RELATIONS TO GOD AND MAN
The Rev. NATHAN S. S. BEMAN, D. D.,
THE NECESSITY OF ATONEMENT
THERE are, as far as we know, but two distinct methods by which God reveals himself, or discloses his character and perfections, to rational creatures. One is by the principles and practical operation of the moral Law, and the other by the new and entirely different dispensation called the Gospel. There is of course no reference here to those revelations of the divine will which are made in the works of nature, or in the dispensations of providence, though it would not be difficult, it is apprehended, to show that all these are but parts, in their practical influence, either of the law or the gospel. The present, however, is purely a question of revelation, and the limits of this discussion must be defined and restricted by the Bible. In the law, God, the supreme Legislator, has annexed life or eternal happiness, to perfect and uninterrupted obedience. By the wise and equitable awards of this law the angels participate the bliss of heaven. They feel its raptures, and swell its endless songs, because they have never violated, but always fully obeyed, this divine rule of moral action. By the same perfect rule our first parents were happy for a time on earth, and they and all their posterity would have been raised to a triumphant immortality, had sin never entered our system, and deranged and poisoned the human heart. But to the transgressor, whoever he may be, or what world soever he may inhabit, the moral law is the ministration of death! It speaks terror to the conscience now, and where pardon is not obtained--of which the law makes no mention--its accents will wax more and more fearful through unwasting and endless ages. This is the certain effect, the sure and settled consequence, of being abandoned to the penal action of the law of God. Like Jehovah's arm, the recorded penalty, in such a case as this, that is, where pardon does not intervene on some other ground distinct from that of law, cannot, and will not bend. We might as well expect that God himself would change, as that one jot or tittle of his law, under a purely legal administration, should fail.
It is the Gospel alone that provides and publishes a remedy for human transgression; and in this system of grace and recovery for a fallen world the doctrine of the atonement is fundamental. So numerous, and so important, and so vital, are the relations of this doctrine, in the gospel plan, that if you annihilate the one, you annihilate the other also. If you blot out the atonement, you blot out the grand and stupendous outlines, and the essential filling up of the system of grace, and you have nothing left that deserves the name. There is no way, so far as we can discover, in which God, in accordance with the acknowledged principles of the divine law, can forgive the sinner and restore him to favor.
The apostle Paul, in his Epistle to the Hebrews, has presented a clear and masterly view of this subject in connection with the Jewish economy. The ninth and tenth chapters bear directly on this point and are worthy of special consideration. He explains with great force and perspicuity, the typical import of those rites which were enjoined by the law of Moses, and particularly of those appointed sacrifices whose blood was considered essential to the forgiveness of sin. He expressly declares, that, "without shedding of blood is no remission." The principle here asserted will be found, on critical examination, to be invested with an amazing practical importance. It lies at the foundation of moral government, and must commend itself to every reflecting mind. The subject under discussion is the ritual law, or the Jewish sacrifices. These numerous observances which were enjoined under the Mosaic dispensation, teach us, by divinely appointed symbols, the doctrine of the atonement. Reject this interpretation, and it is a task embarrassed with more than ordinary difficulties to fix upon any other which would not appear either extravagant, or puerile. It is a fact well known, that, from age to age, victims bled on Jewish altars, and the extent to which the same religious rites have prevailed among other nations, not favored by any distinct revelation from God, would seem to indicate, that the doctrine of substitution is admitted with great facility by the human mind. Or should it be said, as is most probably true, that the heathen borrowed their religious sacrifices from the patriarchs, or other remote progenitors of our race, then, this fact, were it conceded, would only show the wonderful tenacity with which the doctrine of substituted sufferings, indicated in sacrifices, is cherished by man, through all moral Changes, and in all external conditions, when almost the last fragment of the true religion, originally given by revelation and then left to the uncertainties of tradition, has perished amidst the oblivion of ages. One circumstance should not be forgotten, or overlooked. In all these sacrifices whether Jewish or Pagan, the shedding of blood, or the taking of life, was deemed an essential element. In that part of the Epistle already quoted, the apostle treats of the ritual or ceremonial law, in extenso. He represents it as the gospel in type or shadow, and the offerings which were enjoined by that law derived all their efficacy from Jesus Christ, who, in the fullness of time, would appear in our world, and "put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." Under this law, or the typical dispensation, the victim was slain, or his blood was shed, and through this expressive ceremony, prefiguring "the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world," pardon, restoration and eternal life were offered to dying men.
