ASSOCIATE PROF. OF SACRED LITERATURE IN THE THEOL. SEM.
Published at the request of the students.
• DISCOURSE I. ISAIAH liii. 5, 6.
• DISCOURSE II. ISAIAH liii. 5, 6.
SOME OBJECTIONS CONSIDERED
The following sermons were preached on a sacramental occasion, in the chapel of the Theological Seminary, on the last Sabbath and the last day of the winter term, when many of the students had left town. At the commencement of the summer term, when the students had reassembled, the writer received a request, that they might be again delivered in the chapel. With this request he complied; but on the second occasion of delivering them, several of the topics which the subject comprises were enlarged upon, and some others introduced, so that the whole constituted four discourses from the pulpit. As the discussions contained in this enlarged form were designed, in a particular manner, for students on theology, the author has judged it to be unnecessary to retain them all in the present publication; and he has reduced the whole to the size of two discourses, by many omissions and abridgements. While he is not without fears, that some things may now be represented in a manner less perspicuous than he could wish, on account of his compressed limits, he indulges the hope that the great points which he has aimed to establish, may be clearly discerned.
The publication of the sermons is now made at the request of the students of the Theological Seminary. A state of health which obliged the writer to retire from the circle of his duties for the remainder of the summer term, necessarily hastened the printing much beyond what he could have wished. As this was unavoidable, he hopes it will be duly estimated, if an apology is found necessary for any small blemishes in the discourses. For the leading sentiments, he stands fully responsible. They are the result of the deliberate consideration and deepest conviction of
THEOL. SEMINARY, July 12, 1824
ISAIAH liii. 5, 6.
HE WAS WOUNDED FOR OUR TRANSGRESSIONS; HE WAS BRUISED FOR OUR INIQUITIES; THE CHASTISEMENT OF OUR PEACE WAS UPON HIM; AND BY HIS STRIPES ARE WE HEALED. ALL WE LIKE SHEEP HAVE GONE ASTRAY; WE HAVE TURNED EVERY ONE TO HIS OWN WAY; AND THE LORD HATH LAID ON HIM THE INIQUITY OF US ALL.
THE sentiment of this passage may perhaps be made more perspicuous, by a translation of it somewhat nearer to the spirit of the original.
"He was wounded on account of our transgressions; he was smitten on account of our iniquities; the chastisement by which our peace is procured was laid on him; and by his wounds are we healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have wandered each one in the path that he chose; and Jehovah hath laid on him the punishment due to us all."
This passage, no less than the august personage to whom it relates, has been to the Jews of ancient and modern times a stumbling block, and, to many of the Gentiles foolishness. Very soon after Christians began, when disputing with the Jews about Christ crucified, to make their appeal to it, as proof that a suffering and atoning Saviour, Jesus of Nazareth, was foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Jews set themselves to find out some other person, or class of men, concerning whom the prophet might be regarded as here speaking. Some of them have maintained that he had reference to their nation at large; some that he had respect to Uzziah, Hezekiah, or Josiah; while others suppose that Isaiah, Jeremiah or some one of the prophets, was the subject of his description. Nor have commentators and critics among Christians been wanting, who have advocated these opinions proposed by the Jews. Of late, the pervading sentiment among a certain class of critics is, that the prophetic order of men among the Hebrews, rather than any particular individual of it, is referred to by Isaiah. As the prophets, in ancient times, were often subjected to sufferings and death, by the persecuting spirit which reigned among their contemporaries; so they are supposed to be represented, in our text and context, as bearing the sins of the nation, and making atonement for them.
It is not my present design to enter into a particular examination of these discrepant and very unsatisfactory opinions. To the Jew I would say, In what other part of the Old Testament can the sufferings of any mere king or prophet ever be represented as expiatory? The Mosaic law has prescribed expiatory sacrifices, and has prescribed all that were to be offered under the ancient dispensation. What part of this law speaks of expiation by the sufferings and death of any mere king or Prophet?" Or if the Jewish nation at large be the subject of the prophet's description, where is this nation when persecuted and suffering, represented as an expiatory sacrifice? and for whom did they make expiation? On the contrary, are they not always represented as bearing the punishment due to their own transgressions, and not as bearing that due to others?
To the commentator bearing the name of Christian, and disposed to follow these wanderings of unbelief and offence at the cross of Christ, in which the Jews have so long indulged, I have only one brief remark to make; which is, that evangelists and apostles have told us, who is the subject of the prophet's description in our text and context. When the treasurer of the Ethiopian queen had been up to worship at Jerusalem and was returning home, by an express direction from the Spirit of God Philip the evangelist met him. As Philip drew near, he heard the Ethiopian reading a portion of our chapter; "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb before his shearers, so he opened not his mouth. In his humiliation, his judgment was taken away; and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth. And the eunuch said to Philip, of whom speaketh the prophet this? Of himself, or, of some other man? Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same Scripture, and preached unto him Jesus." Acts viii. 26-35.
Peter also has applied a part of our chapter to the same distinguished sufferer. "Christ suffered for us . . . his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree . . . by whose stripes we are healed; for ye were as sheep going astray" 1 Pet ii. 21-25
The two last phrases are quotations from our text itself, and are certainly applied by the apostle directly to the Saviour.
I add only, that Jesus himself cites a part of our chapter, as containing a description of his own sufferings. "I say unto you, that what is written must be accomplished in me; And he was reckoned among the transgressors." Luke xxii. 37, comp. Is. lii. 12.
I feel no concern further to vindicate the application of the text to the person of the Messiah. The matter resolves itself into the simple question, whether the interpretation of evangelists and apostles is to be admitted, and believed to be correct; or whether our own conjecture or philosophy is to be the ultimate authority, to which we make our appeal.
From the language of our text, as applied to Christ, I deduce the proposition, that:
HE SUFFERED AS OUR SUBSTITUTE, or, that HIS SUFFERINGS AND DEATH WERE AN EXPIATORY OFFERING, ON ACCOUNT OF WHICH OUR SINS ARE PARDONED AND WE ARE RESTORED TO THE DIVINE FAVOUR.
My present object is to discuss the doctrine of the atonement made by Christ, which this proposition brings to our view; and in doing this, I design
I. To make some explanations necessary to a right understanding of the subject.
II. To prove the doctrine.
III. To answer some objections alleged against it.
According to the method proposed, I am, first, to make some explanations necessary to a right understanding of our subject.
In order to avoid all misapprehension of the design which I have in view, let me observe at the commencement of this discourse, that it is not my object to treat of the obedience of Christ, considered as having an influence upon our redemption, or in procuring salvation for us. I speak of obedience here, in the sense which many of the older divines mean to express, when they employ the phrase active obedience of Christ, in order to distinguish his positive fulfillment of the divine law from what they name his passive obedience, by which they mean his humiliation and sufferings. To pursue the inquiry, in what sense, or to what degree, the active obedience of Christ contributes to our redemption, would carry me too far from the specific object which I now have in view. I shall therefore dismiss this topic with simply remarking, that while the sufferings and death of Christ are every where represented as the special procuring cause of our redemption, yet his obedience is also represented as a concurring cause or ground of our salvation. The Saviour's entire obedience or sinless perfection was essential to his character as a substitute for sinners; for if he himself had sinned, instead of presenting an acceptable sacrifice for others, himself would have needed an expiatory offering. That all which he did and said, during his incarnate condition, had some bearing on the great work which he came to accomplish, and did in some way contribute to it, cannot reasonably be doubted. But his expiatory sacrifice appears to be the great point, on which rests, in a peculiar manner, the hope of our restoration to the divine favor.
