EXTENT OF ATONEMENT
For whose benefit the atonement was intended.
1. God does all things for Himself; that is, He consults His own glory and happiness, as the supreme and most influential reason for all His conduct. This is wise and right in Him, because His own glory and happiness are infinitely the greatest good in and to the universe. He made the atonement to satisfy Himself. "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). God Himself, then, was greatly benefited by the atonement: in other words, His happiness has in a great measure resulted from its contemplation, execution, and results.
2. He made the atonement for the benefit of the universe. All holy beings are, and must be, benefited by it, from its very nature, as it gives them a higher knowledge of God than ever they had before, or ever could have gained in any other way. The atonement is the greatest work that He could have wrought for them, the most blessed and excellent, and benevolent thing He could have done for them. For this reason, angels are described as desiring to look into the atonement. The inhabitants of heaven are represented as being deeply interested in the work of atonement, and those displays of the character of God that are made in it. The atonement is then no doubt one of the greatest blessings that ever God conferred upon the universe of holy beings.
3. The atonement was made for the benefit particularly of the inhabitants of this world, from its very nature, as it is calculated to benefit all the inhabitants of this world; as it is a most stupendous revelation of God to man. Its nature is adapted to benefit all mankind. All mankind can be pardoned, if they are rightly affected and brought to repentance by it, as well as any part of mankind.
4. All do certainly receive many blessings on account of it. It is probable that, but for the atonement, none of our race, except the first human pair, would ever have had an existence.
5. All the blessings which mankind enjoy, are conferred on them on account of the atonement of Christ; that is, God could not consistently wait on sinners, and bless, and do all that the nature of the case admits, to save them, were it not for the fact of atonement.
6. That it was made for all mankind, is evident from the fact that it is offered to all indiscriminately.
7. Sinners are universally condemned for not receiving it.
8. If the atonement is not intended for all mankind, it is impossible for us not to regard God as insincere, in making them the offer of salvation through the atonement.
9. If the atonement was made only for a part, no man can know whether he has a right to embrace it, until by a direct revelation God has made known to him that he is one of that part.
10. If ministers do not believe that it was made for all men, they cannot heartily and honestly press its acceptance upon any individual, or congregation in the world; for they cannot assure any individual, or congregation, that there is any atonement for him or them, any more than there is for Satan.
If to this it should be replied, that for fallen angels no atonement has been made, but for some men an atonement has been made, so that it may be true of any individual that it was made for him, and if he will truly believe, he will thereby have the fact revealed, that it was, in fact, made for him; I reply, What is a sinner to believe, as a condition of salvation? Is it merely that an atonement was made for somebody? Is this saving faith? Must he not embrace it, and personally and individually commit himself to it, and to Christ? Trust in it as made for him? But how is he authorized to do this upon the supposition that the atonement was made for some men only, and perhaps for him? Is it saving faith to believe that it was possibly made for him, and by believing this possibility, will he thereby gain the evidence that it was, in fact, made for him? No, he must have the word of God for it, that it was made for him. Nothing else can warrant the casting of his soul upon it. How then is "he truly to believe," or trust in the atonement, until he has the evidence, not merely that it possibly may have been, but that it actually was made for him? The mere possibility that an atonement has been made for an individual, is no ground of saving faith. What is he to believe? Why, that of which he has proof. But the supposition is, that he has proof only that it is possible that the atonement was made for him. He has a right, then, to believe it possible that Christ died for him. And is this saving faith? No, it is not. What advantage, then, has he over Satan in this respect? Satan knows that the atonement was not made for him; the sinner upon the supposition knows that, possibly, it may have been made for him; but the latter has really no more ground for trust and reliance than the former. He might hope, but he could not rationally believe.
But upon this subject of the extent of the atonement, let the Bible speak for itself: "The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." "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. For God sent not His Son into the world, to condemn the world: but that the world through Him might be saved." "And said unto the woman, Now we believe, not because of thy saying; for we have heard Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world" (John 1:29, 3:16, 17, 9:42). "Therefore, as by the offence of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so, by the righteousness of one, the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life" (Romans 5:18). "For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again" (2 Cor. 5:14, 15), "Who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time." "For therefore we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, especially of those that believe" (1 Tim. 2:6, 4:10). "And He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2).
