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THE PRIESTHOOD OF CHRIST.-HIS ATONEMENT.
Romans. iii. 24–26. Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is
in Christ Jesus ; whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood, lo declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness : that he might be just, and the Justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
IN a former discourse, I proposed to consider, as parts of the Priesthood of Christ,
The Holiness of his character :
The first of these subjects has been examined at length. The present discourse shall be occupied by the second.
THE SACRIFICE OF CHRIST FOR THE SINS OF MEN.
The word Atonement, in its original sense, always denotes some amends, or satisfaction, for the neglect of some duty, or the commission of some fault: a satisfaction, with which, when supposed to be complete, the person injured ought reasonably to be contented, and to demand of the offender nothing more on account of his transgression. This satisfaction may, in certain cases, be made by the offender himself. Whenever he has owed some piece of service, and this was all he has owed, he may, if he have failed to perform this duty, atone for the fault by a future service, which he did not owe; and which is equivalent to that which he neglected, and to the damage occasioned by his neglect. A servant, who owes an estimated day's work to his master, every day, may, if he have neglected to work half a day, atone, thus, for his fault by such future labour, as shall be equivalent to the extent of his neglect, and to the injury occasioned by it to his Master. In this case it will be seen, that the atonement respects only the fault, which has been committed. The servant owed his master so much labour. The payment of so much labour would be a discharge, therefore, of the debt. But we do not say, that the debt in this case is atoned. The fault, only, which has been committed in neglecting, or refusing, to pay in the proper season, and manner, demands, or admits, of an atonement. In every other case where an atonement exists, it is in the same manner a satisfaction for an injury, or fault.
In some cases, the party offending cannot atone for his offence, but the atonement, if made at all, must be made vicariously, that is, by the intervention of a third person between the offender and the offended. Of this nature is every case, in which the offender owes, as absolutely, every duty, which he could afterwards perform, as he owed that, the non-performance of which constituted his fault. In this case, all his future efforts are necessarily due for the time being; and can, therefore, never become a satisfaction for faults, which are past. Amends for an injury can never be made by services, which are due to the injured person on other grounds, and the refusal of which would constitute a new injury. In other words, they must be services, rendered only on account of the injury, already received. He, therefore, who owes to another all his services for himself, can never become the means of atoning to him for the faults of another. In all cases of vicarious atonement, the substitute must be under no personal obligation to render the services, which are to be accepted as a satisfaction of the principal; or in other words the offender. Nothing is more plain, than that what is due for himself, cannot be transferred to the account of another. In every case of personal, or vicarious, atonement, the services rendered must be of such value ; as to become a reasonable, and full, satisfaction for the injury done : all
, that justice can fairly demand, or render: such, as will place the person injured in as good a situation, as that, which preceded the injury. Where the injury has been great, therefore, or multiplied, the services must also be proportionally great.
An atonement for a crime, committed against a Government, of any kind, supposes the offender, if he is to receive the benefit of it, to be pardoned. In this case, it must be such, as to leave the Government in as good a state, as firm, as honourable, as easily and surely efficacious in its future operations, after the offender is pardoned, as it would have been, if he had been punished with exact justice. In no other manner can it become a satisfaction for the injury. If all the services of the offender, in this case, were due to the Government, after his crime was committed; it would be impossible for the atonement to be made, unless by another person.
Sin is a crime, committed against the Government of God. All the services of sinners are owed to God, for the time being. No future services of any sinner, therefore, can be any satisfaction for his past sins. If an atonement be made in this case, then, it must be made by a substitute ; and this substitute must be able to render services, of sufficient value to repair the injury done. In the performance of these services he must leave the Divine Government as firm, as honourable, as efficacious in its operations, after the atonement is made, as it was before the crime was committed.
It will, perhaps, be objected here, that the Divine Government cannot become less firm, or less honourable, than it originally was ; because it is supported in its full strength by Infinite power and wisdom. To this objection I answer, that the Government of God over his moral creatures is a moral Government ; that is, a Government of rules and motives; or of laws, rewards, and punishments. Such a Government, even in the hand of Omnipotence, may become weak and inefficacious, in the view of its subjects. A law, which, after it has been violated, is not vindicated by punishing the viola. tor, loses, of course, a part of its authority. A moral Governor will cease to be regarded with veneration, if, when he is insulted by his subjects, he does not inflict on them the proper punishment. A Government of mere power may be upheld in its full strength by the exercise of power only. But a moral Government cannot be thus preserved, unless the motives to obedience are continued, to the view of its subjects, in their full force. An atonement for sin, therefore, that is, a complete atonement, must be such, as to leave these motives wholly unimpaired. It must consist of such services, as, whatever else may be their nature, will, after the sinners are pardoned, leave the Government of God in no degree less venerable, less efficacious, or less likely to be punctually obeyed, than before the sins were committed. As these sins have been numerous, and very great; it is further evident, that the services, rendered as a satisfaction for them, must be of great value.
Jl. I shall endeavour to show the Necessity of an Atonement.
In order to understand this part of the subject, and I forwarn my hearers that it is a part, of high importance to the subject itself, and to all just views of the Christian system, it will be necessary to bring up to view the state of man, as a transgressor of the divine law.
