Pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Congregation in the City of New-York.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the Atonement.—Rom. v. 11.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the Atonement.—Rom. 5:11.
IN order to perceive the force of the powerful reasoning which the apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Almighty, employs in this epistle, it is necessary to know something of the state of religion among the Jews at the time in which he wrote.
It is against the errours of that people, errours likely always to arise among those who, destitute of grace, make a profession of religion, that the argument is principally directed. Simple information was sufficient for the heathen who had recently embraced the Gospel. They were sensible that they had every thing to learn, and they readily submitted to the instruction which was tendered to them by the apostles. But much disputation was necessary with the Jews, who thought that they already knew the way of truth. Proud of their descent, and glorying in their priesthood, the natural offspring of Abraham did not hesitate in conceiving themselves, independently of faith and holiness, to be the peculiar favourites of heaven.
The two sects, which, at this period, were most conspicuous in contending for power in the Jewish church, are the Sadducees and Pharisees. The contentions of these formidable parties had for a century distracted the councils of the nation, and corrupted the religion established in Judea.
The former exerted their influence over the Sanhedrim, the Temple, and the Priesthood; and the latter had obtained the principal direction of the schools, the pulpits of the Synagogues, and the prejudices of the populace. The Sadducees were supported by the most opulent of the inhabitants. Since the days of Hircanus, who united in his own person, the supreme ecclesiastical power, with the civil and the military, and who was besides an intolerant Sadducee; the influence of the supreme council of Elders, and of the great body of the Priests, had been employed in favour of this sect. During the reign of Jannæus, the Sanhedrim, with the exception of a solitary individual, consisted altogether of Sadducees. Annas and Caiaphas, well known in evangelical history, belonged also to the same sect. The Sadducees rejected the doctrines of a special providence, of the immortality of the soul, and of a future state. With such sentiments, the Jewish priesthood, supported by their tithes, and by the learning, the wealth, and the power of Judea, presented a formidable opposition to the progress of the gospel. They combined irreligion with a profession of the established system, which, on account of its emoluments, they did not hesitate to subscribe: a combination, which, however pernicious, is, alas! far from being uncommon in other nations.
The Pharisees had, upon their side, by far the greater part of the common people. Assisted by the scribes, they engrossed, in a great measure, the ministry of the synagogues. Animated with a superstitious zeal, making pretensions to an extraordinary piety, they contrived to inflame the minds of their hearers with a spurious devotion, by their discourses from the pulpits, and their unwearied efforts to disseminate their sentiments by private conversation. They accommodated themselves to the ignorance of the lower classes; they adapted their doctrines to the gross conceptions, the prejudices and the passions of the multitudes; they imposed upon the credulity, and succeeded in ensnaring the consciences of vast numbers in their own delusions. The Pharisees professed a strict adherence to the ceremonial law, and accurate observance of the traditions of the elders, and a patriotic attachment to the liberties and independence of their country; and while they urged the doctrine of a future state, they taught that salvation was secured to the Jews, upon the sole condition of obedience to these external rites, which they uniformly represented as entitling them to covenanted mercy.
In the course of a few years after the ascension of our Savior into glory, great numbers of the Jews embraced the Christian dispensation; and several of the new converts were affected with the “leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.” Several carried along with them from the old to the new dispensation of grace, those false principles which are equally opposite to both. They who had no inward experience of the power of godliness, whatever may have been their profession, formed very inadequate conceptions of the deep depravity and misery of man, of the evil of sin, and of the method of salvation through a Redeemer. These expected justification on some one of the three following grounds.
1. Some supposed that the Jews should be justified on the account of the piety of the patriarchs.
2. Others supposed that their knowledge of the law would justify them.
3. Several imagined that justification proceeded upon the ground of their punctual performance of those rites which had been enjoined upon them in the law given by Moses.
Such was the degrading idea which they had formed of the divine holiness, and the proud opinion which they cherished of their own excellence, that they imagined the righteousness of his moral government would be amply supported by awarding to them exemption from punishment, and the felicity of heaven upon one or other of these terms. They also laboured to impress the Gentiles, who discovered an inclination to receive revealed religion, with a belief in the justness of those crude sentiments. Such pernicious doctrines required refutation. They called for a demonstration, from the scriptures of the Old Testament, for which the Jews professed the most perfect reverence, of those great principles, upon which the salvation offered in the gospel, and purchased by the Redeemer, necessarily depended.
The inspired apostle, accordingly, provides an antidote to the poison, in this epistle written from Corinth, to the church of Christ in Rome, and transmitted by Phebe, a sister remarkable for her piety, and her services to the church of Cenchrea, of which she was a member, in the year 58.
After an affectionate salutation, in which he magnifies his own holy and extraordinary office, the Apostolate, he exhibits the righteousness of God, requiring that wrath be revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. By an ample induction of facts, and with arguments of conclusive power, he proves both Jews and Gentiles that they are all under sin, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God. By an inference necessary from these promises, by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified, he prepares the way for a declaration of the righteousness of God manifested in justification by grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. It is thus, and thus only, that God is just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. In the fourth chapter he illustrates, by an explanation of the case of Abraham, the nature of faith, and justification by imputed righteousness; and in the fifth, he proceeds to a discussion of the benefits flowing from justification. After enumerating a variety of Gospel blessings, the apostle, in the 8th verse, directs the Romans to the spring from whence the system of grace, with all its invaluable blessings, flow—the love of God manifested in the death of Christ. “But God commandeth his love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” He then immediately states that the death of Christ procures our reconciliation with God—we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, and declares the infallible certainty of the salvation of all who are partakers of reconciliation—much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved. Upon this footing believers have indeed cause to rejoice in the Lord. The apostle accordingly adds in the 11th verse, We also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the Atonement.
The doctrine of the Atonement affords joy to believers, and is worthy of their attention.
As we propose to devote a series of Essays under this head to an elucidation of the doctrine, it will be necessary, in this early stage of the discussion, to inform our readers what ideas we annex to the word Atonement, as employed in a religious acceptation. Correct definitions of the expressions employed in designation of any important subject, are recommended no less by the nature of the case itself, than by the best writers on the art of reasoning. We apprehend also, that in order to comprehend what we shall hereafter offer in proof of the fact, that Christ has made atonement for sin, and in illustration of its nature and extent; recourse must be frequently had to the definition which shall now be given of the term in which we express the doctrine.
By the Atonement we mean,
That which effectually removes the offence of sin, and procures for the sinner reconciliation with God.
The common acceptation of the word Atonement, certainly supports this definition. It is uniformly employed to signify adequate reparation for an insult or an injury, in order to restore to friendship parties at variance. It occurs only once in the scriptures of the New Testament, and that is in the text which stands at the head of this Essay. Kαταλλαγη, is the Greek word which is thus rendered. The translators were constrained by the nature of the subject, to render it, in every other instance in which it occurs, by the English word—Reconciliation, instead of Atonement. This is exemplified in the verse which precedes the text under review, and which forms with it one argument. The corresponding verb and participle are used in that verse, and translated—Reconciled. For if when we were enemies, we were reconciled, (Κατηλλαγημεν,) to God by the death of his Son, much more being reconciled, (Καταλλαγεντες,) we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement, (Καταλλαγην.)
From this passage it appears, that reconciliation with God, and eternal salvation, are inseparably connected; and that both are of equal extent with atonement in the New Testament acceptation of that word. It also appears, how little is their acquaintance with the Holy Scriptures who make a separation between atonement and reconciliation, by assigning to the one a different extent from that which is assigned to the other. Such separation is grossly absurd. God is merciful and just. An adequate atonement cannot, therefore, possibly fail of producing reconciliation with him.
The Old Testament acceptation of the word— Atonement, also supports our definition.
The Hebrew word is כפר. This root signifies to cover, as the primary idea, and from it are derived the Saxon coffre, the French couvert, as well as the English coffer and cover. The Hebrew caper or copher, is first applied to the pitch which covered the ark of Noah, and secured it from danger by water, Gen. 6.14. It denotes also Hoar-frost, which covers the ground, Exod. 16.14.—The Cypress, or Camphire tree, which covers from the heat by its shade, Song. 1.14.—A covered bowl or bason, Deut. 14.26.—The young Lion just forsaking his covert, Jer. 25.38.—And a small village, as a covert or retired place in the country. Josh. 18.24. כפרת is the word, also, for the mercy-seat, or the cover of the ark of the covenant, Exod. 25.17, which is rendered by the Septuagint, ἱλαστήριον. Upon this mercy-seat of pure gold, God dwelt in the Shekinah, and from it he communed with his covenant people from between the Cherubim, as a reconciled God. The apostle Paul explains this mystery Jesus Christ is the mercy-seat in whom God is reconciled. Rom. 3.25. Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation, (ἱλαστήριον,) through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins. In Christ we have the כפר, the propitiation, the atonement for the remission of sins. To cover sin, is, therefore, to pardon it—to remove the offence for reconciliation. Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Psalm 32.1.
The Hebrew word, in all instances in which it is applied to denote the effect produced by the piacular oblations [i.e., oblations making atonement] required by the law, and in which our translators render it by the word—Atonement, bears its primary signification to cover, in a moral acceptation. It signifies covering the offence of sin for the purpose of establishing a perfect reconciliation. The verb is, accordingly, translated to make Atonement, Exod. 30.15, to make Reconciliation, Lev. 8.15, to appease, Gen. 32.20, to be merciful, Deut. 21.8, and to forgive, Jer. 18.23. And the noun is rendered Ransom, Exod. 30.12, Satisfaction, Num. 35.31, and Atonement, Exod. 29.36.
As we are convinced that important results in the investigation of Scripture doctrines depend on this criticism, we deem it proper further to add, that this idea is included in every application of this word to the moral relations of man with man. The person whose ox had, through neglect, killed a man or woman, was permitted by the law of Moses to redeem his life by a sum of money. This sum covered the transgression, and established friendship. It was called כפר. Exod. 21.30.
The punishment of a murderer, was, in no case, to be remitted. Nothing therefore could remove his offence, or reconcile society to him. Ye shall take no satisfaction, (copher,) for the life of a murderer. Even a bribe which by corrupting a judge, covers transgression, is called by the same name.
