NECESSITY OF AN ATONEMENT
THE necessity of an atonement is founded on such considerations as have been already referred to in this Essay, the difficulties in the way of pardon and in the restoration of an offender to favour. We have seen (ch. ii.) what those difficulties are, (1) if pardon is never extended to the guilty; (2) if it is often extended to the guilty; (3) if it should be always extended to the guilty; and (4) in any ease by its coming in conflict with the regular administration of justice. We have noticed (ch. iii.) some of the embarrassments to which governments are subjected for the want of an atonement, and some of the devices, clumsy and ineffectual in their character, to which they are compelled to resort in order to escape from those embarrassments. We have considered (ch. iv.) what must be done by an atonement: that it is necessary that it should confirm, and not set aside, law; that it should carry out, and not set aside, the real purpose of the penalty of the law as expressing the sense entertained by the lawgiver of the value of law and the evil of violating it; that it should secure the reformation and future good conduct of him who is pardoned; that it should preserve a community from harm if any number of offenders should be forgiven; and that it should furnish in its own nature a proper representation of the character of him who has appointed the atonement. And we have seen (ch. v.) that there were antecedent probabilities that such an atonement would be provided in the Divine administration; or that there were such grounds of presumption that some arrangement would be made to remove the evils of sin as to excite an expectation extensively in the minds of men that such an arrangement would be made.
The failure of every thing else to remove the necessary evils of sin and to restore an offender to the Divine favour lays the foundation for the necessity of an atonement. An atonement is necessary because there is nothing else that will remove the difficulties in the way of pardon, or because there is no other way by which it can be consistent for God to forgive an offender and to restore him to favour.
It becomes proper, therefore, to inquire why, in this point of view, it is necessary that an atonement should be made; that is, why sinners cannot be saved without it; or why, in the language of the Bible, "without shedding of blood is no remission," (Heb. ix. 22.) If there is any other way by which the difficulties in the case can be met and sinners saved, then of course an atonement is unnecessary. It is proper, therefore, to inquire on what they who reject an atonement rely for salvation, and to see whether such grounds of reliance furnish security of happiness hereafter. If sinners may rely on the mere mercy of God for salvation, then an atonement is unnecessary. If they can offer sacrifices for their own sins which would constitute a proper expiation, then there would be no need of a higher sacrifice such as is implied in the idea of the Christian atonement. If they may depend on the efficacy of repentance, and if that is all that is necessary to restore them to the Divine favour, then also an atonement would be unnecessary. If men are punished in this life as much as their offenses deserve, and if all that is implied in the penalty of the law is satisfied on earth, or if the same thing should occur in a future world so that they would exhaust the penalty of the law and expiate their sins by their own sufferings, then in like manner there would be no need of an atonement. If offenders can claim admission into heaven on the ground that they have, by their own abundant good works, or by the merits of eminent saints made over to them by the power of a priesthood, made amends for the past, then also there would be no need of an atonement. And if it is a principle in the Divine administration that the maladies of the soul may be repaired, as the diseases of the body may be healed, by a recuperative arrangement in the very system itself, then also there would be no need of an atonement.
It is indispensable, therefore, in inquiring into the necessity of an atonement, to examine each of these points; for these are the things on which men who reject the atonement of Christ actually rely; these comprise all the grounds of the hope which they entertain in reference to a future world. Thus Dr. Priestley says, "We are commanded to forgive others, as we ourselves hope to be forgiven; to be merciful as our Father who is in heaven is merciful. But surely we are not thereby authorized to insist upon any atonement or satisfaction, before we give up our resentments towards an offending penitent brother. Indeed, how could it deserve the name of forgiveness if we did? It is only from the literal interpretation of a few figurative expressions in the Scriptures that this doctrine of the atonement, as well as that of transubstantiation, has been derived; and it is certainly a doctrine highly injurious to God; and if we who are commanded to imitate God should act upon the maxims of it, it would be subversive of the most amiable part of virtue in men. We should be implacable and unmerciful, insisting upon the uttermost farthing."
In considering the necessity of an atonement, the question is not what God could or could not have done if an atonement had not been made. We are not to go back of all the arrangements that are actually made, and to inquire whether the course of things might not have been different, or why the present arrangement has been adopted. In inquiring, for example, why labour is necessary for the husbandman if he would secure a harvest, or why the law of gravitation is necessary in the physical system of the universe, we are not to ask whether it might not have been otherwise, whether God, for example, might not have provided food by his own direct agency without toil on the part of man, or whether he might not have carried forward the operations of the universe without such a law as that of gravitation. The question relates rather to matters of fact: why, as things are, is labour necessary for man if he would have a harvest? or why is such a law as that of universal gravitation necessary in this universe, constructed as it is? There is undoubted force and truth in the following remarks of Bishop Butler. "Certain questions," he says, "have been brought into the subject of redemption, and determined with rashness, and perhaps with equal rashness contrary ways. For instance, whether God could have saved the world by other means than the death of Christ, consistently with the general laws of his government. And, had not Christ come into the world, what would have been the future condition of the better sort of men; those just persons over the face of the earth for whom Manasses in his prayer asserts repentance was not appointed. The meaning of the first of these questions is greatly ambiguous; and neither of them can properly be answered without going upon that infinitely absurd supposition, that we know the whole of the case. And perhaps the very inquiry, what would have followed if God had not done as he has? may have in it some great impropriety, and ought not to be carried on any further than is necessary to help our partial and inadequate conception of things."
The inquiry on this subject cannot be pursued on the principle of an à priori argument. We are not, for we cannot, so go back of the actual arrangement of things in the Divine economy, and attempt to ascertain what God could or could not have done; we cannot determine beforehand whether it would or would not be proper that such a disposition of affairs should be allowed to exist as would make an atonement necessary; we cannot argue that, because sin is an infinite evil, therefore an infinite atonement was necessary, or that it was necessary that he who should make the atonement should be infinite in his nature. But we may argue from the existing state of things. We may look upon the fact that man is fallen; that sin has come into the world; that the law of God has been violated; that the penalty of that law has been incurred; and that there are intrinsic difficulties in the way of pardon. We can look upon the course of events, and see what is the fact in regard to the effect of those things on which men do rely as securing salvation, and argue from the failure of those things as to the necessity of some higher mode of intervention. We can ask whether it will be safe for men to reject the atonement and to rely on those things. We can see in the failure of all those things to meet the circumstances of the case--if they do fail--an argument for the necessity of an atonement. In this there can be no presumption; for we are here manifestly pursuing an inquiry of the deepest interest to ourselves, and which lies within the proper range of human investigation.
Such a course of inquiry it is proposed to pursue in this chapter. The necessity of an atonement will be argued from the failure of all else on which men are accustomed to rely for salvation; or, in other words, by showing that no reliance can be placed on those things to meet the circumstances of the case, it is proposed to demonstrate the necessity of an atonement.
The question relates to the salvation of sinners; and it is to be assumed in this discussion that men are sinners. Apart from the atonement, the only other methods of salvation by which it could be supposed that sinners could be saved are the following: The mere mercy of God; repentance and reformation; punishment; repairing the evils of the past by subsequent good conduct; sacrifices offered for sin; and a process of restoration in regard to moral evils--a recuperative process--similar to the healing of diseases in the body.
These methods of salvation it is proposed now to examine. There are no other methods, besides that of reliance on the atonement of Christ. These exhaust the subject. If a sinner may rely on any one of these methods, there is no need of an atonement. If all of these fail, then there must be an atonement, or the sinner must perish.
I. The mere mercy of God.
As this is perhaps the most general ground of reliance for salvation among men, it is important to examine it with care.
It is undoubtedly true that large classes of men of all classes and conditions--profess to rely on the mercy of God as a safe and sufficient ground of hope in relation to the future world. The most general ground of the hope of happiness hereafter is, probably, that which is founded on good works; on an upright character; on honesty and fidelity in the relations of life; on amiableness, kindness, and courtesy in the intercourse with each other; on the belief entertained by many that they have wronged no one, that they have defrauded no one, that they are just in their dealings with men, that they are faithful in the discharge of their duties as husbands, fathers, neighbours, citizens. But this ground of hope may be laid out of view now; for we are not inquiring whether it would be possible for men to be saved if they were perfectly righteous,of which there could be no doubt, but in what way a sinner may be saved. The question is, How may one who is conscious that he has violated the law of God obtain his favour again? How may we approach him with the hope of pardon? The first of these grounds of hope is dependence on the mere mercy of God, with no reference to an atonement; and it is undoubtedly true that multitudes do profess to trust to this as a safe resort. The man who is externally moral, and who aims to lead an upright life, and who prides himself on his virtuous character, trusts that the few and unimportant errors of his life may be forgiven, and that he may safely rely, in respect to these, on the mercy of God. The skeptic--the denier of the truth of revelation--also relies on the mercy of God, and thinks that he may safely make it an article of his creed that God is merciful, and that he may in safety trust to that mercy for salvation. The Universalist is loud in his proclamation of the mercy of God, and in the expression of his belief that all men will be saved through that mercy; and even the dissolute, the profane, and the abandoned, when all other hope of salvation fails, take refuge, on the bed of death, in what they regard as the illimitable compassion of God.