Almost all things, says one Apostle, were by the law purged with blood, and without shedding of blood is no remission. The law here spoken of, it should be remembered, is not the moral, but the ceremonial law, and this was nothing more nor less than the gospel of Christ expressed in symbols, under that dispensation, as well as under the present, there could be no forgiveness of sin, without the shedding of blood. Under the former without the shedding of the blood of the typical sacrifice which was an emblem or symbol of Christ, and under the latter, without shedding the blood of Christ himself, from whom the ceremonial or legal sacrifice derived its saving power. That the declaration of the apostle already cited, taken in its appropriate relations, and expounded in its legitimate import, teaches the necessity of an atonement to the forgiveness of sin, cannot be even with plausibility denied; indeed it would not seem possible to prove, that the passage admits of any other rational construction.
But without entering, in this place, upon a minute examination of the structure of the apostle's argument or multiplying, as might easily be done, references to the Bible in proof of this doctrine, the attention of the inquirer after truth will be directed, in this chapter, to a single point, namely, the necessity of an atonement for sin to the pardon and restoration of fallen man; and this discussion will occupy the broad ground both of Scripture and of human reason.
It is of no small importance, in this place, to premise, that incorrect and false reasons are sometimes assigned in support of a true position; and this is, perhaps, more frequently met with in religion, than in any thing else. It has been so in relation to the doctrine of the atonement; and it is often necessary to efface the scribblings of error from the minds even of Christians, before the fair lines of truth can be clearly and distinctly written upon them.
Few doctrines of revelation have furnished more fruitful topics of controversy, in the church, than that of the atonement; and it may be added, with equal truth, that this doctrine has sometimes been misunderstood and misstated by its warm advocates, as well as by its decided opponents. One fruitful source of misapprehension, in relation to this subject, is the very common fault of putting a literal construction on the figurative language which is frequently employed in the Bible in discussions pertaining to this great transaction. The nature of these figurative representations will he more particularly considered in a future chapter of this treatise. It may be sufficient, in the present connection to remark, that some would appear at least to intimate, that the atonement was a kind of consideration, or stipulated price paid by Jesus Christ for the purpose of inclining God to exercise mercy toward$ our guilty and sin-ruined world. If this is not their sentiment, certain it is, that the language they employ very naturally admits of this construction. The representation of the matter, in their theory, is something like this: God had, in the moral law which has been violated, threatened the transgressor with eternal punishment, and till the whole amount of suffering due to him according to the just awards of the law, be inflicted on his substitute, God feels no compassion for him as a rebel, cherishes no disposition to save him. The debt, the whole debt, must be legally paid, and the prisoner of the law may be released; the ransom, the literal ransom, must be offered and accepted, and then the divine commiseration for the captive of sin and death, which may reach his redemption, may be entertained, cherished, and expressed.
This view of the necessity of an atonement would forever annihilate the divine attribute of mercy. But this point will not be fully illustrated, and need not be insisted on for the present. It will be resumed when the nature of the atonement shall come under consideration. That God was as much inclined to have mercy on our world without an atonement as with it, provided at the same time it could be done with equal moral propriety and with equal safety to his moral government, certainly accords with the decisions of common sense and with the great outlines of biblical truth. The atonement was in no respect the exciting cause of mercy to the sinner, but was simply the means selected by infinite wisdom for the expression of this mercy, without the sacrifice of a great practical moral principle, and of the moral government of God. The existence of the attribute of mercy was, like God himself, eternal: and no new and super-added motive was necessary in order to elicit this attribute in action. The atonement operated not as a bribe, or reward, or original cause, influencing the divine feelings; not as a moral persuasive to the exercise of compassions hitherto unfelt; but it opened a channel in which existing affections might freely flow; and, at the same time, it rendered the pardon and salvation of the sinner consistent with every principle of the divine government and every attribute of the divine nature. In one word, the atonement was not the procuring cause of mercy, but it was the mode in which mercy was to find for itself an illustrious expression in the system of the gospel.