From this examination it abundantly appears, that the Scriptures of the Old Testament support our definition; that Atonement is but another name for Satisfaction, Propitiation, or Redemption; and that it is inseparable from Reconciliation, the forgiveness of sin, or a participation in the mercy and friendship of God.
EVERY judicious man subscribes, without hesitation, the confession of the king of Israel, at the dedication of the Temple, 1 Kings 8.46. There is no man that sinneth not: and it is impossible to form a correct idea of the true God, without a persuasion of his justice and his holiness. With a full conviction of the depravity of our own hearts, and of the purity of the divine mind, how shall we appear before him? It is not imbecility of mind or a superstitious fear which dictates this inquiry: but rather it is blindness or folly which prevents its becoming universal. It is a question of great interest to everyone who feels his obligation to reverence the supreme Being—”Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God?” Nature’s light throws not even a solitary ray upon the path of fallen man in this awful inquiry. Its answer is found only in the gospel of Christ.
Every system of religion, indeed, proposes for its object the establishment or maintenance of friendship or fellowship with the deity; but the Christian doctrine alone exhibits such friendship and fellowship founded upon an atonement, which maintains unsullied, the beauty of the Lord, in the perfect hatred and condemnation of sin. It alone secures the salvation of the sinner, consistently with the glory of Jehovah.
We have defined in the preceding number [page 8], atonement to be,
That which effectually removes the offence of sin, and procures for the sinner reconciliation with God.
We will now proceed to show that our Lord Jesus Christ hath made such atonement for our sins. We assert this not as an opinion, but as a fact; and we appeal to the infallible oracles of God as containing ample testimony. If, from a review of this testimony, it shall appear that the Redeemer hath indeed made ample satisfaction for the offence, and in consequence of that satisfaction we have reconciliation with God, the proof will be complete. With atonement, in any other sense of the word, we desire to have nothing to do. An atonement offered where no offence existed, is an absurdity not to be charged upon the Bible. An atonement which does not satisfy in the most ample manner for the offence, is not worthy of an inquiry; and one, which, making satisfaction, does not procure reconciliation, although it may afford scope for the ingenious sophistry of a smatterer in theology, can never be recommended in the Christian’s Magazine, as the foundation of the sinner’s hope.
Christ Jesus has made atonement.
It is assumed in this Essay, that mankind have sinned. But this is no unscriptural assumption. Rom. 5.17. Death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned. It is also assumed that sin is an offence against the great and holy God. So say the Scriptures. Conscience, also, that tribunal which man places over his own actions and motives—that faculty with which the Creator has endowed the subjects of his moral government, proclaims the offensive nature of sin. When awakened from its slumbers, it raises its voice in condemnation of our crimes; and if our own hearts CONDEMN us, God is greater than our hearts. God’s law, emanating from his perfections as the indispensable prerogative of his government, prescribes our duty and condemns its violations. “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity—these things doth the Lord; yea, they are an abomination to him.”
In such a state of things, Jehovah, in mercy to his offending creatures, devised a plan for our restoration to his friendship and favour in Christ Jesus our Lord, Rom. 4.25, who was delivered for our offences. That he made adequate atonement, is a truth worthy of all acceptation. The difficulty lies not in discovering, but in selecting and arranging, testimony in its support. He bore our sins—he suffered punishment in our stead—he offered sacrifice in our behalf—the satisfaction which he made for our offences is declared to be complete—reconciliation is now procured upon the footing of that satisfaction. Is there anything else necessary in order to support the doctrine of the atonement? This is proof, clear, copious, and conclusive.
1. Christ Jesus bare our sins, 1 Pet. 2.24. Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree. He bare our sins on the cross. How did he bear them? They are not substances capable of being collected, and constituting a mass of matter that shall gravitate in a scale, or shall be bound with tangible cords to his body. They are qualities of the state, disposition, and actions, of an intelligent creature. They are Ἀνομια, a want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God. How did he bear them? This quality did not belong to his disposition or his actions. He is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners. How then did he bear them? This question must be answered. The assertion is not without meaning. He did not bear them as a mass of matter bound upon his body. He did not bear them as immoral qualities tinging his soul with pollution. They became his by a legal transfer. He bare them by imputation. He became a public representative, and thus our guilt—our liability to punishment, was laid upon him. No other answer can possibly bear examination in the light of truth. Every other reply is an evasion of the question. It is a trifling, a soul-destroying evasion. Christ could not have otherwise borne our sins. God hath made him to be sin for us who knew no sin. God hath made his holy Son to be sin for us, ὑπερ ἡμων, in our stead. How is the Holy One made to be sin? By having sinful propensities actually infused into his soul? Impossible! By being made to violate the rule of righteousness? Equally impossible! He knew no sin, either in his inclination or behaviour. He made him to be sin by bearing our sins. The Lord hath laid on him the iniquities of us all. He charged to his account all our offences. This criminal debt the Redeemer undertook to pay. By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better Testament, in order to make atonement for our offences, and to procure for us reconciliation with God.
Behold him elevated upon the cross, ye holy disciples! behold him, ye mourning sinners! He bears our sins on his own body on the tree—Calvary groans—the earth trembles—the rocks are rent—the sun is darkened—heaven frowns—the tempest bursts upon our Surety, and
2. He suffers punishment in our stead. 1 Pet. 3.18. For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.
Punishment is the penalty annexed to disobedience; and the pain inflicted upon the offender is in proportion to the offence committed. This pain is the remedy provided in the constitution of the moral world, for the evil of deviating from the laws of rectitude. The hand of discipline inflicts pain for the benefit of the subject, and the public good may call for voluntary suffering, or the exhibition of sufferings under authority. Pains, however, endured for the good of others, or the personal advantage of the sufferer, are not always penal. It is essential to punishment that suffering has been merited: and punishment is due to the criminal, entirely on account of the crime, independently of all considerations of personal improvement, or the utility of the example to others. This principle is as necessary to the order of the moral world, as attraction is to the material system.
Our sins deserved punishment; for the wages of sin is death. Christ bare our sins and suffered their punishment. He suffered for our sins, the just for the unjust. These sufferings made atonement. They were penal, because they were on account of sins. The punishment was endured by the Redeemer, as a substitute—the just for the unjust—and the end is the re-establishment of the offending sinner in the friendship of God—in order to bring us to God.
A view of the sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ, as making an adequate atonement for the offence of sin is essential to the sinner’s hope. “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows—he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities. It pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief.” And wherefore did it please the Lord? Because Jesus Christ merited the cursed death of the cross, on account of sins by himself committed? No. Far from it. The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness’ sake. And lo, a voice from heaven, saying, this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Did Jesus suffer merely as a witness for the truth of his doctrine? He suffered as a witness; but not as a witness only. The doctrine to which he gave testimony, even in his death, the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a random for many, is the doctrine of the atonement. Did he suffer as an example? Yes: but not merely as an example. He patiently endured tribulation in our redemption, and set us an example of suffering patiently in our profession of faith in his blood. The example is precious. It is encouraging. It is effectual. But strip the sufferings of Christ Jesus of this character—they were the punishment of ours sins; and they then cease to be a salutary example. What! Messiah suffered for no sin? and yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him! Such an example would be terrifying, disgusting, detestable. What an example! That perfect innocence may be rewarded by Jehovah with the most terrible pains!—An example, that God is pleased to bruise his Son without a cause or an object!—An example that the greatest holiness may be doomed to the most exquisite anguish!—An example, of cruelly taking the sceptre from the hand of justice, and sporting with the tortures of one in whom there was no fault, to whose account there was none charged, who ought not to have suffered! And is this the doctrine which the wisdom of the world would persuade us to consider as more equitable than the doctrine of the atonement? The wisdom of the world is foolishness with God.
Adopt the scriptural representation of the sufferings of Christ, and all is consistent. Beloved of God, holy and harmless as he was, he ought to suffer. By the constitution of the covenant of grace, he became our surety—he bore our sins—our guilt was transferred to him—he must accordingly bear our griefs. Justice demands the punishment of our sins.
Hear his own words: “O fools, and slow of heart to believe—ought not Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into his glory?” Even so might grace reign through righteousness.—Grace reign, in the constitution of the system, through justice displayed in the execution of the victim. For
3. Christ Jesus offered sacrifice in our behalf in order to procure reconciliation for us.
Eph. 5.2. Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God. To God he offered the sacrifice; for God was offended and must be appeased, or we, whom he loved, must perish for ever. The Redeemer is the priest, who offered unto God the sacrifice, which is our propitiation. He is, himself, the sacrifice, which he offered unto God, for a sweet smelling savour. He gave his life a ransom for many.
From the earliest ages of the world, sacrifice formed a part of the religious worship offered unto God by fallen man. “Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. And Abel, he also, brought of the firstlings of his flock, and of the fat thereof.”
The Hebrew ritual provided for this kind of religious worship in an eminent degree. The Priesthood, and the variety of sacrifices presented by them, according to the Levitical law, gave a peculiar character to the whole system of ordinances appointed of God for his people Israel. These sacrifices were piacular. Therefore, we so frequently read, in the law which required them, of the atonement which they made. We are, however, informed by the word of truth “that the law can never with those sacrifices make the comers thereunto perfect. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.” The great object in view is taking away sins. And this object is accomplished by the sacrifice which these represented—“through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” Whatever other ends the kind of worship, prescribed by the Old Testament dispensation of the covenant of grace, may have answered, the principal end, certainly, was the exhibition of the doctrine of the atonement. Moral sacrifices, such as praise, penitence, and prayer, are always due from us to Jehovah; but there is nothing of spirituality naturally connected with the killing of beasts, or the burning of flesh upon an altar.
The external acts of devotion, required of the Hebrews, were well adapted to the minority of the church. A form of worship, greatly symbolical, was appropriate to a very illiterate age; and these symbols were peculiarly adapted to the preservation of the descendants of Abraham from surrounding idolatries. The whole system continually kept the Israelites in mind of their dependence on God for the fruits of the field and the increase of the fold. But its principal value is its fitness to keep up a lively conviction of the offensive nature of sin, and to prefigure the sacrifice which was offered by Jesus Christ. The bloody victim directed the faith of the heirs of Isaac and Jacob to the atonement of Christ, the promised seed.
