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Rom. iii. 25, 26.
"WHOM GOD HATH SET FORTH TO BE A PROPITIATION, THROUGH FAITA IN HIS
BLOOD, TO 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."
The great question, the question of deepest interest—to us, and to all men,-is, on what conditions will God be propitious to us? In other words, how may we obtain forgiveness of our sins and the everlasting favour of God? What will he accept as an atonement for our transgressions ? What can restore that harmony between him and us, which has been interrupted by the apostacy of our first parents and our own criminal deeds, and which must be restored, or we must be forever miserable ? This is a question which presses heavily on the soul of every man, when he looks forward with anxiety to the grave and to the world that lies beyond it. And to answer this question, is the grand problem in the religion of every age and country. From the nature of the question, it is obvious that reason alone
can never answer it. An offended God will make his own terms: and who can tell what they will be, till he reveals them ?*— To give us information on this subject, and information on which we may rely, is the chief object of the christian revelation. As it contains the most satisfactory declarations, and especially as it assures us that God will bestow free pardon and everlasting bliss ou all who repent and believe in Jesus Christ; this revelation is justly denominated the Gospel, the glad tidings from heaven. Yet, full and explicit as the scriptures are on this subject, they do not enable us to understand it perfectly. Many questions may be asked which it would be difficult, and some which it would be impossible to answer. Who, for instance, can comprehend the mysterious union of natures in the person of the Mediator? Who can tell all the bearings and influences of his obedience and death? Who can be certain that he knows all the obstacles which were to be removed, before a free pardon could be consistently extended to sinful men? Or who will presume that he understands all the effects of the work of redemption, in the great system of the universe ? It is easy to see, that a finite human mind can but imperfectly comprehend the designs and procedure of God in the moral, as well as in the natural world. Still, information sufficient to answer all practical purposes, we may presume, is given us. For the attainment of salvation, it may be sufficient
* See Brettschneider's Handbuch der Dogmatik. 2ter Theil. $ 158. S. 272 ff. and M. F.G. Süskind über die Möglichkeit der Strafen-Aufhebung oder der Sünden—Vergebung, nach Principien der practischen Vernunft, in Flott's Magazin. 1ter Stuck. S. 1–67. Tubing. 1796, and Butler's Analogy, Pt. II. chap. 3, 4, 5, particularly chap. 5, pp. 281– 287. ed. Boston, 1809.
that we know and believe firmly the simple fact, that? there is forgiveness with God, for the penitent believer, on account of something which Christ has done or suffered. Not much beyond this, have the knowledge and the faith of the great body of christians, in every age, extended. Yet on a subject of so much interest,-a subject into which angels look with eager curiosity, and which is to be the theme of the redeemed to eternity,—more knowledge certainly is desirable. It may contribute to the establishment of our faith, to the correction of our sentiments and the enlargement of our knowledge, on other points in theology; and may afford us interesting subjects for devout meditation. No work of God equally displays the depth of the divine wisdom and goodness ; none seems more worthy to engage all the powers of the human mind.—On few points in theology, has the christian church made greater progress in knowledge. From the days of the earliest fathers to Martin Luther, there was a gradual though not very rapid advance. The reformers cast much light on the subject. From that time, the adversaries of the doctrines of grace have, with eagle eyes, detected errors and mistakes in the writings of the reformers and their successors. Within the last fifty years, the subject has undergone a more full discussion than ever; and the advance in knowledge has, I conceivę, been answerable to the efforts made. One fact is noticeable, and demands our gratitude to the Author of all light: the believers in gratuitous justification, both in Europe and America, seem to be gradually coming to nearly the same conclusions.*
With a view to exhibit the results, to which my own mind has been led, and especially in regard to the na
* See Appendix, A.
ture and the proximate effects of the atonement, I shall now direct your attention to the passage of scripture prefixed to this discourse.
In this text, Paul declares, explicitly, what was the immediate object of Christ's atoning sacrifice that is, what effect it had in the economy of redemption, or how it laid a proper foundation for the pardon and the salvation of sinful men. It was the immediate object of this sacrifice, to declare the righteousness of God: in other words, to display and vindicate the perfect holiness and uprightness of his character as a moral governor. This display being made, he can with propriety forgive all that believe in Jesus.-As this sentiment is the foundation of my whole discourse, I shall take some pains to shew that it is really contained in the text.
The Apostle is here treating, professedly, on the doctrine of justification by grace through the atonement made by Jesus Christ. And he uses, in the text, no figurative terms, and no comparisons or allusions, which might mislead us. He appears to aim at stating the simple truth, and in the most direct and appropriate terms. The plain, direct meaning of his words, therefore, taking them throughout in their most obvious sense, is their true meaning. Keeping these things in view, let us now enter the sanctuary of this text, and survey the objects it contains.* “God hath set forth,”—T100&Teto
hath exposed to view, as an object which is brought forth and exhibited to public inspection. “God hath set forth his Son a propitiation,"Ridaorngrov, a propitiatory sacrifice or victim ;—not a mercy-seat or covering for the ark, as some have understood it.*_Through faith in his blood :" that is, the benefits of which sacrifice, men obtain by trusting in it.—God hath done this “ to declare his righteousness.” This propitiatory sacrifice was intended,—ELS EVDELěcv, or as afterwards expressed, nipos EVDELĘLV,—for a display, exhibition or manifestation : and the thing to be displayed or exhibited, was the righteousness of God,—ins dixalouns avrov,—that is, the rectitude of his views and proceedings as the moral governor of the universe.t
Some suppose the righteousness of God to denote here, not one of the divine attributes, but that righteousness which God accepts and makes the ground of a sinner's justification; or what had just before been denominated “ the righteousness of God without the law," and 6 the righteousness of God which is by faith in Jesus Christ.”I—But this would be supposing the righteousness of God to be nothing different from the propitiation itself; between which two things, the text makes the same distinction as between the means employed, and
* See Wolfii Curae Philol. in loc. Magee on Aton. and Sacr. p. 130. Novum Test. Gr. d Koppe; and Rosenmüller in locum.
f By the words rectitude and righteousness, here and throughout the discourse, I intend what is called general or mixed justice ; which is to be carefully distinguished from particular or simple justice. See a full account of the distinction, in the Appendix B.
I See Whitby, in loc. and Discourse on Imputation, in his Com. on N. T. vol. II. p. 228.