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 VARIOUS DISPENSATIONS OF REVEALED RELIGIONS.
THE PROGRESSIVENESS OF DIVINE DISPENSATIONS.
IT has pleased God that the revelation of his mind, concerning the salvation of sinners, should pass through various and progressive degrees, or stages, of advancement, which, in theological nomenclature, are called different dispensations. It is to such a delivery of revelation, in various and successive parts and parcels, that Paul alludes in the commencement of his epistle to the Hebrews: "God who in sundry parts, and in various manners, spake of old to the fathers by the prophets, hath now in these last days of the Jewish dispensation and beginning of the gospel age, spoken to us by his Son," Heb. i. 1, 2.
As a gradual progressiveness is visible in works which are acknowledged to be of God, such successive dispensations in divine revelation can be no valid objection either to its reality, or to its certainty. Even if divine revelation had been given instantaneously, and not in successive portions and degrees, it would, nevertheless, have been various and progressive in its character and influence, according to the respective capacities, and personal circumstances, of each individual to whom it was proposed. This would be a dull world, if every man in it were of the same gradation of intellect, and if successive generations derived no information or improvement from their predecessors. Rational beings, however large their capacities, can know nothing of God any farther than God manifests himself; and he manifests himself in his WORKS and in his WORD, Which are all multiplied instances and evolutions of his power, wisdom. and goodness. The full light of an instantaneous revelation would, probably, be inconsistent with the frame of the human faculties, and incompatible with a state of discipline and probation. If such a revelation would not overwhelm and oppose the faculties with the splendor of its blaze, it would probably render them inactive, so that there would be no more praise-worthiness in accepting a testimony from God, than there is in receiving light from the sun. And such a condition of things could not be a state of probation.
Rational beings are so constituted and so circumstanced under the discipline of moral government, as to be capable of progressively tending and advancing towards moral greatness and strength of character. The light of prophecy reveals that the whole mass of human population is capable of this progression, and that, by the diffusion of religion, liberty, and the arts, the people of the globe will, as a body, advance to such moral worth, and manliness of character, as to be ashamed of oppression and slavery, falsehood and wrong, envy and war.
As for the church of Christ, the entire testimony of the Scriptures is unequivocal and certain, that it shall thus progressively advance to the full proportions of manly growth and masculine vigor; when it shall display and exercise, not the puny and tender limbs of an infant, but the nerves, and bones, and muscles, of full grown men; and when its sanctuary shall be, not so much the nursery of babes, as the home of a gigantic generation. All the various dispensations of religion, and all the different talents and offices in the church are only an apparatus of divine government, "for perfecting the saints, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." This progressiveness of the church does not terminate in the church. It affects other intelligences in the universe; for through the church, the manifold, and the perpetually unfolding wisdom of God is made known to principalities and powers in heavenly places, who desire to look into these things; and as they look, they advance in the knowledge of the works and ways of God.
While the progressive dispensations of revelation were suited to the circumstances of the faculties of man, and in harmony with other works and ways of God we must think that such an arrangement was intended to do honor to the Person and to the atonement of Jesus Christ. "For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honor than that house."
THE INFLUENCE OF THE ATONEMENT RETROSPECTIVE AS WELL AS PROSPECTIVE.
I. The doctrine of the atonement has been prominent and foremost among the articles of religion under every dispensation. There never has been a dispensation of mercy towards mankind, since the expulsion from Eden, without a marked reference to sacrifice and atonement. Though every succeeding dispensation has improved on the preceding, yet every one of them has had the leading elements and principles. In every dispensation we find a universality of aspect, a Sabbath of holy retirement, an atonement for wrong, an imputation of sin and worthiness, the church membership of children, seals of outward ordinances, liableness to failure, and frustration only through unbelief. The principle of atonement has always been in the foreground of every dispensation, as might be witnessed in Abel, in Noah, in Abraham, in Job, in Moses and the prophets. In the Christian dispensation the atonement is all in all; and even in the celestial dispensation at the close of probation, the Lamb of atonement will always be in the midst of the throne.
II. The Holy Scriptures axe the code and the chronicle of these dispensations, and they are full of the doctrine of atonement. Some, indeed, boldly assert that they have read the Scriptures repeatedly, and have never been able to find the atonement there. Whatever may have been the success of these Zoilan inquirers, the apostles, and Jesus Christ himself, assert that they found the doctrine of the atonement in the Old Testament, and that "Jesus Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures." As to the New Testament, the Jews and the Greeks found this doctrine in the addresses of the apostles, and made it a ground of serious objection against their ministrations. Had the apostles preached in the style of modern Socinians, and determined to purge their creeds and discourses of this doctrine, the Greek would not have been offended, nor would the Jew have stumbled. The Judaizing teachers had early introduced, among the Galatians, a doctrine without the Christian atonement, but the apostle distinctly and broadly avers, that such a doctrine is entirely ANOTHER GOSPEL, and brands it as "accursed," though it were delivered by an angel from heaven.