The apostles laboured to turn the attention of their contemporaries to this object. And the hand of the Baptist is the index from the Levitical sacrifices to the one which gave them all their efficacy.—Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world! The epistle to the Hebrews, throws open the doors of the Levitical tabernacle, and all its rich gospel treasure is exposed to view. Jesus hath an unchangeable priesthood. And every high Priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices. Christ through the eternal spirit offered himself without spot to God. After he had offered one sacrifice for sins, he, for ever, sat down on the right of God. Himself the priest, himself the sacrifice, and the sacrifice offered to God for our sins. Is not this ample atonement? It is. Having, therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.
4. The satisfaction which the Redeemer made for our offences, is acknowledged in heaven to be complete. Eph. 4.32. God, for Christ’s sake, hath forgiven you.
Forgiveness of sin, is a covering of its offence against God by the atonement. The satisfaction made by the Redeemer is declared accepted, therefore, when God for Christ’s sake grants pardon to the offender. Therefore are they before the throne of God, which have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. And he that sitteth upon the throne having issued the proclamation in the sinner’s favour, Deliver him from going down to the pit; I have found a ransom, declares his satisfaction with the sacrifice—a sacrifice of a sweet smelling savour unto God. It is impossible it would be otherwise. The dignity of the High Priest—the infinite value of the offering—the declaration on the cross, It is finished—the resurrection from the dead—the glorious exaltation of Messiah—the gifts of the Holy Ghost—the salvation of the sinner—These speak, yes, they declare with an irresistible persuasion, that satisfaction for sin is complete, and that
5. Reconciliation with God is established on the footing of that satisfaction.
Rom. 5.10. When we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son. There cannot be given a more certain evidence that atonement is made for an offence, than that reconciliation is fully established between the parties at variance. When the scriptures assure us, therefore, that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, they testify that Christ hath made adequate atonement for our sins. We were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.
Shall it be said that the enemy is altogether on our part, and that Jesus Christ died, not to appease the wrath of heaven, but to slay the enmity of the human heart? How could the death of Christ effect this, otherwise than by making atonement for our sins, and so procuring the blessings of sanctification for us? Is it still insisted, that the barriers to a reconciliation with God are altogether on the side of man, and that Christ came into the world only to remove these barriers. What? was the atonement then made to us in order to reconcile us? Were the sacrifices of the Levitical law offered to man? Was Christ Jesus ordained the High Priest of man? Did he offer the sacrifice to man? Did he pay the ransom to man? Is the scripture phraseology to be reversed, or is its meaning the reverse of its language? Did Jesus offer himself as the sweet-smelling sacrifice to man for the sins of the godhead? And is this the criticism which shall overturn the doctrine of the atonement? Is this the criticism which shall explain the scriptures rationally, and consistently, and without mystery? There is indeed enmity in sinful man against God. Yes: We grant it. Such criticism is evidence of this truth.
The Redeemer having satisfied divine justice by the sacrifice of himself, slays the enmity of our hearts by his gospel, by his grace, by his Holy Spirit. We are reconciled to God, to his law, to his ordinances, and to this gospel which proclaims salvation through the blood of Jesus—the propitiation for our sins. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: and all things are of God who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ.
THE system of grace is an astonishing instance of the wisdom of God. It indeed displays, to all the intelligent creatures in the universe, that attribute, in a more remarkable manner than the whole creation. The angels who dwell in heaven, consider the salvation of fallen men, through the atonement made by the Redeemer for our sins, as eminently calculated to manifest the divine wisdom. Eph. 3.10. “To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places, might be known by the church, the manifold wisdom of God.”
Atonement we have already defined [page 8], That which effectually removes the offence of sin, and procures for the sinner reconciliation with God: And we have presented the reader [see Essay II] with ample evidence of the fact, that the Redeemer has made such atonement. To this fact we may justly apply the words of our blessed Saviour, a few days before his death - “The stone which the builders rejected, has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.” But we cannot behold with suitable admiration, the wisdom displayed in the appointment of a Saviour, unless we have a conviction of the necessity of satisfaction for sin, in order to be reconciled to God. There is no great cause of admiration in the cross of Christ, if atonement for sin be altogether unnecessary. It is, therefore, the design of this essay, to prove,
The necessity of the Atonement.
The Scriptures represent the sufferings of the Redeemer, as necessary for our salvation. The salvation of a sinner, without the full punishment of all his sins, is impossible. It is the election of grace that renders necessary atonement by the Mediator. We flatter ourselves that we shall succeed in our endeavours to prove, in a satisfactory manner, the truth of each of these assertions. This will show, both the necessity of the atonement, and the state of things which renders it necessary.
1. The Scriptures represent the sufferings of our Redeemer, as necessary to our salvation.
This idea is interwoven with all the doctrines of the Christian religion, so that we cannot for a moment lose sight of it, without destroying the very marrow of the Gospel, and putting an end to all evangelical obedience. As a powerful motive to holiness of life, Christians are repeatedly put in mind of the sufferings of the Redeemer in their behalf. Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God. But if this sacrifice is unnecessary, it cannot constitute either an obligation to gratitude, or a motive to obedience. The man who exposes himself unnecessarily to sufferings in my behalf, merits my compassion; and if he have done this, with a good design, supposing it to have been necessary, he has a claim upon my gratitude. If, however, he needlessly sported with his own comfort, knowing at the same time that it was not at all necessary to my happiness that he should suffer, he has conferred upon me no obligation. Christ suffered for us. He did this with a perfect knowledge of all the circumstances of the case. These sufferings must have been necessary for our salvation, or they never could be urged as a motive for evangelical obedience.
The gift of Christ to die for our sins is exhibited as both the decisive evidence, and the effect of unequalled love. God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life. This gift, however, if we could have everlasting life without an atonement, cannot be considered as evidence of superior love. If God could have, consistently with his own moral excellency, rendered one man happy without subjecting any other to pain, love would be better displayed in the immediate communication of the desired felicity, than by giving innocence up to the most exquisite torments. If salvation were attainable otherwise than by the cross of Christ, the death of Christ is really of no value. For if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. Righteousness in this text signifies that on account on which the sinner is justified in the sight of God the supreme judge. To justify is not to condemn, and whosoever is not condemned shall be saved. Where righteousness comes, there salvation also comes. The law is a system of moral obligation divinely revealed to man. If righteousness cannot come without Christ, by the law, it certainly cannot come without Christ, through any other medium. If salvation cannot be procured by obedience to the divine law, we shall in vain look for it by any other merit of our own. When, therefore, the Scriptures teach us, that if righteousness come by the law then Christ is dead in vain, they declare that if we could be otherwise saved than by the death of Christ, that event would have been worse than useless.
The necessity of the atonement, evident from every part of the Christian doctrine, is formally acknowledged by the Elders who sit around the throne of the Lamb. They, having the harps of God, sing a new song, saying, Thou wast slain and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood. The felicity which the celestial inhabitants enjoy, forbids the thought that Christ shed his blood, his precious blood in vain. The sufferings which he underwent are acknowledged as the price of their redemption. To these sufferings, to the atonement made on Calvary, they cordially ascribe their title to eternal enjoyment in heaven. The necessity so universally acknowledged must arise from an adequate cause. The atonement is necessity, because,
2. The salvation of a sinner, without the full punishment of all his sins, is impossible.
God cannot deny himself. His perfections are in perfect harmony. “The most lovely idea we can form of the Deity, and which at the same time, is the most solid ground of our faith in his word, and of our confidence in the performance of his promises, is that which represents him as an uniform being, whose attributes harmonize, and who is always consistent with himself.” Punitive justice is essential to God. The holiness of Deity requires the punishment of every sin. His honour demands the condemnation of the guilty, and his truth the execution of the sentence: therefore is it impossible that sin should be unpunished, or that the sinner can be saved with an atonement.
“The justice of God presides, as it were, in all the divine decrees, actions, and words: there is no egress of the divine will, though distinctly breathing mercy, truth, or wisdom, but in respect thereof God is eminently said to be just.” He is just and having salvation. He is just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus. In the exercise of justice, God is infinitely free from all constraint. None resisteth his will with effect. Although always free, he cannot for a moment be indifferent whether he shall act justly or not. This would be an imperfection. Justice requires that sin be punished, because sin deserves punishment. Every sin deserves punishment; and what its demerit demands, justice demands. “If it be allowed that great crimes should be punished in some measure answerable to the heinousness of the crime; it will follow, that it is requisite that God should punish all sin with infinite punishment; because all sin, as it is against God, has infinite demerit, and is infinitely hateful to him.” Every sin also must be punished precisely according to its demerit. What it deserves, justice requires that it should receive. It is not enough that some sins should be punished in order to give an evidence of God’s power to punish. Justice demands that no sin whatever should escape; because every sin deserves punishment, and it would be unjust not to treat sin as it deserves to be treated. It is perfectly obvious, that if God may justly pass one sin over with impunity, he may, so far as justice is concerned, pass over all sins without punishing them. This mode of reasoning is abundantly supported by the word of God. Thou art not a God that hast pleasure in wickedness; neither shall evil dwell with thee: thou hatest all the workers of iniquity. Shall not the judge of all the earth do right? Righteous art thou, O Lord, and upright are thy judgments. The wages of sin is death. He will render to every one according to his works. The Lord—that will by no means clear the guilty.