But the atonement was necessary as both a symbolical and substantive expression of God's regard for the moral law. The intrinsic value, and the practical importance of this law, can not have escaped the observation of any intelligent and reflecting mind. It is a rule of moral action in every respect adapted to the circumstances and the government of a rational universe. It is absolutely perfect as law. Under its benign and holy influence, all heaven is full of happiness: and were its authority universally revered, and its precepts invariably obeyed, the constituents of the same felicity would be found everywhere, and heaven would become coextensive with the existence of rational beings. It would acquire the ubiquity of God himself. But for the violations of this law, man would have stood, to this day, on the high summit of his primeval excellence; and devils would still have been angels of light. Darkness would not have brooded on the face of the earth, nor the fires of wrath have been kindled in the bosom of bell. Every part of the universe would have continued to bloom and smile like Eden, and songs of gladness would have ascended from teeming millions, through countless and unwasting ages. Every place would have been heaven.
Both the precept and the penalty of the moral law, are infinitely excellent. Its demands and sanctions are just what they should be. These are what God approves; and they embody those moral principles which tend to promote the harmony and happiness of intelligent beings. So perfect is this rule of action, that where there is no transgression, there can be no suffering. All natural evil, or misery, in the universe, is the consequence in some way, of moral evil or sin. The penalty of the moral law, too, is just as necessary and important as the precept; and the regard which God cherishes for the former, will be the precise measure of that regard which he cherishes for the latter. His love for the precept of the law will be commensurate with the amount of good which its practical operation, when cordially obeyed, is intended and adapted to produce: and his love for the penalty will ever bear an exact proportion to the practical evils which result from transgression. As the evils of disobedience on the one hand, correspond, in quantity, with the good secured by obedience, on the other, the divine affections will cling, with equal strength, to the penalty and the precept of the law. In one word, God loves the whole law, comprising both the perceptive and the penal enactments, as he loves himself, or as he loves the order and happiness of the rational universe. There can be, in the nature of the case no other measure or rule, touching this point, by which the divine mind must regulate its decisions, forever principled in rectitude.
It would seem that this regard or affection of God for the moral law, renders an atonement necessary to the salvation of the sinner. Man has violated the precept of this law, and he is, consequently, exposed to its penalty. This position will not be controverted by theologians of any class, not even by Unitarians themselves. In his treatment of men, God must take sides either with, the law, or with the transgressor. Indifference or neutrality, when such vast interests as these are at stake, would be impossible. Should he receive the sinner into favor, notwithstanding the violated precept and the impending penalty of the law, it would afford a sad indication, that he had abandoned this rule of moral action; and in the case of man, thus received to favor, the transgressor of the law would stand on the same ground occupied by those who have never broken it or trampled on the authority of God. Such a course, it is perfectly obvious, would imply an abandonment of the whole moral law. In such a case, God would say, by a public act, an act that intelligent worlds would witness, and which stands connected with a train of endless consequences; that he is willing, without an explanation given or reason assigned, to wave the perceptive requirement and set aside the penal sanction of his own perfect rule of moral action.
That God actually cherishes that strong affection for the law which is here ascribed to him, must be evident from the general principles stated in the Bible, and from the nature of the case. This law is but a part of himself. It is the breathing of his own heart. It is an index of his own feelings in relation to spiritual acts. It is an outward expression of his cherished and eternal regard for the harmony and happiness of moral worlds and moral agents. It is God himself embodied in a precept which expresses what he approves and intends to reward, and in a penalty which expresses what he condemns and intends to punish. In his treatment of sinners there are but two ways in which he can continue to give evidence of his adherence to this rule of his own adoption, of his living and perpetual regard for this index or expression of his own nature. One is by executing the penalty, in its original import, its full force, and without mitigation, on every transgressor; and the other is, by requiring such an atonement for sin as shall answer in the moral government of God, the same purpose intended to be secured by the infliction of the threatened curse. Should the former course be pursued, every individual of our race must perish forever. There would be no other distinction between the condition of fallen angels and fallen men than what might arise from their respective natures or their gradations in the intelligent system. That deep and heavy curse which consigns the race, living spirit to eternal death, would fall on men as it fell on sinning angels, without discrimination and without hope. This point is so clear as a principle of law, that it would seem a needless sacrifice of time to institute a formal argument to prove it, especially in the light of the opened Bible.
From these positions, and from this course of reasoning, one of the following things must be true: either that God may continue to cherish a supreme regard for the moral law, and condemn the sinner for ever; or that he may secure the sinner by sacrificing the honor and authority of the law; or that he may still love the law with undiminished and everlasting affection, and at the same time, restore and save the sinner, provided such an atonement should be made and accepted as would answer every purpose which could be effected by the literal and proper execution of the penalty originally threatened. Just so important and so necessary then, as it is, that God should cherish in his own infinite mind, and express, in the external movements of his providence, a supreme regard for his own good and perfect law, that bright image of himself, just so important and so necessary is it, that he should require an atonement as the grand preliminary measure, and as the accomplished and the appropriate and the honored medium, in the pardon and salvation of sinners.