And yet it may be doubted whether any of these persons really rely for salvation on the mercy of God. If the moral man, conscious as he may be of a few errors and follies of life, were questioned, he would say that he does not believe that he deserves eternal death, and that it would be wrong in God to consign him to future woe; and thus he is depending for salvation not on the mercy but on the justice of God. The skeptic, also, if questioned on the subject, would not allege that he had any communication from heaven to assure him that he might safely trust to the mercy of God, for all such revelation be on principle rejects; but he would maintain also that it would be wrong in God to consign him to an eternal hell, and thus he relies for salvation not on the mercy but on the justice of God. The Universalist, also, loud as he is in praise of the mercy of God, and stoutly as he maintains that through that mercy all mankind will be saved, yet as loudly and as stoutly maintains that it would be wrong in God--that it would be horrible injustice--to consign men to everlasting punishment; and thus he also relies not on the mercy but on the justice of God for salvation; and, after all that he says in favour of the mercy of God, he has no belief that there is any occasion for the exercise of mercy in the case, but his system would be practically the same, and his hope would be precisely the same, if God were possessed of no such attribute as that of mercy, but were severely and only just. In like manner, also, even the abandoned and profligate sinner would maintain that it would be wrong in the God who made him to doom him to everlasting wretchedness for the sins of this short life; and thus he, at last, also finds refuge and hope not in the mercy but in the justice of God.
But, if it were true that men really relied on the mercy of God for salvation, would this be a safe ground of hope for a sinner?
In reference to this question, let the following considerations be borne in mind.
(1.) Mercy cannot be safely relied on by an offender in any human administration. We have seen, in a previous chapter, (ch. ii.,) that no government could safely offer unconditional pardon to offenders, and that pardon can in no case be administered under a human government without doing much to weaken the strong arm of the law. Mere mercy can in no case be made a ground of hope under a human government. When pardon is extended to the guilty, it is in most, if not in all, cases, done not on the ground of mere mercy, but on the ground that there was some defect in the process of the trial; or that the sentence of the law was too severe; or that there were some extenuating circumstances in the case; or that there was something in respect to the age, the sex, or the previous character of the offender which made it proper to interpose with executive clemency; or that there was evidence of such a reformation as to make it proper to remit the remainder of the sentence or to commute it; or that there was evidence that the punishment had answered all the ends contemplated by punishment; or that there was some new testimony in favour of the offender which was not before the court on the trial, and which might have modified the verdict; or that there is reason to suppose that, if all the testimony in the case had been before the court, the accused would have been acquitted: that is, so far as these circumstances bear on the case, the 'Pardon' is in fact an act of justice, and not of mercy.
(2.) It is to be borne in mind, in regard to dependence on the mercy of God for salvation, that there are other attributes in the Divine character than mercy, and that, so far as appears, they are as essential to that character as mercy is, and that it is as important for the good of the universe that they should be displayed as it is that the attribute of mercy should be exhibited. "A God all mercy is a God unjust." There is as certain evidence that God is just as there is that he is merciful. In estimating the character of a neighbour, a merchant, a professional man, a magistrate, in forming our conception of a perfect man, we think of truth, and purity, and justice, and uprightness, as really as of kindness. We regard these as essential to a perfect character. We have no conception of a character as entitled to high respect and confidence where these are not found. If we could conceive of a case in which there were no traces of these attributes, we should say, however merciful or amiable the man might be, his character was radically deficient. If we could conceive of a case where the attribute of justice is never exercised--where a man in his dealings with others always disregards its claims, however amiable or kind he might be, we should say that such a character was worthy only of universal detestation.
It is worthy of special remark, as bearing on the point before us, that, when we say that the attribute of justice is essential to our idea of a perfect character, we say at the same time that it is essential to our idea of such a character that the attribute should be exercised or displayed. It would be of no value as a dormant attribute, any more than a dormant attribute of mercy or goodness would be. On suitable occasions, it is as proper that the attribute of justice should be displayed as the attribute of mercy; and, if there is any evidence furnished by our instinctive sense of what is essential to the character of perfection in God, that one of these attributes will be displayed, there is the same evidence, so far as that source of proof is concerned, that the other will be.
It is further to be observed that in all the arrangements among men themselves it is contemplated that there shall be as real a manifestation of the attribute of justice as of mercy. (a.) There are more laws made to secure justice between man and man than there are to secure the exercise of mercy from one who is wronged towards him who wrongs him. There are more provisions in the administration of the laws to secure the exercise of justice than of mercy. There are all the arrangements in the courts: the forms of indictment; the pleadings, the trial by jury; the writ of habeas corpus; the securities against false imprisonment; the examination of witnesses in open court; the confronting of the witnesses with the accused; the right of appeal: in fact, nearly all the arrangements in the courts of law have reference to the securing of justice. Those which have reference to the exercise of mercy are comparatively few. There is little legislation in regard to it; and few of the great conflicts in the world have been with reference to the exercise of mercy. Those great conflicts which have marked the progress of society have pertained to the exercise of justice and not of mercy, have been struggles in securing what is right, not what is to be expected as the result of the exercise of compassion. (b.) In like manner, it is true that justice is more frequently exercised than mercy. The daily transactions between man and man are transactions of justice. The transactions in courts are those of justice, and not of mercy. The question on trial when a man is arraigned for libel, treason, piracy, or murder, is not a question whether he is a fit subject for executive clemency, but whether he has committed a crime that subjects him to the penalty of the law; not a question whether he shall be pardoned, but whether he shall be punished. The dispensing of pardon is regarded as an event that is to be rare; the dispensation of justice is one that is to be constant. The former is left to an executive, with few rules in regard to its exercise; the latter is guarded with all the skill of legislation, and all the sanctions of law, and all the precautions against abuse and corruption which can be thrown around the tribunals of justice.
(3.) There is abundant evidence that substantially the same order of things is to be found in the Divine administration, and that the attribute of justice is the one that is prominently contemplated there.
(a.) There are abundant indications in the world that there is such an attribute in God as justice, and that justice will be regarded in his dealings with mankind. This is found not only in the appointment of law to regulate the conduct of men, but in the fact that evils are brought upon the violators of that law as punishments, not as expressions of mercy. The material thought here is, that such inflictions are an expression of displeasure on the part of God, and are designed, according to the proper notion of penalty, as has been before explained, to show the sense which the lawgiver entertains of the value of law and of the evil of disobedience; not that they are in their nature disciplinary, or merely designed to reform. Abundant indications of this are to be found in the Divine dealings; and they are familiar to every one. They occur in the numerous instances in which a certain course of conduct is uniformly followed with certain calamities or evils, or in which the evil has all the marks of being a specific penalty appointed for that particular offence. The evil in the case is such as occurs only on the commission of that offence; and it so uniformly occurs as to show that it is designed to be a penalty for that offence. It is not of so general a character that it may be a matter of doubt whether it belongs to that offence or some other, or whether it has any relation to conduct considered as crime; but it is as particular and as specific as if there were no other offence to be punished. Thus it is, for example, with the consequences of intemperance, where there can be no doubt that the calamities which come upon the drunkard are the consequence of his particular habits of life, and are designed to express the sense entertained by the Great Lawgiver of the value of the law which binds men to temperance, and of the evils of a violation of that law. The evils in the case are of such a nature, and are so uniform, as to leave no room for doubt on the subject. They are evils which follow no other course of life, and they cannot be separated from that habit. It cannot be proved that the radical idea in inflicting these evils is that they shall reform the offender; for, as the result shows, they do not tend to such an effect. The woe, the sorrow, the poverty, the disease, the dishonour, that attend the career of the drunkard, the peculiar form of the ultimate effect of the habit, that form of insanity known as mania-à-potu, all have the appearance, and all seem designed to accomplish the effect, of a specific penalty. The things that are essential to the idea of a penalty or an infliction of justice are found in all these effects: (a) They are so specific and peculiar as to show that they are connected with that offence as the cause; (b) they are so uniform as to show that the whole thing is arranged on plan, and that they do not occur by chance; and (c) it is apparent that they are intended not for purposes of reformation, but as a suitable expression of the value of the law in the case, and of the evils of violating that law. They become, therefore, a proof that there is such a thing as justice, and that the world is not administered on the mere principle of mercy; that is, that men have much to fear from justice, whatever they may or may not have to hope from mercy. They are not in a world of mere mercy, but in a world where there are proofs that God is just.
The same remarks might be made of many other courses of conduct. In relation to licentiousness, to gluttony, to fraud, to oppression, to murder, it might be shown that, sooner or later, all such offenses impinge on some arrangement designed to show that there is a law in the case and that that law cannot be violated with impunity; and what is material in the point before us is, that justice and not mercy is to be expected to follow as the result of such violation of law; that what is to be anticipated is not an expression of compassion, but an expression of displeasure; not an indication that the offence will be overlooked and forgiven, but that it will be marked and punished.