The consciences of men bear testimony to this principle, Justice requires the punishment of sin. The heathen idolaters, in every part of the world, were conscious that the divinity punishes the guilty. We have in proof of this, their own poets, historians, and philosophers. And we have a more sure word in confirmation of this fact, respecting the heathen. Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death. The conscience, which the hand of the omnipotent God hath recently touched for conviction, feels the force of this truth. The terrors of the Lord surround him day and night. The arrows of the Almighty stick fast, the poison whereof drinketh up his spirit. He no longer doubts that “every sin deserves the wrath of God both in this life and that which is to come.” He feels that the righteous Lord will not clear the guilty. He feels the necessity of the atonement—of an atonement which does more than merely exhibit God’s displeasure at sin in the abstract. God’s displeasure at sin is displayed in the torments of the damned. The conscience, convinced of sin, seeks for an atonement adequate to remove the offence of its own sins. Not of some of its sins; but of all its sins. God never can clear the guilty. While the guilt of any one sin remains, justice necessarily demands punishment. Justice is glorified in exhibiting pardon, as well as in executing vengeance. Therefore does the soul rejoice, because each pardoned sinner can say, Thou forgavest the iniquity of MY sin.
The death of Jesus Christ as a satisfaction for sin, is conclusive evidence of the impossibility of pardoning the sinner without the full punishment of all his sins. He was made a propitiation for us, in order to glorify divine justice by the punishment of our sins, in his sufferings, that by his obedience we might be made righteous. “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins.” What sins? Sin in the abstract? Did the idea of sin deserve punishment? Is it the word sin that is punished? Is it against the word only that God is displeased? Sin, in the abstract, is nothing more than the word. No creature ever was guilty of it in the abstract. Alas! Shall we suffer terms without meaning to rob us of our scriptural language, and of our Christian hope? No. The Redeemer suffered for our sins—sins of individual persons actually existing. He suffered the punishment of all our sins; the full punishment of every sin of every individual that shall be saved. Justice required no less. What justice demanded, he suffered. Infinite wisdom fixed the proportion. He is our “near kinsman,” and not a remote monument of sufferings for sin in the abstract. The Bible-language is sweet to the soul. It has the unction of the Holy Ghost. “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried. He was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”
The holiness of deity requires the punishment of every sin. God is infinitely holy. Holiness is opposition to sin. The nature of God is therefore infinitely opposed to the immorality of moral agents. And shall he not act against it? Shall he not take vengeance upon our iniquities? Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Sins, for which no sacrifice is made, are unpardonable. For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment, and fiery indignation. There is a necessary connexion between every sin, for which no adequate sacrifice is made, and fearful judgment; because God is holy. Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil; and canst not look on iniquity. It ought not to be otherwise. It is impossible it should be otherwise. It is impossible it should be otherwise. For what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness?
The honour of Jehovah demands the condemnation of the guilty. Honour and majesty are before him. Every sin is a dishonouring of God, and a contempt of his majesty. The language of sin is, that God’s displeasure is not worth regarding. And shall such language be justified, or permitted to escape with impunity? The Ruler of the Universe cannot be entitled to infinite reverence, unless the consequence of contempt for his authority be infinitely awful. Therefore every instance of rebellion against him must be punished. “If we could behold the infinite fountain of purity and holiness, and could see what an infinitely pure flame it is, and with what a pure brightness it shines, so that the heavens appear impure when compared with it and then should behold some infinitely odious and detestable filthiness brought and set in its presence; would it not be natural to expect some ineffably vehement opposition made to it?”
Truth requires the punishment of every sin. God is Truth. He is incapable of misrepresentation or falsehood. He has published a law for the regulation of our conduct; and to the transgression of his law he hath annexed a suitable penalty. The law is holy, just, and good. And cursed is everyone who continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them. If there is truth in heaven, then it is impossible that the sinner can be saved without the full punishment of all his sins. The great God did not publish his law, and utter these threatenings, for his own amusement. If sin is not prevented by the law, it must be punished. Accordingly, the law is magnified in the obedience of Messiah, and the curse has taken, in him, as our surety, full effect. He was made a curse for us. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law. It remains, that we prove,
3. It is the election of grace that creates that state of things, which renders necessary an atonement by the vicarious sufferings of Jesus Christ.
The introduction of sin into the world created the necessity of punishment. But if God had not decreed the salvation of sinners, there would have been no necessity for an atonement. The election of grace, therefore, rendered it necessary that an adequate atonement should be made for our sins; and provided the Saviour, who alone was competent to accomplish the awful and glorious undertaking.
The salvation of fallen angels was not decreed. There is, therefore, no sacrifice offered for them. Jesus took not on him the nature of angels. The glory of God is maintained sufficiently in their condemnation to endless punishment.
Justice requires no more than the infinite punishment of that class of fallen men who have no interest in the redemption purchased by Christ. And if there was no intention on the part of God to save any of the human family, there would have been no necessity whatever for any other display of the glory of his justice than what appears in the flames of hell.
Other ends, besides the salvation of the elect, are indeed answered by the atonement. That these ends, however, did not render the sufferings of Christ necessary, appears abundantly from the consideration, that they all depend upon the salvation of believers. God is glorified in the redemption of Jesus Christ; but this end of the atonement is inseparably connected with the salvation of his people. It is their salvation in this method that displays the glory of Jehovah. Sinners are left without excuse by the atonement of Christ. But were it not for the salvation of believers this end could not have been answered by it. They are left without excuse, because the most conclusive evidence is presented to all the intelligent creatures in the universe, that every sin deserves infinite punishment, seeing God himself could not confer salvation even upon those whom he loved from eternity, without punishing all their sins in the sufferings of his own Son. Sinners are left without excuse, because all who shall be saved ascribe their happiness entirely to the riches of divine grace, and disclaim the most remote idea of personal merit. They acknowledge that they, even they, did themselves deserve condemnation. The voice of reproach cannot, therefore, assail the ear of Jehovah from the regions of misery. Sinners are left without excuse, because a great portion of the damned are Gospel despisers.—Men who hear the doctrine of the atonement taught, but do not believe it—who have the Bible, and do not love it—who are required to ask salvation of God through a Redeemer, but do not comply with the commandment—Men, to whom the blessings of the Gospel, eternal life in Christ Jesus, have been affectionately offered, and yet make light of it. Every mouth must therefore be stopped. Nor shall any be found, at the last day, either in hell or in heaven, to deny the necessity of the atonement.
LANGUAGE is the channel through which we communicate our thoughts, and the words which we employ are mere signs of the things about which we either speak or write. In discoursing upon any subject, these signs are frequently used without associating with them in the mind of either the writer or the reader all the ideas which they represent; and this is usually accompanied with no inconvenience. Upon a plain and familiar subject there is little danger that the writer shall commit mistakes, and it is easy for the reader to detect the mistakes, should any be committed. But in matters of an uncommon or intricate nature, the case is widely different. When the style is highly metaphorical, and especially when abstract terms are employed, both the writer and the reader may be easily deceived, and suppose a sentence is perfectly intelligible, when in fact it is totally unmeaning. When we are much accustomed to words which represent very abstract or complex ideas, we cannot avoid fancying we understand them, although, as employed by the writer, they should happen to have either no meaning at all, or an erroneous meaning attached to them. Hence the popular prejudice in favour of certain phrases in both religion and politics, which are no more than the catch words or parties, to which no definite ideas are annexed. Nor is this species of delusion confined to the vulgar. The most acute philosophers are greatly under its influence. Mr. Locke, and the metaphysicians of that school, have written many unmeaning pages about the term Idea; and we have recently beheld a whole learned nation worshipping a mere word. It is not to be supposed that the French national convention intended to worship a faculty of the mind of any individual man; but in doing homage to reason, they deceived themselves by the sound of a word which is employed only as the sign of certain mental powers. The terms moral, power, polity, and many others, frequently employed by modern writers, afford ample specimens in illustration of our remark. To the same cause we must ascribe the unmeaning and erroneous use made frequently in religious books of the word Atonement. Were this word understood, and the scriptural ideas, which it represents, associated, in the mind of the writer, with the use which he makes of it, the controversy about the extent of the atonement would speedily expire. But so long as a term, so familiar to the eye and the ear, and we may add, so dear to the hearts of all pious men, continues to be employed without any definite ideas annexed to it, the church must experience more or less distraction from this controversy.
What is the extent of the atonement;—or for what sins did our Lord Jesus Christ make satisfaction to divine justice? This important inquiry hath met with several very different replies in the Christian world. We shall both exhibit and examine every possible reply, and shall accordingly state the question in every conceivable form.
1. Did the Redeemer make atonement for all their sins whom he purposed to save, and for their sins only? or,
2. Did he atone for some sins of all men? or,
3. For all the sins of all mankind? or,
4. Did he suffer for sins indefinitely, without any reference to the particular sins of any one individual person?
One of these questions must necessarily be answered in the affirmative. There is no other conceivable hypothesis.
Those who have attentively perused the preceding numbers of this essay, are already aware that we shall answer the first of these questions in the affirmative. This necessarily follows from the preceding reasonings. The atonement is of the same extent with the nature, number, and magnitude of the sins of all those persons who are elected to everlasting life before the foundation of the world. In asserting this, we do not at all intend to enter into a discussion of the question, whether, if the number of the elect had been either greater or less, the sufferings of the Redeemer must have been increased or diminished? We desire not to be wise above what is written, and we most cheerfully allow the righteous and wise God to fix the proportion of punishment to sin. We are completely assured that the atonement is adequate to all its purposes, and is precisely what it ought to be. That it was designed to be, and actually is, a satisfaction to divine justice for all the sins of the elect, we have an irresistible conviction produced by such considerations as the following: the unity of the divine counsels, the nature of atonement, the economy of the covenant of grace, and the uniform tenour of Scriptural assertion, together with what we believe upon examination to be the inconsistencies of every other system.
1. Our first argument is derived from the unity of the divine counsels. Whatsoever is accomplished in time was purposed from eternity. The Holy Spirit accordingly purposed the sanctification of a chosen number. Whom the Father did foreknow, he also did predestinate. And, if there be no dissention in heaven, the purpose of the Son must have been, to lay down his life for the very same number.