That the atonement is sufficient for all men, and, in that sense, general, as opposed to particular, is also evident from the fact, that the invitations and promises of the gospel are addressed to all men, and all are freely offered salvation through Christ. "Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God and there is none else." "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto Me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto Me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David" (Isaiah 14:22, 4:1-3). "Come unto Me all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light." "Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready; come unto the marriage" (Matt. 11:28-30, 22:4). "And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come, for all things are now ready" (Luke 14:17). "In the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink" (John 7:37), "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock; if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me." "And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come, and let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely" (Rev. 3:20, 22:17).
Again: I infer that the atonement was made, and is sufficient, for all men, from the fact that God not only invites all, but expostulates with them for not accepting His invitations. "Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets: she crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates; in the city she uttereth her words, saying, How long ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge? Turn you at My reproof: behold I will pour out My Spirit unto you, I will make known My words unto you" (Prov. 1:20-23). "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow, though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool" (Isaiah 1:18). "Thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, I am the Lord thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go. Oh that thou hadst hearkened to My commandments! Then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea" (Isaiah 48:17, 18). "Say unto them, as I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?" (Ezek. 33:11). "Hear ye now what the Lord saith: Arise, contend thou before the mountains, and let the hills hear thy voice. Hear ye, O mountains, the Lord's controversy, and ye strong foundations of the earth; for the Lord hath a controversy with His people, and He will plead with Israel. O My people, what have I done unto thee? And wherein have I wearied thee? Testify against Me" (Micah 6:1-3). "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!" (Matt. 23:37).
Again: the same inference is forced upon us by the fact that God complains of sinners for rejecting His overtures of mercy: "Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out My hand, and no man regarded" (Prov. 1:24). "But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear. Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the Lord of hosts hath sent in His Spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the Lord of hosts. Therefore, it is come to pass; that as he cried and they would not hear: so they cried, and I would not hear, saith the Lord of hosts" (Zech. 7:11-13). "The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king which made a marriage for his son. And sent forth his servant to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come. Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready; come unto the marriage. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise: and the remnant took his servants, and treated them spitefully, and slew them" (Matt. 22:2-6). "And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready. And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have married a wife; and therefore I cannot come" (Luke 14:17-20). "And ye will not come to Me, that ye might have life" (John 5:40). "Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye" (Acts 7:51). "And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, ad answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season I will call for thee" (Acts 24:25).
I now proceed to answer objections.
1. Objection to the fact of atonement. It is said, that the doctrine of atonement represents God as unmerciful. To this I answer,
(1.) This objection supposes that the atonement was demanded to satisfy retributive instead of public justice.
(2.) The atonement was the exhibition of a merciful disposition. It was because God was disposed to pardon that He consented to give His own Son to die as the substitute of sinners.
(3.) The atonement is infinitely the most illustrious exhibition of mercy ever made in the universe. The mere pardon of sin, as an act of sovereign mercy, could not have been compared, had it been possible, with the merciful disposition displayed in the atonement itself.
2. It is objected that the atonement is unnecessary.
The testimony of the world and of the consciences of all men are against this objection. This is universally attested by their expiatory sacrifices. These, as has been said, have been offered by nearly every nation of whose religious history we have any reliable account. This shows that human beings are universally conscious of being sinners, and under the government of a sin-hating God; that their intelligence demands either the punishment of sinners, or that a substitute should be offered to public justice; that they all have the idea that substitution is conceivable, and hence they offer their sacrifices as expiatory. A heathen philosopher can answer this objection, and rebuke the folly of him who makes it.
3. It is objected, that it is unjust to punish an innocent being instead of the guilty.
(1.) Yes, it would not only be unjust, but it is impossible with God to punish an innocent moral agent at all. Punishment implies guilt. An innocent being may suffer, but he cannot be punished. Christ voluntarily "suffered, the just for the unjust" (1 Peter 3:18). He had a right to exercise this self-denial; and as it was by His own voluntary consent, no injustice was done to any one.