And we may refer here, in further illustration of this point, to the instinctive feelings of mankind when they are about to commit a crime. What their nature teaches them to anticipate is not forgiveness and impunity, but punishment. They find within them, so far as their minds act at all, not an anticipation of mercy, but of justice. The reproofs and checks of conscience, the dread of the consequences, the fear of death and of the judgment as viewed in connection with the offence, all indicate that there is an arrangement in the human mind to keep up the idea of justice in the world; but there is no corresponding arrangement when an offence is committed which has reference to the exercise of mercy, nothing that points to the exercise of mercy as that arrangement does to the infliction of justice.
In the actual dispensations of Providence, moreover, there are more proofs of justice than of mercy; there are more things occurring that can be properly traced to the infliction of penalty, and that should be regarded as proofs that God is just, than there are that can be regarded as proofs that he is merciful. In other words, there are more specific things that can be directly and certainly traced to the idea that God is just, than there are that can be traced to the specific idea of mercy. There are, indeed, numerous proofs of goodness, numerous evidences that God is benevolent, and that he desires the happiness of his creatures; but it is to be observed that these, for the most part, are found in the original constitution of things, or in the arrangements made anterior to the commission of crime, and therefore they cannot with propriety be referred to in this argument, for the arrangements which we are seeking for in the inquiry about the mercy of God are not general original arrangements of benevolence, but specific arrangements contemplated as following the violation of law; and the remark which is now made is, that, placing ourselves in that position, or regarding crime as committed, there are in fact more arrangements for the infliction of justice than for the exercise of mercy.
In other words, judging merely from the course of events under the Divine administration, there is more to be dreaded by a sinner than there is to be hoped for; more that should lead a violator of law to fear what is to come than to cherish hope.
(b.) There are in the world numerous instances of what may be called unfinished justice, or cases in which, for some cause, the infliction of justice is not complete, but seems to be arrested midway. The death of the individual, or some other cause, arrests the process of justice which was commenced, and whatever may be necessary to complete the process is reserved for another sphere of being. Thus it is often, for example, in reference to the drunkard. A process of retribution in disease, poverty, disgrace, is commenced; and we know what would be the ultimate result if the intemperate man should live for many years, for we can see that result in numerous other cases. But he is slain in battle, or cut off by the pestilence, or stricken down in a brawl, and the process is arrested midway and he is removed to other scenes. So it may be in the remorse that follows the commission of crime; so in the sentence that is pronounced on a murderer, a thief, or a pirate; so in the career of a forger. A sentence is pronounced and partly executed, but the offender dies by an ordinary disease; or remorse begins to prey upon the soul with the moral certainty that, if life should be lengthened out, all the future would be embittered, but the guilty man is cut down by some form of disease, or by an act of his own hand is removed to another world, and the process of retribution which had been commenced here is checked midway. It was not a process of mercy, but of justice. As far as we could trace it, it was the mere infliction of justice, with not the slightest intimation that there would be any exercise of mercy.
(c.) There are strong probabilities that these unfinished processes of justice will be carried out and completed in another world. The probabilities are found in such circumstances as the following:
One is, that it seems to be necessary that it should be so in order that there may be consistency in the Divine dealings. There would evidently be an inconsistency which we could not well reconcile with a character of perfection in arresting a process of justice in one case, and in another case in carrying it out in full; in removing one to a world where he would, by the mere fact of the removal, escape a large part of the deserved penalty, while another is retained upon the earth that he may meet it in full. It is certainly more probable that the original arrangement will be carried out by the full infliction of the penalty, and that what is commenced here and is unfinished when the offender dies will be completed in another world. It would be difficult, if not impossible, if this were not so, to vindicate the Divine character.
A second circumstance is, that, so far as we can trace the course of things, there is nothing to justify the expectation that the process of justice commenced in this world and left unfinished by death will not be completed in another world. The process of justice is indeed often arrested; but there are so many cases in which, when that process is arrested, it ultimately, though after long intervals, overtakes the offender, that there is every reason to believe that the process will be completed at some period in the future. Long intervals of time often occur between the commission of a crime and its punishment. Large tracts of land or ocean intervene between the place where an offence was committed and the place where punishment is inflicted. The crime may have been committed in youth, and partially checked or punished then; but the full retribution may come, in some unexpected manner, only in old age. The crime may have been committed in America; and far on in life it may be punished by some calamity that shall come upon the perpetrator in India or on the ocean. Why shall we not suppose that this arrangement will extend to the future world, and that crime perpetrated in the beginning of our existence here will meet a just retribution there? That sin committed on earth will be punished beyond the grave?
A third circumstance is, that those intervals of life which for a time suspend consciousness--as sleep or delirium--do not arrest the arrangements for the punishment of guilt. There are many crimes unpunished when men lie down to rest at night. There is at the close of each day, just as there is at the close of the lives of individuals, much unfinished justice. Yet neither sleep nor delirium arrests permanently the regular operation of things. The crimes that were committed yesterday and that were unpunished travel over the interval of the night's rest and meet the guilty as they awake to a new day; the consequences of a particular course of conduct will travel even over the delirium of fever, or even a more protracted and permanent insanity, and meet the offender in their consequences in future life on the restoration to health and reason.
Then why should not the same thing occur in regard to death? Why should that suspend or annihilate a law which we find to be so universal? Death annihilates nothing. Death may not--probably does not--even suspend consciousness as much as the delirium of a fever, or as is done by a night's sleep. No man can assume that death will do what delirium and sleep will not do, or that he may hope for that in the case of death which he may not hope for in the delirium of fever or a more enduring insanity. No man can assume that the arrangements for justice commenced here will not be resumed beyond the grave, and that the processes of justice unfinished here will not be perfected in another world.
(4.) There is no such evidence that men are saved by mere mercy without an atonement as will make it safe to rely on that alone.
The proof on this point is as ample as any proposition can be where there is not a direct declaration from heaven, or where there is not absolute demonstration. For,
(a.) All the cases of Christians are to be laid out of view. They profess, indeed, to be saved by the mercy of God, and not by justice; but it is mercy in each and every case through an atonement, and their only hope of that mercy is that which is founded on the atonement.
(b.) There is no other mercy promised to men in the Bible than that which is founded on the atonement. There the offer of salvation is ample; but it is limited in the most absolute manner to mercy dispensed through the blood of the Redeemer. It is a great principle, also, in all things, that when God has revealed one method of obtaining his favour, or proposed one mode by which it is to be secured, all others are, of course, excluded. That fact is proof not only that it is the best mode, but it is proof that there is no other mode; and, whatever we may suppose may have been abstractly true about the possibility of any other mode originally, yet the fact that that mode has been selected and revealed to man as the mode in which God is willing to bestow his favours excludes, of course, all other methods, and is at the same time a demonstration that that is not only the best, but that it is the only one. The business of man is not to find out what method there might possibly have been of securing the Divine favour, and then to infer that that is now a possible method: it is to find out what God has chosen and prescribed; and that ends the matter. If, therefore, God has said that mercy shall be bestowed through an atonement, that excludes all other methods; and speculation as to what might have been becomes vain, if not improper.
(c.) The rejecters of revelation can pretend to no evidence that men are saved by the mere mercy of God. They have no revelation to tell them so; for, on principle, and of design, they deny that any revelation has ever been given to man. No one of their number has come back from the eternal world to assure the living that they who reject the atonement made by the Redeemer are saved by the mere mercy of God. The rejecters of revelation profess to have no means of communicating with the eternal world; they have no means of ascertaining what will be the result of human conduct there; and all their hope in the case must be founded on mere conjecture.
(d.) There is no evidence furnished in death that men can be saved, or are saved, by mercy irrespective of the atonement.
The death of all Christians, as before remarked, is to be laid out of view here; and the death of no others furnishes such evidence as the case would demand that they who reject that atonement are saved.
Two reasons may be given why this is so: (I.) one is, that men who profess to rely on the mercy of God for salvation without reference to the atonement, but who, as we have seen above, really rely on the justice of God and believe it would be wrong in God not to save them, are often greatly alarmed when they come to die, showing that, so far as the evidence in their case goes, this cannot be regarded as a safe ground of trust. The fact that such men are alarmed when they die, and that they then seek for some other ground of hope, is at least so common as to show that no one can certainly anticipate that he will himself regard this as a safe ground of reliance when he dies. This fact is such as to vitiate any argument that may be urged in favour of the position that men may safely rely on the mere mercy of God without an atonement; for if this is a safe ground of reliance for salvation, it ought never to give way under any circumstances. In the prospect of passing over such a river as that of death, what we want is not a bridge that may break down, but a bridge that never will break down and that never does. In the prospect of the storms that may beat around our dwellings, what we want is not a foundation that may give way when the rain descends, and the floods come, and the winds blow and beat upon the house, but such a solid rock that it will never give way, however vehemently the storm may beat upon us. Such is the rock on which the Christian builds his hopes. It never gives way when he dies; for no true Christian ever doubts the sufficiency of that trust on which he relies, never doubts that if he is a Christian he is safe. Can it be said that no infidel, skeptic, philosopher, ever doubts, when he comes to die, that, if he is an infidel, a skeptic, a philosopher, he is safe? (2.) The other consideration is, that, even if it were a matter of fact that they who reject the atonement have no misgiving about the foundation of their hope when they lie down to die, this would not prove that this is a safe ground of reliance. Freedom from alarm and from the dread of death may proceed from other causes than that of safety, or from any well-founded assurance of future happiness. The calmness and peace of the dying skeptic may be accounted for satisfactorily on some other supposition than that he is actually going to heaven, or that he will be saved by the mercy of God without an atonement. In the sternness of the stoic, in the studied and cultivated purpose of the infidel philosopher, in the stupidity which sin engenders, and in the paralyzing influence of disease as men pass away from life, may be found a sufficient explanation of the fact that such men die calmly. If it be said that the same solution might possibly, or with equal reason, be applied to the calm death of the Christian, it may be replied that we do not refer to that calmness in death as the main proof that the soul is safe; for the reliance of the Christian is on what he regards as a promise made to men that if they repent and believe the gospel they will be saved. Their hope is based on that. Their calmness in death is not the ground of their hope: it is the fruit or result of a hope founded on the promise of God.