The atonement was farther necessary to evince the divine, determination to punish sin, or to execute the penalty of the law, or to maintain the law. The penalty of the moral law which is the second death, or death eternal is expressive of the divine displeasure against sin. It is the rule by which that displeasure is graduated. Sin is that hateful thing with which God can have no communion. Its malignity stands in direct opposition to the divine benevolence, and it must be held in perfect and eternal abhorrence. This fact has been indicated and published in the penalty of the law; a penalty, which, like its precept, and like its author, is holy, and just, and good. The curse of this law was annexed by God himself, and it was at the time of its promulgation, and ever will be expressive of his own moral feelings. It makes the strength and intensity of his hatred of sin. It is the moral scale by which every intelligent mind must graduate his affection for holiness. It is the index upon the great dial of the universe, which marks his steady and unwavering regard for the intellectual and moral system.
The penalty of the law is contained in such passages as these: In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. The soul that sinneth it shall surely die. In the case of the sinner who is saved, it is evident that these threatenings are not literally or properly executed. Now suppose the sinner had been taken out of the hands of the law and shielded from its penalty, without the adoption of any measures on the part of God, to change the moral relations of that sinner; without any expression of the divine feelings towards the transgression which should evince to other moral beings, that God remains immutably attached to the principles of the law; without any atonement which should come in the place of the literal execution of the penalty; and what evidence could we have that God is not mutable and weak, fallible in his ways; or, that he still regards, not only the perceptive requirement, but the penal sanction of this law with approbation, and is determined to execute the threatened curse upon the wanton transgressor? The act which should save the sinner in these circumstances, would leave the penalty of the law and the law itself a dead letter. It would introduce infinite confusion and absolute ruin into the moral government of God. It would be an act of violence to the equitable sanction of the law, in as much as it would forcibly wrest the criminal from the hands of justice, exempt him from punishment and restore him to peculiar favor. As no reason would appear to the universe, in this case, why God should thus interfere between the penalty of the law and the transgressor, the salvation of the sinner in these relations and circumstances, would furnish no doubtful testimony, that the feelings of God had changed in relation to sin and the penalty of the law; or that the law had never been the true index of his feelings, and the proper exponent of his moral nature, in relation to these cardinal points of his government. There could be no certainty in this case, that he ever would punish; or, that any threatened evil ever would be inflicted; or, that any threatening of his law ever was sincere and real and equitable in his sight. The consequence would be the prostration of all law and government, and the introduction of a wide-spread and wasting anarchy. Desolation would sweep over the fair face of the moral world and through the total moral universe, and no hand could stay or repair the universal ruin.
If the moral law, with its awful and eternal sanctions, was ever necessary to the welfare of the rational and moral system, it must always continue to be so; and God as the supreme Governor, must so conduct all his movements whether of justice or of mercy, as to leave on the minds of dependant creatures, a deep and just impression, that the penalty of the law will be executed, and that the sinner must perish. To fix this impression indelibly on the heart of the sinner, is the object of the atonement; and no measure of the divine government, no sacrifice of blood and treasure, which does not perfectly secure this object, can open the door of hope and life to a sin-stricken and lost world, in the dominions of the governor of righteousness.
But the necessity of an atonement will further appear evident, if we contemplate this doctrine in its relations to the universe, or its practical influence on moral and immortal beings. All the acts of God, as the moral Governor, must necessarily be public, and are intended to make a deep and durable impression on all rational creatures as the necessary subjects of his government. Moral beings, or responsible agents, are governed by motives, and the most powerful and efficient of these motives, especially those which relate to the formation of a correct moral character, and the production, continuance, or increase of holiness, have some vital connection with the government of God; that is, with his public administration. We may very naturally suppose that it was the design or purpose of God, in saving sinners, to make a deep and grand impression on the universe; and the propriety and necessity of an atonement may be triumphantly established by tracing the different and opposite effects which would probably be produced upon intelligent beings by the salvation of man either with or without a propitiation or sacrifice for their sins. Let the practical operation of the two systems, the one embracing and the other excluding the atonement be compared.