The language of this law, and its only language, was, He that doth these things shall live by them. This do, and thou shalt live. Cursed is every one, that continueth not in all things, written in the book of the Law, to do them. This law God published, as the rule, by which his own infinite wisdom and rectitude determined to govern the world. Of course, it is a right and just rule. Of course also, it is a rule, which the same wisdom and rectitude are pledged to maintain in its full force. The very reasons, for which it was enacted, require with their full strength, that it should be also maintained, if it was wise and right to enact it, it was equally wise and right to maintain it. If to enact it was the dictate of Infinite wisdom and rectitude ; to maintain it must equally be the dictate of the same attributes.
If these observations be admitted ; and it is believed that they cannot be refused an admission; it follows, of necessity, that no sinner can be forgiven, consistently with this law, or the honour of the Lawgiver, unless on the ground of an Atonement. In the law
he had declared, that the soul which sinneth shall die. To pardon the sinner, without any change from that state of things, which existed when the law was published, would be to declare, by declining to carry the sentence of the law into execution, that Infinite wisdom and rectitude had formed new views concerning the sentence of the law, and the demerit of the sinner; views, contrary to those with which the law was published. When the law was published, God declared, that the sinner should die. Now he must declare, by pardoning the sinner, that he should not die. Yet no change in the state of things had taken place; nor is any supposed to have taken place; to occasion this change in the divine conduct. No reason is even supposed, why the conduct of God should be thus changed. The change itself must, of course, be wanton, causeless, and disgraceful to the divine character. If the law was originally just, it was now just. Justice, therefore, required the execution of its penalty upon every transgressor. In pardoning the transgressor, God would declare, that the law was not just; in direct contradiction to the declaration, which he made of its justice, when be published it, as the rule, by which he intended to govern the world. If the Law was originally wise; it must now be wise to execute it. But in pardoning the sinner God must declare, that the execution of the Law was not consistent with wisdom. If the Law was originally good; that is, formed by a benevolent mind, so as to promote benevolent purposes; it was now equally good. But in pardoning the sinner God must declare, that the execution of the law was inconsistent with the dictates of benevolence. The change, therefore, manifested in the divine character, and conduct, by pardoning the sinner, where no change of circumstances existed to justify it, would, on the one hand, be great and essential; no less than God's denying himself; and, on the other, would be causeless, weak, and contemptible. Can such a change be attributed, even in thought, to the immutable and perfect Jehovah ?
In the Law, God had manifested an infinite love to holiness, and an infinite hatred to sin; or, if the language should be preferred, a supreme love to the one, and a supreme hatred to the other. But, to pardon the sinner, without any change in the state of things, would be to treat the sinner and the faithful subject exactly in the same manner; or to treat the sinner in the same manner, as if he had faithfully obeyed. Declarations, made by conduct, are allogether the most solemn and efficacious of all declarations. In this conduct, therefore, God would in the most solemn manner declare, that he regarded holiness and sin alike; because he treated the sinner and the saint alike ; and that neither of them was an object of his serious regard. The views of a lawgiver are always expressed in the whole of his Government, taken together; and from ibis cannot but be distinctly understood. If his Laws are unwise ; he will be pronounced to be unwise. If his administration be unwise ; he will be considered as sustaining the same character. If
either of them be unjust; he will be pronounced to be unjust. If they be inconsistent; inconsistency will necessarily be attributed to his character. How perfect a violation would this conduct be of the attributes of justice, wisdom, and immutability!
At the same time, all subjects of the Divine Government would be encouraged to disobedience by these proofs of a changeable, weak, and inconsistent character. Angels, we know, can disobey. This is complete proof, that all inferior creatures are capable of the same disobedience. Angels have disobeyed; when, at least, they supposed the law to mean exactly what it threatens; and without the least hope, founded on any declaration of God, of any possible exemption from the penalty, actually denounced. Man also disobeyed in the same circumstances. Both also revolted, when antecedently, they had been only, and perfectly, holy. In these facts we have complete evidence, that no class of holy beings, is secure from disobedience, even under a law, which gives not a single encouragement to escape to those who disobey. Should such encouragement, then, be holden out by the actual forgiveness, much more by the universal forgiveness, of the penitent, without an atonement, who might not be expected to rebel? Who, when temptation powerfully assailed, and the wish to sin was strongly excited, would not feel assured of his own future repentance, and his consequent safety from future punishment ?
Of such beings, as men now are, it ought to be observed, that they themselves furnish ample proof of what might be rationally expected under such a dispensation. This will appear, if we consider,
1st. That the atonement of Christ has completely opened the door, for the exemption of all penitents from the punishment, threatened by the law; and yet, that the number of those, who really repent, is ordinarily very small, compared with the number of those, who transgress.
2dly. That not even one of these becomes a penitent, of his own accord; as the Scriptures abundantly assure us; but assumes this character, only in consequence of the immediate influence of the Divine Spirit upon his heart.
3dly. That, of this number, few, very few, are ever awakened, or convinced, by the encouragements and promises of the Gospel; but almost all by the denunciations of the law. The blessings of immortality, the glories of heaven, are usually, to say the least, preached, with little efficacy, to an assembly of sinners. I have been surprised to see how dull, inattentive, and sleepy, such an assembly has been, amidst the strongest representations of these Divine subjects, combining the most vivid images with a vigorous style, and an impressive elocution.
4thly. That those persons, who disbelieve a future punishment, are distinguished by a licentiousness of character, even beyond other licentious men. Repentance, and religion, are certainly never