" and another says, "If ye being evil, know how to give good things to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him." Man needs this Holy Spirit, and God expresses himself ready to supply his need. The rich and copious abundance of the influences provided, show with what pleasure he will grant them. You need a supply that is infinite and uninterrupted--and here it is. God said to Abraham, "Walk before me and be perfect." Well might he have said, "Who is sufficient for these things?" God said, "I am God ALL-SUFFICIENT." Faith bowed its assent, and said, "That is enough." So for you, it has pleased the Father, that in Christ all fullness should dwell in a cistern low enough for you to reach, and capacious enough to satisfy all your wants.
Here, then, is an all-sufficient treasury, an undecaying plentitude of influences. Here is a spring unexhausted and inexhaustible, an undrained fountain, whose fullness is never diminished by the largest communications. "My God will supply all your need by Christ Jesus," was the language of Paul, who had drawn largely upon this resource.
The copiousness of the provision of divine influences is a proof that they are accessible, otherwise the full and public exhibition of them would be a vain parade. See in nature and providence, the light that you have is more than you can appropriate, the time given to you is more than you can employ, and the health you have is much more than you improve. Why is this? It is to give you a hint of the bounty and liberality of God in diffusing all his blessings. Will he who is thus profuse in providence be slack and niggardly in gracious influences? "Is the Spirit of the Lord straitened?" No, answers the apostle, "ye are straitened in yourselves." The incapacity for more, and the reluctance for more, is in you. Oh, what influences you have neglected, or abused, or thrown away! Where is the man who has improved all the suggestions of the Spirit? No hearer of the gospel can ever persuade himself that he perishes because divine influences are not accessible to him.
III. God has established a system of means to enable sinners to participate in the influences of the Spirit.
If we wish for the divine blessing or the divine influences for the growth of a plant, or for the support of our life, we know well that there are certain means established for securing them, and that it would be sheer madness to expect the influences without the use of such means. The establishment of such means proves that the necessary influences are accessible and attainable if we really wish for them.
Gracious influences are also communicated in a stated course, not arbitrarily or capriciously, either as to time, manner, or degree. I would not say that God has bound and limited himself to this stated course; what I mean is, that he Will NEVER fail this arrangement. The Holy Spirit has been pleased to pledge his blessings to certain rules, and this neither diminishes the grace nor destroys the freedom of them, any more than in natural influences. The blessings which descend on the labors of the farmer or a physician do not lose their grace and freedom because they are conveyed in a stated course. The establishment of an aqueduct proves that a supply of water is intended, and that of a pump that water is to be had; so the establishment of "means of grace," i. e., means containing grace, proves that grace is obtainable.
These means must be used. No man will become religious as a stone gets warm in sunshine, or wet in a shower of rain. He must be an Agent as well as a subject. He must use the appointed means. The connecting link between divine influences and human agency is hid in the hand of God, but he has revealed enough to show us that, according to his arrangement of the universe, he cannot convert a man unless that man exercise his own agency. When "cannot" is ascribed to God, of course, it is meant that such a thing cannot come to pass without changing the course of nature. For instance, as we find the world, he cannot make a man live, unless he breathe, or see, unless he open his eyes. In the like manner he cannot effect faith unless the sinner himself believes, or repentance unless the sinner himself repents. If this be disputed, the disputer must show that in the production of faith and of repentance it is God himself that believes and repents, and not the sinner. In all the arrangements of gracious influences, the agency of man only reaches the means. It is the divine influence that effects the entire product in the mind, and there meets the Divine influence. Isa. lxiv. 5.
IV. Men are commanded to live under the influence of the Spirit.
This then I say, "Walk ye in the Spirit." It is utterly unreasonable to command a man to walk in sunshine at midnight; therefore the commands of a just God that men should walk in the Spirit, suppose that the influences of the Spirit are accessible to them. "While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light." Here the light is declared to be accessible, even to those who were walking in darkness. The command, "Walk ye in the Spirit" is urged with all seriousness and authority. A command, thus given, and thus pressed, supposes that the influences of the Spirit shall go forth, as necessary to the persons thus concerned. Indeed, divine influences are used as a reason to urge upon men the great duty of using their agency in holy exertions. "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, FOR God worketh in you to will and to do of his good pleasure." The argument is, work, for God works; use your agency, for God is using his; labor in your salvation while divine influences may be obtained. Work OUT that which God works IN YOU.
