MORAL GOVERNMENT.---No. 19.
I. To the fact of Atonement. It is said that the doctrine of Atonement represents God as unmerciful.
Ans. 1. This objection supposes that the Atonement was demanded to satisfy retributive instead of public justice.
2. The Atonement was the exhibition of a merciful disposition. It was because God desired to pardon that he consented to give his own Son to die as the substitute of sinners.
3. The Atonement is infinitely the most illustrious exhibition of mercy ever made in the universe. The mere pardon of sin, as an act of mercy, cannot compare with the mercy displayed in the Atonement itself.
II. It is objected that the Atonement is unnecessary.
Ans. 1. The testimony of the world and of the consciences of all men is against this objection. This is universally attested by their expiatory sacrifices.
2. The Bible is against it.
3. A heathen philosopher can answer this.
III. It is objected that the doctrine of Atonement is inconsistent with the idea of mercy and forgiveness.
Ans. 1.This takes for granted that the Atonement was the literal payment of a debt, and that Christ suffered all that was due to all the sinners for whom he died. So that their discharge or pardon is an act of justice and not of mercy. But this was by no means the nature of the Atonement. The Atonement, as we have seen, had respect simply to public, and not at all to retributive justice. Christ suffered what was necessary to illustrate the feelings of God towards sin and towards his law. But the amount of his sufferings had no respect to the amount of punishment that might have justly been inflicted on the wicked.
2. The punishment of sinners is just as much deserved by them as if Christ had not suffered at all.
3. Their forgiveness, therefore, is just as much an act of mercy as if there had been no Atonement.
IV. It is objected that it is unjust to punish an innocent being instead of the guilty.
Ans. 1. Yes, it would not only be unjust, but it is impossible to punish an innocent individual at all. Punishment implies guilt. An innocent being may suffer, but he cannot be punished. Christ voluntarily "suffered, the just for the unjust." He had a right to exercise this self-denial; and as it was by his own voluntary consent, no injustice was done to anyone.
2. If he had no right to make an Atonement, he had no right to consult and promote his own happiness; for it is said that "for the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, despising the shame."
V. It is objected that the doctrine of Atonement is utterly incredible.
To this I have replied in a former lecture; but will here again state, that it is utterly incredible upon any other supposition than that God is love. But if God is love, as the Bible expressly affirms that he is, the work of Atonement is just what might be expected of him under the circumstances; and the doctrine of Atonement is the most reasonable doctrine in the universe.
VI. It is objected to the doctrine of Atonement, that it is of a demoralizing tendency.
Ans. 1.There is a broad distinction between the natural tendency of a thing and such an abuse of a good thing as to make it the instrument of evil. The best things and doctrines may be, and often are, abused, and their natural tendency perverted.
2. The natural tendency of the Atonement is the direct opposite of demoralizing. Is the manifestation of deep disinterested love naturally calculated to beget enmity? Who does not know that the natural tendency of manifested love is to beget love in return?
3. Those who have the most fully believed in the Atonement, have exhibited the purest morality that has ever been exhibited in this world; while the rejecters of the Atonement, almost without exception, exhibit a loose morality. This is as might be expected from the very nature of Atonement.
VII. To a general Atonement it is objected, that the Bible represents Christ as laying down his life for his sheep, or for the elect only, and not for all mankind.
Ans. 1. It does indeed represent Christ as laying down his life for his sheep, and also for all mankind.
1 John 2:2. 'And he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the WHOLE WORLD.'
John 3:17. 'For God sent not his Son into the WORLD to condemn the world; but that the WORLD through him might be saved.
Heb. 2:9. 'But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for EVERY MAN.'
2. Those who object to the general Atonement take substantially the same course to evade this doctrine that Unitarians do to set aside the doctrine of the trinity, and divinity of Christ. They quote those passages that prove the unity of God and the humanity of Christ, and then take it for granted that they have disproved the doctrine of the trinity and Christ's divinity. The asserters of limited Atonement in like manner quote those passages that prove that Christ died for the elect and for his saints, and then take it for granted that he died for none else. To the Unitarian we reply, we admit the unity of God, and the humanity of Christ, and the full meaning of those passages of scripture which you quote in proof of these doctrines; but we insist that this is not the whole truth, but there are still other classes of passages which prove the doctrine of the trinity and of the divinity of Christ. Just so to the asserters of limited Atonement we reply, we believe that Christ laid down his life for his sheep, as well as you; but we also believe that he tasted death for every man.
