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have not ventured without awe. But when divines argue from the nature of the expedient for our salvation (as understood by them), the unlikelihood of its ever being repeated, and make this unlikelihood an essential requisite in a valid substitution, I feel indeed that an immense antecedent improbability lies against the first employment of such a method. But, once employed, I could not repress the thought that it might be employed again. Nor could any thing but a positive declaration to the contrary, hinder this idea from strengthening into an expectation, supposing a similar juncture to arise. But would such a declaration wear no appearance of what is arbitrary and partial ? “See," might the erring inhabitants of some other sphere exclaim, “how leniently the inhabitants of that guilty world were treated! One of themselves, received into close and mystic union with the Deity, was allowed
the penalty for them all, and that but a small fraction of it too; while we, not more guilty than they, must feel the full weight of Divine wrath. True, it was an act of pure grace. But are the fountains of Divine grace frozen ? See, they are even more honoured than they would have been had they not fallen, while we are crushed unrelentingly beneath the iron rod of vengeance.
God forbid that I should use rash or presumptuous language. But he has himself taught me that he is “ no respecter of persons ;” and it must be evident to the most common understanding, that, embracing all things in his capacious mind, the principles of his government must be of the broadest and most comprehensive description, utterly opposed to that narrow, time-serving policy which too often disgraces human legislation. Seeing every thing in its relation to all things, time present in its relation to time past and future, the same, moreover, in all his judgments, his administration cannot but be the very perfection of consistency. So that in his government we are warranted to look for even a more marked regard to the law of precedent, than in human governments. Far be it from him that he should relax his laws on behalf of one and not on behalf of another; that he should admit of substitution in one case and not in its fellow; that he should now yearn with compassion over the distant prodigal, and anon look with coldness on his despair. These are the fickle ways of erring, changeable men, and not the ways of Him who is described as the “Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”
The bearing of these remarks must be obvious to all; for it is universally admitted that the practice of vicarious punishment cannot be allowed to subside into a settled course.
On this point let me quote from a sermon on the Atonement by the late Dr. Hamilton: “It is necessary that the distinctions of conduct should be preserved, and its consequences be traced, if we would retain any vivid sense of virtue. But a frequent interchange of parties would tend to confound all such discriminations. If it be permitted to take place, it must be reserved for some signal conjuncture, in which it can neither be pleaded for impunity, nor drawn into precedent. As an exception it may emphatically vindicate its singularity, and yet confirm the necessity of the ordinary course from which it solitarily deviates. It could not become a frequent, not to say an ordinary allotment, without disturbing every relation and frustrating every law." (Sermons, p. 349.) These remarks are very strong. Vicarious punishment cannot become VOL. V.
a frequent, much less an ordinary measure, “ without disturbing every relation and violating every law.” If it be permitted to take place, it must only be in such a juncture as shall forbid its being “ drawn into a precedent."
R. Hall expresses himself in a similar manner: “ Viewed in itself it (vicarious punishment) would seem the height of injustice, and, in the room of improving, would give a violent shock to our moral sentiments. Punishment inflicted on the offending party speaks for itself, and, when ordained by law, impresses the spectator with an instantaneous conviction of its justice and propriety. With vicarious punishment it is exactly the reverse. It is a spectacle so far removed from the usual course of events, that nothing can reconcile the mind to it but a clear exposure of its origin and design, and the peculiar circumstances of the crisis which determined its adoption.”—Vol. I. p. 519.
What, then, are these “ peculiar circumstances”? Of course, if any such can be pleaded, they would go in abatement of any claim which might be set up by subsequent offenders. R. Hall, however, does not explain them; and Dr. Hamilton is equally remiss. Both talk largely of "signal conjunctures," "great crises," "an extraordinary combination of difficulties,” and so on; but what these difficulties are, and wherein the peculiarity of the crisis consists, the reader is left almost entirely to conjecture.
Will it be said that the peculiarity consists in this, that a whole race has become obnoxious to guilt and punishment on account of the sin of one man? I reply, that the Adamic constitution is usually spoken of by writers of this class as something that was highly advantageous to the race.