V. Men are blamed for not possessing the influences of the Spirit.
Jude mentions some characters with deserved reprehension and blame, as "not having the Spirit." My reader may have thought himself, ere now, blamable for many things, but never yet thought himself blamable for "not having the Spirit." This is, evidently, charged upon these characters as a blame, a crime, a reproach. Yet they were not blameworthy if the influences of the Spirit were not accessible to them, but arbitrarily suspended, or capriciously withdrawn. The sluggishness and the inactivity of man is always charged upon himself; and if these influences were not accessible to him, to be without them would be his misfortune rather than his crime, and he would be an object of pity rather than of blame. God, both for his own glory, and for the other ends of probation, has not left the matter so, as that man may say, "I did not obey, it is true; but it is not my fault, for the influences necessary to obedience were not to be obtained, or they were arbitrarily withdrawn and held back; and therefore, I could not help it."
VI. The most ample encouragements are given to prayer for obtaining divine influences.
It would be the height of unreasonableness and mockery to teach men to pray for an incommunicable, and an ungrantable thing. If man is taught by God to ask for a thing, it is an assurance that that thing is of great concernment to him, and is certainly obtainable by him.
Prayer for the influences of the Spirit is encouraged from the nature of God, Luke xi. 13. God will give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him, as readily and promptly as parents give bread to their children. There are, indeed, fathers who have not a father's love, but this unnaturalness belongs not to our heavenly Father. He pities us as a father pitieth his children: and pity in him is pity in eternal and inexhaustible plenitude. He is invariably "plenteous in mercy." Suppose a child had to undertake a business, or a trade, at the request of his father, he would say, "I know my father--if I attend to my business, all needful supplies will be forthcoming--I shall not fail or break, for he has promised to supply me in every time of need." We know that a father, if he were able, would not fail such a son. Thus should every man argue, and feel persuaded, that in prayer and the use of means, the "supply of the Spirit" shall not be lacking.
God has given many exceeding great and precious promises, that he will supply all our need. "The Spirit" is the foremost promise of the New Testament, and it is thus made prominent, because if this be fulfilled, all the others will follow. All these are "yea and amen in Christ to the glory of God," because the "God that cannot lie," has confirmed them by an OATH, that we might have strong consolation. All such solemn declarations would be vain pompousness, if these strong consolations were not truly accessible to us.
VII. The Scriptures represent the influences of the Spirit as much accessible to every sinner, as is the atonement of the Son."
We have seen that the atonement makes the salvation of all men possible, and that it is the duty of every man to believe that the death of Christ is available for his soul in propria persona. The same train of argument might be successfully used, as to the relation of man to the influences of the Spirit, for an accessible remedy supposes the cure accessible, and an accessible city of refuge supposed the safety accessible.
The atonement of Christ is the medium and the honorable ground for dispensing and communicating the influences of the Spirit. Gracious influences, like all sovereign favors, come to the sinner through the blood of Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus himself dispenses these influences by an authority founded on his atonement. "If I depart, I WILL SEND him to you." He fulfilled this promise most signally on the day of Pentecost. He then showed that he had received gifts for men, and he issued them forth in such wide-spread largesses, and so soon after his departure, that the world might see the connection between them and his death and ascension.
THE SOVEREIGNTY OF DIVINE INFLUENCES FOUNDED ON THE WORTH OF THE ATONEMENT.
By "Divine Influence" I mean that power which is the CAUSE, where Conversion is the EFFECT. Conversion is produced through the instrumentality of means, but not by them as such. There is a power anterior to the means, and superior to the means;--but, in the production of conversion as an effect, it works in and by the means, and thus becomes the original and the true cause of conversion.
When "Sovereignty" is ascribed to this Divine Influence, the word is not meant in the sense of arbitrary and capricious. It is strictly "sovereign:"--simply on the ground that God was not required in justice to exercise it in moral or spiritual causation--and also on the ground that sinful man had no claim to it.
The eternal arrangement for the introduction of its agency was arbitrary, and depended solely on the sovereign pleasure of God. In this sense, therefore, its "sovereignty" was perfectly arbitrary. But, as we have seen under the second section of this chapter, this influence is now exercised in a stated course, and according to fixed and certain rules. Their original arrangement and introduction were purely sovereign and arbitrary, according to the good pleasure of God's will; but now their exercise and manifestations are regulated and secured by fixed laws, for they have been made matters of promise. They are, for instance, promised to prayer, for our Father who is in heaven will give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him. They are, in fact, promised to any applicant, and to every comer, for the rule of their communication is, "Whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life."