To proceed with the explanation proposed under the present head; when I say, Christ in his sufferings was our substitute or, by them he made an EXPIATORY OFFERING for us, I mean that GOD DID APPOINT AND ACCEPT THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST INSTEAD OF THE PUNISHMENT DUE TO US AS SINNERS AGAINST HIS LAW; and that in consequence of this appointment and of these sufferings, he does forgive our sins and receive us to his favour.
A substitute is something put in lieu of another thing, and accepted instead of it. An offering is something presented to God. An offering which is acceptable to him, is one made by his appointment. An expiatory offering, under the Jewish law, was a slain beast, presented to God by his appointment, and by a person who had been guilty of some offence and incurred a penalty; in consequence of which presentation, the penalty for his offence, threatened by the law of Moses, was "remit" or the offender was pardoned. To say then that Christ made an expiatory offering for us, according to my apprehension of the meaning of scriptural language, implies that his sufferings and death were, by divine appointment, accepted instead of the punishment due to us as sinners, and that God, in consequence of the of the offering made by Christ, pardons our offence and restores us to his favour. This also is just what I mean, when I say that Christ in his sufferings and death was our substitute.
I do not feel at all disposed to find any fault with other language, which Christians may choose to employ, in order to designate the idea that I have now expressed, provided they define the sense in which they employ it, and do not leave it open to misconception. So doing they may say, "Christ made satisfaction for our sins;" or, "his death was a full equivalent for the demands of the law;" or, "our punishment--our guilt-was transferred to him; "for certainly our text employs phraseology equally strong, and of the same nature with this. I may also say, "Christ made atonement--Christ atoned--for our sins; his sufferings were vicarious --were in lieu of ours; he bore the punishment due to us." I may use other and different expressions of the same nature, to designate my ideas relative to the subject before us; but whatever phraseology of this kind I might employ, or whatever I may employ in this discourse, my meaning would and will be one and the same, viz., Christ was our EXPIATORY OFFERING, our SUBSTITUTE, in the sense already explained.
So far as I am able to understand the language which Christians in general, who receive the doctrine of the atonement, have employed in respect to this subject, it is designed to convey the idea that I have just conveyed. I am aware that one may occasionally meet with expressions in some writers, relative to the sufferings of Christ, that seem to imply something more than what I have expressed, or something different from it. But most divines, who have clearly explained themselves, appear to me substantially to agree with the view which I have given of substitution or expiatory offering. If this be the fact is it not idle to waste time and pains, in contending about certain modes of expression, which some may choose to employ, but which others think it better to avoid because they are liable to misconstruction; when, after all, there is a substantial agreement in regard to the idea to be designated? In reality, can such contention amount to any thing more than a strife about words? A strife unworthy of sober and earnest inquirers after truth; and one which never can serve any purpose, but to alienate from each other and divide those, who love the Saviour, and trust for acceptance with God solely in his atoning blood.
To pursue still farther the explanation of the leading terms employed to designate the doctrine which I am to establish; a substitute may be, and where it is voluntarily accepted on the part of him to whom any debt or reparation is due, must be, an equivalent of some kind or other, a satisfaction in some sense, for such debt or penalty due. But it may be equivalent or satisfactory, without being the same either in kind or quantity as that in the Place of which it comes. For plainly an equivalent is of two sorts. The first has respect to kind and quantity, and requires equality or sameness in regard to both. The second is where the substitute answers the same end, as that would have done in the place of which it is put, or a higher end of the same nature. The first species of substitution or equivalency belongs to various transactions of business among men; such as borrowing and lending, exchange of various species of property, and other things of the like nature, equivalency of the second kind has respect to transactions of a civil or penal nature, and to the intercourse of rational beings with each other, as subjects of social or other laws. For example, banishment is often substituted by civil governments instead of inflicting the penalty of death; fines, instead of imprisonment or other corporal punishment. So among men in their daily intercourse, confession of a fault, joined with a request of forgiveness, is accepted as a satisfaction for an injury done, or an insult offered; and is regarded as an equivalency for it. In all cases of this nature which are exceedingly numerous and diversified both in regard to the intercourse of men with each other, and in respect to civil rulers and their subjects, the equivalent or satisfaction is not the same in kind or quantity as that for which it is substituted. Indeed in all transactions which have respect to a penalty for any injury done, or any violation of law, where substitution is admitted with regard to the offender, the first kind of equivalency, or that which consists in the same quality and quantity, is out of the question. The letter of a penal law demands that the offender himself, and no other, should suffer. But the object of the penalty-the ultimate and highest object of attaching it to the law--may be attained, perhaps, in some other way, and by substitution; even in a more effectual manner, than by a literal infliction of the punishment threatened. On the supposition that it can be, then if a substitute be admitted instead of literally inflicting the penalty, satisfaction may be truly said to be made, or an equivalent rendered, according to the common usage and understanding of all men, in respect to subjects of this nature. Indeed the term equivalent has come, by usage, most commonly to imply that the substitute does differ in some respects from that for which it is substituted.
If Christ died then as a substitute for sinners, it is not at all necessary to suppose, that his sufferings were the same in quality and quantity, as would have been endured by those in whose room he suffered, in case the penalty of the law had been executed upon them. In fact such a supposition is replete with difficulties of a kind not easily to be removed. The worm that never dies, the cup of wrath without mixture which is drunk by sinners in the world of woe, we have strong reasons for believing is the sting of a guilty conscience-self condemnation and reproach for having violated the just and holy laws of God. This sting the holy and spotless Saviour never felt; this was an agony to which his bosom of perfect purity must have been a stranger. However high then his sufferings mounted, they could not have been the same in kind, as those of the wicked in the world of misery.
Nor can we well conceive how they could have been the same in quantity, as they deserved whom he redeems. He suffered but a few hours; or, if you include his whole period of humiliation, but a few years. In his divine nature, considered as the immutable God, we cannot conceive of his having suffered; and indeed the Scriptures always represent him as having assumed the human nature, in order that he might suffer. Phil. ii. 6-8. Heb. vi. 9. Great as his sufferings were, yet they were not like those of the damned, sufferings of absolute and hopeless despair. He could look beyond them, when hanging on the cross. He did. He could see the glory and prosperity of his kingdom as the certain result of them. He had a resurrection from the tomb in full view; he anticipated his ascension to the throne of majesty on high, in order to become "head over all things to the Church," and the object of heavenly worship--in order to participate in "the glory which he had with the Father before the world was." However great then his sufferings were, we can hardly conceive of their having been equal in quantity (so to speak) to those which were due to sinners, for whom he suffered.
When I say then that Christ in his sufferings was our substitute, I do not mean that those sufferings were an equivalent of the first kind, for the penalty remitted; or, in other words, that he did actually suffer torments the same in kind and quantity as were due to sinners. But still, it seems to me to be impossible for us to ascertain how great his sufferings really were. The peculiar constitution and the unspeakable dignity of the Saviour's person; the spotless innocence of his character; the agony in the garden which forced his whole frame to sweat as it were great drops of blood; his complaint on the cross that his God had forsaken him; the fact that he expired sooner than those who suffered with him; the commotion of the natural world at the woes which he endured; the heavens shrouded with darkness; the luminary of the skies extinguished; the vail of the most holy place rent, by which Jehovah's presence was concealed; the rocks and tombs bursting asunder; and the mouldering dust of the saints becoming reanimated with life-all, all concur to shew that the scene of suffering was such as the world had never witnessed; and that it is probably not in the power of language to express, nor of our minds to conceive, the extent of the agony which Jesus endured.
That he endured all this as our substitute, or on our account, is what I expect hereafter to prove. At present I would merely ask, Since he did not suffer on account of any guilt of his own, on what ground can they reconcile his sufferings with the justice of God, who hold that he was not a substitute for sinners?