The conclusion which it seems proper to derive from these remarks is, that it is not possible to demonstrate from reason, from experience, or from the actual course of events in the world, that men who have violated law will be saved by the mercy of God irrespective of an atonement. It would be probably found, on a just analysis of their own processes of thought on this subject, even by those who profess thus to rely on the mercy of God, that the conclusions to which they come in their own case are based not on reason, but on feeling; that they are the suggestions of a hope which can pretend to no solid basis; that they cannot be referred to any facts in the world, and that therefore they are perfectly valueless to man.
II. The question which next occurs is, whether repentance for sin will of itself be a sufficient ground of hope without an atonement.
There can be no doubt that men often rely on this. Either as a sort of expiation for sin, or as recommending them to God, or as being all that is possible in the case, or as in some unknown way making it proper for God to pardon on that account, men do rely on this as a ground of hope. They would allege that they themselves are required to forgive an offending neighbour; that a parent should forgive a child; that it would be unjust, in the intercourse of man with man, to refuse to forgive when one who has offended is penitent; and, they ask, why may not God be expected to forgive in the same way? If it would be unjust in man not to forgive in such circumstances, why is it not equally unjust in God? They would refer, perhaps, to the fact that even in the Bible we are commanded to forgive an offending brother "not only seven times, but seventy times seven," if he turn and repent, (Luke xvii. 4, Matt. xviii. 21, 22,) and that without any atonement or reparation; and they would ask whether we are to suppose that God will act on a different principle from that which he requires in us. Thus, in a quotation before made, Dr. Priestley says, "We are commanded to forgive others as we ourselves hope to be forgiven, and to be merciful as our Father who is in heaven is merciful. But surely we are not thereby authorized to insist upon any atonement or satisfaction before we give up our resentments towards an offending brother. Indeed, how could it deserve the name of forgiveness if we did?"
The inquiry now is, whether this view is sustained by the actual course of events in the world so as to be a just foundation of hope for man; that is, whether it is a matter of fact under the Divine administration that repentance for sin arrests the effects of transgression and restores the offender to the favour of God; whether it so reinstates him in the position in which he was before the offence was committed that he has no reason to dread any infliction of the penalty of law? If it does, then it may be argued with plausibility that it might be safe for man to trust to the effect of repentance without an atonement.
In reference to this inquiry, the following remarks may be made.
(I.) It is clear that repentance is not what the law demands. No law of God or of man contains this as a part of its requirement, that there shall be repentance for a fault; that is, that an offence may be tolerated by the law on condition that there shall be a suitable expression of penitence after the offence has been committed. In no country, barbarous or civilized, has such an article been inserted into a code of laws as a part of its provisions or as connected with its administration. No parent would feel that this was a safe principle in the field of domestic legislation, even with all the guarantees and securities that exist to secure the observance of law in the sanctity of the household. No friend would consent to this as one of the conditions of friendship, that any or all the obligations of truth, kindness, respect, fidelity, might be disregarded; that the proposed friend might even invade the sanctity of conjugal life and rob him of domestic peace, on condition that there should be suitable repentance and reformation afterwards. No man could make this a condition on which he would be willing to live with his fellow man; no neighbourhood would be safe if these were the terms on which it was understood that neighbours were to keep up their intercourse with each other. Law knows but two things, the absolute precept, and the penalty: the one to be obeyed, the other to be suffered. All else than this belongs to another system and cannot be regarded as any part of the demand of law. It could not be argued beforehand, therefore, that such an arrangement was to be expected in the Divine legislation. In fact, there is no proof in the nature of things that such an arrangement exists in the Divine constitution respecting those who are the subjects of law.
(2.) It is a matter of fact that mere repentance does not remove the effects of sin and restore an offender to the condition in which he was before he committed the offence. "The present conduct of the penitent will receive God's approbation, but the reformation of the sinner cannot have a retrospective effect. The agent may be changed, but his former sins cannot be thereby cancelled: the convert and the sinner are the same individual person, and the agent must be answerable for his whole conduct." Even Cicero goes no further on this subject than to assert, Quem poenitet peccasse, pene est innocens. The penitent is only almost innocent. Does repentance bring back the property that has been squandered in gambling or dissipation, the health that has been ruined by debauchery and intemperance, the reputation that has been lost by fraud and dishonesty, the public favour that has been forfeited by forgery or fraud, the vigour of early years that has been wasted by profligacy? Will any penitence, however sincere or prolonged, bring up from the grave the man that has been murdered, and restore him to his family and friends? Will it call back to the ways of purity the young female that has been led into a career of sin by the arts of the seducer? No. All these are now fixed. They belong to the past. They cannot be changed. The health is permanently destroyed; the property is wasted; the sacred citadel of virtue has been taken; the murdered man is in his grave; the victim of seduction is ruined. No repentance on the part of him who has caused any of these things can ever change them; no repentance can place the offender himself in the situation in which he was before he committed the crime. By reformation a man may indeed regain an honourable position in society; but even under the most favourable circumstances this removes but a part of the evils caused by a sinful course. It brings back nothing that was lost; it changes no facts in the past; it furnishes no assurance of the Divine favour. The consequences of a sinful course are not to be turned aside by floods of tears. The erring female cannot avert the effects of a criminal course by nights of weeping, by the fact that the heart is broken by the remembrance of crime.
(3.) Equally clear is it that mere repentance does not remove the effects of crime on the conscience of the offender himself. Even though all the external consequences of sin could be averted by an act of penitence, still, there would be consequences of guilt on the mind itself which would not be removed. Remorse, the sense of self-dissatisfaction, the apprehension of what may occur hereafter, would still remain. There is nothing in the bitterest repentance that has any effect in silencing the deep self-disapprobation which arises from the commission of crime. That springs up in the mind entirely irrespective of the apprehension of the consequences of guilt and the dread of the future, however it may, as a secondary effect, suggest that there is much to dread hereafter. That feeling of self-disapprobation or remorse is one quite independent of any loss of health or property or reputation as the effect of the deed done. It stands by itself. It springs directly out of the crime. It would exist if there were no future to be dreaded, and would exist in view of the crime itself if it had done nothing to waste health to destroy property, or to injure reputation. And this is in no manner affected by mere repentance. An offender, no matter how much he weeps, no matter how bitter or how prolonged may be his penitence, cannot, does not, feel that the crime which he has committed is in any way affected by his sorrow for it. It is none the less; it seems to him none the less. Even should he wholly reform, and become eminently virtuous, that would not affect his own sense of the evil of the sin, except to deepen his sense of that evil. The same thing is true in his apprehension of what is to come as the reward of sin; for sin not only produces remorse in view of the past, but it directs the mind on to that which is to come. By a law of our nature, the apprehension of what is to occur beyond the grave springs up in the mind just as the feeling of remorse does, an apprehension quite separate from remorse, indeed, in its nature, though conjoined with it in fact. It is so separate that it must be dealt with in its own way, and be removed by an arrangement that shall have a special adaptation to it. And this is not removed by repentance. The mind of the guilty man does not feel any assurance, however deep the penitence, that there will be no consequences of sin to be apprehended in a future world. After all the tears that he may shed; after the keenest mental sorrow that his mind can experience at the remembrance of guilt, it is still true that the apprehension in regard to the world to come will not be lessened. There is a conviction that the crime deserves a deeper retribution than the mere shedding of tears; and there will be a conviction that nothing has been done by repentance to furnish any security that the sin will not draw on fearful consequences in the future world. No act of penitence, no tears or mental sorrows, can remove from the mind the consciousness of guilt; none can remove the apprehension of the wrath to come. No such act can secure to a guilty man peace on a bed of death; none, therefore, can accomplish what is needful to have accomplished in behalf of the guilty.