I. It is an awful fact, that unless God exercise his gracious influences on the hearts of men, not one of the human race will ever take of the benefits of the atonement, and consequently no flesh would be saved.
The Doctrine of Christ is--"No man can come unto me, unless my Father draw him." This drawing of the Father is not a physical operation, but a moral process. His method of drawing is by the powerful and attractive Truths which he exhibits concerning his Son. Where these Truths are not present, as among the heathen, and among people ignorant or negligent of the gospel, there can be no drawing to Christ. Until, therefore, these truths are made known, no man can come to Christ, because nothing but the gospel is the power of God to save them. Wherever the gospel is faithfully preached, there God is actually drawing by the attractions of the Cross, and by the strivings of his Holy Spirit. Hence, when the hearers of the gospel remain notwithstanding unconverted, their non-conversion is owing, not to the deficiency of the means, nor to the absence of saving power, but to the persistence with which they resist the Holy Ghost. In the opening of the heart, Christ is the first to "stand at the door and knock." If any man open the door to give him admission to the heart, the result is due, not to the man that opened, but unto Him who first knocked.
Men slight and neglect the atonement not because they have no power or ability to avail themselves of it, but simply because they have no inclination or disposition to make any use of it. They cannot choose death without possessing, and exercising the very powers that would enable them to choose life. It is a most grievous error to suppose that unless divine grace dispose these powers aright, man is not accountable and blamable for exercising them wrong. Divine influences are not in the list of the elements of human accountableness. The justice of God has supplied man with grounds sufficiently firm and broad to hold him accountable without divine grace. Man ought to do his duty, to love God, believe in Christ, obey his word, whether he have grace or not. If "not having the grace of God" is a good plea for not doing one's duty--the less a man has of the grace of God, the less is he obliged to obey God; that is, the more wicked a man is, the less and less is it his duty to be good; the less thankful a child might be to his parents for distinguished favors, the less it is his duty to thank them. Besides, the very man that tries to palm this plea as an excuse with God, will never allow it to avail with himself from his fellow-man. Suppose his child or apprentice to say to him as an excuse for neglecting his commands, "If I had the grace to obey you, I would; but as I suspect that God has not given me grace to obey you, I hope you will excuse me." Suppose again, a man who refuses to pay him a sum of money that is due, to say, "If I had grace to be honest and upright I would be so, but as God has not given me grace to do so, have me excused." This very man who puts off the claims of God with such a flimsy plea, would spurn all such excuses, and would treat him according to his ability to do right, and would actually make his want of disposition to be honest, an aggravation of his offence. The whole Scriptures declare that God will judge mankind on the same principles.
All mankind are, of themselves, so opposed to the designs of the mediation of Christ, and so inclined and disposed to persevere in sin, that until they are affected by divine influences in their own personal case, not one of all the human race will be saved. Yet their rejection of salvation, or in other words, their refusing to be saved, is solemnly pronounced by God to be a conduct criminal, blamable, and condemnable.
That without divine influences mankind would let the atonement sustain a total and eternal failure, may be proved from the nature of the case--from facts in the past history of man--from the doctrine of the Scripture concerning divine influences-and from the impossibility of accounting for the conversion of a sinner on any other principle.
It is in the physical and moral constitution of the nature of man, that what he is unwilling to do, he never will do. Hence the Scriptures speak of that which a man is unwilling to do as a thing impossible to come to pass. When Christ charges the Jews with this unwillingness, he represents their coming to him as impossible. "Ye will not come to me that ye might have life," for "how can ye believe which receive honor one from another;" "no man can come unto me unless my Father draw him." When we say that a kind father never can murder his own child, or never will murder it, our meaning is, that such an event will never come to pass. We do not mean that the thing is physically impossible in itself. So when we say that no sinner will, of himself, come to Christ, we do not mean that he has not the mental power to come, but that such an event will never transpire--for the enmity of the human heart against God never will change itself to friendship. If, therefore, the change take place, it must be by an influence foreign to man's original faculties; and yet an influence with which these faculties must coincide and cooperate.