III. The reason why the doctrine of the atonement is found under every dispensation, is because the influence of the atonement reached and affected every dispensation. The atonement was available in every age of the world. The Scriptures are decided and clear with regard to the retrospectiveness of the death of Christ. He is represented as a Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Peter says, that men are redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, who verily was fore-ORDAINED before the foundation of the world, but was MANIFEST in these last times. Paul also says, that there was a covenant confirmed of God in Christ with Abraham, four hundred and thirty years before the giving of the law by Moses; and that believers, like Abraham, were saved by that covenant, and not by the Mosaic Institutions. The atonement of Christ is represented as buying off the punishment which was due for the sins committed under previous dispensations, and as vindicating the justice of God in forgiving them. The death of Christ was for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant. God set him forth as a propitiation to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past through the forbearance of God. Rev. iii. 8; 1 Peter i. 19, 20; Heb. ix. 15; Rev. iii. 25.
IV. The arrangement that the atonement should have a retrospective influence is consistent with the whole of God's moral government. We find that, unlike physical causes, moral causes operate long before they come into actual existence themselves. Thus did the deluge affect the interests of many before it came to pass; the possession of the land of Canaan operated on the Israelites long before they inherited it; the advent of the Messiah had the same retrospective influence; and the moral provision of a day of judgment sends back an influence that reaches to the dawn of time. Thus may the atonement of Christ, from "the hour" in the garden, send back a worthiness that was always available for sinful man. Hence the hundred and forty-four thousand from among the tribes of Israel, as well as the countless millions from among all nations and generations of men, are represented as praising the Lamb that died.
V. The retrospectiveness of the atonement supplies us with a principle that accounts for many things, otherwise inexplicable, in the progress of the divine dispensations. It accounts for the extraordinary appearance of Christ, in the early ages of the world, as the angel Jehovah. It explains the names and the titles which Christ has assumed as the head of all economies, such as First-born, Heir of all things, Alpha and Omega, etc. It is the only thing that gives a substantial meaning to the Jewish types and ceremonial institutions. It accounts for the subserviency of each and all previous economies, to the dispensation of the fullness of times. It gives oneness to the Church through every changing dispensation. It makes the Old Testament promises valid under the new dispensation, for if these had not been confirmed and ratified by the death of Christ, they would not have been yea and amen, either before or since the advent of Christ. It is this principle that gives unity to the song of heaven, for had the saints of the Old Testament been received to heaven irrespectively of the atonement of Christ, the elements of their happiness, and the themes of their song, would have been different from those of the New Testament saints. So, then, it is the glory that excelleth, that throws the refulgence of its light to make any dispensation truly glorious.
VI. The retrospective influence of the death of Christ on all former dispensations, furnishes an answer to what has been often regarded as an unanswerable argument for the limitation and restriction of the atonement. It has been vaunted with a high tone of triumph, that it is blasphemous to say that Christ died for those persons who were in hell, some hundreds of years previous to his death; and this has been regarded as an irrefragable proof that Christ did not die for all.
This argument has force only on the hypothesis that Christ suffered the identical penalty due to sinners. The argument is, that it would be monstrous for Christ to suffer the punishment of persons, Who were actually suffering it themselves at the hour of Christ's crucifixion. If the ARMINIANS allow the data of this hypothesis, their theory of a universal atonement is at once crushed; for it is impossible to show how JUSTICE can inflict a punishment on the substitute, while it is at the same time, and has been for ages, literally being executed upon the criminals themselves.
This difficulty is obviated by the doctrine that the sufferings of Christ were substituted, instead of the literal penalty due to sin, as a ground or reason, for not inflicting on the sinner the sufferings due him. It did not necessarily and unavoidably do this, as a quid pro quo, but it was available for this by being pleaded as such by the sinner for his remission. As a moral cause the death of Christ had an influence long before it actually took place, just as the promise of payment produces an influence long before the payment be actually made.
Take the case of antediluvian sinners for an instance. Was their salvation ever a POSSIBLE case? Was it their OWN FAULT that they perished? Were they in as HOPELESS a state as that of the fallen angels? For what purpose did the Spirit of God STRIVE with them? It was, no doubt, for their salvation. But has God any salvation for any sinner irrespective of the atonement of Christ? Was THEIR salvation possible, if the atonement, in promise, did not reach THEIR case? These very men were called to believe promises,--which were to be established by the influence of a future atonement. If these promises were not established as true and sure, in their offers, by the atonement, the event proved that it was no crime to doubt and neglect them. God, therefore, had a public atonement to vindicate the measures of his government towards these lost sinners, on the same principle that he will have a public day of judgment to vindicate his administrations towards all others who have perished. If we plead that an atonement can be of no use for them that perish, we might as well argue that a day of judgment can be of no use for those who are already in punishment; for in both cases we forget the character of the divine government. Under every dispensation, the atonement was a sweet savor unto God, both in them that are saved, and in them that perish; to the one a savor of life unto life, to the other a savor of death unto death. Every unprejudiced mind will see that it was as necessary for Christ to die, in order to justify the condemnation of unbelievers, as it was to justify the admission of saints to heaven under every dispensation.