What effect would the salvation of sinners, without an atonement, probably have upon the angels of heaven? Aside from the plan of redemption, they know God principally through the medium of the moral law. They feel the spirit, and comprehend the principles of this law much more perfectly than we do, or are capable of doing, in the present world. They have always been accustomed to view this law as perfect, both in its precept and penalty; and they have, no doubt, ever associated with disobedience the certain and eternal curse of God. In the history of their fellow angels, who once shone as radiant morning stars, side by side with them, in the highest heavens, they have seen the first act of sin followed by instantaneous and everlasting exclusion from the abodes of light and peace. This example is known and felt; and it must have taught them to revere the principles of the law, and to expect with a fearful certainty, the infliction of the penalty on every transgressor. The soul that sinneth, it shall die, speaks not only in the recorded penalty of the law, but it now echoes through wide heaven, in its execution, in Ones as loud and solemn as an act of God can speak. Every angel receives an impression from this act; and while he dreads, with a new sensation, the penalty, he clings more closely to the precept of the law. Thus the moral power, the practical influence of straightforward and even-handed justice, is known and felt in heaven. But suppose the provisions of this law were entirely set aside in our world, as would be the case if sinful man were to be saved without an atonement, and what impression would this act probably make upon the angels of God? There would be in the treatment of apostate angels and apostate men, two opposite and conflicting acts in relation to the infractions of the same law; and the mystery involved in these acts, the most exalted spirits in heaven, could never comprehend or solve! They could have no evidence, that God would, in any instance, punish the sinner by inflicting the penalty of the law. Their personal observation of the divine conduct, in relation to this point, is limited to two facts or examples; in the former, the sentence was executed; in the latter, according to the supposition, the transgressor was shielded from the threatened and impending curse. To them no reason appears why the conduct of God, in the one case, should be different from his conduct in the other. The final impression which would be made upon their minds by these facts would be, that God may or may not execute the penalty of the violated law upon the sinner. Such a course of conduct would be calculated to shake the very confidence of angels in the government of God, and to prostrate his authority even in the empire of heaven. The very pillars of his throne would be shaken by the influence of such conflicting facts as these.
But the angels are not the only creatures concerned in this business. Men are the inspectors of the divine conduct, and their opinions of the character of God, must be essentially influenced by the manner in which sinners are saved; and not their opinions only, but their moral character also, may be affected by the divine conduct in this particular. Even redeemed man, if his salvation were effected without a propitiation for sin, on comparing his condition as an heir of glory with the penalty of the law which might have been inflicted upon him, and which he deserved to feel, would be thrown into utter doubt, uncertainty and confusion. He must consider his salvation as brought about in direct opposition to the principles of the law, in apparent, if not manifest, defiance of the threatened curse; and, with all his veneration for the divine character, he could not vindicate, even to his own satisfaction, and perhaps much less to the satisfaction of others, the divine conduct in this act. The most which could be said, by way of apology, would be, that in this instance, mercy had triumphed over justice. In a private individual this might be considered an amiable weakness, but in a judge, even upon a human tribunal, it would be deemed a sacrifice of principle and in the moral governor of the universe, it must involve a direct contradiction of his former declarations contained in the prescribed rule, and consequently evince, as far as creatures could determine, a diminution of hatred for sin and a loss of affection for the penalty of the law. And if these might be the reflections of a redeemed sinner, what would probably be the reflections of an impenitent sinner? It would be impossible to make him credit the fact, that the threatening of the law would be inflicted on any. It would inspire universal unbelief. And when condemned, in the day of judgment, the wicked would not be constrained to close their lips in eternal silence, as will be the case under the operation of that moral system which includes an atonement for the sins of men. All this must appear plain and ordinary understanding.
Apply the same process of reasoning to the fallen angels. That there are such beings, is a fact which rests on no doubtful authority; the Bible has distinctly revealed it. These creatures possessed of superior and comprehensive intellect, and of deep and dark malignity of heart, and constituting a part of God's moral empire, would, no doubt, be thrown into equal perplexity, by the salvation of man without a propitiation for sin. In their own case, the penalty of the law was executed without delay upon a part of the human family, in the process of time, the same penalty is inflicted, while another part of this sinful family are shielded from the curse, received into favor, and eventually taken home to heaven. Now let all this be done without an atonement, and, in the estimation of fallen angels, you create war between God and his own eternal law. You make his public and solemn acts--acts on which are suspended eternal consequences--opposite and contradictory, and irreconcilable to each other. You render him, at least, apparently mutable and capricious, in his feelings towards the law, and destitute, in his treatment of offenders, of a fixed and settled rule of moral conduct.