It is clear, therefore, that there is no reason why men should rely on repentance as a ground of hope in regard to the remission of sin. It is certain that there is no such ground of hope given by God himself to mankind; for the rejecter of revelation pretends to no promise of this kind, and no such promise is made to man in the Bible. It is equally certain that the course of events furnishes no such ground of hope; for, as we have seen, mere repentance does not remove the effects of guilt and restore the offender to his former position, does not take away remorse from the mind, and does not remove the dread of the wrath to come. And it is equally certain that it has not been one of the principles of natural religion that mankind would be restored to the Divine favour on mere repentance; for, if there has been any one thing more unequivocally declared by the conduct of mankind than any other, it is that something more than this is necessary. All nations have believed in the necessity of sacrifices for sin. Everywhere upon the earth bloody offerings have been presented to the gods as an expiation for guilt. Penances and pilgrimages, fastings and tortures, have been added to penitence. Bullocks, rams, goats, prisoners of war, old men and children, have been sacrificed to the gods to expiate crime and to secure the efficacy of repentance; and from the light of nature it is impossible to demonstrate--and therefore it is wrong to assume--that mere repentance will restore an offender to the Divine favour. Hence on this ground we argue the necessity of an atonement. That the atonement of Christ would meet the difficulties in the case, and would accomplish the effects necessary to be secured, is a point which a rejecter of revelation may fairly require us to demonstrate.
III. The next inquiry is, whether an expiation for sin can be so made by punishment as to answer the ends of law and to render an atonement unnecessary; that is, whether a sinner may so rely on the sufferings which come upon him as the fruit of sin that an atonement is not necessary in his case. In other words, is sin sufficiently expiated by the sufferings endured in the world as the consequence of transgression?
In considering this question, it will be necessary to examine at some length the subject of punishment. (1.) The first point relates to the views which prevail among men in regard to the design of punishment.
The prevailing views on that subject are the following:
(a.) That it is to protect the community from a repetition of the offence.
(b.) That it is to deter others, by example, from the commission of the same offence.
(c.) That it is to reform the offender.
In these views there would be found no element in the notion of punishment based on the idea that it is an expression of the sense entertained by the community of the evil of crime as such; or that it is a carrying-out of the idea involved in the phrase that the offender OUGHT to be punished.
The arrangements in the community in regard to punishment correspond with the views just referred to, and with no other.
(a.) There are arrangements to protect the community from a repetition of the offence, by removing the offender by death or by imprisonment. According to this view, punishment by death is not designed to express a just sense of the community of the act of murder, but to protect the community by removing from the world one who might, if he were suffered to live, repeat the act for which he is condemned to the gallows; and the confinement in a penitentiary is not designed as an expression of what is due to the crime, but is intended to secure the community against the acts of one who could not safely be suffered to go at large.
It is probably in accordance with this view that the modern notion that punishment is to be, as far as possible, in secret, has obtained such a prevalence. Executions are no longer public; and the utmost care is taken, in all cases of ignominious punishment, to hide it from the knowledge of the world. The prisoner in the penitentiary is not known by his own name, but by the number on his cell. No one who may be admitted into the prison is allowed to learn the names of the convicts. Every arrangement possible is made to conceal the prisoner from the world, and to send him forth again with the fact of his having been in the penitentiary obliterated as far as possible, and with a very prevalent feeling that he has fully expiated his crime by his imprisonment, if he has not, in fact, been a martyr. The community aims, indeed, to protect itself; but it seems to have a shrinking back from the very idea of punishment as such. The feeling with many is very slight--and it is to be apprehended that it is becoming more and more feeble--that sufferings are inflicted under the processes of law on those who commit crime because they are deserved, or because there is any thing in the law itself, or in the constitution of man, which demands that the offender should be punished, or which makes it proper in itself that for such a crime the offender ought to suffer.
(b.) In like manner, there are arrangements to carry out the idea that the design of punishment is to deter others from committing the same offence. That this is one end of punishment there is no reason to doubt; but the remark now made is that there is a very prevalent impression that this is the sole design of punishment, or that it is no part of that design to express the idea that crime ought to be punished because it is crime. A large part of the arrangements for punishment are based on the idea that the sole object of punishment is to deter others from crime. Undoubtedly it is right that the idea should be kept before the community that this is a legitimate end of punishment, provided that the essential idea, which will soon be adverted to, is not lost sight of, that punishment is intended as a proper expression of what is due to crime.
(c.) Thus, also, there are arrangements based on the idea that punishment is designed to reform the offender. This is becoming a favourite idea with a certain class of philanthropists; and there is a demand springing up in the community that all the arrangements for punishment shall be adjusted to this idea, or that this shall be the primary and prominent thought in relation to punishment before the community. The demand goes to the extent that, where there is evidence of reformation, the sentence of the law shall on that account be remitted and the convict discharged. According to this idea, the penitentiary is not so much a place of punishment as a school of reform. But the purpose of reformation can be no part of the sentence of the law. This idea cannot be incorporated into that sentence; nor is the idea incorporated into that sentence, however it may be in public opinion, that when punishment shall have secured the reformation of the convict, therefor he shall be discharged. No tribunal could safely introduce that idea into its adjudications; and, whatever may be the views which prevail in the community on the subject, the forms of law always will, and always must, express the idea that punishment is designed for another purpose than that of reformation. We shall see in the progress of our remarks, notwithstanding what is said on this point, and notwithstanding the expectations which are cherished based on the idea that the design of punishment is the reformation of the offender, that the dependence is not, and cannot be, on the punishment, but that it must be, and is, on a side-influence which operates in spite of the regular effect of punishment.
(2.) It becomes, then, a very important inquiry, What are the ends of punishment? If these are the true ends, then all the arrangements should be made in accordance with them. If the sole object is to protect the community from a repetition of the offence, or to deter others by example, or to reform the offender, then it is clear that, if these objects could be secured, the offender would be safely and properly discharged.
(a.) The design of punishment is not revenge or vengeance; for it is not to gratify private feeling or to redress private wrong, which is the true notion of revenge or vengeance. It is not the infliction of pain for an offence committed against an individual. It is always, though it may be for a wrong done to an individual, inflicted for the offence regarded as perpetrated against the peace of a community; against the lawgiver; against the law itself. When a man is punished for assault and battery, it is not pain inflicted considered as a recompense to the individual who has been injured or wronged: it is as a just retribution for a crime against the peace of society and the honour of the law, and the punishment is measured by that consideration alone. When a man is punished for murder, it is not as an act of recompense to the murdered man, for he is beyond the reach of all such recompense, but it is for an offence against the law and the peace of the community. The murdered man is in no manner referred to in the case except as one over whom the law was designed to throw its protection; and the purpose is to maintain the honour of that law and to prevent its violation. In the infancy of society, in the days of savage barbarity, when there were no tribunals of justice, a relative of the murdered man--an avenger of blood--might take the matter into his own hands and inflict summary justice on the murderer, and that would be properly revenge; but the arrangements of a civilized community are designed to take the case out of the hands of the individual. The crime is punished, not as a matter of private vengeance or satisfaction, but as due to public justice. The individual who has suffered wrong is not even represented in the transaction. The law only is represented; and the affair is no longer one of a private character, but becomes one pertaining wholly to the public.
(b.) In this public view, and with this changed notion of punishment, the object is no longer to inflict the same amount of suffering which was caused by the offence. That was the purpose so long as it was a private matter; and that was the principle in some of the earlier statutes on the subject of crime. An individual inflicted the same pain which he had himself suffered. The friend of the murdered person--the avenger of blood--sought the death of the murderer. In default of that, in some of the earlier and ruder stages of society, he demanded the life of some one of the tribe or family of the murderer, and pursued this by a steady purpose until he could bury his tomahawk in the head of some one of the family or the tribe, and thus avenge the blood of the slain. The same principle operates in the notion of retaliation in war; and it cannot be denied that the principle of inflicting the same amount of pain that had been endured was found in the legislation of the Jewish code: "Life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe." Ex. xxi. 23, 24, 25.
In the progress of society, the views of men have been changed on this subject, and this principle no longer enters into the notion of punishment, and this is no longer the measure by which it is inflicted. "To apportion the punishment to the offence does not mean to make the culprit suffer the same quantity of evil which he inflicted by his crime: that would be both impossible and unjust."
(c.) What, then, is the design of punishment? I answer: While it has as a subordinate design the purpose of deterring others from the commission of the same offence and securing the safety of the community, it has a much higher end as its main design. It is an expression of the sense entertained of the value of the law, and is the measure of the sense which is entertained of that value. It is inflicted because it is right that it should be inflicted. It is inflicted because the offence deserves such an expression. There is, back of any idea of restraining others, or of reforming the offender himself, or of protecting the community, the feeling that it is RIGHT that the offender should be made to suffer; that he OUGHT to be punished; that it would be WRONG if he were not punished. And, when we see a man justly punished, we think of this not as tending to reform him, or as designed to protect the community, or to be an example to deter others; but we think of him as suffering that which our nature tells us is right, whatever may be the consequences in these other respects; and in that view of the matter we acquiesce in the infliction. We may rejoice in the belief that these incidental effects will follow from the infliction of the punishment; but we should regard it as a violation of justice if these views should guide the magistrate in determining the amount of punishment; that is, if it were only so much as would best tend to reform the offender, or to deter others, or to protect the community. We, demand something more: we demand that which will in some proper sense express what the crime deserves. The sufferer in the case, in our apprehension, is not a martyr: he is a criminal. The sufferings do not make an appeal to our compassion; for just so far as they do they are either unjust, or our feelings are wrong. Our nature teaches us to discriminate carefully between the ills which one suffers by misfortune and the ills which he suffers by crime; between the sufferings of the martyr and the sufferings of the murderer; between the man who languishes in prison under an unjust sentence and the man who lies there under a just sentence of law. In nothing are our feelings more accurately defined than they are in making this distinction; in nothing do we, when we act out our nature, discriminate more accurately than in the feelings which we have towards the innocent who suffer, and the guilty. And just so far as the same emotions come to be cherished in a community in regard to the sufferings of the innocent and of the guilty, just so far as the feelings which we have in respect to the martyr become our prevailing feelings towards the man who is suffering the penalty of the law for his crime, just so far as the distinction between a just compassion for an innocent sufferer and the feeling of approbation which we have on the proper infliction of the penalty of the law on the guilty shall be obliterated in public sentiment, just so far will all the proper ends of justice be defeated, and the processes of justice become a mockery. If there is any thing that is deeply fixed in the nature of man, it is the conviction that certain courses of conduct deserve certain results; that when crimes are committed they should excite in us the feeling that they deserve punishment and are not mere objects of sympathy; that they should be treated as crimes, and not as virtues; and that they who have committed them should be treated as criminals, and not as martyrs.