Let me dwell a moment longer on the subject of the Saviour's agony, and observe, that unless the sufferings of Christ be regarded as exceedingly great, and in many respects of a nature altogether peculiar, his demeanour under them is quite irreconcilable with the undaunted constancy and patience and firmness, which he at all other times exhibited. When did he ever before shrink from suffering? When was he ever before appalled by danger? Never. Yet now, in what an agony do we behold him in the garden, at the prospect of crucifixion. What sinking of soul, what unutterable horror, does he exhibit on the cross. Thousands of other sufferers have met death, in all its most dreadful form! with far more composure, even when unsupported by the consolations and hopes of religion. Thousands of martyrs, feeble, emaciated, thousands even of the more delicate sex, have been stretched on the rack, or cast into the flames--punishments more dreadful than simple crucifixion--while with a dauntless, nay, with a triumphant spirit, they rejoiced in the midst of torments. But here is a sufferer, the only one on earth who ever had a spotless character--filled too with exalted and certain hopes of ultimate triumph and glory--first shrinking with horror from the cup of suffering which he was to drink, and then uttering language of the highest possible agitation and distress upon the cross.
Here now is a difficulty which cannot be solved, on the ground that his death was in any respect like that of a common man. If it indeed were such, must he not be regarded by every one who contemplates his demeanour on the cross, as wanting in calmness and fortitude of soul, when he was so appalled and agitated with sufferings which others have triumphantly endured? Are we not constrained then to regard him as suffering in a degree unparalleled, indescribable, in short not capable of being conceived by us?
What this degree was, the Scriptures have not explicitly declared; nor indeed was such a declaration necessary. Enough, that in his sufferings the awful displeasure of God against sin has been manifested in a most impressive manner. Enough, if God has judged that his sufferings, as our substitute were carried to such a height as was by infinite wisdom deemed necessary, in order to promote the best designs of the divine government.
To pursue my explanation; although I cannot consider an equivalent of the first kind as being rendered by the death of Christ, yet I fully believe that one of the second kind was rendered. The object of the penalty affixed to the divine law is not revenge. "God takes no pleasure in the death of him that dieth." The object of all penalty, under every wise and benevolent government, is to put restraint upon offence, to exhibit awful testimony or warning against them, and thus to secure the interests of virtue.
If now virtue be in the best manner promoted, and sin restrained, by the death of Christ and the consequences that necessarily flow from it, then the great object of the divine law and its penalties is promoted in the most effectual manner. Such I suppose to be the fact; but this is not the proper place to establish it. I only state so much, therefore as is necessary to elucidate the meaning which I assign to the language that I have employed. Indeed, I view the great object of the divine law as answered by the death of Christ in a much higher degree, than it could have been by a mere law--administration and literal infliction of the penalty. Must not his death be regarded as a more awful manifestation of divine displeasure against sin, than the execution of the law on sinners themselves? I am forced to view the subject in this light, when I contemplate the infinite dignity of the Saviour's person, and the spotless purity of his character; and then turn my eye to Gethsemane, and to the scenes of the cross.
I confess myself averse to indulging much in speculation here, as to the how and the why of the equivalency in question. My reason is, that the sacred writers do not seem to indulge in any curious speculation on the subject. Some things, as presented by them, appear exceedingly plain. When they bring to our view the WORD, who was in the beginning with God, and who was GOD; Who Created all things; who is GOD OVER ALL, and blessed forever; the TRUE GOD and eternal life; and represent him as becoming incarnate-as taking the form of a servant and becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross; and all this on our account, that we might be redeemed from deserved ruin; they do this to excite our gratitude, our love, our humility, our obedience; and to urge upon us our obligation to devote ourselves, with all we have and are, to the service of him "who loved us, and who gave himself to die for us." They teach us that the gospel presents motives to obedience of a higher nature, and puts restraints upon vice that are more effectual, than a system of law could do. With this we may well be content; for with this they appear to have been satisfied. Where is there any philosophizing, any refined speculation in their writings, about the manner in which equivalency or satisfaction is or can be made out? Can we not acquiesce in the subject, just as they have left it? If they present the death of Christ as a most awful and affecting display of the evil of sin, and of the divine displeasure against it, enhanced beyond description by the dignity of his person, and the peculiar severity of his sufferings; and if this makes an appeal to the moral sensibilities of the human race, in favour of gratitude and obedience to God, and against sin, in a manner far more affecting and successful, than the literal execution of the penalty of the law on sinners; is not this sufficient? And if thus much lies on the face of the New Testament, and every reader, learned and unlearned, can see and feel it; this is enough; the object of the law is in the most effectual manner answered.
For myself, I need nothing more than this to produce quietude of mind, in this regard to this part of our object. More this the laplander and the Hottentot--nay most of the human race--cannot well be expected to understand; nor can I see how it is really important that they should. If others feel that clear and satisfactory views about the manner in which equivalency is made out, are to be obtained by pursuing the speculations of a refined philosophy, I will not object. But I may suggest one caution, viz., that if we attempt to build the doctrine of atonement on the speculations of philosophy, and do not acquiesce in the subject, as it is simply presented by the writers of the New Testament--so simply, that the heathen can understand and feel it as well as we--then we must not be surprised, if we find philosophy objecting to the atonement, and claiming a right to prostrate our edifice, by the same power which has raised it up.
I have said enough, I trust, to explain what I mean, and what I do not mean, by the principal terms employed relative to the doctrine which I am discussing. I pass on then
II. To prove the doctrine, that Christ in his sufferings was our SUBSTITUTE, or that by them he made an EXPIATORY OFFERING for sinners.
Here I must ask at the threshold: Before what tribunal must the question be brought which this subject necessarily raises?
I am bold to aver that philosophy is not a competent judge to decide it. In averring this, however, I take it for granted, that philosophy is unable to disprove the credit due to divine revelation. On the supposition that such is the fact, and as a believer in divine revelation, I hold myself under obligation to prove nothing more in regard to the substitution or expiatory sacrifice of Christ, than that the Scriptures have revealed it as a FACT. Has God declared it to be a FACT? Do the Saviour and his apostles declare it to be so? These are the questions, and the only ones of any particular importance, about which a sincere and implicit believer in the divine testimony needs to be solicitous. It cannot surely be of much consequence, what difficulties can be raised by speculating on philosophical grounds, about the nature or manner of substitution. The fact itself is that with which we are concerned, as poor ruined sinners. We might indeed well say, that when the authority of revelation is admitted, the questions why and how, in respect to the atonement, could be entirely dismissed from our discussion, as being by no means necessarily attached to it. Does philosophy find the doctrine of atonement by the death of the Son of God mysterious? We readily concede that it is so, and we know that the distinguished apostle of the Gentiles believed the mystery of godliness to be great; and that the angels themselves are represented as earnestly desirous of prying into this mystery.
But if philosophy wonders here, (for which we will not blame her,) yet she has no right to scoff. If atonement by the vicarious suffering and death of Christ be a reality, it is one which the book of God only reveals. I fully agree with the naturalists in saying that the book of nature presents nothing but a blank leaf, in respect to an atonement effected in this manner. Not one syllable can be made out from it, with any certainty. The necessity of some atonement or expiatory offering, has indeed been felt by nearly all the human race, however unenlightened; and acknowledged in the bloody sacrifices which they have offered to the gods whom they worshipped. But the method of it, as proposed in the Gospel, is quite above the discovery of unenlightened or even philosophical reason. The most rigid sect of moralists among the heathen, did not admit that pardoning mercy could with any propriety be extended to those, who had incurred the Penalty which justice demanded. Seneca declares that a wise man does "not remit the punishment which he ought to exact." (De Clementia II. 6.7). How then could this philosopher, or those who were like him, discover or believe the doctrine of substitution or vicarious suffering by the death of the Son of God? What they never imagined, or what many when it is proposed to them regard as foolishness, God has declared to be the means of salvation. To revelation then we must go for any instruction, with regard to the doctrine of pardoning mercy through the atoning blood of Jesus.