This statement of the case of man is corroborated by an unbroken chain of facts in the history of mankind. The ages and generations gone by, do not furnish one instance of a man who has ascribed his conversion from sin to his own agency and goodness of heart. All such persons recorded in the Scriptures plainly declare, that it is God that made them to differ; and the theme of their song in heaven is, "not unto us, 0 Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory." The cases are innumerable in which the best means have teen tried and exhibited in vain, though they were means adapted, and intended, and adequate to succeed with men. Witness the ministry of Noah, of Moses in the wilderness, of Isaiah, and of the Saviour himself. These means, though they were verily means of grace, did not profit them to whom they were exhibited; not because the word was not "able to save," but because it was not credited, "it was not mixed with faith in them who heard it." Heb. iv. 2. But to them who believed, to them who partook of the grace of the means, to them, through the divine influence in the means, POWER was given to become the sons of God. The success, therefore, which was productive of such infinite good, cannot be ascribed to the exercise of the human will in believing, but to the demonstration of the Spirit and of power, in the means of grace.
The Holy Scriptures invariably ascribe the success of means and instruments to divine influences. Their language is, "It is God that worketh in you to will and to do." "We are His workmanship in Christ," "You hath He quickened," etc. All the instances of conversion mentioned in the Scriptures are ascribed to God, e. g., those of Zaccheus, Paul, Lydia, etc. The Bible also teaches us that prayer to God for the exercise of divine influence is one means of obtaining success. If man change himself, it is to man the prayer ought to be made, and not to God. To address a prayer to God for the conversion of any man, is an acknowledgment that such a conversion is to be effected by his grace and Spirit.
On any other principle than the gracious communication of divine influences, it is impossible to account for the conversion of man. The theory of "common grace" will not account for it, for it leaves the question behind it, "How comes one man more than another to make a right use of this "common grace." The self-determining power of the will, will not account for it, for the will of man cannot alter the character of the means of grace, though it may be influenced by the force of those means. To think that conversion is an accident that happened by chance, is an insult to a wise God that worketh all things after the counsel of his own will, and is the efficient cause of every good thing in the universe. God alone changes the heart.
II. God has an independent right to exercise divine influences in what degree, and on whomsoever, he pleases, according to the counsel of his own will, and the arrangements of his own wisdom.
In all the disputes against the exercise of this sovereignty in the arrangements for man's salvation, the condition and character of mankind as condemned criminals worthy of death, are always forgotten. At the bottom of every reasoning against the sovereign dispensation of divine favor, there always lurks a supposition that man has some claim upon his Maker; and on such data time will never see an end to the dispute.
Upon the supposition that everyman is unworthy of any favor from God, the question in dispute is very simple. It is this--"Has God a right to show a kindness to any person that does not deserve it?" Probably there is not a man on the earth that will deny that God has such a right; most assuredly there is not a man that would consent to abide by such a denial, that God should show him no more favor than he deserved. Captious cavillers, who forget their condemned character, will still dispute, "Is it just that such a right should be exercised?" This objection supposes such a right to belong to God, but doubts its justice when exercised. This objection is the shell of a theological monstrosity unparalleled in hideousness. It supposes that God will exercise his right in a wrong manner. It is worse, for it supposes that God's right to confer benefits on the undeserving is A RIGHT TO DO WRONG. The disputant supposes that it is wrong in God to confer favors upon any of his creatures beyond their due, and in the whole argument forgets, that he himself is a condemned, and undeserving character.
Take an illustration of this. Suppose Newgate, or any other prison, to be thronged with criminals under sentence of death, and regarded by all honest men as justly condemned. It is known in the Constitution of the realm, that the king has the prerogative of reprieving and pardoning any criminal he pleases. The actual exercise of this prerogative to pardon has no injurious aspect upon the condition of the condemned criminals. Rather, the existence and exercise of such a prerogative is pure and entire good. It is not a prerogative to inflict tortures on them, but its very design and aspect is to confer good. Suppose such a prerogative not to exist--the exclusion of it would not improve the condition or better the prospect of any one criminal. You therefore get no accession of good by excluding the king's prerogative. But allow it to be introduced, and you immediately secure a splendid amount of good. Suppose the king, in the exercise of his prerogative, to pardon any number out of them, who will ask him for it as "an act of grace," and you gain so much good. Will the gaining of so much good be really a wrong to the rest, who will not consent to ask him? Try to answer these questions. "How does this good wrong them? Does it make their case worse? Does anything befall them, after all, worse than what was justly due to them? Would they have been better off, had there been no prerogative exercised?"