THE UNIVERSAL EXTENT OF THE ATONEMENT NOT INCONSISTENT WITH THE LIMITED PROMULGATION OF THE GOSPEL.
The advocates of a limited atonement have argued that if God had given his Son an atonement for all, he would have given and sent a revelation of that fact universally to all.
This objection is founded on wrong principles. It supposes that God cannot justly perform any one good, unless he also do every other conceivable good in connection with it. It supposes that the atonement cannot be of any benefit to any persons unless they are informed of it; whereas we know that thousands are benefited by providence who did now know that it is the providence of God; and we have seen, in the progress of this inquiry, that mankind owe even their existence to the mediation of Christ, though they do not know it. It supposes that the atonement was offered on the principle of commercial justice, so that God is bound in equity to dispense all the good, for which he had value received in the death of his Son. It supposes that all the good which the atonement was capable of securing shall be infallibly attained, though it is a contemplated FACT that very many will NEGLECT this salvation, receive its grace IN VAIN, and come SHORT of the heavenly rest. It supposes that notwithstanding man's abuse and neglect, and loss of moral means, God is bound to continue to him these means; whereas it is an inseparable characteristic of moral government, that the use of means is left to the free choice of accountable beings. It supposes, also, that God must inform every individual of all the good that he is doing in the universe.
The question has been frequently asked, "Did Christ die for those who have never heard of his atonement?" For a solution I would suggest the following hints :
1. We have already seen that God may and can do good, e. g., in providence, to a creature, without letting that creature know the medium of doing it.
2. God has provided ample means to make the provision of this medium known to all who are concerned.
3. As it is the duty of every nation to come out of its barbarism, ignorance, and political bondage, so are all the nations of the earth under obligations to come forth from the moral darkness in which they have involved themselves.
4. All people, who possess the knowledge of the death of Christ, are under the most awful responsibility to communicate it to those who need it.
5. The revelation which God has given of his salvation is unrestricted, and of a universal aspect; and the limited promulgation of the gospel is not owing to the scantiness of the provision, but to the negligence of the people who possess it, and hold it back in unrighteousness.
6. All will be dealt with according to the light that they have. And wherever there is a heathen Cornelius, he will be accepted before God for the sake of a Saviour of whom he has not heard.
7. FAITH is necessary to salvation only to those who have the gospel. Faith cometh by hearing-and hearing can only be where the gospel is. INFANTS are saved for Christ's sake, though they do not know the medium of their salvation; and so might a virtuous heathen be, wherever such can be found.
8. Missionary institutions take for granted that Christ has died for heathens who have never heard of his death. if Christ has not died for them, what message can these institutions send to them? When a missionary arrives among a heathen nation he tells them, "Jesus Christ died for you." Suppose he go to China, instead of to India, would that circumstance imply that Christ had died for the Chinese, but not for the people of India? Does the fact that he delivers the message to the heathen of the nineteenth century imply that Christ had not died for the heathen of the eighteenth, or the fifteenth, etc.? Christ has died for them, whether he goes there or not for a fact in the nineteenth century cannot alter what transpired in the first.
There is one topic more to which I would advert. It is that the extent of the atonement is not to be measured by the actual success of any dispensation, but by the design and aspect of all dispensations. Each and all of these dispensations had a universal aspect of good-will towards the interests of all mankind. Their limitation was not owing to any sovereign restriction from God. But, say the objectors, If Christ was intended for the salvation of all men, how comes it to pass that so few are saved?
1. This implies that God must save all whom be CAN save. But POWER is not the rule of his administration.
He CAN create more worlds--for no one would say that he has created all the worlds that he could. And it would be the highest blasphemy to think that no more good is done in the universe, because God CAN do no more. If power were his rule, his government would not be moral.
2. The salvation of sinners is not the last end of the atonement, but the GLORY OF GOD. His last end in endowing minerals and vegetables with healing virtues is not the cure of disorders, but his own glory. And in a free and moral government the provisions redound to his glory, whether men use them or reject them.
3. All that is in the gospel is adapted, designed, and intended to be the means of saving all men, and all men ate invited and pressed sincerely to use them.
4. The gospel system invariably ascribes its inefficacy to save all men to their own unbelief, and their voluntary rejection of its provisions.
5. Nevertheless, through the exercise of sovereign grace, the number of the saved will not be few, but will far exceed the number of the lost.
6. To limit the efficacy of the atonement to save, to the actual instances of its success, is incongruous. You do not measure the power to create by the actual number of worlds created. You do not measure the virtue of a medicine by the number of persons which it cures. You do not limit the power of Christ to work miracles to the mere number actually wrought. You know that he was prevented from working some miracles by the unbelief of the people. By parity of reasoning, the efficacy of the atonement is not to be measured by the number of the saved.Return to Index Page