But another view of the subject is necessarily suggested by that which has now been taken. This is, that as philosophy was unable to discover the doctrine of atonement by Christ, so she is equally incompetent to make any valid objections against it. She cannot shew that it is absurd. Could this be done, then we must admit that the doctrine of atonement by vicarious suffering would be incapable of defence; for the human mind, if it be well illuminated, and guided in its researches by candour and a love of truth, cannot receive and accredit that which is absurd. But who does not know that through ignorance, prejudice, and haste, or when influenced by erroneous philosophy, some men may pronounce things to be absurd, which the most acute, sober, and judicious think to be very rational? In regard, however, to the doctrine of substitution, the matter seems to be quite clear. Absurd this doctrine of itself cannot be called; for the wisest and best human governments, as has already been mentioned, often admit the principle, in respect to penalties incurred. But will any one venture on account of this, to accuse civil rulers of acting irrationally and absurdly? Will any one even venture the assertion, that this principle, prudently and soberly applied, is not the means of evident gain in respect to the great ends which civil government is designed to accomplish? If not then surely it must be conceded, that infinite power, connected with infinite wisdom and benevolence, can employ substitution in such a way as to promote the important ends of the divine government. Philosophy, most evidently, has it not in her power to disprove this; and therefore has no right to deny the possibility of it; much less to declare that the doctrine is absurd. In short, as she cannot do this, nor disprove the credit due to revelation, it is plain that the matter comes not at all within her jurisdiction.
The question in respect to substitution, then, stands high above the objections which all the efforts of philosophy can raise; equally unaffected by her sophistry at one time, or by her scorn and contumely at another.
It follows from what has been said, that the impossibility of substitution, under the divine government, cannot be established. Nay, I advance farther, and aver that so far from there being any impossibility in the case, it is a matter of fact that substitution was admitted for nearly fifteen centuries, under the Mosaic dispensation; to say nothing of the expiatory sacrifices of the patriarchal age. It was admitted too, under the Mosaic economy, as type of the substitution or expiatory offering of Paul has taught us in the most explicit manner, in his Epistle to the Hebrews, that all the expiatory offerings and sacrifices of the Jews were typical of the great atoning sacrifice by the death of Christ; and that they were originally designed by God to be so. Consequently, when thus authorized, we may draw a comparison from the one, in order to illustrate the other.
The expiatory offerings of the law were not a substitution, I admit, which did of itself procure a remission of the punishment due to the moral turpitude of sin; for it is impossible, as the sacred writer has told us, that the blood of goats and bullocks should take away sin, and tranquillize the conscience wounded by a sense of guilt. It could not remove the apprehension, that divine displeasure might inflict on the offender punishment of a spiritual nature. But still, it is a fact that the blood of goats and bullocks was appointed by God, to be an expiatory offering for certain offence against the Jewish law; while at the same time this very offering was also a type of the sacrifice to be offered by Christ, in order to remove the punishment due to moral turpitude. He who brought a sin or trespass offering, and presented it to the Lord, was exempted from the sentence which the law of Moses pronounced against the external offence that he had committed. The whole nation, as such, were freed from the penalty annexed to certain offence, on the great day of atonement, when the high priest entered the most holy place, and presented the blood of the national offering or victim before Jehovah; not indeed from the punishment of a spiritual nature due to sin. but from some penalty of an external nature, threatened in the present life. In a word, God as the sovereign legislator and judge of the Jews did, by the exercise of his supreme right, actually appoint sin and trespass offerings as expiatory sacrifices; which being presented agreeably to his appointment were followed by the real remission, on his part, of the penalty due, to certain offence, and threatened by the law of Moses. So the apostle himself states the subject. "The blood of bulls and goats, and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling those who were defiled, made expiation in respect to external purity, i.e., after the performance of such sacrificial rites, the Jews were, regarded and treated, in respect to their external relations, as pure or free from exposure to the penalty threatened by the law of Moses. Heb. ii. 13.
The fact just stated cannot be called in question. We have only to open the book of Leviticus, and it is at once exhibited before our eyes.
Here, then, we are presented with a case of substitution; actual substitution by the appointment of God, the supreme legislator and judge of the Jewish nation and of an men; a case in which a beast was slain instead of the criminal being punished who made an offering of it, and who had himself incurred the penalty of the Mosaic law.
But how and why such an expiation as has been described was made by the blood of slain beasts, different persons have endeavoured, and might endeavour, to explain in various ways. I cannot enter at all here, into the discussion of this point. Suffice it to say, that all who admit the reasoning in the Epistle to the Hebrews, must admit that the Jewish sacrifices were typical of the sacrifice of Christ. Do not the representations of the Scripture also entitle us to believe, that the penitent offender, who was sufficiently enlightened in respect to the true nature of the Mosaic dispensation, while he knew that by his offering, penalties of an external nature would of course be remitted to him, might and probably did, by faith, look forward to the great atoning sacrifice, the antitype of that which he offered, for a remission of the punishment of a spiritual nature, which was due to his transgressions?
Considering now the facts in regard to this whole subject, as they stand disclosed in the Jewish Scriptures, who will venture to pronounce, that a similar arrangement under the general government of God in respect to men, is impossible? The moral purposes of God in respect to this government, we may cheerfully admit, are the highest purposes which are known to us. But had he no moral purposes to effect under the Jewish dispensation, and by the Mosaic institutes? Most certainly he had. Incipient and imperfect they were indeed, compared with the great moral ends accomplished by the Gospel. But still they were real. Yet God as the supreme lawgiver and judge of the Jews, did, in some cases, remit the penalty of his law as given by Moses, in consequence of a substitute for it. Now if the thing itself were absurd or impossible, he could not have done it. Nor can we conceive of any more impossibility that he should do the same thing under his general government of men, than that he should do it under the Jewish dispensation. Wrong is not more really done (if there be wrong at all) in the one case, than in the other; and one is therefore just as possible for God as the other. So far as we can see, there is no more hazard to the general interests of the universe, in the admission of vicarious sacrifice for sinners, than there was to the Jewish commonwealth, by the admission of expiatory offering into its system of government.
In a word; God did admit vicarious sacrifices under his government of the Jews; and an inspired apostle has taught us that they were, and were designed to be types of the great expiatory offering made by Christ. To express it in another manner; that was done in ancient times upon a smaller scale, which at a later period was done on a larger one. The penalty for certain offence against the Mosaic law, was removed by the sacrifice of goats and bullocks; and the penalty against the higher law of heaven (if you please so to name it), is removed by the death of Christ. If both are by the arrangement of heaven, the one presents no more impossibility than the other.
Nor can it be objected here, that the expiatory sacrifices of the law procured merely the remission of a civil or ecclesiastical penalty, which was wholly of an external nature, and could be inflicted by men; but that the removal of the penalty due to moral turpitude, is a very different thing, and has a much more important bearing upon the interests of God's moral government. I accede to the fact that it had. But this does not render an expiatory offering impossible, provided one adequate to the occasion can be made. I believe the Scriptures teach us, that such an one has been made by the Son of God as the end to be accomplished by a Saviour's death, was of a far higher, nobler nature, than that accomplished by the sacrifices of the Levitical law, so the victim that was to be offered, was of a rank which corresponded to the object to be attained. The redemption of men from everlasting death, (not of the Jews only but also of the Gentiles,) was concerned with this sacrifice. Well then might the apostle draw the admirable comparison, which he has drawn in Heb. ix. 13,14, between the one species of offering and the other. "If," says he, "the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh; how MUCH MORE shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit, offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works, to serve the living God." That is, If the beast which perished forever under the knife of the sacrificing priest, did still, by divine appointment, make atonement for certain offence against the Mosaic law, so that the penalty denounced against them was remitted, and the offender treated as though he were not guilty; how much more shall the holy Saviour, a victim possessed of a nobler nature of a never-dying spirit--make expiation for the moral turpitude of offence against God as the governor of the world.