(3.) Punishment does not, in fact, reform men, and cannot be be arranged as to become a reliable means of accomplishing that purpose. A few remarks may make the exact truth on this subject plain.
(a.) Punishment may restrain men, so that the proper means of reformation may be applied with success. Detention in prison withdraws a wicked man from the bad influences which would otherwise surround him, and may be made the occasion of bringing better influences to bear on his mind; or the penalties which the law inflicts may so deter him from the commission of crime as to allow the better feelings of his nature to become operative, and thus lead him to become a different man. Punishment restrains from outward guilt; but its power terminates there. It does not go down into the depths of the soul and secure an effectual reformation; and our hope of the reformation of an offender must be in something which is beyond the reach of punishment.
(b.) The tendency of punishment is not to reform men. It probably rarely happens when a man is punished that he does not feel that a wrong has been done him. The punishment, in his apprehension, is too severe, or he feels that he is not worse than others who escape unpunished; and he regards it as an act of injustice and partiality that he is arrested and punished when so many equally guilty are allowed to escape. Possibly, too, he looks at the circumstances of his birth and education; at the temptations which were set before him; at his own resistance until he was overcome by the power of evil; at the fact that he was led into the course which he has pursued by the example of others who have been more fortunate in their circumstances in life, or more favoured by the courts, and who have escaped. He remembers too, perhaps, that of which the court and jury take no cognizance, which they knew nothing of, and which in their verdict, therefore, they do not take into the account, his own long internal struggle against sin until, in a fatal and unguarded moment, he was overcome by sudden temptation.
The effect of all this is to array him against the law, and to lead him to feel that his condition is that of a wronged, an injured, an unfortunate man, a man deserving commiseration, and not a dungeon; that he is a martyr, and not a criminal. Just so far as this feeling extends--and it may be doubted whether the effect here adverted to does not extend even to cases where a man knows that the sentence is just--the effect is to embitter the mind against the law and against the administrators of the law. It is a rare thing, as any one may remember in recalling the scenes of his own childhood, even when it is known that the punishment inflicted in school was deserved, that the boy does not always remember it with an embittered feeling, a feeling that a wrong was done him by thus exposing him to public shame. It is a rare thing that one in subsequent life meets a teacher who has thus punished him, without the consciousness in his bosom of an aversion to the man, a feeling that he did him a wrong. The memory of the supposed injury goes with him through life. At the time when the punishment was inflicted, his mind was in no state to see the evil of what he had done; nor was there any thing in the infliction itself that was adapted to create a sense of that evil; nor have his subsequent reflections on the transaction done any thing to impress a sense of that evil on his mind. The direct effect of punishment always is to embitter the feelings; and, valuable as it is for purposes of restraint, and indispensable as it is for the safety of society, and right as it is as an expression of the value of the law and of the evil of violating law, it has no tendency of itself to secure reformation.
(c.) In the history of punishment, it is a matter of fact that it has not been effectual in securing the reformation of the guilty. If cases can be referred to where those who are punished are reformed, it is, as we shall soon see, from some other influence than that of punishment. But it is probable that there has been nothing more marked in the history of the world than the failure of punishment, as such, in securing the reformation of the guilty. It is a well known and admitted fact that, when convicts have been placed together, the effect has been only to confirm the experienced in their guilt, and to instruct those who were less guilty in the art of iniquity; and when solitary confinement has been adopted as the mode of punishment, unless there is some side-influence to lead the convict to reformation, the effect has been only to embitter his feelings and to prepare him to take revenge for the wrong done him when he can escape from his prison, or when his sentence has expired. Nothing up to the time of Howard was more marked or well understood than that the effect of punishment is not to reform men, and that there is nothing in chains, in the rack, in solitude, in hunger, in cold, in hard and unrequited labour, that tends to soften the heart or to send forth the prisoner a renovated man.
It is beginning to be understood now in all the efforts that are made to reform those who are convicted of crime, that it is by another influence than that of punishment that reformation is to be effected. It is not to be done by the harshness and severity of punishment: it is by sympathy and compassion. It is by calling in the aid of other feelings than those which are concerned in the infliction of pain. It is by showing kindness for the convict; by evincing sympathy with him as a man; by introducing the provisions of the great scheme for reforming the guilty, and recovering the wandering and the lost, in the gospel of Christ. The efforts of those who are endeavouring to reform convicts are directed to the work of introducing the gospel into prisons and of securing its influence over the hearts of prisoners and just so far as there is evidence that that secures an effect on the mind, so far is there hope of permanent reformation, and no further. It is not punishment that does this: it is a side-influence altogether; it is a system wholly apart from punishment. It is not the turnkey or the executioner that is the agent in reformation: it is the moral instructor, the minister of the gospel.
(d.) In accordance with this view, it is a fact that no security is felt as to the permanent reformation of a prisoner from the mere effect of punishment. No one would anticipate that on account of any such effect it would be safe to discharge him from prison. There are no instances that can be referred to where mere punishment has secured an effectual and permanent reformation in a convict. Discharged prisoners, unless there is evidence that they have been brought under a moral influence, are not regarded as desirable members of society; nor does a community feel safe when such men are poured upon it from a prison. As a matter of fact, a large portion of them show that there has been no reformation whatever, and are often soon recommitted to prison for a repetition of crime.
(e.) Thus, too, it is in the world at large. Punishment does not make men's temper or moral characters better; chastisement does not reform. The sufferings that come upon the drunkard--his loss of property, the disgrace that attends him, the diseases which his habit engenders, have no tendency to reform him; scarcely do they ever check him in his career. The sorrows that come upon a gambler--his loss of property, his disgrace, his anguish of mind--have no tendency to reform him. The master-passion still controls him and urges him on, notwithstanding all the woes and sorrows that spring up in his path. So the afflictions that come upon men directly from the hand of God seem to have no tendency to reform them. Under those afflictions the heart becomes more hardened, unless the gospel of Christ is applied to the soul; and, however they may check the wicked in their career, it is the gospel only that secures their permanent reformation.
(4.) There is one more consideration to be suggested in regard to the hope cherished by men that salvation may be secured as the effect of punishment without an atonement. It is this: If salvation is to be attained in that way, it must be by having endured the full penalty of the law. If that were done, it is to be admitted that salvation would follow as a matter of course. If the entire penalty of the law is exhausted, if all that sin deserves has been expiated, the law can have no further demands, and the offender might claim salvation. But he would be saved by justice, not by mercy. He would assert a right to admission to heaven; he would not go there by grace. This is the opinion of a portion of those who believe in the doctrine of 'universal salvation.' The foundation of their belief is that men will suffer according to their deserts in a future state; that the degree and the duration of their sufferings will be different according to the different degrees of their guilt; but that all will ultimately exhaust the penalty of the law, and, having suffered all that their sins deserve, will then be saved. That is, they will be saved by justice; and to them an atonement would be useless. And, if the full penalty of the law was endured, they would undoubtedly be saved. But who can demonstrate that the full penalty of the law has been borne in any case? Who would undertake to bear it as the basis of his own hope of heaven? It is certainly possible that the penalty of the law may be everlasting punishment; and no one who undertakes to endure the penalty of the law can demonstrate that this is not what the law of God denounces against sin. No one can prove that at a given point in the future he could assume that he had endured all that the law demands and could therefore assert a right to be saved. No one can refer to a promise or an intimation that such a period will ever arrive. But, unless this can be done, then an atonement is absolutely necessary for the salvation of the sinner; that is, something is required which will answer the ends of the penalty of the law, and make it proper to release the offender as if he had himself borne the penalty.
IV. An atonement is necessary because it is impossible for an offender by his future good conduct to repair the errors of the past, or to accumulate so much merit as to be a compensation or an offset for his former sins.
