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Inquiry into the Doctrine of the Atonement.
ALL the texts collected by the Reverend Editor in his review from the authority of the divine Teacher, in favour of the second important doctrine of the cross, implying the vicarious sacrifice of Jesus as an atonement for the sins of mankind, are as follow : “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever.” His giving his “flesh for the life of the world.” “I lay down my life for my sheep.” “The Son of Man is come to give his life a ransom for many.” Is any of these passages, I would ask, in the shape of an explicit commandment, or are they more than a mere statement of facts requiring figurative interpretation 2 For it is obvious that an attempt to take them in their direct sense, especially the first, (“I am the living bread;—if any man eat of this,” &c.,) would amount to gross absurdity. Do they reasonably convey any thing more than the idea, that Jesus was invested with a divine commission to deliver instructions leading to eternal beatitude, which whosoever should receive should live for ever? And that the Saviour, forseeing that the imparting of those instructions would, by exciting the anger and enmity of the superstitious Jews, cause his life to be destroyed, yet hesitated not to persevere in their promulgation; as if a king, who hazards his life to procure freedom and peace for his subjects, were to address himself to them, saying, “I lay down my life for you.” This interpretation is fully confirmed by the following passages. Luke, ch. iv. ver. 43: “And he said unto them, I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also ; for therefore am I sent.” Ch. ii. vers. 47–49: “And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. And when they (his parents) saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? Behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business ** Wherein Jesus declares, that the sole object of his mission was to preach and impart divine instructions. Again, after having instructed his disciples in all the divine law and will, as appears from the following text, “For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me,” (John, ch. xvii. ver. 8,) Jesus in his communion with God manifests that he had completed the object of his mission by imparting divine commandments to mankind: “I have glorified thee on the earth, I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” Had his death on the cross been the work, or part of the work, for the performance of which Jesus was sent into this world, he as the founder of truth would not have declared himself to have finished that work prior to his death. That Jesus should ride on a colt, should receive an offer of vinegar to drink, and should be wounded with a spear after he had delivered up the ghost, as well as his death on the cross, were events prophesied in the Old Testament, and consequently these were fulfilled by Jesus. Wide Luke, ch. xxiv. vers. 26 and 27: “Ought not Christ to have suf. fered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” But we are unhappily at a loss to discover any other design in each of these events, which happened to Jesus before his ascent to heaven. I am therefore sorry that I must plead my inability to make a satisfactory reply to the question of the Editor, “Had ever Jesus transgressed his heavenly Father's will, that he underwent such afflictions * I can only say, that we find in the Scriptures that several other Prophets in common with Jesus suffered great afflictions, and some even death, as predicted. But I know not whether those afflictions were the consequences of the sins committed by them or by their parents, or whether these distresses were experienced by them through some divine purpose unknown to us; as some scriptural authorities shew beyond doubt, that man may be made liable to sufferings for some secret divine purpose, without his or his parents having perpetrated any remarkable crime. (John, ch. ix. ver, 3: “Jesus answered, Neither hath this man
sinned nor his parents; but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.”) The latter alternative (namely, that the righteous Prophets suffered afflictions and even death for some divine purpose, known thoroughly to God alone) seems more consistent with the contents of the sacred writings, such as follow: Mark, ch. xii. vers. 1– 9: “And he began to speak unto them by parables, A certain man planted a vineyard, and set a hedge about it, and digged a place for the wine fat, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country. And at the season he sent to the husbandmen a servant, that he might receive from the husbandmen of the fruit of the vineyard. And they caught him, and beat him, and sent him away empty. And again he sent unto them another servant; and at him they cast stones, and wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully handled. And again he sent another; and him they killed, and many others; beating some, and killing some. Having yet therefore one son, his well-beloved, he sent him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence my son. But these husbandmen said among themselves, This is the heir ; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours. And they took him, and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard. What shall therefore the lord of the vineyard do He will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others.” John, ch. xv. vers. 21, 22: “But all these things will they do unto you for my name's sake, because they know not him that sent me. If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin : but now they have no cloak for their sin.” This parable and these passages give countenance to the idea, that God suffered his Prophets, and Jesus his beloved Son, to be cruelly treated and slain by the Jews, for the purpose of taking away every excuse that they might offer for their guilt. In explaining the objects of Jesus’s death on the cross, the Editor confidently assumes, that “If we view Jesus Christ as atoning for the sins of men, we have every thing perfectly in character: he became incarnate to accomplish that which could have been effected by neither men nor angels.” I should therefore wish to know whether Jesus, whom the Editor represents as God incarnate, suffered death and pain for the sins of men in his divine nature, or in his human capacity ? The former must be highly inconsistent with the nature of God, which, we are persuaded to believe by reason and tradition, is above being rendered liable to death or pain; since the difference we draw between God and the objects that are not God, is, that one cannot be subjected to death or termination, and the other is finite and liable to mortality. That the effects of Christ's appearance on earth, whether with respect to the salvation or condemnation of mankind, were finite, and therefore suitable to the nature of a finite being to accomplish, is evident from the fact, that to the present time millions of human beings are daily passing through the world, whom the doctrines he taught have never reached, and who of course must be considered as excluded from the benefit of his