If this reasoning of the apostle be admitted, then we can never prove the impossibility of atonement for sin, by alleging that no victim can be adequate to the occasion. For the apostle plainly declares that the sacrifice of Christ was MORE adequate to the purpose for which it was made, than the death of the victim under the ancient dispensation, was to the occasion which demanded it.
Nor can the justice of God be alleged as constituting a ground of impossibility, that an expiatory offering should be admitted for sinners. All men, who hold that there is forgiveness at all with God, must of course concede that his justice is no more impugned by the forgiveness of sin through an atonement, than it would be without any atonement. Consequently no objection of this nature can be urged by such, against the possibility of atonement.
Nor are the advocates of propitiatory sacrifice obliged to content themselves with merely shewing that it is possible; they may advance farther, and venture to say, that the improbability of such an arrangement under the divine government can in no valid manner be shown. Will its opponents appeal to the feelings of men in general, and declare that such a sacrifice is naturally revolting to the human mind? How then comes it to pass, that every tribe and nation, from the philosophic Greeks down to the roaring Tartars and the fiend-like race of New Zealand-every, part of our degraded race however ignorant or barbarous, that have at all acknowledged the existence of any divinity--have agreed in offering to him propitiatory sacrifices? Does this universal custom of the mere children of nature, look as if the doctrine were revolting to the first principles of the human breast? Or does it look as if the hand of Omnipotence had enstamped on the very elements of our moral constitution, a susceptibility of receiving it, a predisposition to admit it? Who will or can explain the origin and prevalence of vicarious sacrifices, on any other ground than this
I proceed one step further. To me it seems plain, that although reason, unenlightened by revelation, never could have discovered a way of pardon for sin by the expiatory death of the Son of God, yet when all the attributes of the Deity are brought into full view by the Scriptures, and the character of man is also developed in full; then reason may well give, and to preserve her character must give, her assent to the doctrine of pardon by expiatory sacrifice, if she finds it there revealed.
God is just; therefore he will punish sin: and if we read only the book of nature, must we not say too, with Seneca, "therefore he cannot forgive it?" But revelation discloses his attribute of mercy; and mercy consists essentially in remitting the strict claims of justice, either in whole or in part. How then shall God possess these two attributes, and exercise them in respect to our guilty rebellious race? A question which "ages and generations" could not answer; a mystery hidden from them. A question which philosophy may seek in vain satisfactorily to solve. But in the cross of Christ--his expiatory sufferings and death--we may find an answer. Here, "mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have empersonage of such transcendent dignity and glory, we see the terrors of divine justice displayed in the most affecting manner, and are impressively taught what evil is due to sin. In the pardon purchased by his death, we contemplate the riches of divine mercy. God might have displayed his justice, indeed, in the world of perdition, and called us to contemplate it as written in characters that would make us shudder. His mercy also he might have displayed, by the absolute and unconditional pardon of sinners, provided no atonement had been made. But who could look on the radiance of his simple justice, as exhibited only in such a manner, without extinguishing his vision forever? Or who could contemplate undiscriminating and unconditional mercy only, without being influenced to forget the awful displeasure of God against sin, or being emboldened to continue in it? But in the cross of Jesus, his justice and his mercy are united. Here is the bright spot where the effulgence of the Deity converges and centers. On this we may gaze with admiration, with safety, with delight; for here the rays of eternal glory meet and blend, so as to be sweetly attempered to our vision. The bow in the cloud, where the glories of the sun, the brightest image of its Maker in the natural world, meet and mingle, and present to our view the delightful token that the waters of a flood will drown the earth no more, is but a faint emblem of the attempered glory which beams from the cross of Jesus, the token of deliverance from a flood more awful than that of Noah.
ISAIAH liii. 5, 6.
HE WAS WOUNDED FOR OUR TRANSGRESSIONS; HE WAS BRUISED FOR OUR INIQUITIES; THE CHASTISEMENT OF OUR PEACE WAS UPON HIM; AND BY HIS STRIPES ARE HEALED. ALL WE LIKE SHEEP HAVE GONE ASTRAY, WE HAVE TURNED EVERY ONE TO HIS OWN WAY; AND THE LORD HATH LAID ON HIM THE INIQUITY OF US ALL.
I have endeavoured, in the preceding discourse, to make such explanations as are necessary to a right understanding of our subject; and to prepare the way for the introduction of direct proof from the Scriptures respecting the expiatory sacrifice of Christ. I have endeavoured to show that we can not refer the question, whether an expiatory offering has been made by the Son of God for the sins of men, to the tribunal of philosophy. The impossibility of such an offering, philosophy cannot prove. The fact that substitution in the case of penalties incurred, did for many centuries constitute a distinguishing characteristic in the administration of divine government among the Jews, must be admitted; and the possibility that it may constitute a prominent feature of God's general government, cannot therefore be disproved. I advanced a step farther, and undertook to shew that the improbability of an atonement for sin can by no means be made out; inasmuch as the human race at large are deeply impressed with the need of propitiatory sacrifice. Moreover, the attributes of God and the character of man, as revealed in the scriptures, render the doctrine of pardon for sin through the expiatory offering of Christ, by no means improbable.
If I have succeeded in my endeavours to remove obstacles which seemed to lie in the way of making an impartial estimate of Scripture testimony in respect to the subject before us; and have also shewn that the whole question must be referred for decision solely to the word of God; then we are prepared without embarrassment to pursue the inquiry, What is the testimony of revelation on this subject?
Let me here premise a few considerations respecting the kind of appeal which I am about to make to the Scriptures; and then my proof shall be very brief. For nothing can be plainer, than that if "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, then "the mouth of two or three witnesses" is enough to establish the point at which I aim. Of the very numerous texts, therefore, to which I might appeal, I shall select but a few; and for every attentive reader of the Bible, these may serve as a clue to all the rest.
My first remark is, that every speaker and writer, intending to be understood, employs, and necessarily employs, language in the same sense, in which those whom he addresses use and understand it. None will deny so plain a proposition. Nor can it be deemed less certain, that the sacred writers designed to be understood by those whom they addressed.
My second remark is, that all the writers of the Old and New Testament were Jews; and that all the Scriptures, with very little exception, were originally addressed to Jews, or to churches which in part consisted of Jews. If we design then to come at the meaning of the sacred writers, we must necessarily construe their language in the same way as the Jews would naturally construe it, who lived in the age of the prophets and apostles. Nothing can be more plain and irrefragable, than this maxim of interpretation. It is no part of the inquiry, what ideas we may affix to the language of Scripture, coming to read it in another tongue, in another region, nurtured in the bosom of speculative philosophy, and desirous of adjusting every thing to our own standard. WHAT IDEAS DID THE PROPHETS, APOSTLES, AND EVANGELIST'S MEAN TO CONVEY, is the only proper question, for one who goes simply to the law and to the testimony for the grounds of his belief.
Let us then call to mind that every Jew was habitually conversant with expiatory sacrifices, with substitution; that the system of substitution was inwrought into the very nature of his religious worship; and that all the Scripture language which has respect to the sacrifice of Christ, is directly borrowed from that which was every day used by the Jew, in speaking of the sacrifices that he was required to offer.
With these facts in view, we are ready to present the subject, as it lies before us in the Scriptures.