The perfections of God forbid the idea of ascribing any diversity of purpose, as it respects either means or ends, to the several persons of the godhead. The love and grace of God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, have precisely the same objects. This love, in the purpose of election, as we have already proved [page 31, to which the reader is referred], produced the necessity of an atonement, and provided the Redeemer, whom, considering the guilt of those who are to be saved, that very guilt of those who are to be saved, that very guilt had rendered necessary. If an atonement is necessary, it is the expiating sin. That every sin shall receive adequate punishment, is the requisition of divine justice. Those sins, therefore, which are not punished in the persons of the transgressors, and those only, must be punished in the sufferings of the substitute. The damned, however, do in fact, suffer punishment exactly proportioned to their guilt.
Atonement remains only to be made for those who escape punishment. The Father, having chosen the elect in Christ, gave them to his Son in order to be redeemed by his blood. He laid upon him their iniquities. The Holy Spirit dwelt in him as the head of the system of grace, and sanctified the sacrifice which he made, in order to perfect for ever them that are sanctified. Settled, then, as it was, in the council of peace, that the Spirit should sanctify those that are predestined to eternal life, is it conceivable that Jesus Christ should dissent from the heavenly arrangement, and in despite of the end of his mission, to expiate the sins of his elect, make his atonement to be of more or less extent? Election, conversion, justification, and the heavenly glory, have respect to precisely the same individual sinners; and we can perceive no reason why atonement should be of greater or less extent. The works and ministrations of men, in dispensing ordinances, cannot respect their fellow-men, as elected, because it is not allowed to us to inspect the secrets of Jehovah; but certainly the Son of God does not labour under this inability. Whom he did predestinate, them he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified. And is it not for the very same persons that Jesus suffered and laid down his life? Or shall God, in very deed, condemn a soul for whom Christ hath died? Impossible! For who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s ELECT? Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that DIED. Rom. 8.30, 33, 34.
2. The nature of the atonement renders it necessary to consider it as of equal extent with the election of grace.
It will readily be acknowledged, that when atonement is complete, the offence has received expiation, and justice does not demand or admit of subsequent punishment. If then the Saviour is to be considered as having made a complete atonement, justice has no further claim upon the sinner, and he cannot come into condemnation. We have already shown, that atonement is that which removes the offence and procures reconciliation [cf. pages 8-11]. It must accordingly have been made for the sins of the elect. If for less, some people are saved otherwise than by the blood of Jesus; and if for more, justice condemns where it has no right. We are fully aware that some respectable writers have fancied that this view of the subject renders the salvation of the sinner more of debt than of grace, and we shall bestow upon this objection, in due time, a patient examination. We shall, at present, only observe, that if it be of debt, it is only so unto him that worketh, unto Christ Jesus; but unto him that worketh not, unto the sinner, it is still of grace; even the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: nor do we shudder at the consequences of ascribing to the sufferings of our Redeemer, the glory of our reconciliation with God. The pardoned soul shall make her boast in the Lord, and glory in the cross of Jesus Christ, without fear of being charged, on that account, with denying the grace of the Father, who spared not his own Son, but delivered him up unto the death for us. We know that the Father himself loved us, and gave his Son to die for our sins; but he is never jealous that we ascribe to his Son too much of the praise of our pardon. To the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, the blessing of believers, we can confidently look, upon the footing of an atonement which enlists appeased justice in our cause. Being justified freely by his grace, is consistent with the propitiation whereby he declares his righteousness for the remission of sins.
3. The covenant of grace provides atonement for the sins of the elect, and confines it to them.
This covenant is ordered in all things and sure. In it the Father promises to his Son the salvation of the elect, upon condition that he, as their public head, shall bear their iniquities, and make his soul an offering for sin. The Son accepts the offer, and engages to fulfil the condition. This is the covenant, and it displays the grace of both the Father and the Son. The Redeemer appeared in the fulness of time made of a woman, made under the law, and by his obedience unto death he fulfilled the condition of the covenant. It is the fact of its being a covenant arrangement, that renders the sufferings of the Redeemer either acceptable to God, or capable of availing for our redemption. Independently of the eternal covenant, the sufferings of Jesus Christ could not have been; and if they had been, they could prove no benefit to man; they could make no atonement for any sin whatever. It is a common observation, that the blood of Jesus is, abstractedly considered, of such value as to save worlds. And if by this expression it is intended merely to convey the idea, that our Redeemer did, by his obedience and death, confer infinite honour upon the divine law, and satisfy divine justice to the utmost, we admit the sentiment, however incorrect the expression. But apart from the covenant, no such ends could be answered. Had he not undertaken to represent his elect, the law could have demands on his obedience, and had he not become a substitute for us by covenant, his sufferings would have availed nothing. Had there been no promise of salvation to his seed, upon condition of his fulfilling all righteousness, both his obedience and sufferings would have been in vain. They would neither please God, nor profit man. Sufferings, abstractedly considered, have nothing in them to please a benevolent mind. The pains endured by Messiah, could not thus delight his heavenly Father. They accordingly could have no value, had they not been considered according to a covenant constitution as the atonement for the sins of those who were given to him, in that covenant, to be redeemed by this very price. Destroy the idea of representation, and the pains of the cross cease to display God’s displeasure at sin. It is no evidence of such displeasure to make the innocent suffer for sins with which he has no connexion. He must be identified with us, by a legal constitution, in which, both he and the father agree, that he bear our sins, before displeasure at our sins can appear from his sufferings. For his elect, therefore, he entered into covenant with God, and upon this covenant entirely depends both the value and extent of his atonement.
THEORIES, which are not, in their first principles and in all their parts, supported by the general tenor of Scripture doctrines, are unworthy the faith of Christians. They always direct the mind from the only rule of faith, and encourage habits of argumentation, without immediate reference to the word of God.
A talent for accurate and consistent reasoning is certainly of great value; but it is of much greater, “to be mighty in the Scriptures.” Every sentiment, which does not perfectly harmonize with the Scriptural mode of expression, must be viewed with a jealous eye; and if it does not correspond with Scriptural principle, it must be treated as an intruder into the system of Theology. That notion, therefore, of atonement, which separates that fact of Christ’s death, from the other effects of the mercy and grace of God, and holds it up, in its detached form, as an abstract object of speculation, in which believers really have no more concern than any other creature under God’s moral government, we must treat as an entire stranger to our theology. It may be the child of ingenious theory —of a cold and “false philosophy;” but we have not so learned Christ. Christianity excludes from her system such a notion. She embraces as her own, that atonement, which is both the effect and evidence of sovereign grace, of unequalled love, of infinite mercy, and which is inseparably connected with the salvation of every individual for whose sins it was rendered and accepted. An atonement, which expiates his own personal guilt and offence, is the foundation of the believer’s joy. The great love wherewith he loved us who is rich in mercy, and hath quickened us together with Christ. I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved ME and gave himself for ME.
That Christ died, in order to expiate the sins of his elect, we have already proved, 1. From the unity of the divine counsels. 2. From the nature of atonement. 3. From the economy of the covenant of grace. The doctrine is also supported, 4. By the uniform tenor of Scriptural assertion.
When the death of our Redeemer is mentioned or referred to in the oracles of God, it is in such connexion, as shows that it was designed as a benefit, only to those who shall in fact derive benefits from it; and that the atonement was accordingly made only for those offences which shall have in fact been pardoned. But we must here appeal to the reader’s own knowledge of the sacred Scriptures. It would subject us to the labour of transcribing a great part of the bible, were we to quote every passage which supports our doctrine. We shall only give a specimen, state arguments, and subjoin references.
John 10.15 - I LAY DOWN MY LIFE FOR THE SHEEP. 18 - No man taketh it from me, but I LAY IT DOWN OF MYSELF: I have POWER to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This COMMANDMENT have I received of my Father. 26 - Ye BELIEVE NOT; because ye are NOT OF MY SHEEP. 28 & 29 - I give unto them ETERNAL LIFE; and they shall NEVER PERISH, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and NONE IS ABLE TO PLUCK THEM OUT of my Father’s hand.
In these words the Redeemer himself proclaims the fact of his expiatory sufferings, and describes the very persons for whom he rendered the atonement. His death is a voluntary sacrifice, in obedience to that law by which he is appointed Mediator. The human life which he assumed was at his own disposal; and agreeably to the establishment of grace, under which he acted, it was willingly offered for those who shall in fact believe, who shall never perish, who were given to him of the Father, to be redeemed and admitted into everlasting life. He suffered death for the election of grace; and for their sins only did he make atonement. All others shall be punished in proportion to their sins; because their offences are unexpiated. They deserve punishment; and justice gives them what they deserve.
He asserts the fact—I lay down my life. His obedience unto death was perfectly voluntary. I lay it down for myself. The fact cannot be otherwise accounted for. He could not suffer against his own will. He is himself the creator and governor of all creatures. The Father himself had no power over him but what arose from his voluntary humiliation. None in heaven, or on earth, could deprive Jesus Christ of life, against his own will. No man taketh it (life) from me. Ουδεις αιρει αυτην απ̕ εμου. Man is a supplement, by the English translator. The expression, “None taketh it, (life,) from me.” Earth, hell, heaven, did not take the life of Jesus from him. He laid it down of himself. He had authority over his own life to dispose of it in this manner. I have power to lay it down. The creature has no right over his own life. He did not give it. He cannot preserve it. It is not his own. Our life belongs to God. No man has a right to take away his own life, or to lay it down for the life of another. But Christ’s life was his own. He voluntarily assumed our nature. He is the Lord of life. All creation is at his disposal, whether life, or death, or things present, or things to come. No parallel can be found in the universe to the substitution of the life of the Saviour for the sinner’s; and analogies here, rather obscure than illustrate, unless it be an illustration by contrast. He had power not only to lay down his life, but also to take it again. Εξουσιαν εχω θειναι αυτην. I have a right to lay it down. Εξουσια is no mere strength, but power of a moral description.
This right, which the Word made flesh had over his own life, as the Son of man, he exercises, not indeed in an arbitrary manner, but according to that law which constituted him the head of the election of grace. He laid down his life in obedience to law.—This commandment have I received of my Father. Appointed of God in the system of grace to redeem lost men, he, who thought it not robbery to be equal with God, took upon him the form of a servant, and said—Lo! I come to do thy will, O God. The establishment of grace constituted the obligation under which the Redeemer laid down his life.