There can be no doubt that men often secretly rely on this. The case is similar to what would occur in a child who had been disobedient, and who hoped to make amends for his fault by his future good conduct; or of one who had a task assigned him and who had neglected it, and who hoped to make up for it by an additional amount of extra service; or of an officer in an army who had been cowardly or had neglected his duty, and who should endeavour to compensate for it by some extraordinary and uncommanded vigilance or deed of valour; or of a servant who had omitted to do what was required of him, and who expected by labour performed at hours when his service was not wanted to make up for his idleness or neglect. In these cases the idea would be that there would be such an accumulation of merit, or that there would be so much service performed beyond what was required, that it could be set over to the credit of the past, as if it had been performed then; that is, that as much service had been rendered on the whole as if there had been a faithful performance of duty at the time when it was required.
The question now is, not whether there may not be a case of this kind in regard to service demanded in the performance of a task, where the same amount of profit on the whole would accrue to the employer, but whether a compensation can be made in that way for crime. Can this be the ground of hope towards God?
In reference to this, the following remarks may be made:
(1.) It seems to be a clear principle that, in reference to morals, no man can do more than he is at present bound to do. We may indeed conceive that a servant who has a task assigned him for the day may have performed that task, and may still have unoccupied time in which he might render a service that was not specified in the contract, and which might, therefore, be set over to the account of a former deficiency, if such a deficiency had occurred from sickness or from any other cause. But no such case is conceivable in regard to morals. At no one time can any man be more honest, true, just, chaste, benevolent, than he ought to be at that time. At no one time can a child be more obedient to his father, can a husband be more faithful towards his wife, can a parent be more just in his dealings towards his children or strive more to promote their real welfare, than at that very time he ought to be. At no one time can a man love God more than he ought at that very time; for the command is binding on him at that supposed time in the same sense in which it has always been, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength." (Mark xii. 30.) It is impossible, therefore, that in any such service there can be a work of supererogation, or that there can be a service rendered which is not demanded at that time and which can be set over to the credit of a past deficient account; or, in other words, that there can be any time not covered by the immediate command of God which can be employed in rendering a service that shall compensate for a former waste of time or for a former neglect of duty.
And as these remarks apply to men now, so they, for the same reason, apply to the men of all times, to the 'saints' of former generations as well as to the 'saints' now. If the supposed services of the 'saints' of other ages, in extraordinary fastings, prayers, pilgrimages, toils, labours, self-sacrifices, were meritorious at all, they were meritorious only as demanded by the law of God at that very time; for the law of God must always be the rule of that which is truly virtuous. It follows, therefore, that they could not at any time perform a service which was not demanded then and which could be set over to a deficiency of former merit in their own lives, or which could be garnered up to be made available, under the disbursing power of a priesthood, to supply the deficiency of men in future ages. The only Being who ever could place himself in such a position that his obedience to the law could be made available to supply the deficiencies of others is He who was not bound to obedience, from the fact that he was himself the lawgiver, and who could, therefore, so place himself in a condition of voluntary obedience that his merits could become available for others. This is the Christian idea of redemption; and in this respect the Christian scheme differs from all others in regard to a work of supererogation or of extraordinary merit.
(2.) It is equally clear that any future obedience on the part of one who has violated law and who has incurred its penalty does not affect the past. The past is fixed and cannot be changed. All historical facts become unchangeable, and must remain just as they occurred forever. A crime may be forgiven or forgotten; but it cannot be changed. The individual who committed it may change, for he may become an eminently good and useful man; but that does not in the slightest degree modify the fact in regard to the crime. That remains just as it occurred, more enduring in the nature of things than any record of brass could make it than if it 'were printed in a book, or graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock.' The act of murder was committed. No future good conduct can obliterate or modify that fact. The slanderous words have been uttered. No future acts of kindness can change or modify that fact. The act of seduction has been perpetrated. There is no power in heaven or on earth that can make that cease to be an historical fact. There it is; and there it will remain forever. No amount of future good conduct can summon the murdered man from the grave, call back the slanderous words, restore innocence to the seduced, or obliterate the act of injustice, oppression, and fraud. The sin of Judas is fixed forever; the crimes of Tiberius, Nero, Alexander VI., Cæsar Borgia, Richard III., Philip II., and the Duke of Alva, are historical facts, never to be blotted out from the records of the universe.
(3.) In any case, even where there may seem to be a restitution or a compensation for the sins of the past, it is of a very partial and imperfect nature. A young man who is idle and dissipated may, indeed, by subsequent industry and virtue, do much to gain an elevated and honourable position in life, and may seem to make up for the follies of his early years. But it is seeming only. There are two things which he cannot do. (a.) He cannot, by any subsequent good conduct, change the fact that he was idle and dissipated. (b.) He cannot gain the position which he might have secured if he had not been idle and dissipated. There was nothing in that course of life which was in any way preparatory to subsequent elevation; and, whatever diligence he may manifest in future life, or whatever virtue he may possess, the time spent in idleness and dissipation was at least so much time absolutely lost in the sum-total of his existence. It contributed nothing to what he ultimately became; it took away much that might have contributed to place him on a higher elevation than he ultimately secured. He 'fell off in the early part of the race;' and no subsequent exertions can supply that deficiency, or put him as far on the 'course' as if he had not fallen back in the beginning. Perchance in a long life he can barely reach the point at which he might have begun actual life if his early years had been spent in the ways of industry and virtue.
V. An atonement is necessary because all other sacrifices made for sin fail in the object which they are designed to secure.
One thing has been indeed established by the almost universal prevalence of bloody offerings for sin, the deep conviction felt by mankind of the necessity of an atonement. On no other point has the faith of mankind been more decidedly expressed than on this. It is impossible to explain the existence of bloody sacrifices in the world except on the supposition that they express the conviction of mankind that a sacrifice for sin is necessary. Those offerings were undoubtedly made with the belief that they were necessary to appease the anger of God, and with the hope that they might avail for that purpose. The Jews entertained no other idea of securing the favour of God than by such sacrifices; and every victim that smoked on their altars was an illustration of the sentiment which was at the foundation of their religion, that, without the shedding of blood is no remission." (Heb. ix. 22.) All the sacrifices of the pagan world gave utterance to the same deep conviction of the human soul and were founded on the same belief. Whatever their origin may have been, whether they are the result of a traditionary faith having its foundation in an early revelation, or whether they sprung up in the deep conviction of the human soul itself that such sacrifices are necessary, in either case they express the all-pervading belief of man that an atonement is necessary to expiate sin.
The only inquiry that needs to be prosecuted on the point now before us is, whether there is any evidence that such bloody offerings will be accepted as an atonement, or can be a proper reliance for the hope of pardon.
This inquiry need not be pursued at great length; for there are none in Christian lands who rely on such sacrifices, and they will not be renewed in those lands. Bloody offerings in Christian lands have come to an end. The effect of the coming of Christ has been, somehow, to put an end to sacrifices wherever his religion prevails. It put an end to Jewish sacrifices, for it was a fulfillment of the whole design of the typical representation, and the Jew offers now no bloody sacrifice; nor will he ever do it again. He has no temple, no altar, no priest; nor will he ever rebuild the temple or the altar, or clothe any one of his own nation with sacerdotal vestments again. Infidels also abjure the whole doctrine of sacrifice. They build no temples; they erect no altars; they consecrate no priests; they lead up no victim whose life is to be offered as an atonement for sin; and it is not necessary to show to them that no reliance can be placed on bloody offerings as an atonement for sin. Yet in order to a complete examination of the subject, it is proper to show that no reliance can be placed by man on any such offerings for human guilt.
(1.) There is no promise or assurance that such bloody offerings will be effectual in expiating sin. Unless they are founded among the heathen on tradition, as has been supposed, they seem to have been of the nature of an experiment, to see whether they might not avail to put away guilt, or whether they might not possibly in some unknown way secure the favour of God. But it is certain that among the heathen they were originated by no promise that remission of sin would be the consequence of such offerings. Among the Jews, where there was a Divine command for offering them, the purpose for which they were to be offered is clearly defined. They had no intrinsic efficacy, but were intended to adumbrate a more perfect sacrifice in the future; and all their efficacy was derived from their reference to the one great atonement. At no time, either among the heathen or the Jews, had they power to give peace to a troubled conscience; for the statement of the apostle accords with all that there was in their nature: "Which [that is, the first tabernacle] was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience." (Heb. ix. 9.) At no time did they so satisfy the mind as to make it unnecessary that they should be repeated; for the statement of the apostle is true in this respect also: "For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? Because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year." (Heb. x. 1-3.) As the design of sacrifices among the Jews was typical, as they had no efficacy in themselves, but derived all their efficacy from that great atonement which they adumbrated, when the real sacrifice was offered and the great atonement was made for human guilt on the cross, they ceased as a matter of course, and ceased forever. It is demonstrably true, as a matter of historical verity, that they ceased to be offered very soon after the Redeemer died. At the moment when he died they lost all their significancy, and within a brief period the altar was overthrown, never to be rebuilt, the temple where they were offered was rased to the ground, never to be raised again, and the entire system passed away. No human power could restore the offering of those sacrifices. Not all the imperial power of Julian, called forth by his determined purpose to overturn Christianity and to defeat the prediction of the Saviour that the temple should not be rebuilt, was sufficient to rear that temple again and to restore the abolished worship; and to this day Jewish sacrifices have never been offered again, and they never will be. The scattered tribes of the nation are utterly confounded; and nothing is more certain than that the offering of those sacrifices will never be resumed. They never had any intrinsic efficacy in putting away sin: they would have even no significance now.