Our text is fresh in your minds, and I need not here repeat that it asserts that the "chastisement or punishment by which our peace is procured, was laid upon the Saviour; that by his wounds we are healed; that all we have gone astray, i.e., sinned; and that Jehovah hath laid on him the punishment due to us." Other parts of the chapter, from which our text is taken, repeat the same idea. "For the transgression of my people was he smitten," v. 8; "his soul [i.e., he] was made an offering for sin", v. 10; "he shall justify [i.e., procure pardon for] many, for he shall bear their iniquities," v. 11; "he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors," v. 12.
I only ask here, whether any man can rationally and candidly indulge doubts, in what manner the Jews whom the prophet addressed, must necessarily have understood this language?
In regard to the New Testament, it is so full of the doctrine in question, that the only difficulty lies in making a proper selection of testimony.
Peter has quoted some of the passages, which I have just cited. Observe how be comments on this sentiment. "Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree . . . by whose stripes, ye were healed; 1 Pet. ii 24. Again, "We were not redeemed with corruptible things . . . but by the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot;" 1 Pet. i. 18, 19. John the Baptist also exclaims, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world!" i.e., the victim, who by divine appointment is, through his expiatory death, to procure pardon for men; John i. 29. So the apostle John: "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin." 1 John i. 7. "Who is the propitiation [or propitiatory sacrifice] for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world;" 1 John ii. 2. Paul abounds, every where, with the most glowing sentiments in respect to this great point. "For he hath made him to be sin [i.e., a sin offering] for us, who knew no sin;" 2 Cor. v. 21. "Christ our passover is sacrificed for us;" 1 Cor. v. 7. "In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins;" Eph. i. 7. "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation [or propitiatory sacrifice] through faith in his blood . . . to declare his righteousness [i.e., for the manifestation of his pardoning mercy] by the remission of sins;" Rom. iii. 25. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us." Gal. iii. 13.
It were easy to proceed, and fill out my whole discourse with passages of the same import. But the limits which I have prescribed to myself forbid; and I shall close with two texts more, where the resemblance between the sacrifices under the law and the offering of Christ, is so brought into view, that it is impossible to mistake the writer's meaning, "For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp; wherefore, Jesus also, that he might make expiation (______) for the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate." Heb. xiii. 11, 12. In other words, what was done in the type, was fulfilled in the antitype. Again; "For if the blood of bulls and goats, and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh; how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered up himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works, to serve the living God." Heb. ix. 13,14.
I ask now of any candid man, who has any proper conception of the manner in which the Jews employed language of this nature, nothing more, than that laying his hand on his heart, and making the appeal to him who searches that heart, he would inquire, whether a Jew, addressing Jews with such language as this, could expect or wish to be understood in any other way, than as inculcating the doctrine of substitution, or the expiatory sufferings of Jesus.
I have done with citing testimony; for if what I have adduced does not establish the fact, that the sacred writers did mean to inculcate the doctrine in question; then plainly, the many scores of additional texts which might be quoted, will not prove it; nor any language, I must add, which it would be in the power of a human being to employ.
As a proof of this, I only advert to the manner in which all plain unlettered Christians have always understood these texts, from the time of the apostles down to the present moment. They never had a doubt on the subject of their meaning, unless some speculating theologian excited it; and of themselves, I do believe, they never would have one, to the end of time.
But I may make an appeal of another kind, in regard to the manner in which this language is and must be understood, by men deeply versed in the idiom of the Scriptures, but wholly indifferent in regard to the fact, whether one or another doctrine is there taught, because they do not recognize their authority to decide upon such matters. The most distinguished oriental and biblical scholar now living, who disclaims all belief in any thing supernatural in the Scriptures, and through the influence of his philosophy maintains that a miracle is impossible, and who therefore cannot be said to have any prejudices in favour of the doctrine of atonement, says, at the close of a masterly explanation of the language of the chapter from which my text is taken, that "most Hebrew readers, who had once been acquainted with offerings and substitution, must NECESSARILY understand the words of our chapter as asserting it; and there is NO DOUBT," he adds, "that the apostolic representation, in respect to the propitiatory death of Christ, certainly rests in a manner altogether preeminent, on this ground." (Gesenius. Comm. uber Jesaiam, LIII. 10.)
So much for the testimony of Scripture, and for the manner in which the unlearned and the learned have understood and do understand it.
We come then, if my proof is valid, to the simple alternative, either to admit the doctrine in question, or reject the authority of the sacred writers.
There is no other path which can be taken, unless it can be fairly shewn that the interpretation which has been given to the language cited above, is not agreeable to the usage of speech among the Jews; an undertaking which, I am well persuaded, is desperate; and one which no critic, no philologist, can ever accomplish, until the whole history of Jewish ideas in respect to these subjects during former ages, is blotted out from the records of the world. I repeat it then, for I do most solemnly believe it, that we must either receive the doctrine of substitution and expiatory offering by the death of Christ, or virtually lay aside the authority of the Scriptures, and lean upon our own philosophy.
I do not feel it to be important, here, to dwell upon them at length. There is only one method in which any legitimate objections can be made, by those who admit the authority of revelation. This is, to shew that the language of Scripture, according to Jewish idiom, does not mean what I have construed it as meaning. But this mode of objecting, the speculators and skeptics who have rejected the doctrine of substitution, have been very careful to avoid. Their refuge is philosophy. They raise doubts about equivalency; they must see, as philosophers, the why and the how in respect to this mysterious transaction. Whatever pertains to this part of the subject, however, I have sufficiently dwelt upon already. I shall therefore only glance here, at some of the most popular methods employed to oppose the doctrine of substitution or to explain it away.
OBJECTION 1. An atonement for sin is unnecessary. God can forgive it as well without an atonement as with one; and the doctrine, if true, divests the Supreme Being of the attribute of mercy. If the full debt is paid, where is there any room for mercy in forgiving it?
But who is to decide the point, whether God can forgive sin without an atonement? The natural possibility of it, I admit; that is, I admit that as sovereign of the universe, and possessing omnipotence, he might pardon sin, (if he had judged it best to do so,) without the intervention of a suffering substitute. But this is no real part of our question. What has he judged best, is the only proper inquiry; and how can this be answered? Only, as we have already seen, by revelation. But that revelation tells us, it is "the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world;" that "there is no other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved, nor is there salvation in any other," Acts iv. 12; that "there is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all," 1 Tim. ii. 5, 6; and that "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God," and consequently, must be "gratuitously justified through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ, whom God hath set forth as a propitiatory sacrifice." Rom. iii. 23-25.
This point then is put at rest by the Bible. And when those who doubt, admonish us that it would be unbecoming in respect to the Supreme Being, and derogatory to his character, to suppose that the sufferings of Christ, an innocent victim, were deemed by him to be necessary or acceptable; I answer simply with Paul: "FOR it BECAME him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in order to bring many sons to glory, to make perfect the Captain of their salvation through sufferings." Heb. iv. 10.
When they further allege, also, that the attribute of mercy is virtually denied to the Supreme Being, by the supposition of an atonement, they can say this only on the ground that an exact and literal equivalent for the penal part of the divine law, both as to the kind and quantity of suffering, has been demanded of the substitute; a doctrine incapable, as we have seen, of being supported; and to meet the difficulties of which, I certainly will not incur any responsibility. The simple scriptural statement of substitution is not liable to this objection.
OBJECTION 2. The motives to strenuous effort in order to live a virtuous and holy life, are greatly, weakened by the doctrine in question.