Let us then consider the death of Christ clothed with these circumstances, and inquire for whom did our Redeemer suffer? We shall ascertain from his own reply the extent of his atonement. I lay down my life FOR THE SHEEP. Christ’s sheep, to himself well known, are those for whom he made atonement. This is plainly asserted. We confess, however, that it is not generally believed. Many of the Jews who heard the Saviour teach this doctrine, said, verse 20. He hath a devil, and is mad, why hear ye him? And we are fully aware that the same charge shall be advanced against us for repeating this doctrine. Be it so. This shall not at all affect its truth.
The atonement which the Redeemer did, in fact, make, by laying down his life, which he willed to make, which he had a right to make, and which the Father commanded him to make, was for the sheep.
This is a specific object. It is the one contemplated by the Father, and by Christ. The appointment, the power, the will, and the fact, all the circumstances of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, have respect to the sheep. Who are the sheep? He, who knows them well, answers this question. They are those very persons who shall in fact be saved, who believe, in whom Jesus has a special property, who were given to him by the Father when appointed to be their Saviour. These are the ransomed of the Lord, predestinated to be conformed to the image of his Son. These are the sheep of Christ, distinguished in his purpose of grace from others in the world. Let not our adversaries, in sentiment, be wroth with us. It is not we, but he, that makes the distinction. He who suffered angels to fall into sin, suffered men to fall into sin. And he who left all fallen angels to perish in their sins, left some men to perish in their sins. Rebel angels have as much reason to complain, as rebel men have, that they were not redeemed; that is, no reason at all. They shall be, everyone, treated by a just God according to their demerit. He, who confirms in happiness elect angels, redeems to everlasting life, elect men; and the angels that perish, and the men who perish for their sins, can gain nothing by their zeal against the doctrine. It were better for us to do his commandments, than dispute his sovereignty. It were wiser to give all diligence to make our calling and election sure, than deny the doctrine of election and redemption. We disclaim all agency of ours, in determining the limits of the nations of them that are saved. It is God that determines the extent of the atonement.
The sheep for whom Christ laid down his life, are those who, in time, believe in his name. Ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep. The assertion settles three points. 1. No one, who does not belong to Christ’s sheep, shall ever, in fact, believe. 2. Everyone who belongs to this fold, doth believe. 3. Those who do in fact believe, are the very persons for whom he laid down his life; HIS SHEEP. But this, although sufficient, is not all the proof this passage affords. Other characteristics of those for whose sins he made atonement, are given by our Saviour. They shall all, without exception, be happy for ever, in heaven. They shall never perish. Their own sins, or falls, shall not be permitted to destroy them; for then would they perish. But for these sins atonement is made, and the offender is consequently pardoned and accepted. Their enemies can not destroy them, for Christ has a peculiar property in them. Neither shall any pluck them out of my hand. Unto his hands, as the administrator of the covenant of grace, are they committed. He holds them in his hand, and defends them by his omnipotence, as his purchased property; the church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood. He has a right to demand their salvation. And he has power to enforce his right. He has declared the fact. Και ουχ αρπασει τις. No being in the universe shall deprive him of them. The almighty power of the Father is engaged in supporting the Son’s title to the salvation of all for whose sins he made the atonement; for these sheep were committed by the Father to his care, that they might be saved. My Father which gave them me is greater than all; and none is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. This assertion settles, concerning the sheep for whom Christ died, three points. 1. They are given by the Father to the Son, in the purpose of grace, as an elect seed. 2. The power of the Godhead is pledged in defence of the gift. 3. No power whatsoever can separate any of them from their connexion with God in Christ. Ουδεις δυναται αρπαζειν. The word Man, which is found in our common bibles, is, both in the 28 and 29 verses, as well as in the 18 verse, a supplement, and an improper one, because it restricts the meaning of the text to a certain class of agents. But the assertion defies all power whatsoever to bring into condemnation, or future misery, any of those for whom Christ died.
Let us sum up the argument. Those fallen sinners of the human family, for whom Jesus Christ was appointed to make atonement by his death, for whom he had a right to make atonement, for whom he willed to make atonement, and for whose sins he did in fact atone, are his SHEEP; and his SHEEP are those fallen sinners who were given to Christ by the Father, in whom Christ has a peculiar property, upon whom faith is bestowed, and who shall eventually be saved.
This is the true state of the case, as God our Saviour hath himself described it. Thus hath he purposed that it should be, and he knoweth that it is. These sheep are known by name and number, only unto him who numbereth and names the stars of the firmament. We cannot pretend to separate effectually “between cattle and cattle.” We are bound to judge only of appearances. In respect to visible society, we can distinguish between the apparent sheep, and the apparent goats. And we apply to the visible church, in addressing it, the characters of the church of God. But we do this with humility. We know that there are persons to whom these characters only appear to belong; many to whom they do not really belong. But this acknowledgment does not make void the system of grace. Although the administration of external means is committed to imperfect men, and the characteristics of the sheep may be apparently due and applied where they do not really belong, Jesus Christ, who knoweth them that are his, never commits a mistake in describing them. It is the design of providence that the elect shall not be perfectly distinguished, to our view, on this side of time. But the reality of the distinction between them and others will be certified and made visible to the intelligent inhabitants of the universe on the day of judgment. Then alone shall it appear to us, who are personally the sheep for whom Jesus shed his precious blood. When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory. And before him shall be gathered all nations; and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats; and he shall set the SHEEP ON HIS RIGHT HAND, but the goats on the left. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the RIGHTEOUS INTO LIFE ETERNAL.
We shall now state other arguments in support of our doctrine, and subjoin references which the careful reader may consult at his leisure. They will be found equally conclusive with the text which we have explained.
1. Texts, in which the everlasting love of God is connected with Christ’s atonement, show that the objects of each are the same.
1 John 4.9, 10. John 3.16. Gal. 2.20. Eph. 5.2, 25. Rom. 8.32-39.
2. Texts, in which those persons who undergo a change of heart, are represented as they for whose sins atonement was made by Christ’s death.
Col. 1.21, 22. Eph. 2.5-7. Phil. 1.29. Rom. 7.4. Heb. 9.14. Rom. 6.6, 8.
3. Texts, in which justification and atonement are exhibited as inseparably connected, and belonging to the very same persons.
1 Pet. 3.18. Col. 1.14. Rom. 4.25. Eph. 1.6, 7. Rom. 3.24, 25.
4. Texts, which prove that those who are sanctified, and those for whom Christ died, are the same.
Tit. 2.14. Heb. 1.3. Eph. 5.25, 26. 1 John 1.7. Heb. 13.12. Rev. 1.5. and 7.14.
5. Texts which, by connecting the atonement with the triumphs of the Christian over every enemy, represent both as provided for the same persons.
Zech. 9.11. Rev. 12.11. Heb. 10.14, 19. Rom. 8.3. Gal. 2.20. Rev. 5.9. Rom. 6.4-6. Gal. 6.14.
6. Texts, which represent the death of Christ as certainly procuring eternal life for his people.
Heb. 9.12. 1 John 4.9. Eph. 5.25, 27. Col. 1.22. Acts 20.28. Eph. 1.10, 14. Rom. 8.32-39.
Here then we rest the argument upon the extent of atonement, derived from the uniform tenor of Scriptural assertions. Those few passages of Scripture which are quoted in behalf of its universality, shall hereafter fall under our examination.
But, for our own part, when we find in our Bibles, that the objects of God’s eternal love, who are in fact converted by his Almighty grace; who are, by his Holy Spirit, united to Christ, and accepted in him as pardoned; who are rendered truly holy; who shall certainly triumph over every impediment to their complete felicity, and who are, by the power of God, introduced into the kingdom of Heaven, when we find these, and none but these, represented in our bibles as the ransomed of the Lord, we cannot admit that the atonement is of greater or less extent than the election of grace.
THE love of truth, which ought to influence us in our several researches, meets with many impediments in its exercise. Natural disposition, interest, prejudice, passion, even when they do not succeed in destroying that love entirely, seldom fail in cutting out the channel in which it flows. With the purest motives, and with the best talents for religious discussion, it therefore frequently happens that men’s opinions differ on the most important subjects. It is an evil which we lament, and for which the only remedy is from above. At all events, the truth must be sought out, and what we embrace as truth, we must defend. The subject of atonement, like many other christian doctrines, is controversial ground. We would walk over it with reverence and godly fear. O, send out thy light and thy truth, let them lead me.
In page 34, we stated the question, respecting the extent of the atonement, in every possible form; and we stated as one argument in defence of the system which we maintain, inconsistency of every other hypothesis.
To the illustration of that argument this number is devoted.
Did the Redeemer make atonement
1. For the sins of the elect? or,
2. For some sins of all men? or,
3. For all the sins of all men? or,
4. For sin in general?
We have already exhibited our reasons for maintaining the affirmative to the first of these inquiries; and we refer our readers to [pages 75 and 76], for a view of the dilemma into which every man must be reduced who adopts the second or third hypothesis. We now select, for a somewhat more particular examination, the doctrine of
There are obvious reasons for this selection. Many, who are otherwise upon what is usually called Calvinistic ground, suppose the atonement to be indefinite. The doctrine itself is so general, and so far abstracted from common view, and the language in which it must be expressed so indeterminate, that its inconsistency is less obvious than that of the other opinions which we have mentioned and rejected. The phrase “indefinite atonement,” communicates but a vague idea to the mind, and imparts to the doctrine a pliableness which renders it, in the opinion of many, capable of harmonizing with any set of ideas which man may choose to entertain relative to evangelical truth. In examining, too, this system, we virtually examine the fundamental doctrine of both the Arminians and Universalists, and so preclude the necessity of more particular attention to their arguments. This is the doctrine of universal redemption in its least obtrusive form. The radical principle is evidently one— Messiah in his atonement had no more respect to the sins of “the elect” than to all the transgressions of men: And the best defenders of universal redemption have recourse to this hypothesis. It is the one adopted and recommended by Arminius himself.
