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not to do. If he intended to execute it, he will certainly execute it ; because no reason exists, in the case supposed, to forbid the execution, which did not exist, in this view, when he published the threatening. It will not be denied, that he foresaw every instance of repentance which would afterwards be exhibited by mankind. As God is immutable, it must, at the least, be conceded, that he cannot be supposed to change his determinations in any case, especially a case of such importance, where no reason whatever exists for the change, beside those which existed when the determination was made.
3. The repentance of the sinner cannot be an atonement for his crime. Repentance consists in sorrow for sin, confession of it, an acknowledgment of the justice of God in punishing it, resolutions of future obedience, and actual reformation. These things undoubtedly constitute an important change in the character of the sinner ; but they alter not the nature or degree of the guilt which has already incurred. For this he is condemned ; and for this, even according to his own penitential views, he has merited punishment. In what manner does his present penitence affect this guilt? Certainly in no such sense as to lessen its degree, or desert of punishment. In what manner then can it prevent him from being punished? Plainly in none, except that which will make amends for the evils which he has committed ; the dishonour which he has done to the law and government of God. But what is there in bis repentance which can make these amends? In what manner will it discover that the character of God, in threatening punishment to his sins, and declining, on account of a repentance originally foreseen, to inflict that punishment, was the same character; or that God, when he threatened the punishment, and when he refused to execute it, regarded holiness and sin in one unchangeable manner? Will his sorrow for sin make it cease to be sin ? Will the confession of his guilt make him cease to be guilty ? Will his acknowledgment of the justice of the punishment which he has deserved, make it cease to be just? Will his resolutions of amendment, or his actual reformation, efface or lessen the guilt of his past life? None of these things will, I suppose, be pretended. How, then, can the repentance of a sinner become a proper ground for his forgiveness and acceptance? If he is actually forgiven
on this ground, it cannot but be seen, and will with truth be said, that God in the formation and the administration of his law has acted inconsistently; and that either the law was unjust and unreasonable, or that his failure to execute it was unwise and dishonourable to himself. For this evil, which, for aught that appears, may be great beyond any assignable limit, this scheme furnishes, so far as I can see, no remedy.
But it may be farther asked, Would it not be more honourable to God, or at least equally honourable to forgive the penitent without an atonement ? Whence is it, that suffering or punishment becomes necessary to the establishment of his glory in the government of the universe ?
To these questions I answer, that it ill becomes a creature of yesterday to employ himself in contriving a government for the universe ; or a system of regulations by which the Author of the universe may direct bis immense and eternal administration. Even to understand that state of things which really exists, is, in a few instances only, possible for us; and in almost all, utterly transcends the extent of our faculties. A little child would be very absurdly employed in contriving a system of government for a kingdom, or in forming decisions concerning the wisdom or folly, the justice or injustice, by which it was governed. The universe is more disproportioned to the powers of a man, than a kingdom to those of a child; and the government of God as absolutely transcends the comprehension of an angel, as that of a prince exceeds the understanding of a child. An attempt to answer these questions, therefore, must be, and from the nature of the case be seen to be, lame, imperfect, and in many respects unsatisfactory. Nothing more can be expected on this subject by a sober man, than a removal or diminution of some of the most obvious doubts ; and even this, perhaps, may be attempted in vain. Let it be remembered, however, that the difficulties attendant upon our inquiries in the present case arise, not from any perceptible absurdity of what we know, but from the mere inexplicableness of what we do not know; from the nature of the subject, in itself free from all absurdity, but incomprehensible by such minds as ours.
With these things premised, I will suggest, as a direct but partial answer to these inquiries, the following observations :
1. We are prejudiced judges of this subject. Our own
case, and that a case immensely interesting to us, is concerned. Where we have interests depending of very moderate importance, our judgments usually are partial. Here they must of course be extremely partial.
2. No government of the universe can become the character of the Creator, except a moral government. A government of force would be obviously destitute of any moral excellence, or any intellectual glory. The ruler, so far as he was obeyed, would be obeyed only from fear, and never from confidence or love. This is the obedience of a slave; as the government would be that of a tyrant. It is unnecessary to multiply words, to prove that in this case the ruler could never be reverenced nor loved by his subjects; or that his subjects could never be virtuous and amiable in themselves, or loved and approved by him.