This objection is as old at least as the time of Paul; and is met by him in such a manner as to save us, at the present time, from the necessity of any effort to make an adequate reply. After representing the death of Christ (Rom. ch. iii.) as the only foundation of the sinner's hope; he meets this very objection, which he knew would be made by those who doubted his doctrine, in these words: "Do we then make void the law, through faith, i.e., do we diminish the force of moral precept or obligation, by preaching the doctrine of gratuitous pardon through atoning blood? To which he answers at once; "God forbid: rather we establish the law;" i.e., we enforce its obligations by higher motives than before existed. After illustrating, by various instances, the fact that such a method of justifying sinners is presented to view in the Jewish Scriptures, he resumes the consideration of the objection. He represents the objector as suggesting:
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid," he answers again, "how shall we who are dead to sin, any longer continue to practice it?" Rom. vi. 1, 2. He then goes on to shew, (which is indeed a most conclusive and irrefragable answer to the whole objection,) that Christianity, from its very nature, implies of necessity the mortification of all our sinful passions and appetites; it is itself, in its very essence, a principle directly hostile to them; and therefore never can indulge or foster them.
All the difficulty of objectors here, arises from overlooking the whole of this grand point Atoning blood, extensive and gratuitous as the favours are which it proffers, never proffered one unconditionally. The sinner must be humbled, and penitent, who is sprinkled with it. The grace of God, which has appeared to all men through a Saviour's death, inculcates on them, without exception, the absolute necessity of denying all ungodliness and worldly lusts. It urges this, as the New Testament most amply shews, by excitements to virtue of a higher nature, and by penalties for offence more awful, than any system of law could offer or impose.
OBJECTION 3. There is no need of laying so much stress upon the death of Christ, or of regarding him as our substitute in any sense. He may very properly be called our Saviour and Redeemer, inasmuch as by his instructions, he has taught us the way in which we may acceptably obey God.
That to give instruction was a part of Christ's errand on earth, as our Redeemer, I cheerfully admit. But that this was the great work, which marked him exclusively as the Saviour of sinners. it is quite impossible to prove. What! Have we not other instructors, such too as were inspired, as well as he? Did he write the New Testament? Did he, who taught about three years, who was never out of Palestine and made but few disciples, teach as much and labour with as much success as Paul, who preached about thirty years, and traversed the world to proclaim the message of salvation? If the simple fact of giving instruction, of making disciples, of successfully inculcating the truth, makes a Redeemer, then who has the best title to that appellation; Paul or (I speak it with reverence) Jesus of Nazareth? and to whom should the songs of the redeemed in heaven be directed? Have we not, too, on such ground as this, just as many redeemers as we have, or have had, religious teachers?
OBJECTION 4. The death of Christ was a seal or confirmation of the truth, by which we are enlightened and saved. It is unnecessary to consider what the Scriptures say of its efficacy, as amounting to any more than this.
Is this so? Then was Stephen, and James, and Peter, and Paul, and every other martyr to the cause of truth, who has sealed his testimony to it by his own blood, our Redeemer too? Shall we then bow the knee to them for this testimony, and ascribe our salvation, at least in part, to them? And the redeemed in heaven--do they ascribe salvation to martyrs, when they cast their crowns at the feet of the Lamb, and sing, THOU wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by THY blood?
OBJECTION 5. Christ was our Redeemer, in that he has by his example set before us an acceptable way of worship, and taught us, by personal obedience both active and passive, how we may please God.
The force of his example to inculcate virtue and piety, we ought most gratefully to acknowledge. But the redeeming efficacy of it, I cannot by any means admit. A most conclusive reason against such a view of it is found in the fact, that while his example could, of course, have an influence only during his life and on times after those in which he lived, his atonement is represented as reaching back to the very origin of our race. Thus Paul; "If the blood of bulls and goats . . . sanctifies to the purifying of the flesh; how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works, to serve the living God. And for this cause [i.e., because his expiatory sacrifice possesses a spiritual or moral efficacy of such a nature,] he is the Mediator of the new covenant, so that, his death having taken place to make expiation (___ ___________) for Sins committed under the former covenant, they who are called may receive the promised blessings of the heavenly inheritance." Heb. ix. 13-15. That his death is here plainly considered by the apostle, as having a retrospective view and influence, is clear from what follows. After observing that the Jewish sacrifices needed to be often repeated, he goes on to say: "The death of Christ once only was sufficient; if this were not so," he adds, then "he must often have suffered since the foundation of the world." That is, the object which his death has now accomplished, the expiatory sacrifice which he has now made, must be adequate for men in all ages; for the past, as well as for the future; otherwise Christ must have often suffered, since the foundation of the world. Heb. ix 25, 26.
Exactly to the same purpose is the sentiment in the third chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. After asserting that God had set forth Christ as a propitiatory sacrifice, Paul adds: "To declare or manifest his gratuitous method of justification by the forgiveness of sins in past times, (or, so that the sins of former times might be remitted,] through the divine lenity; and to declare his gratuitous method of justification, at the present time;" Rom. iii. 25, 26. The opposition of present time here, to the past in the preceding clause, shews beyond all reasonable doubt, as it seems to me, that the object of the apostle is to assert not only the influence of Christ's propitiatory sacrifice, but its extension to past times as well as to present; and of course, the sentiment is the same with that which is disclosed in the Epistle to the Hebrews.
Here then we may take a stand in defence of vicarious sacrifice, secure against being moved by suggestions that example is the great point in the Redeemer's work. Here, at all events, is vicarious influence, if there be influence on ages that have passed by. And that the apostle means to assert this, appears to me as clear as any other sentiment deducible from his writings.
OBJECTION 6. The last objection which I shall notice, is, that to represent the innocent as suffering for the guilty, is a virtual impeachment of divine equity, and of those principles of moral government which the ruler of the universe has established.
To him who acknowledges the Scriptures as a divine revelation, I reply simply in their language. "He hath made him to be a sin-offering, who knew no sin," i.e., the innocent has suffered for the guilty; 2 Cor. v. 21. "But Christ hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God;" I Pet. iii. 18. Such is the fact; and I merely ask: Is God unjust? and do the Scriptures represent him to be so, because of this?
Even to those who do not acknowledge the authority of the Scriptures, to the sober rationalist or theist, I might present a greater difficulty still. Children suffer on account of the crimes of their parents; nations, on account of the vices of their rulers; and that without the consent of the sufferers: yet, by their own acknowledgment, divine justice and the principles of moral government are not impeachable on this account. Are they so then, if Christ voluntarily, and out of pity and love, suffered the just for the unjust?
But I must leave the examination of objections. I dismiss them all with this single remark--when it shall be shewn that the language of the Scriptures must not, according to rules of interpretation which are fundamental and capable of demonstration, be construed as conveying, and as designed to convey, the idea of a vicarious or expiatory offering by the death of Christ; when it shall be shewn that there is even a possibility, that the Jews could have understood it in a different way; then we may consider the doctrine of substitution as doubtful: but never till then, unless our own conjectural reasonings are to usurp the place of the sacred writers in deciding upon this matter.
Having canvassed the topics proposed for consideration at the commencement of my discourses, I shall close with a few reflections on the subject which has been discussed.
1. The doctrine of the atonement is a fundamental doctrine in the Christian system; and that which distinguishes it, in a peculiar manner, from all other systems of religion.