It can hardly, therefore, be used as a plea for indulgence. Beside, the assumption that man was put under a constitution different from that which obtains in other planets, is altogether gratuitous. We know nothing of the economy of other worlds except by inference from what we witness in this. So far as our knowledge of the works and operations of God extends, we observe a surprising unity of plan. It is, therefore, more reasonable to presume that the course which Divine Providence has seen fit to adopt in this world, is the same as he has seen fit to follow in other worlds. When men (the inhabitants of earth), angels (inhabitants of heaven) and devils (inhabitants of hell), were supposed to comprise the whole universe of intelligent beings, nothing could be more natural than to suppose a peculiarity in the constitution under which man was placed. But, now the universe has expanded into a thousand worlds, and ten thousand times ten thousand, nothing strikes the mind as more probable than that there may be some at least whose inhabitants are under a constitution similar to our own.
Will it be said that the fall of man was the effect of temptation, and that by a power with which he was ill able to cope? This will not be insisted on.
Will you then say that man is a creature composed of body and soul, allied to animal natures, and but half spiritual? This were a good reason why he should not be subjected to too severe a trial; but no reason at all why, having failed in a trial proportioned to his strength, he, above every other creature, should be restored in the extraordinary and even questionable way supposed. Beside, can any one imagine that we are the only intelligent beings who are allied to matter? If among the inhabitants of other worlds intelligent beings are found, surely the material nature of their abodes must be held to indicate that they are of compound make like ourselves.
What, then, are these “peculiar circumstances”? For my part, I cannot discover them; and therefore can see nothing whatever to prevent the measure adopted in the case of mankind from growing into a precedent; whence it follows, by the concession of these eminent writers themselves, that it cannot be one of proper vicarious punishment.
It may seem presumptuous in me thus to oppose myself to men so immeasurably my superiors. But great intellect is no security against error; and not unfrequently does it fall to the lot of inferior minds to correct the errors of superior. Beside, there are great names on the side which I now espouse, which may well fortify me against the prestige even of such names as those of Hall and Hamilton.
I must add, before I conclude, a word or two more on the distinction between vicarious punishment in the proper and in the improper sense.
There is nothing which the advocates of the popular doctrine are more studious of confounding than this distinction, and yet it is one of which we have almost an intuitive sense. Vicarious punishment, improperly so called, is of every-day occurrence in the operation of our own laws. When a working man is sentenced to a short imprisonment for some minor offence, his family loses for the time the benefit of his daily labour, and so may be said to be punished for his misconduct. When recognizances are forfeited, owing to a person's absconding who was bound over to appear and take his trial at the assize for some alleged offence, it may happen that his too confiding friends, unable to discharge their pecuniary obligation, may be reduced to expiate (as it may be said) his offence in a debtor's prison. And yet the mind does not revolt at this. Figuratively they would be punished in his stead; but really they would be punished for their own breach of covenant in not producing the person of the offender at the time appointed, or paying the fine they had engaged to pay, and which the law was willing to accept as a composition in some sort for the punishment of the guilty party, he not being as yet proved guilty. But let the accused appear, take his trial, be convicted, and then let one of his friends offer to take the sentence of the court on himself, and he would not be heard, --so contrary would such a proceeding be to the spirit of our laws.
And yet Dr. Hamilton, in the sermon already quoted, supposes he has done enough in the way of analogical reasoning when he has shewn that the principle of one suffering for another is of common occurrence in the operations of Divine Providence. “The annals of patriotism," he says, “glow with bright names of self-sacrificing renown. Present good has been surrendered by a generous disinterestedness for the welfare of posterity. And when we look more minutely into the framework of every human community, we cannot fail to notice that almost all its good is purchased by necessary or voluntary inconvenience and pain. The parent denies himself repose and many a comfort for the better equipment of the child in the race of life; the child has often to repay the care which watched his infancy, by debarring himself of the recreation which labour requires and competency might command. * * There are occasions when we should be accounted unnatural, did we not endanger health and existence for others. * * *
“ The fact that innocence often incurs the consequences of guilt is apparent, and proves that the actual case in question (that of Jesus) is by no means unknown to the present constitution of things. It is sufficient answer to the charge of any peculiar principle, that every observer is equally required to explain a similar one in surveying the history of communities and the progress of events. It is no more the embarrassment of revealed, than of natural, religion."-Pp. 299, 300.
Now I contend that this is not to state the matter fairly. The case of Jesus, as one of proper vicarious punishment, is declared to be unique; and necessarily so, or it would not answer its end. It stands in the Divine government alone, “ like a pyramid in the desert,” as this writer eloquently says, “abrupt and incomparable.” But if so, how can the principle of strict vicarious punishment be said to embarrass natural as well as revealed religion? Plainly it is the embarrassment of the latter alone, and that only as interpreted by theologians of Dr. Hamilton's class.