Without significance now to the Jew, and without a promise of acceptance as offered by the heathen, they are in fact, and with propriety, rejected by the infidel portion of mankind. The rejecters of the great atonement renounce all idea of sacrifice. They have no temples, no altars, no sacred orders of men; they present no bloody sacrifices; they have even no form of worship. In the entire world there is no infidel altar erected; for it is a remarkable fact that wherever the gospel comes even they who refuse to embrace it renounce the idea of sacrifice altogether, and that the atonement made by the Redeemer puts an end to sacrifice everywhere: among the Jews, as fulfilling the design of all their typical rites and forms; among the heathen, as showing them the vanity of their own oblations by revealing a better; among Christians, by disclosing a sacrifice that meets all the wants of their nature and causing them to feel that there is no need of any other; and among infidels, who in the mighty effort to reject the greater--the real atonement--sweep away from their minds the whole doctrine of sacrifice, for when the sacrifice that has efficacy is rejected there is no reason for retaining that which could have no efficacy except from its relation to this.
(2.) In the nature of the case there seems to be no reason to suppose that the sacrifice of an innocent animal would expiate guilt, or would, in the Divine mind, constitute a reason why a sinner should be forgiven. Nothing of this kind occurs in the transactions between man and man. If one has wronged another, he may hope that an equivalent for the wrong done--an ox for an ox, or a sheep for a sheep--would satisfy him who had been wronged; but why should he suppose, if he has slandered him or done an act of personal violence, that it would appease him to sacrifice in his presence an innocent animal? to burn it before him, or to pour out its blood at his feet? There is nothing in the nature of the case which would suggest this; nor has it ever been resorted to in the dealings between man and man. So, when a man has violated the law of the land, it has never occurred to the mind of the offender that he could make an atonement for the offence by the shedding of the blood of an innocent animal; nor has it ever occurred to the courts of justice that an expiation could be made in that way. In like manner, so far as the nature of the case is concerned, there would seem to be no reason to suppose, unless there was an express statement to that effect, that the shedding of the blood of an innocent animal would be an expiation for guilt before God. It is easy, indeed, to perceive a propriety in thankofferings to the Deity. There is an obvious fitness in devoting a portion of a harvest to the honour or support of religion, as a grateful acknowledgment for the goodness of Him who 'crowns the year with his goodness.' There was much that commended itself to the natural sense of obligation in man, in hanging in the temples of the gods, as was done in ancient times, shields and spears and helmets, as an acknowledgment of their interposition in securing a victory. These are natural expressions of gratitude. They occur in the transactions between man and man; and it is not unnatural to transfer this feeling to the intercourse of man with a Divine being. But what is there in the nature of the case to suggest the idea of a bloody offering? What reason is there to suppose that, under any circumstances and for any purpose, it would be acceptable to God? What reason especially is there to suppose that it would expiate crime? As an expression of thankfulness a bloodless offering might be supposed to be acceptable; but on what ground could it be supposed that an offering of blood would turn away wrath?
These considerations seem so plain that we are shut up to the conclusion that the idea of bloody sacrifices must have had its origin in a Divine appointment, and that it was not one of the suggestions which spring up in the mind of man himself. But, if of Divine appointment, its acceptableness and its efficacy must be limited to the idea contemplated by that appointment; and as that, so far as we have any knowledge, was originally to typify or adumbrate the great atonement, such a sacrifice cannot be relied on now as an expiation for sin.
It is clear, therefore, that no reliance can be placed on bloody sacrifices as an expiation for sin. Those sacrifices, under the Jewish code, had a purpose, a purpose easily susceptible of explanation as designed to keep up the idea that an atonement would be made in the world, and as pointing to that. As existing in the heathen world, such sacrifices may be regarded as having a bearing on the present subject in two respects, both distinct from the idea that they were in themselves an expiation for sin, and both tending to confirm the argument which has been stated in this chapter.
(a.) One is, that they may be regarded as a proof that an atonement by blood was early contemplated in the Divine arrangements, and as designed to transmit the knowledge of the original purpose to distant times and lands.
(b.) The other is, that they may be regarded as expressing the deep conviction of the human mind itself that an atonement by blood is necessary in order to expiate human guilt. For, even if it is admitted that they owed their origin to a Divine appointment, on no other supposition than this can it be presumed that an arrangement so inexplicable in itself as that of shedding the blood of an innocent animal for human guilt, would have so commended itself to mankind as to cause it to be perpetuated from age to age and diffused from land to land. Thus understood, the fact that such sacrifices were kept up does express the deep conviction of the mind of man that nothing but such a sacrifice could expiate transgression, that 'without shedding of blood is no remission.'
These facts also confirm the remark before made, that on no one subject has the belief of mankind been more universally expressed than on this, that the shedding of blood is necessary to expiate sin. Abel, the second-born of man, leads his sacrifice to the altar, 'the firstling of his flock,' and pours out its blood. Why does be do it, unless as expressing his conviction that 'without shedding of blood is no remission'? Abraham, the father of the faithful, approaches the altar which he had himself reared, and raises the knife, as he believes at the command of God, to pierce the heart of his own son. Why does he do this, except as expressing the deep conviction of his soul that 'without shedding of blood is no remission'? The ancient Jew offered the morning and the evening sacrifice as proof of his deep conviction that 'without shedding of blood is no remission.' Thus, too, it was in the Greek, the Roman, and the Babylonian temples. There thousands of victims bled, all to appease the anger and propitiate the favour of the gods, and all proclaiming the deep conviction of the worshippers that 'without shedding of blood is no remission.' So with the worshippers on the banks of the Ganges and the Senegal; so with the Mexicans and the Peruvians; so with the Caffrarians and the islanders of the South Sea--all offering bloody sacrifices, and all thus proclaiming their deep conviction that 'without shedding of blood is no remission.' Thus also the Brahmin, who lacerates his flesh or walks on nails that fill his shoes with blood, proclaims his deep conviction that 'without shedding of blood is no remission.' So the Christian, also, everywhere and in every age, proclaims the same opinion. He incorporates it in his creed; be diffuses it through his hymns of praise; he makes it the burden of his prayers and his thanksgiving; he lays it at the foundation of all his hopes of heaven that such a sacrifice of blood was necessary, and that such a sacrifice has been made: thus he proclaims to the world his belief that 'without shedding of blood is no remission.' Men conscious of guilt rush to bloody altars. They come leading up the lamb, the goat, and the bullock for sacrifice. They come with prisoners of war, with pure virgins selected for sacrifice, with their own children, and offer them all to the gods to appease their wrath and to propitiate their favour, under the influence of the deep conviction of the human mind that 'without shedding of blood is no remission.' The infidel is alone. The skeptic doubts, when the nations believe. The deist sets himself against the general sentiment of mankind, and holds to a scheme of salvation which is at war with all that man has expressed of the wants of the race. The Christian accords with the universal sentiment as expressed in sacrifices and blood-offerings. He believes that that sentiment is right; that it is true that 'without shedding of blood is no remission.' He adds this only, as the peculiar article of his faith, that such a sacrifice has been made on the cross. He looks away from Jewish altars and from idol temples to Calvary. There bleeds the Lamb, the Lamb of God. There flows from his veins blood so pure, so rich, so free, that no other sacrifice is needed; and as, by the eye of faith, he sees the life of that victim ebb away, his spirit, before troubled by the remembrance of guilt, becomes calm; God, before dreaded, became a reconciled Friend; the grave, so fearful to him before, loses its terror; and, though a sinner, he now looks calmly on to the eternal world; for through that blood there is 'remission.'
VI. The only other method in which, as was suggested on p. 162, the salvation of a sinner could be secured without an atonement, would be by a process of restoration in regard to moral evils, a recuperative process, similar to the healing of diseases in the human body.
Of this, it is only necessary to make the following suggestions:
(a.) The course of things in the world has not been such as to show that there is any such tendency, or any such law, on which reliance can be placed in restoring men to God. There certainly has been no universal tendency of that kind.
(b.) The healing of the diseases of the body is in a great measure an external operation, or is accomplished, as we have seen, to a great extent by an outward and independent arrangement in the materia medica of the world; and, whatever recuperative power there may be in nature, it would not be safe to rely on this wholly, nor is it thus relied on. There is, in fact, an independent and outside arrangement to teach us that we should not rely on it.
(c.) In regard to morals, men do not rely on any such recuperative tendencies in the moral system. There are extended arrangements for recalling to the path of duty those who have gone astray; for appealing to their interests, their sense of right, their prospects for the future; for making use of the influence of parents, teachers, friends, in order to recover the erring and the guilty. No man in whose child there are observed tendencies to vice and dissipation regards it as sufficient to rely on the recuperative tendencies in his mind; no one fails to use all the outward means in his power to recover him to the paths of virtue. If all these means, therefore, fail, there is a necessity for an atonement.
Return to ATONEMENT BY BARNES Index Page