But let an atonement intervene, such an atonement as will be described in a future chapter, and this darkness which would otherwise hang around the divine administrations, and these perplexities which assail different orders of intelligent and moral beings, and which no finite mind could solve, are dissipated at once. It is on Calvary that justice consents to the exercise of mercy. The death of Christ, so far as the honor of the divine law and the dignity of the divine government are concerned, has become a complete substitute for the death of the sinner; and no practical principle of law or government, is now sacrificed in his salvation. If the penalty of the law is not literally executed, certain purposes have been attained, and certain interests have been secured by the atonement, as will hereafter be seen, which will place the moral government of God on higher and more solid ground than could have been done by the infliction of the curse upon the sinner himself. This the angels of heaven already see. This the redeemed sinner feels, and will continue to feel amid the songs and raptures of his eternal state. This is, no doubt, understood by apostate angels; and this will be comprehended and acknowledged by sinners from our world, who, by the rejection of the gospel, shall hereafter become their companions in the world of deep and endless despair. When fully instructed in those principles which are included in the moral system of the gospel the universe of virtuous mind will entertain but one sentiment, and lift up but one voice through the ages of eternity.
From this brief view of the necessity of an atonement to the salvation of men, and from the fact, that an atonement every way adapted to the circumstances of the case, has been made, which has been incidentally mentioned, rather than formally proved, in this place, we are very naturally led to contemplate its practical influence upon the feelings of our own hearts. The object of divine truth, in all its disclosures,is moral effect. It should mould the spirit, and govern the life. God has revealed truth for this purpose, and man in presenting it to others should become, in this respect, an humble imitator of God. We are very naturally, and almost necessarily led by this discussion to contemplate our own peculiar obligations to God for providing an atonement for our guilty world.
The condition of the human family, as sinners, without an atonement, may be easily discovered in connection with the foregoing train of thought. If nothing had been contrived or executed, on the part of God, to change the moral relations of sinners, their condition would be precisely that which is contemplated and pointed out by the law. This law makes but a single demand, that is perfect obedience; and if that be withheld, it points out no course, it prescribes no alternative, but the execution of the penalty. It makes no compromise with the transgressor. It proposes no terms of accommodation. It publishes no overtures of peace. These things are no part of the legal enactment. This law continues to require obedience--and it must inflict eternal punishment for want of a full and cheerful compliance with this demand. All men are transgressors of the moral law, and, by the terms of this law, all men must perish for ever. From this condition, no creature can deliver us. Our own efforts cannot change our relations to the law--and even angels, were they to embark in our favor, could render us no essential service. This work transcends all created power. The law must go on to inflict that death which it threatens, unless God himself provide a remedy. No being can do it, but the author of the law. And no expedient can furnish a remedy, except one which shall answer the same purpose as the execution of the penal threatening. This expedient, or provision, is to be found in the atonement made by Jesus Christ. It is by this atonement, that the condition of men is made to differ from the condition of devils. While the latter are given up to the punitive operation of the law, the former are placed under a dispensation of mercy, through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ. It is the gospel, and not the law, that opens the door of hope, and life, and peace to man.
For this distinction we are indebted to the sovereign goodness of God. It was his law that demanded our blood; it was his tender mercy that looked down from high heaven upon us, with a strong purpose to save, and it was his wisdom, infinite in its own resources, that contrived a way in which the honor of the law could be supported, and his grace restore and save the sinner. For this wonderful plan and its blessed results, in our world, we should lift up our loud and joyous songs to him who was slain for its and has redeemed us to God by his blood. Redeeming love should be the rapturous theme of all the saints on the earth as it will hereafter furnish the subject of their tuneful hallelujahs in heaven.