It is fundamental; because often as belief in a Saviour is urged in the New Testament, and urged as the indispensable condition of salvation; equally often is belief in that Saviour as our atoning sacrifice urged; and equally conspicuous is this point in the whole system of the Christian religion. it is not merely or principally in Jesus as our teacher, our example, or as having sealed the truth of his testimony by his own blood, that we are called to believe; but principally in him, in that very character in which he was "to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness, while unto them who are saved, he is wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption." What says Paul to the Corinthians? "I am determined not to know any thing among you save Jesus Christ, and him CRUCIFIED;" 1 Cor. ii. 2. Why Christ CRUCIFIED? Why not Christ as a teacher, an example, a martyr, a prophet? Plainly because, whatever was done by Christ in all these characters, it would have utterly failed to accomplish the design of saving men, unless his expiatory death had also taken place. Christ crucified, then, is the very point on which ultimately hang all the hopes of our sinful race. So Paul viewed it, when he said; "God forbid that I should glory, save in the CROSS of Christ;" Gal. vi. 14. So we too ought to view it. Other systems of religion teach the existence, attributes, does Judaism and moral government of God. This in its modern form; this does Theism; this does even Mohammedism. Other systems inculcate our social and relative duties. The religion of Hindoostan exhibits the Deity in a state of incarnation; so that even this is not in all respects peculiar to Christianity. But no religion save the Christian, exhibits the incarnate WORD, suffering, bleeding, dying for sinners; a Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world. This is at once the glory and the hope of the Christian system. This is what marks it with a peculiarity, that makes it exceeding distinct from, and superior to, all other systems. Give up this point, and you confound the broad line of distinction, which separates it from all else that is called religion. Suffer this sun even to be eclipsed, and the race of man is covered with gloom. Quench his glory, and we are at once involved in ten-fold more than Egyptian night; we are-doomed to wander in the shadow of death, on which no morning rays will ever dawn, nor one gleam of radiance ever fall to alleviate its terrors.
2. 1 remark, finally, that a Saviour suffering for us, the eternal WORD, GOD manifest in the flesh, and in our nature offering an expiatory sacrifice, presents to the moral sympathies of our race, higher excitements to virtue and piety, and more powerful dissuasives from sin, than any other consideration which the Christian religion proffers.
I am quite confident, that I might safely undertake to establish the correctness of this observation, from the nature of our moral constitution, and the manner in which we are most successfully influenced to engage in the mortification of our sinful appetites, and in the practice of virtue. But I will not make such an appeal, because I choose to rest the whole subject on the Scriptures and the actual experience of Christians.
Paul when speaking on the topic now introduced, says: "God commendeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us;"
Rom. v. "Greater love than this hath no man, that he lay down his life for his friends but Christ has far surpassed this. The same apostle, says, "When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son;" Rom. v. 10. Here then is a consideration which will make every heart to vibrate, that is not lost to all sense of gratitude and of mercy. How many thousands have heard the thunders of Sinai unmoved; and even while their awful power has made the very ground to rock, how many have still turned a deaf ear to all the admonitions and threatenings which they conveyed, and grown more desperate in their resolutions to persist in rebellion against God; who yet have been melted down under the proclamation of Jesus' dying love, and fallen as humble suppliants at the foot of his cross. Yes, we may say with John, "Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us;" 1 John iii. 16. And again, in this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might have life through him." But on what point did this love principally rest? Where did all the glories of benevolence consenter? The same apostle immediately informs us: "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins;" i.e., when we were enemies to God, Christ died as our propitiatory offering, and made reconciliation for us; 1 John iii. 9, 10. Herein is love indeed; and hard must be that heart, which can resist the proposal of it: for if any consideration can avail to subdue the stubborn spirit of the human breast, this must be the one which has the most powerful influence of all.
I appeal to fact. When the missionaries of the United Brethren undertook to preach the eternal power and Godhead of the Deity as displayed in the creation, to the poor benighted Greenlanders, they listened, they gazed, they turned away with silent neglect. The faithful disciples urged on them still more vehemently the attributes of the creator and judge of all, and their moral accountability to him. They listened, but their hearts remained like the eternal ice with which their region is overspread. Compassion for their perishing condition made the servants of Jesus more urgent still. One other chord there was, which perhaps when touched, might be made to vibrate. They touched it with a faithful hand. They proclaimed to the poor, gazing, perishing heathen, a Saviour, bleeding, groaning, dying for them. They pointed them to his bleeding hands, his wounded side; they bid them look to that Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world. The sight prostrated them to the earth. Their stubborn hearts melted like wax before the fire. They fell at the foot of a dying Saviour's cross, and exclaimed: Lord Jesus, save us or we perish forever!
Yes, and millions of the ransomed who have gone to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads, can testify to the power of this mighty truth on their rebellious hearts. God so commended his love toward them, by disclosing a Saviour dying on their account, that they could no longer resist the invitations of his mercy. It was a mighty stream, rushing on with overwhelming power, and bearing everything away before it.
That Jesus died for us; that he was OUR SUBSTITUTE; that his tender compassion did take us into view individually; that he took our nature in order to enter most intimately, most endearingly, into our sympathies, and propose himself to us under the most attractive form, is the view which Paul took of the Redeemer's work. He was not an insulated monument of suffering, and of God's displeasure against sinners; not merely a sign that sin could be pardoned, by which only an abstract testimony could be given, like that which the rainbow gives of God's covenant to drown the earth no more--a symbol which might have served equally well for angels or for men. No; "Verily he did not assist the angels, but the seed of Abraham." Man was the object--the only object--of his incarnation, sufferings, and death. "Wherefore it behooved him in all things to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining unto God, to make reconciliation for the sins of his people. For in that he himself suffered, being tempted, he is able also to succour those that are tempted;" Heb. ii. 16-18. See what pains is here taken to represent the suffering Saviour as participating in our nature, and entering with the most tender sympathy into all our wants and woes. Is this to propose him as a mere example of suffering, cold, distant, abstract; or is it to make him such a high priest as we needed, one who can be touched with a feeling for our infirmities, having been tempted in all points as we are? Speak, ye whose hearts have been melted by a Saviour's love, and tell us. Speak, ye who live amid the horrors of eternal winter and storm; and ye who roam in deserts parched beneath a burning sun; ye who were without God and without hope in the world, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenant of promise, speak and say, Is not this the Saviour you need? the Saviour who has cheered your desponding hearts? who has opened to you the prospect of glory? Is not this he whom your souls love? Speak, ye redeemed, encircling his throne above, and casting your crowns at his feet; is not this he who drew your souls to him by bonds of love stronger than death; which many waters could not quench, nor floods drown? Hark! I hear the notes of that song which fills all the regions of heaven with harmony. It echoes back even to this distant world: "THOU WAST SLAIN, AND HAST REDEEMED US TO GOD BY THY BLOOD, out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation, and hast made us kings and priests unto our God forever and ever." O for a heart and tongue to unite with this grateful, happy throng, and begin on earth the notes which we hope to sing through everlasting ages in the world above!
Fear not, my brethren, who are to preach this precious Saviour to a perishing world, fear not that declaration of his atoning blood will ever palsy the moral energies of the soul. What says that great apostle, who won more souls to Jesus, than any other herald of his salvation has ever done? "The love of Christ constraineth us." But why did it constrain him, and to do what? "It constraineth us, because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead;" i.e., it constrains us, because when we were dead in trespasses and sins, Christ died to redeem us. What follows? He died for us, "that they which live, should henceforth no more live unto themselves, but unto him who died for them and who rose again." Preach the same doctrine; it must forever have the same influence, the same mighty, overpowering, saving influence--on every heart that receives it. Proclaim to a perishing world glad tidings--glad tidings of great joy. Jesus died for them. Jesus can and will save them, if they accept the offers of his mercy. Glory in nothing but his cross. Be not turned aside from preaching him crucified, by any scorn and contumely on the one hand, or cold and speculative philosophy on the other. This doctrine is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe. Proclaim it then to a world perishing in iniquity. Proclaim it to the very ends of the earth, It will force open the prison doors. it will liberate the captives. It will scatter heavenly glory over our benighted world. It will call the dead to life. It will convert this great Aceldama into the garden of God. This boundless valley of dry bones will become the scene of as boundless a resurrection to life.
I thank God, whose Providence has so long detained me from this sacred place, that I have now enjoyed another opportunity of testifying to you my convictions in respect to a Saviour's dying love. If I should never again be permitted to do it, receive this as the last and highest expression of my affection to him and to you. I ask for no other privilege on earth, but to make known the efficacy of his death; and none in heaven, but to be associated with those who ascribe salvation to his blood. AMEN.