The notion of indefinite atonement is not at all a novelty in the Christian Church. Several writers before the time of Arminius, made use of general terms respecting the purchase of Christ. That shrewd man was himself much more cautious and vague in his expressions, than were Episcopius and others of his followers. Some of the continental writers, too, who supported the Calvinistic system, endeavoured to generalize theology, and thereby put an end to the controversy between the advocates of universal and particular redemption, by teaching that whatsoever is particular in the system of grace is to be attributed, not to the satisfaction which Jesus made for sin, but to the application of its benefits to sinners according to the decree of Predestination. This sentiment excited among divines, in the British Isles, much sensation. In Scotland, zeal for the doctrine of indefinite atonement, induced several ministers and congregations, in every other sentiment Calvinistic, to separate from all former ecclesiastical connexions, and organize a distinct Church, having no Christian communion with those who differed from them. The Presbytery of that Church is now extinct. The doctrine, however, is still maintained by many divines distinguished for their talents and their piety, both in Europe and America. Many of its advocates, we are confident, consider themselves as opposed to Arminianism, and are not aware of the coincidence of their favorite doctrine, on the subject of atonement, with the sentiments of the founder of that sect; yet we cannot state their opinions in words more appropriate than those which he employed about the sufferings of our Redeemer, quoted as a subject of criticism, by the learned Dr. Twisse, Prolocutor of the Westminster Assembly of divines. “Christ by his satisfaction only accomplished this much, that God now, consistent with the honor of his justice, might pardon sinners if he will so to do.” According to Arminius, the atonement rendered salvation only possible; and rendered it possible to all men. According to our definition, salvation is rendered certain to some—to the “election of grace.” We shall now take a view of the classis argumentorum. The arguments employed by the advocates of indefinite atonement are as follow, viz.
1. It alone reconciles the exercise of justice, with the doctrine of salvation by free grace.
2. It alone lays the foundation for an indefinite Gospel offer.
3. It alone justifies either the ascription of infinite value to the death of Christ, or the useof those terms of universality employed in Scripture in relation to the extent of the atonement.
We shall exhibit, therefore, each of these arguments in order, before we proceed to its refutation.
1. “To reconcile grace with justice in the salvation of the sinner, is the Gordian knot which divines generally have been unable to untie. Upon the principle of an indefinite atonement, the difficulty vanishes. If all the sins of a certain individual have been atoned for by the Redeemer, free grace will not appear in his pardon; because justice would, in that case, require his salvation. But justice is threefold, commutative, distributive, and public. Commutative justice has no concern in this case. Public justice is satisfied by the atonement, because the governor of the universe displays his displeasure at sin in general in the sufferings of Christ. The exercise of distributive justice is entirely set aside, and herein is grace exhibited, the sinner is pardoned at the expense of distributive justice.”
Although we have stated this argument with all the precision of which we are capable, we must observe, that notwithstanding the show of minute discussion which it makes, its whole force consists in its obscurity, and the confusion of ideas which it causes, is the only reason for any man’s offering his hand to those who, by proposing it, promise to be his guide to the temple of truth.
We object to this division of a divine attribute. It is not correct, even as it applies to man. We are perfectly aware that the Schoolmen, following the steps of heathen philosophers, adopted this division. Suarez builds upon it the doctrine of merit, in order to supply the traffic of indulgencies with works of supererogation. But, however variously divine justice may be exercised about its several objects, we have no reason to believe, that there are three different attributes of justice, or even that the principle in man, which induces him to act honestly in commercial transactions, and to give to every man his due, is any way different from the principle which influences a good magistrate to conduct with equity his public administration. It is one principle exercised upon various objects. The Scriptures, which uniformly ascribe righteousness to Jehovah, and afford instances of its exercise in thrice three various ways, never intimate that there are three distinct attributes of divine justice.
We object to the use that is made of this division. There is no reason for excluding commutative justice any more than distributive, as distinct from public justice, from having any reference to the case of the sinner’s pardon. We can readily conceive of a civil ruler, having, independently of his official duties, certain private and personal duties to discharge toward those, who, in such case, are upon terms of equality with himself. But no equality exists between the creature and Creator. The pardon of sin most assuredly approaches as near to the forgiveness of a debt as the remission of a personal offense, which has no reference to the divine authority. Sin is a want of conformity unto, or a transgression of, THE LAW. Besides, the Scriptures frequently represent Jehovah condescending to act towards men upon the footing of a previously existing contract or covenant, but never upon the footing of private relation, setting aside his authority. He hath taught us to pray, “Forgive us our debts;” but never to say, “pardon private offences which are no transgression of thy law.” We cannot even conceive of the exercise of distributive justice by the Lord, separate from his authority as our king, our lawgiver, and our judge. We cannot conceive, that it is matter of indifference whether God does or does not exercise distributive justice towards his creatures; and much less can we admit that even, for the sake of mercy, he is ever guilty of one act of distributive injustice. We, therefore, object to the use which is made of this threefold division of the attribute of justice. And we, also,
Object to the whole argument which it involves, because it multiplies instead of solving difficulties around the doctrine of the sinner’s justification.
It requires us to believe that God has violated, or set aside the demands of distributive justice in the salvation of his chosen—that the sufferings of our Redeemer were the punishment, not of transgressions which are, in fact, committed, but of sin in the abstract—and that public justice requires only an exhibition of the divine displeasure of sin.
Sin, in the abstract, is only a word. Like an algebraical character, it represents all the transgressions of individual persons. These particular sins are realities; but sin in general, or in the abstract, is only the sign, the word, which we employ in reasoning. It is not for the sign, but the thing that Jesus suffered. The word sin, too, represents the transgressions of angels. If the Redeemer suffered for sin in general, he made atonement for devils, although he took not on him the nature of angels. And if public justice demanded no more than the display of Jehovah’s hatred of sin, then Christ is dead in vain, for such display is made in the everlasting punishments of Hell. But justice demanded more. It demanded the punishment of the sinner; and could not be satisfied with anything short of this, unless Messiah should so unite himself to sinners, not only by assuming their nature, but by becoming in law their representative, as to bear all the sins of all the persons for whom his sufferings were intended to atone. We object also to this argument in defense of indefinite atonement,
Because it takes for granted, what does not exist, that if all the demands of divine justice are satisfied to the full by the atonement, then grace is excluded from our pardon. This is not the case. Justice is indeed satisfied. It does not oppose, but demand the salvation of all for whom Christ died. Here is no difficulty—no Gordian knot. Grace reigns through righteousness. We refer our readers to what is said on this subject, page 38, and conclude our examination of this argument in the words of the Assembly of Divines at Westminster. “Although Christ, by his obedience and death, did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God’s justice in the behalf of them that are justified; yet, inasmuch as God accepteth the satisfaction from a surety, which he might have demanded of them, and did provide this surety, his own only son, imputing his righteousness to them, and requiring nothing of them for their justification, but faith, which also is his gift, their justification is to them of free grace.”
II. Argument in defense of indefinite atonement. “This doctrine is the foundation upon which the Gospel offer can alone be consistently made. Sinners indefinitely are commanded to believe the Gospel, and to confide in the Redeemer for salvation. It would imply insincerity, to urge such a command upon those who have no interest in that atonement, which is certainly the case, if none but the elect were contemplated in the sufferings of Jesus Christ.”
The reply to this argument shall be short. It supposes a difficulty which does not exist, and which, if it did, must hang with all its weight upon that very system which is invented in order to afford relief from it.
Supposing, for argument’s sake, that insincerity is implied in calling upon one, for whom Christ did not make atonement, to believe the Gospel, that insincerity cannot lie at the preacher’s door, because he, while on earth, does not know whether the sinner be in such predicament; and in fulfilling his duty he hopes the best concerning those to whom he delivers his message.
The insincerity must be charged to a higher account. This is the difficulty. But is it less upon the principle of indefinite atonement? It is not.
If, in order to extricate ourselves from this imaginary difficulty, we give up the doctrine of particular redemption, we must also, in order to be consistent, yield the doctrines of predestination and of the divine omniscience. If the authority, with which a minister of the Gospel is invested, to require a sinner, for whose sins, it is known in heaven, that Christ did not make atonement, to believe in the Redeemer, imply insincerity in the divine mind; it must be also implied, supposing the doctrine of predestination true, in calling any non-elect sinner to repentance, or holiness, or happiness. Nay, as God is omniscient, and therefore now knows who shall at the judgment day be finally condemned, upon this principle, he must be insincere in ordering any one of these to “work out his salvation,” especially, seeing that disobedience to the Gospel must increase the sinner’s guilt. In short, the principle of this objection is altogether inadmissible. Its consistent application would constrain us to admit that Jehovah, is either insincere or limited in his knowledge; and in either case, that he is no God. We reject, therefore, the principle entirely, and the whole argument of which it forms an essential member. We perceive no difficulty whatever involved in the doctrine of particular redemption, relative to preaching the Gospel indefinitely to all sinners of our race. Gospel-worshippers are required to believe nothing but what is in itself true, and supported by ample testimony. They are ordered to do nothing but what is in itself right and profitable for them to perform. To such requisitions and commands no reasonable objection can be offered.
III. “The doctrine of indefinite atonement has this advantage over every other hypothesis, that it reconciles the scriptural account of the universality of the extent of Christ’s satisfaction with the fact that many shall perish for ever. Salvation is indeed rendered possible to all men by the merits of Christ, who tasted death for every man; but this does not prevent the condemnation of anyone, seeing that the atonement renders eternal life certain to none. All sinners, as it respects the purchase of redemption, are thus placed upon the same footing; and the infinite value of the blood of Jesus appears from its being equally sufficient for the salvation of all men. Election, in deed, is particular, but the atonement is universal, because it is indefinite.”
Far be it from us to offer any remark that shall tend, in any degree, to diminish the estimation in which the “precious blood of Christ” is held. But we do not concede, that that system sets a high value upon Christ’s blood, which affirms that it does not, in justice, secure the salvation of anyone. That atonement must be cheap indeed, which admits the justice of condemning to everlasting punishment the very persons for whom it was made.