None of the instances cited by him come up to the mark. They are such only as have been already noticed in the administration of our laws, from which, nevertheless, proper vicarious punishment is altogether excluded. A man offering himself as a substitute for some convicted criminal in one of our courts of justice, might plead exactly the same analogies as are pleaded in the extract just quoted on behalf of the vicarious punishment of Jesus. And yet all would not weigh a feather. The law, which, on account of the complicated relations of human society, can hardly inflict a single punishment on a guilty person without causing incidental suffering to some innocent party, yet will not recede a hair's breadth from its resolution to lay the primary (which is the only proper) punishment on the guilty head alone. And can there be a doubt that in this the sympathy as well as the understanding of the nation go with it?
Now if these analogies fail to reconcile us to vicarious punishment in our own jurisprudence, it is vain to urge them in defence of the same thing under the Divine administration, - unless, again, some peculiarity in the case can be pleaded, guarding it, on the one hand, as I have already said, from being drawn into a precedent, and, on the other, vindicating it from that abhorrence with which such punishment is ordinarily regarded.
We have seen that, with regard to the former point, no such peculiarity can be pleaded ; and now, with regard to the latter, what is there to allege
Will you say the victim went voluntarily to the altar? Of course he did. Vicarious punishment without the consent of the substitute would be the foulest wrong and injustice. Consent is supposed in every case.
Will you say, then, that the sufferer has been compensated by a large reward? I doubt whether this would avail to reconcile us to vicarious punishment in ordinary cases. But, whether or not, what can be more evident than that in proportion as the sufferings of Jesus have been compensated, they must lose their efficacy as a punishment? In this respect the case of a substitute will not differ from the case of a criminal; and what would be the effect of the punishment of a criminal, if he were afterwards compensated for his sufferings by a reward proportioned to their severity?
The strongest thing that can be said is, that the sufferings of Jesus are so ordered as that a small amount of suffering is made to counterbalance a much greater - nay, an infinitely greater. But here the difficulty is to make good the allegation; against which there lies the whole of my first argument this evening; while it must be allowed that whatever tends to abate the feeling of abhorrence with which vicarious punishment is regarded, must increase its liability to be drawn into a precedent.
I must say, therefore, that to my apprehension the doctrine which makes the sufferings of Jesus a proper vicarious punishment, is repelled on all hands. The abettors of the doctrine can neither shew cause why it should not be drawn into a precedent, nor can they allege any thing of value to rescue it from that feeling of abhorrence which vicarious punishment usually excites.
While, then, I recognize in Jesus the great Reformer of our race, himself the glorious pattern of the excellence to which it was his aim to raise us, the divine idea of human perfection realized, and so in an important sense the reconciler of God to man, as well as of man to God; and see him, in the prosecution of his work, led through scenes of trial the most severe, scorned and rejected even by those he came to save-nay, murdered by them,-and, to try him to the utmost, denied for a time in his extremity those spiritual consolations which have enabled many to rejoice in the midst of mortal anguish; and when I see him patient in all, submissive, trustful, resolved, I can sympathize; I feel the contagion of his piety and love; I hail him, first of men, Redeemer of the race, greatest of benefactors, Saviour of the world; and rejoice in the assurance that he shall one day “see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied.” His case lies clearly within the compass of those analogies which may be pleaded in the ordinary operations of Divine Providence. But when I am told that that mental distress which he suffered—aggravated, moreover, to a degree which to us is inconceivable-a degree which, I have heard, might have had its parallel only among the damned-was a direct and special punishment laid on him for our sins, my feelings suffer a strange revulsion. I am affected as I should be had Howard been put on the rack, in some petty state abroad, as a punishment for the crime of some prisoner whom it had been his happiness to reform, and whom the government wished to liberate. Every principle in my moral nature rises up in alarm, as at the news of some gigantic wrong or outrage, and the words burst uncontrollably from my lips, It cannot be !—it cannot be!
But, should any of you think this language too strong, at least you must permit me to say, that if Jesus suffered such a punishment, it is one of the darkest of mysteries; and that, instead of extolling it as the brightest manifestation of the Divine character, it becomes you rather to bow your heads in wonder and self-abasement, saying searchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out !"
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