It may be farther remarked, in this connection that the pardon of the sinner, without an atonement, must have led to the subversion of the moral government of God. The rational universe, considered as responsible agents, are governed by motives. These motives are addressed to the principles of their rational and moral nature,--to their understanding and consciences, to their hopes and fears, to their various susceptibilities in relation to their own virtue and happiness, the prerogatives and claims of God, and the rights and welfare of the universe. The penalty of the law, by showing the consequences of transgression, becomes a powerful motive to obedience. The execution of this penalty also upon the transgressor, must have a practical effect, still more decisive, upon all who witness the solemn transaction. They see the consistency of the threatening with its actual infliction. The public declaration and the public act of the law-giver, are in this case, coincident one with the other. But should this penalty be set aside, and no substitute, as it respects the divine governments be introduced, the authority of law is prostrated at once. The threatening of the law-giver, as expressed in the letter, is convicted by his subsequent public conduct. In the he has said, the transgressor shall die, in his providence, or in the course of his administration, he says, the transgressor shall not die, in this instance, but live and inherit the kingdom of heaven. As the divine conduct will speak louder than the divine declaration, the penalty of the law would, in time, be looked upon as an empty threatening, which was never intended to be carried into execution. This would be the impression made not only upon our world but upon all worlds. The penalty of the law is completely and for ever annihilated; and as a statute without a sanction is a dead letter, you have a universe without law. What is now called the moral law, instead of binding the creature to perpetual obedience and consigning the transgressor to endless perdition, becomes a mere matter of admonition or advice. As the whole authority of God, is embodied in the penalty of the law, by destroying this penalty, you prostrate the authority of the independent moral Governor. You have now no government left in the universe. This would be the effect of making the penalty of the law bend to the case of the sinner. This would be the consequence of saving sinners without an atonement--without an adequate substitute for the literal infliction of the threatened curse. It cannot admit of a doubt, that it would be better for Adam and all his posterity to perish, than for these consequences to result from their salvation. God would sooner crush a thousand worlds to atoms, and bury them in darkness, or wrap their inhabitants in living flames, than to suffer the stability of his throne to be shaken, or the integrity of his moral government to be impeached.
Another inference which follows from the premises already established, is this, that the rejection of the doctrine of the atonement, mars the whole system of evangelical truth. Efface this doctrine from the book of God, and you take away every thing peculiar and precious from the gospel of Christ. Remove the atonement, and what remain of the gospel becomes another system--system incapable of bringing glory to God on the one hand, or consolation to man on the other.
How entirely different from the gospel scheme, is that system which is sometimes inculcated for christian doctrine. Instead of the great atoning Victim, who was to take away sin by the sacrifice of himself, Jesus Christ is represented as a great Prophet, raised up for the sole purpose of teaching a more perfect system of moral precepts than had ever before been delivered to our race--to confirm these precepts by his example, and thus to point out the way to a better world. On this scheme, his death was merely the attestation of a martyr to the truth and importance of the doctrine he had delivered. With this system the Deity and atonement of Christ, have no connection. The evil of sin is not estimated by the holiness of that God against whom it is committed; and the penalty of the law. is set aside as a matter of no consequence to the character of God, or the welfare of the universe. To the convicted sinner, this system opens no door of hope; to the troubled conscience it imparts no celestial balm. This, in the language of the apostle Paul, is another gospel, and with him we may say, Though we, or an angel of from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
The downward progress of sentiment when the doctrine of the atonement is rejected, is matter of public notoriety. The divinity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity, we need not observe, are swept away as a natural and necessary consequence. Sin, which may be pardoned without an expression of God's feelings of disapprobation, is considered as a trivial fault; and no great veneration is entertained for a law whose requirements and penalty may be easily dispensed with, in order to accommodate and rescue a depraved and rebellious creature. When the moral law is thus degraded, no great affection can be cherished for the gospel; for the gospel derives all its value from the fact, that it opens a way of salvation for those who are justly and for ever condemned by the law. When the requirements and sanctions of the law, and the provisions of the gospel, are thus prostrated, little veneration will be felt for the Bible. It may continue nominally to occupy the place of an inspired volume, but one offensive or mysterious part after another, will be lopped off, till, though received in the gross, it is rejected in detail. While one hand is ostensibly employed in pressing the holy Oracles to the heart, the other is busy in plucking out the leaves and in committing them to the flames. We have now arrived on the borders of open infidelity--and should the remaining belief in the being of God be too painful for the conscience, atheism may constitute the desired consolation, even if it should not constitute the last item in the melancholy and downward series. Such has been the progress of thousands who have begun their declension, by denying the important and fundamental doctrine of the atonement.
Let those therefore who would shudder at the thought of making open war upon the Bible, and who, as they send forward their anticipations into eternity, would cherish a hope whose cheering light shall never go out in darkness, cling to that grand peculiarity of a moral government and of the gospel plan, stated by the apostle, without shedding of blood is no remission.