« AnteriorContinuar »
of an individual is never regarded by the divine government,--but, that it bears a very small proportion to the public interests of God's immense kingdom; and therefore must often, very often, be sacrificed. It must never interfere with the greater good of the whole. According to the views heretofore given, so far as God punishes his creatures merely for the purpose of reforming them, he can and he does cease to punish when they are reclaimed. But so far as he punishes for the purpose of establishing and maintaining public law and public justice, individual advantage must give place to public good. Now the latter, rather than the former, must from the nature of the case, or from the extent of his empire and the immense importance of stable law and order in it, be the principal ground of punishment under the divine government. Indeed, all those retributions, which are to follow the general judgment, seem to belong to this class of punishments. At least, we have no evidence, that the fatherly chastisements of God ever extend beyond the state of trial, or the present life.
Thus far we have been examining and attempting to ascertain, precisely, the nature of the difficulty which it was the business of the atonement to remove. The difficulty, it appears, consisted wholly in the second ground of punishment; that is, in the necessity of distributive justice to the wellbeing of the universe.
To remove this difficulty, or to enable God righteously to pardon the repenting sinner; the atonement must give the same support to law, or must display as impressively the perfect holiness and justice of God, as the execution of the law on transgressors would. It must be something different from the execution of the law itself;
because it is to be a substitute for it, something which will render it safe and proper to suspend the regular course of distributive justice. If such an expedient can be found, then an adequate atonement is possible; otherwise it is not.*
Now such an expedient, the text represents the sacrifice of Christ to be. It is 6 a declaration of the righteousness of God; so that he might be just,"—might secure the objects of distributive justice, as it becomes a righteous moral governor to do ;—" and yet might justify,” or acquit and exempt from punishment, him that believeth in Jesus. It was in the nature of it, an exhibition or proof—Evdežis--of the righteousness of God. It did not consist in an execution of the law on any being whatever; for it was a substitute for an execution of it.-It did not annihilate the guilt of transgressors, or cause them to be either really or apparently innocent ; for this was impossible: it rather proclaimed the atrocity of their guilt.-It did not fulfil the law, or satisfy its demands on transgressors; for then their acquittal would have been an act of justice, not of grace; and the atonement would have been but another mode of executing the law itself, not a substitute for it. Its immediate influence was not on the characters and relations of men as transgressors, nor on the claims of the law upon them. Its di
* See F. G. Süskind, über die Möglichkeit der Straffen-Auf hebung oder der Sünden-Vergebung, in Flatt's Mag. für christ. Dogm. St. I. S. 1–68. and C. G. Brettschneider's Handbuch der Dogm. $. 158. Band II. S. 248-278. Also Dr. J. Edwards, Three Serm. in Selectt. on Atonement, pp. 330-337. Dr. Maxcy's discourse, ibid. pp. 206-208. Dr. Smalley's Sermon, ibid. pp. 112-114. Dr. Griffin, on the Extent of the Atonement, pp. 22--27. Mr. Burge, Essay on the script. doctr. of Atonement, pp. 39—66.
rect operation was on the feelings and the apprehensions of the beings at large, who are under the moral government of God. In two respects, it coincided precisely with a public execution of the law itself: its immediate influence was on the same persons; and that influence was produced in the same way, by means of a public exhibition. For what is a public execution of the law on culprits, but a public exhibition and an exhibition, which is intended to affect the feelings and the apprehensions of the community, to impress them all with high respect and reverence for the law, that stern guardian of the public weal? The atonement to be a proper substitute for the execution of the law, ought to be a public exhibition ; and such an exhibition, as would impress all the creatures of God with a deep and awful sense of the majesty and sanctity of his law, of the criminality of disobedience to it, and of the holy unbending rectitude of God as a moral governor.
And such, according to the text, the atonement really was. It was an exhibition or manifestation of the righteousness of God; and an exhibition of such a nature, as must strike every intelligent beholder with astonishment. It was a transaction, without a parallel in the history of the divine government. The son of God, the Lord of glory, himself descended to this lower world. He veiled his godhead in a human body, and humbled himself to dwell with men. He toiled and bore reproach, and suffered from pain and weariness and hunger. He condescended to instruct men, to be their physician, their friend, their very servant ;-he washed his disciples' feet. He was obedient to every ordinance of God and man ;-he fulfilled all righteousness. He suffered
himself to be reviled and persecuted, to be arraigned, condemned and crucified. He expired amidst the mockery of Jews, and the insults of a Roman soldiery.—That this was an astonishing exhibition, an exhibition calculat, ed to fill the mind with wonder and amazement; every one feels instantly. The only difficulty is to understand how this exhibition was a display of the righteousness of God. To solve it, some have resorted to the supposition that the Son of God became our sponsor, and satisfied the demands of the law on us, by suffering in our stead. But to this hypothesis there are strong objections. To suppose that Christ was really and truly our sponsor, and that he suffered in this character; would involve such a transfer of legal obligations and liabilities and merits, as is inadmissible: and to suppose any thing short of this, will not explain the difficulty. For if, while we call him a sponsor, we deny that he was legally hol. den or responsible for us, and liable in equity to suffer in our stead ; we assign no intelligible reason, why his sufferings should avail any thing for our benefit, or display at all the righteousness of God.-Besides, this hypothesis,-like all the others, which suppose the Son of God to have first entered into a close, legal connexion with sinful men, and afterwards to have redeemed them, -would make the atonement to be a legal satisfaction for sin ; and then the acquittal of the sinner would be no pardon at all, but would follow in the regular course of law.-We must, therefore, resort to some other solution. And what is more simple, and at the same time satisfactory, than that which is suggested by the text ? The atonement was an exhibition or display. That is, it was a symbolical transaction. It was a transaction, in
which God and his Son were the actors; and they acted in perfect harmony, though performing different parts in the august drama. The Son in particular, passed voluntarily through various scenes of humiliation and sorrow and suffering; while the Father looked on with all that tenderness and deep concern, which her and none but he-could feel. The object of both, in this affecting tragedy, was to make an impression on the minds of rational beings every where, and to the end of time. And the impression to be made, was, that God is a holy and righteous God; that while inclined to mer. cy, he cannot forget the demands of justice, and the danger to his kingdom from the pardon of the guilty ; that he must shew his feelings on this subject; and shew them so clearly and fully, that all his rational creatures shall feel that he honours his law while suspending its operation, as much as he would by the execution of it.
But how, it may be asked, are these things expressed or represented by this transaction. The answer is, -symbolically. The Son of God came down to our world, to do and to suffer what he did ; not merely for the sake of doing those acts and enduring those sorrows, but for the sake of the impression to be made on the minds of all beholders, by his labouring and suffering in this manner. In this sense, it was a symbolical transaction. And the import or meaning of it, as of every other symbol, is to be learned either from the circumstances and occasion of it, or from the explanation that accompanies it. Hence all that either reason or revelation teaches, respecting the object of Christ's visit to our world, may properly be applied to the explanation