Your conscience will not answer these questions in the affirmative, but your heart says, "I should not LIKE the king to save other offenders and pass by ME." Yes, that is the real truth, that is an accurate statement of the case. All your opposition to the exercise of divine sovereignty proceeds from what is implied in the little word "ME." And yet, why not you? Have you not deserved to die? Have you any claims upon this prerogative? Is God not to exercise his prerogative, because you do not LIKE others to have more benefits than you? Examine yourself, and you will discover that it is only when you do not consider yourself as a criminal condemned, that you quarrel with the exercise of God's sovereign prerogative.
God is perfectly independent of the whole universe, and all-sufficient for his own happiness and glory. It is the glory of his nature and of his character, that all the good in the universe is the product of his own good pleasure, and that he works and produces good freely, without constraint, and without necessity. His grace is free, unbiased and uninfluenced. He can give or withhold his favors without any impeachment of his character. He can confer his benefits, when, how, and on whom he pleases. God always claims to himself the free exercise of his sovereign right, to have mercy on whom he will have mercy. He could neither see, nor foresee, any good in man that should induce or deserve this exercise of sovereignty, for God hath chosen men unto obedience, and not for obedience; and that they might be holy, and not because they were so. If he exercised this prerogative in consequence of any previous good in man, his grace would be turned into distributive justice, salvation would be of works, and boasting would not be excluded. If God exercises no sovereign prerogative, but only acts according to previous conditions in man, then the glory of his grace would depend on the capricious will of man, and he would be doing and working nothing for the reason that it was the good pleasure of his will. The Scriptures assure us that this sovereignty is exercised not according to works of righteousness which we have done, but according to God's own counsel and good-will.
III. The atonement is an honorable ground for the exercise of sovereignty in the special communications of divine influences, to them who believe.
The whole mediatorial work of Jesus Christ is so worthy and so meritorious that it deserves that measures should be taken to ensure it from entire failure. It is not to be expected, in the administration of moral government, that God should give us an account of his sovereign measures, or to supply us with direct reasons for the discriminating specialty that is visible in the communication of divine influences. It is enough for us, that is, it is enough for all the ends of our accountableness, to be assured, that God is under no more obligations to provide divine influences for us, than he was to provide an atonement for us. But having made the provision, and settled the arrangement, it is announced that as the benefits of the atonement are available to all applicants, so the supply of the Spirit is accessible to all who "ask" it.
Nevertheless God has condescended to "set forth" the infinite dignity and transcendent worthiness of the atonement, as supplying an honorable ground, and a just vindication, for the appointment of specialty in divine influences. The atonement is a measure of such ineffable worth, that it inherently deserves that its ends should be accomplished; and that it should not be, like other measures and expedients in divine government, liable to entire failure. To this splendid expedient God has, through the church, called the attention of principalities and Powers in heavenly places; and all these Intelligences watch the movements of this measure, and diligently observe its bearings on the interests of the universe. If, then, a measure of such grandeur and dignity entirely fall., the universe may, in amazement, ask the Creator, "What wilt thou do to thy great name?"
The entire failure of the Eden dispensation would have clouded the divine character, had it not been rescued by the introduction of a compensative atonement. The entire failure of the Sinai experiment would have reflected dishonor on the divine glory, but it was redeemed by the establishment of a "better Hope." But if the atonement itself ENTIRELY fail, what shall then vindicate the honor of the wisdom, and power, and grace of God? How awfully disastrous will be the upshot of moral government! It would shatter every world in the empire of God, and stun all intelligences "in all the places of his dominion."
The disastrous upshot would not have been effectually prevented by leaving the atonement entirely to the liberty of free agents; for in such hands the failure would be entire and total. The arrangement of its success, therefore, is entrusted to the sovereignty of divine grace, and not to the sovereignty of human capriciousness. This arrangement makes the measure of success certain to him that believes. "It is of faith, that it might be Of GRACE, that the promise may be SURE to all the seed."
All who believe the doctrine of divine influences take it for granted, that the atonement is capable of entire failure, for they assert that the blood of Christ will save none unless the Spirit convey its efficacy. This is the very thing we are now pleading for. Nothing can prevent this entire failure but the determination of God to exercise saving influences, to make some men differ from others, and to Give unto them, for the sake of Christ, to believe in him. And God's great defence against the charge of arbitrariness or capriciousness in this sovereign specialty, is, that the atonement of Christ DESERVED that it should not entirely fail. If any sinner be disposed to complain of God in thus conveying the benefits of the atonement in any special case, conscience must flash the conviction in the breast of that sinner, that God has only used for its designed purpose that very atonement, which the sinner had been invited and commanded to use for that purpose, but which he voluntarily rejected, and spurned as the off-scouring of all things.