3. The law of God is, and must of necessity be, a rule of action for an immense multitude of beings, that is, for the whole intelligent universe, throughout eternity. The wise and perfect regulation of this vast kingdom cannot but require a course of administration in many respects different from that by which a little part of this kingdom might, perhaps, be effectually governed. Regulations, also, which are to extend their influence through eternity, must of course differ from those whose influence is confined to a little period of time. Particularly,
4. The motives to obedience must be great, uniform, always present, and always operative. We well know, by familiar experience, that a little state can be kept in order by what is commonly called a very gentle administration : that is, the government may consist of mild laws, holding out motives to obedience of moderate efficacy, and an administration of those laws, presenting by its gentleness similar motives. Whereas a great empire, containing vast multitudes of people, can be successfully controlled only by what is called a more vigorous or energetic government; inducing obedience by more powerful motives, addressed unceasingly to every subject, both in the laws and in the administration. The degree, to which these motives need to be extended in the government of the universe, can be comprehended only by an unlimited understanding.
5. All motives to obedience are comprised in natural good VOL. II.
and natural evil ; that is, in enjoyment and suffering. As a moral government influences only by motives, and only in this way preserves the peace and ensures the happiness of those who obey; it is plain, that these motives, found in enjoyment and suffering, must, in such a kingdom as this, possess, if its peace and happiness are to be secured, very great power ; power, sufficient to accomplish the end. How great the suffering or enjoyment proposed by the law, and produced by the administration, as motives to obedience and disobedience, must be, God only can determine.
6. A great part of all the motives to obedience in such a government is presented by the uniformity and exactness of the administration. No state in the present world is ever well governed, is ever orderly, peaceful, and happy, under an administration inconsistent with itself; an administration at one time rigid, at another lax ; at one time severe, at another indulgent. This is proverbially acknowledged. Such a government of the universe would, not improbably within a little time, throw its affairs into confusion, and involve its inhabitants in very extensive evil, if not in absolute ruin. If the law of God, then, were not to be executed, unless occasionally; if its penalties were not inflicted on penitents; this inconsistency would be seen in all its extent, and be productive of all its evil consequences. But this could not be honourable to God, nor, as it would seem, useful to his intelligent kingdom.
7. The law of God is formed in such a manner, as to ensure, if obeyed, the supreme glory of his character, and the highest happiness of his subjects. Nothing can be so honourable to God as to sit at the head of an immense and an eternal kingdom, composed of subjects who love him with all the heart, and each other as themselves;' a kingdom therefore, of perfect order, harmony, and rectitude. But these immense blessings are secured as well as generated by this law. A law of such importance can neither be given up, nor changed in any manner, consistently with the honour of God.
8. The advent of Christ is everywhere exhibited as fraught with peculiar blessings to mankind. It was published by the angel to the Bethlehem shepherds, as an event the news of which were · good tidings of great joy.' It was sung by his heavenly companions as the foundation and source of glory
to God in the highest, peace on earth, and good-will towards men. But if Christ did not make an atonement for sin, it will be difficult, I presume it will be impossible, to point out
to conceive in what respect his advent was of such importance, either to the glory of God, or to the good of mankind. On this ground, he certainly was not the means of pardon to men; because they are pardoned without his interference.
He was not the means even of publishing this pardon; for it had been published long before, and amply, by the prophets of the Old Testament. A broken heart, and a contrite spirit,' says David, thou wilt not despise. • Let the wicked forsake his way,' says Isaiah,' and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him turn to the Lord, for he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.'
If Christ made an atonement for the sins of mankind, all the magnificent expressions concerning his mission and character, the declarations, that he is the only Saviour of mankind, and that there is salvation in no other,' are easily understood ; if not, I am unable to see how they can be explained. Particularly, I am unable to discern how God is so solemnly said to be peculiarly glorified by the mission of Christ; for, according to this scheme, he was sent for no purpose which had not been accomplished beforo; and which might not, for aught that appears, have been accomplished afterwards, without his appearance in the world.