John 3:16. 'For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.'
VIII. To the doctrine of general Atonement it is objected, that it would be folly in God to provide what he knew would be rejected; and that to suffer Christ to die for those whom he foresaw would not repent, would be a useless expenditure of blood and suffering.
Ans. 1.This objection assumes that the Atonement was a literal payment of a debt, which we have seen is not the nature of the Atonement.
2. If sinners do not accept it, no particle of the Atonement can be useless, as the great compassion of God in providing and offering them mercy will forever exalt his character in the estimation of holy beings, greatly strengthen his government, and therefore benefit the whole universe.
3. If all men rejected the Atonement it would nevertheless be of infinite value to the universe, as it is the most glorious revelation of God that was ever made.
IX. To the general Atonement it is objected, that it implies universal salvation.
Ans. 1. It does indeed imply this, upon the supposition that the Atonement is the literal payment of a debt. It was upon this view of the Atonement that Universalism first took its stand. Universalists taking it for granted that Christ had paid the debt of those for whom he died, and finding it fully revealed in the Bible that he died for all mankind, naturally, and if this were correct, properly inferred the doctrine of universal salvation. But we have seen that this is not the nature of the Atonement. Therefore this inference falls to the ground.
X. It is objected that if the Atonement was not a payment of the debt of sinners, but general in its nature, as we have mentioned, it secures the salvation of no one.
Ans. It is true that the Atonement itself does not secure the salvation of anyone; but the promise and oath of God that Christ shall have a seed to serve him does.
REMARKS ON THE ATONEMENT
1. The execution of the law of God on rebel angels must have created great awe in heaven.
2. Its action may have tended too much to fear.
3. The forbearance of God toward men previously to the Atonement of Christ may have been designed to counteract the superabundant tendency to fear, as it was the beginning of a revelation of compassion.
4. Sinners will not give up their enmity against God, nor believe that his is disinterested love, until they realize that he actually died as their substitute.
5. In this can be seen the exceeding strength of unbelief and prejudice against God.
6. But faith in the Atonement of Christ rolls a mountain weight of crushing considerations upon the heart of the sinner.
7. Thus the blood of Christ when apprehended and believed in, cleanses from all sin.
8. God's forbearance toward sinners must increase the wonder, admiration, love, and happiness of the universe.
9. The means which he uses to save mankind must produce the same effect.
10. Beyond certain limits, forbearance is no virtue, but would be manifestly injurious, and therefore wrong. A degree of forbearance that might justly create the impression that God was not infinitely holy and opposed to sin, would work infinite mischief in the universe.
11. When the forbearance of God has fully demonstrated his great love, and done all it can to sustain the moral government of God, without a fresh display of holiness and justice, God will no doubt come forth to execution, and make parallel displays of justice and mercy forever, by setting heaven and hell in eternal contrast.
12. Then the law and gospel will be seen to be one harmonious system of moral government, developing in the fullest manner the glorious character of God.
13. From this you can see the indispensable necessity of faith in the Atonement of Christ, and why it is that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation only to every one that believeth. If the Atonement is not believed, it is to that mind no revelation of God at all, and with such a mind the gospel has no moral power.
14. But the Atonement tends in the highest manner to beget in the believer the spirit of entire and universal consecration to God.
15. The Atonement shows how solid a foundation the saints have for unbroken and eternal repose and confidence in God. If God could make an Atonement for men, surely it is infinitely unreasonable to suppose that he will withhold from those that believe anything which could be to them a real good.
16. We see that selfishness is the great hindrance to the exercise of faith. A selfish mind finds it exceedingly difficult to understand the Atonement, inasmuch as it is an exhibition of a state of mind which is the direct opposite of all that the sinner has ever experienced. His experience being wholly selfish renders it difficult for him to conceive aright what true religion is, and heartily to believe in the infinitely great and disinterested love of God.