It does not mend the matter to say, that it is of infinite value in the abstract. Although we may conceive of the satisfaction which the Redeemer made for sin, abstractly from the application of its benefits to sinners, yet we cannot conceive of it as abstracted from the covenant of redemption, of which it is the proper condition. We must set limits to our abstraction, otherwise the blood of Jesus is of no value. Let it cease to be the “blood of the covenant,” and its use must also cease.
The terms of universality employed in relation to the death of Christ, are not inconsistent with the doctrine which we maintain. They are as easily explained, as are the terms of universality, employed in relation to a holy life. No Christian admits that every individual on earth is regenerated, converted, and made actually holy. Compare this text, In Christ shall ALL be made ALIVE, with that one which asserts, that He, (Christ,) DIED for ALL. And the same explanation of the word “ALL,” will apply to each. The word “all” includes every part of that whole, whatever it be, which is the subject of discourse. This interpretation is easy. It forces itself upon us on every occasion in life. In common cases we complain of no obscurity. A gentleman writing concerning the state of the combined armies in Portugal, concludes by remarking, “All are in the highest spirits.” No reader will contend, that by all is intended, all the men on earth, or all the troops on earth. The expression requires no explanation. Apply the principle. The death of Christ is the condition of the everlasting covenant. That covenant forms a new creation—a new world. For every man in this world, Christ laid down his life. “He died for all;” and, “all shall be made alive.” He is the head of a new empire; and, as the surety of the better testament, he hath made atonement for the sins of ALL his covenant-people. In this consists the universality of the atonement. The several texts in which terms of universality are employed, not only admit, but require an explanation consistent with the mediatorial headship of Jesus Christ. But extensive criticism must not be intermingled with this discussion. Let the exposition of such texts be the subject of distinct consideration.
Having now examined the supposed advantages of the hypothesis of an indefinite atonement, we conclude this essay with a few inferences from the preceding discussion.
1. This system, of “Indefinites,” and “abstractions,” clothes with the mantle of unintelligibility a doctrine definitely expressed, and clearly understood, in the Churches of the Reformation; and it is, accordingly, of injurious tendency to the faith, the peace, and the religious comfort of the Church of God.
2. The use made of the word atonement is inconsistent with its scriptural meaning. In the New Testament, Καταλλαγη, the word rendered Atonement, uniformly includes reconciliation, and never is indefinitely applied, in a single instance. In the Old Testament, “Atonement,” כפר uniformly signifies the effectual removal of the offense, and the establishment of reconciliation, as often as it is applied to the sins of mankind against their God. Here there is nothing indefinite. So perfectly was the Mosaic ritual adapted to the system, of reconciliation by a sacrifice for sin, which represented distinctly our Redeemer standing under the imputation of his people’s guilt, that the Covenant connexion between the sinner and the substitute, was everywhere exemplified. In every instance in which a victim for sin was offered, the person for whose transgressions atonement was to be made, placed his hands on the victim confessing his sins. This action distinctly marked that a transfer of guilt takes place, upon the principle of a covenant representation, in order that the sufferings of the victim should make atonement. Upon the day of annual expiation, and at the time of offering the daily sacrifice morning and evening, the representatives of the whole church, by this action transferred their sins to the sacrifice. Thus were the Jews constantly taught, that Jesus is our representative and surety; that all the sins of his people, and none else, are laid upon him; and that no confession of sin avails, upon the part of the sinner, which is not accompanied “with an apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ.” The blood of the sacrifice was accordingly called the “blood of the covenant.” In this there is nothing indefinite. The atonement was instantly followed with forgiveness, and punishment was rendered inadmissible.
3. Those who represent atonement as indefinite, and so admit the justice of punishing sins, for which an infinite satisfaction has been given, commit violence on the English language. Atonement never signifies, in any English composition, except the works of those whom we, in this instance, oppose, anything short of such satisfaction for an offense as would render further punishment unjustifiable.
4. There is something unfair in using the term Atonement in an indefinite sense. That word has been long used as a technical term in theology, to which a precise idea has been annexed in the standard writings of the Reformation Churches. If a new doctrine is to be taught, a new term, or name, should be formed for it. A name, too, which, in good English, would not convey a quite different meaning. Men would then be on their guard; and they should not be exposed, as at present, to the danger of embracing a total stranger under a familiar garb. An atonement, which does not render subsequent punishment unjustifiable, is no atonement; it certainly is not that in which we desire to rejoice, as received from our Lord Jesus Christ.
(1.) Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, lib. 13, cap. 11; Wars of the Jews, lib. 1, cap. 3, 4.
(2.) David Kimchi, Commetary on Hosea 3:2; Edward Pococke, Miscellania, 170, 171.
(3.) Rom. 2:13, 17-29.
(4.) Rom. 3:28. See also Johann David Michaelis, Introduction to the New Testament, vol. 4, p. 94.
(5.) cf. 2 Cor. 5:18, 19; Rom. 11:15.
(6.) Atoned for.
(8.) cf. Num. 29:11; Lev. 1:4 and 5:6. &c., &c.
(9.) cf. Num. 35:31.
(10.) cf. 1 Sam. 12:3.
(11.) cf. Hos. 4:15; Jam. 3:2; Rom. 4:25 and 5:15-18, 20.
(12.) 1 John 3:4.
(13.) cf. Exod. 29:36 & 30:10; Lev. 1:4 & 4:20; Num. 15:25, &c., &c.
(14.) cf. Heb. 7:24 & 8:3 & 10:12, 22.
(15.) cf. 2 Cor. 5:17, 18.
(16.) James Saurin, Sermons, vol. 1, p. 221.
(17.) John Owen, Works, vol. 9. p. 352.
(18.) Jonathan Edwards, Works, vol. 1, p. 583.
(19.) Jonathan Edwards, Works, vol. 1, p. 585.
(20.) David Hume, Treatise of Human Nature, part 1, sec. 7; George Berkeley, Principlesof Human Knowledge, introduction, sec. 19; George Campbell, Philosophy of Rhetoric, lib. 2, cap. 7.; John Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, lib. 3, cap. 3.; Dugald Stewart, Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind, vol. 1, cap. 4, sec. 4.
(21.) cited from John Owen, On Justification, cap. 12, sec. 5.
(22.) John Owen, On Justification, cap. 2.
(23.) Were this the proper place, it would be easy to show, by a criticism on the best writers upon this subject, that their definitions of commutative, distributive, and public justice, interfere, and are otherwise essentially incorrect.
(24.) Did we deem it eligible to introduce metaphysics into this discussion, we could more effectually expose the idea of punishing a nonentity—“sin in the abstract.” We are no conceptualists; and the controversy between the Nominalists and Realists is now at an end. It prevailed long enough. It agitated the European universities, interested thrones, and shed much precious blood. No philosopher will now defend the opinions of Realists. Abstract terms have no counterpart in nature. Dugald Stewart, Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind, cap. 4, sec. 2. & 3.
(25.) Isa. 53.10, 11. “When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied.” Christ’s death is the stipulation, and the salvation of his seed the promise of the covenant. Keep this fact in view, and you cannot err in estimating the value of the atonement. Separated from the covenant, the death of Christ is made “of none effect”—It has no moral excellence—no value. Pain, in itself has none. Blood, in itself, has none. But let the sacrifice of the cross be considered, as the Scriptures teach us to consider it, in all its connexions, and then it is the price of our redemption.—It has infinite value. Jesus appears as “the surety of the better Testament.” He appears as our representative, bearing our sins and procuring our salvation. God is glorified in purchasing his Church with his own blood.
(26.) Exod. 29.10, 33, 36. Lev. 1.4. and 4.13-20. Num. 15.22-28. Lev. 16.21. The learned Lightfoot, on Luke 1.5. explains the Jewish practice relative to the morning and evening sacrifice. There were appointed certain persons to represent the Church, in imposing hands on the victim, and in attending while the Priest entered within the vail. These were called viri Statuarii—And are the παν το πληθος, Luke, 1.10.
ote from pages 75 and 76.—
Dilemma, On Universal Redemption.
There are many who hold in great contempt, and treat with much asperity, the kindred doctrines of particular election and particular redemption, as embraced by the Calvinist. They, on the contrary teach, that Christ died for the sins of all and every man in the whole world, and yet they admit that multitudes, notwithstanding his dying for them, do eternally perish. Without pressing any general argument on this subject, we offer, for their consideration, the following dilemma, from Dr. Owen’s treatise, entitled, Salus electorum, sanguis Jesu; or, the death of Death in the death of Christ: book i. ch. iii. p. 22, 23. Edin. 1755. 12mo.
“God imposeth his wrath due unto, and Christ underwent the pains of hell for, either all the sins of all men; or all the sins of some men; or some sins of all men. If the last, some sins of all men; then have all men some sins to answer for, and so shall no man be saved; for if God should enter into judgment with us, though it were with all mankind, for one sin, no man living should be justified in his sight - Psal. cxliii. 2. If the Lord should mark iniquities, who shall stand? Psal. cxxx. 3. We might all go to cast all that we have “to the moles and to the bats; to go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty.” Isaiah ii. 20, 21. If the second, that is it which we affirm; that Christ in their stead, and room, suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the world. If the first, why then are not all freed from the punishment of all their sins? You will say, because of their unbelief, is it a sin, or not? If not, why should they be punished for it? If it be, then Christ underwent the punishment due to it, or not: if so, then why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which he died, from partaking of the fruit of his death? If he did not, then did he not die for all their sins. Let them choose which part they will.”
The work from which the above is selected, we take this opportunity of recommending to all those who wish to see that weighty argument concerning the “redemption and reconciliation that is in the blood of Christ,” handled with much ability and scriptural learning. They will meet, as in almost all the volumes of that pre-eminent divine, with a happy illustration of difficult passages in holy writ, and the most conclusive reasoning on the side of those precious truths for which he was the advocate: as well as the most close discussion of objections. We recommend the perusal of his doctrinal and expository works, the rather, as of late years, some men, very little acquainted with them, have permitted themselves to speak contemptuously of Dr. Owen. Had they lived in his time, or he in theirs, and had they been so unhappy as to engage him, they would probably have found, what their superiors both in talents and literature who made the experiment, found, that in most cases, his grasp was death.