(2.) If He had no right to make an atonement, He had no right to consult and promote His own happiness and the happiness of others; for it is said that "for the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame" (Heb. 12:2).
4. It is objected that the doctrine of atonement is utterly incredible. To this I have replied in a former lecture; but will here again state, that it would be utterly incredible upon any other supposition, than that God is love. But if God is love, as the Bible expressly affirms that He is, the work of atonement is just what might be expected of Him, under the circumstances; and the doctrine of atonement is then the most reasonable doctrine in the universe.
5. It is objected to the doctrine of atonement, that it is of a demoralizing tendency.
There is a broad distinction between the natural tendency of a thing, and such an abuse of a good thing as to make it the instrument of evil. The best things and doctrines may be, and often are, abused, and their natural tendency perverted. Although the doctrine of the atonement may be abused, yet its natural tendency is the direct opposite of demoralizing. Is the manifestation of infinitely disinterested love naturally calculated to beget enmity? Who does not know that the natural tendency of manifested love is to excite love in return? Those who have the most cordially believed in the atonement, have exhibited the purest morality that has ever been in this world; while the rejecters of the atonement, almost without exception, exhibit a loose morality. This is, as might be expected, from the very nature and moral influence of atonement.
6. To a general atonement, it is objected that the Bible represents Christ as laying down His life for His sheep, or for the elect only, and not for all mankind.
(1.) It does indeed represent Christ as laying down His life for His sheep, and also for all mankind. "And He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2). "For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved" (John 3:17). "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that He, by the grace of God, should taste death for every man" (Heb. 2:9).
(2.) Those who object to the general atonement, take substantially the same course to evade this doctrine, that Unitarians do to set aside the doctrine of the Trinity and the Divinity of Christ. They quote those passages that prove the unity of God and the humanity of Christ, and then take it for granted that they have disproved the doctrine of the Trinity and Christ's Divinity. The asserters of limited atonement, in like manner, quote those passages that prove that Christ died for the elect and for His saints, and then take it for granted that He died for none else. To the Unitarian, we reply, we admit the unity of God and the humanity of Christ, and the full meaning of those passages of scripture which you quote in proof of these doctrines; but we insist that this is not the whole truth, but that there are still other passages which prove the doctrine of the Trinity, and the Divinity of Christ. Just so to the asserters of limited atonement, we reply, we believe that Christ laid down His life for His sheep, as well as you; but we also believe that "he tasted death for every man" (Heb. 2:9). "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" (John 3:16).
7. To the doctrine of general atonement it is objected, that it would be folly in God to provide what He knew would be rejected; and that to suffer Christ to die for those who, He foresaw, would not repent, would be a useless expenditure of the blood and suffering of Christ.
(1.) This objection assumes that the atonement was a literal payment of a debt, which we have seen does not consist with the nature of the atonement.
(2.) If sinners do not accept it, in no view can the atonement be useless, as the great compassion of God, in providing an atonement and offering them mercy, will forever exalt His character, in the estimation of holy beings, greatly strengthen His government, and therefore benefit the whole universe.
(3.) If all men rejected the atonement, it would, nevertheless, be of infinite value to the universe, as the most glorious revelation of God that was ever made.
8. To the general atonement it is objected, that it implies universal salvation.
It would indeed imply this, upon the supposition that the atonement is the literal payment of a debt. It was upon this view of the atonement, that Universalism first took its stand. Universalists taking it for granted, that Christ had paid the debt of those for whom He died, and finding it fully revealed in the Bible that He died for all mankind, naturally, and if this were correct, properly, inferred the doctrine of universal salvation. But we have seen, that this is not the nature of atonement. Therefore, this inference falls to the ground.
9. It is objected that, if the atonement was not a payment of the debt of sinners, but general in its nature, as we have maintained, it secures the salvation of no one. It is true, that the atonement, of itself, does not secure the salvation of any one; but the promise and oath of God, that Christ shall have a seed to serve Him, provide that security.