In this lecture I shall present several farther reasons why an Atonement under the government of God was preferable in the case of the inhabitants of this world, to punishment, or to the execution of the divine law. Several reasons have already been assigned in the last lecture, to which I will add the following, some of which are plainly revealed in the Bible; others are plainly inferred from what the Bible does reveal; and others still are plainly inferable from the very nature of the case:
l. God's great and disinterested love to sinners themselves was a prime reason for the Atonement.
John 3:16. 'For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.'
2. His great love to the universe at large must have been another reason, in as much as it was impossible that the Atonement should not exert an amazing influence over moral beings, in whatever world they might exist.
3. Another reason for substituting the sufferings of Christ in the place of the eternal damnation of sinners, is that an infinite amount of suffering might be prevented. The relation of Christ to the universe rendered his sufferings so infinitely valuable and influential as an expression of God's abhorrence of sin on the one hand, and great love to his subjects on the other, that an infinitely less amount of suffering in him than must have been inflicted upon sinners, would be equally, and no doubt vastly more influential in supporting the government of God, than the execution of the law upon them would have been.
4. By this substitution an immense good might be gained. The eternal happiness of all that can be reclaimed from sin, together with all the augmented happiness of those who have never sinned that must result from this glorious revelation of God.
5. Another reason for preferring the Atonement to the punishment of sinners, must have been, that sin had afforded an opportunity for the highest exercise of virtue in God: the exercise of forbearance, mercy, self-denial, for enemies, and suffering for enemies that were within his own power, and for those from whom he could expect no equivalent in return.
6. It is impossible to conceive of a higher order of virtues than are exhibited in the Atonement of Christ.
7. It was vastly desirable that God should take advantage of such an opportunity to exhibit his true character, and show to the universe what was in his heart.
8. Another reason for preferring Atonement was God's desire to lay open his heart to the inspection and imitation of moral beings.
9. Another reason is, because God is love, and prefers mercy when it can be safely exercised. The Bible represents him as delighting in mercy, and affirms that "judgment is his strange work."
10. Because he so much prefers mercy to judgment as to be willing to suffer as their substitute, to afford himself the opportunity to exercise pardon on principles that are consistent with a due administration of justice.
11. In the Atonement God consulted his own happiness and his own glory. To deny himself for the salvation of sinners was a part of his own infinite happiness, always intended by him, and therefore always enjoined.
12. In making the Atonement, God complied with the laws of his own mind, and did just that, all things considered, in the highest degree promotive of the universal good.
13. The self-denial exercised in the Atonement would secure to him the highest kind and degree of happiness.
14. The Atonement would present to creatures the highest possible motives to virtue.
15. It would beget among creatures the highest kind and degree of happiness, by leading them to contemplate and imitate his love.
16. The circumstances of his government rendered an Atonement necessary; as the execution of law was not, as a matter of fact, a sufficient preventive of sin. The annihilation of the wicked would not answer the purposes of government. A full revelation of mercy, blended with such an exhibition of justice, was called for by the circumstances of the universe.
17. To confirm holy beings.
18. To confound his enemies.
19. A just and necessary regard to his own reputation made him prefer Atonement to the punishment of sinners.
20. A desire to sustain his own reputation, as the only moral power that could support his own moral government, must have been a leading reason for the Atonement.
21. The Atonement was preferred as the best and perhaps only way to inspire an affectionate confidence in him.
22. Atonement must have been the most agreeable to God, and the most beneficial to the universe.
23. Atonement would afford him an opportunity to always gratify his love in his kindness to sinners in using means for their salvation, in forgiving and saving them when they repent, without the danger of its being inferred in the universe that he had not a sufficient abhorrence of their sins.
24. The Atonement demonstrates the superior efficacy of love, as a moral influence, over penal inflictions.
25. Another reason for the Atonement was to counteract the influence of the Devil, whose whole influence is exerted in this world for the promotion of selfishness.
26. The Atonement would enable God to make the best use of the Devil which the nature of the case admitted.
27. To make the final punishment of the wicked more impressive in the light of the infinite love manifest in the Atonement.
28. The Atonement is the highest testimony that God can bear against selfishness. It is the testimony of his own example.
29. The Atonement is a higher expression of his regard for the public interests than the execution of law. It is therefore a fuller satisfaction to public justice.
30. The Atonement so reveals all the attributes of God as to complete the whole circle of motives needed to influence the minds of moral beings.
31. By dying in human nature, Christ exhibited his heart to both worlds.