IV. The exercise of divine sovereignty in the special operations of divine influences is an HONOR to the atonement.
The Christian church has been deluged with boisterous discourses and turbid volumes to prove that the specialty of divine sovereignty is a disgrace to the atonement. Against this most formidable flood I would unfurl a banner lifted-up by the band of the Redeemer himself. "In that hour, Jesus rejoiced in Spirit, and said, I thank thee, 0 Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes; EVEN so, FATHER, FOR SO IT SEEMED GOOD IN THY SIGHT." Luke x. 21, 22.
The Lord Jesus Christ views the difference in the spiritual conditions of men as the special product of the sovereign agency of God; and considers the exercise of divine sovereignty as a perfectly satisfactory account of the matter. He further regards this sovereign specialty as a positive "good" to the universe, and as entitling God to "thanks" and praise. It is true that this count of the matter shocks the hearts, and disturbs the theological systems, of many good Christians, but it does so, only so far as their hearts and theological sentiments differ from the heart and the doctrine of Jesus Christ. This view of the case perfectly satisfied Christ; why, then, does it not please you? "Let the mind that was in Christ be also in you."
There are four considerations that ought to induce us to rest satisfied in the sentiments which satisfied Christ.
1. The Lord Jesus Christ perfectly understood this subject. "No man knoweth the Father but the Son." He thoroughly KNEW the mind and the plans of his Father. The sentiments which he expresses in the above passage, are not his guesses and conjectures--but he completely knew the whole truth of the case. If the argumentum ad verecundiam be valid anywhere, it must be here.
2. The Lord Jesus Christ was perfectly benevolent. As a benevolent Being he would not be satisfied with any measure that was wrong, unjust, and injurious, in any of its bearings. If the specialty of divine influences were such a measure in reality, he would not have approved of it. He viewed the exercise of divine influence as a source of happiness to the world. "It seemed GOOD in thy sight." God knows what is really "good" and Christ knew what was "good" in the "sight of God." The exercise of gracious influence is "good" in the sight of God; why is it an evil in your sight? You are not a better judge than he is of what is truly benevolent.
3. The Lord Jesus Christ was altogether holy. As a holy Being he could not be pleased with what was unholy in itself, or had an unholy tendency. He could not be pleased with anything that would cause sin, or that would supply an apology for sin. There are systems of theology that suppose that this is precisely the case with this doctrine of gracious specialty. Many argue that it produces heedlessness and licentiousness, and that it is an excuse for living in sin. It should, however, be remembered that this is the "sovereignty" of theological systems--not the sovereignty of God as revealed in the Scriptures. In that, Christ, who knew his Father's sovereignty, saw no aspect or tendency of the kind--and we must allow that what had, or what had not, a holy tendency was distinctly known to him.
4. The Lord Jesus Christ was deeply interested in the subject. It was by the exercise of this gracious influence that he was to see of the travail of his soul. He never thought that his harvest would have been larger and more splendid if it had been left to the self-determining sovereignty of the human will. He regarded it as more sure in the hands of his Father. Divine sovereignty settles every jewel in the mediatorial diadem. This arrangement made Christ happy. Why does it not make you happy? One of the parties, Christ or you, must be wrong! Bethink ye--You often read of his toils and labors, of his sorrows and tears, you never hear of his rejoicing but this ONCE, and then it was in his views of divine sovereignty! This glorious subject made him "rejoice in spirit." It unfolded "the joy that was set before him." For the exercise of sovereignty, he "thanked" his Father, the Lord of heaven and earth. He considered these special displays of sovereignty as exhibiting God worthy of all gratitude, praise and glory. That God should exercise his sovereignty to secure the designs of the atonement against utter failure, the Lord Jesus Christ considered as an honor conferred on his mediatorial undertaking. The clear and ample manifestations which the--exercise of divine influence gives of the entire character of God,--the immense and magnificent accession of happiness which it brings to the universe,--the full consistency of its operations with the honors of infinite justice, surround the CROSS with a halo that is ineffable, and "full of glory."Return to the JENKYN ON ATONEMENT Index Page