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OF ST. PAUL'S
EPISTLE TO THE PHILIPPIANS.
On the Mediation of Christ.
ONE cannot view the present state of the world, without taking
notice of the misery and sin which prevail in it. The earth would be a wilderness, were it not cultivated with great care and labour. It nourisheth a number of plants and animals noxious to man. The fruits forced from it by human labour, are oftentimes destroyed by inclement seasons. Men, its chief inhabitants, are many of them excessively wicked; and their wickedness is productive of much misery to themselves in the present life, and to others who are affected by it. Besides, all of them are naturally liable to a variety of painful diseases and to death.
This disordered state of the world, hath been the occasion of much anxious speculation to those, who fancying that things might have been so ordered as to exclude all evil, both natural and moral, have considered the admission of sin and misery into any system formed by an infinitely powerful, wise, and benevolent being, as absolutely impossible. Hence the ancient Persians, and after them the Manicheans, to account for the present disordered constitution of things, affirmed, that the world was the work of two independent infinitely powerful principles, the one good and the other evil.-Others of the Easterns accounted for the evils which are in the world, by supposing that mankind had existed in some prior state, and are punished here for the sins which they committed in their pre-existent state; and that their punishment is intended to purify and reform them. This was the doctrine of the Pythagoreans, and of some of the Jews, John ix. 1, 2.-But a third sort of reasoners, not
satisfied with either of these solutions, maintained that the world hath existed from eternity by successive generations and corruptions, in the manner we see it at present, without any first cause at all. This was the opinion of the Aristotelian atheists. -A fourth sort affirmed, that the world owes its origin to what they termed the fortuitous concourse of atoms; and that it is not governed by any intelligent principle whatever. This was the scheme of the Epicureans, who, to avoid the odium of the populace, pretended indeed to acknowledge the existence of gods, but denied that they made the world, or took any concern whatever in its affairs.
In this uncertainty, or rather darkness concerning the origin of the world, revelation hath seasonably interposed. For it assureth us that there is but one first cause of all things, who is not only infinitely powerful, but infinitely good: That all the beings in the universe derive their existence from him, are absolutely dependent on him, and subject to his government: That whatever evil exists in the world, is the natural consequence of that freedom of will with which God originally endowed his rational creatures, in order to render them moral and accountable agents: And that the first parents of mankind, abusing their liberty of action, subjected themselves and their posterity to sin and death, by one single act of disobedience : But that for remedying these evils, God was graciously pleased, in his original plan, to appoint the mediation of his Son, whereby the penal consequences of sin are so far prevented, that they do not take place in all cases. For, as many of mankind as are delivered by him from the power of sin, shall at length be also delivered from its punishment, and be raised to a degree of perfection and happiness, greater than if they never had sinned. The mediation therefore of Christ, by which God remedies the evils which were introduced into the world through the disobedience of the parents of the human race, hath for its object to deliver mankind, first, from the power, and, secondly, from the punishment of sin.
Of the Mediation of Christ as a Priest, whereby the penal consequences of sin are so far prevented, that they do not take place among mankind universally.
To prevent the penal consequences of sin from taking place among mankind universally, revelation assureth us, that the Son
of God, by the appointment of his Father, made propitiation for the sins of mankind by his sufferings and death in the human nature; that is, by his sufferings and death he hath rendered. it consistent with the character of God, as the moral governor of the world, in certain cases to pardon sinners. For we are told, Rom. v. 12. That as by the disobedience of one man, Adam, sin entered into the world, and by sin death.—So by the obedience of one man, Christ, righteousness entered into the world, and by righteousness life; that is, an opportunity of becoming righteous and of obtaining life, was granted to mankind on account of the obedience of Christ.
To this account of the ruin and recovery of the human species, various objections have been made. And first, It hath been loudly urged, That to involve all mankind in sin and misery, on account of a disobedience to which they were nowise accessary, and to bestow righteousness and life, or an opportunity of obtaining these blessings, through an obedience in which they had no concern, are both of them contrary to our natural ideas of the justice and goodness of God.
To this objection, however, it is a sufficient answer to observe, that the very same constitution taketh place in the present state of things. For we see evils brought on the innocent, and favours communicated to the guilty, through actions in which neither the one nor the other had any hand. Thus, the misconduct of kings and rulers brings misery on their subjects, who are not accessary to their follies. The sins of parents, in like manner, bring poverty, diseases, and even death, on their innocent children. On the other hand, the wisdom and justice of princes, are productive of happiness to their people: The virtues also and heroic deeds of parents bring honours and riches to their descendants, which remain with them often to the latest posterity.
This constitution of God, whereby evils are brought on innocent persons, for the faults of others, in which they were nowise concerned; and blessings are conveyed to the unworthy, for the good deeds of others to which they contributed nothing, is not repugnant to the ideas which mankind entertain of justice and goodness. For, by universal consent, in all well regulated human governments, without any imputation of injustice, a similar constitution is established by law, through which, on the one hand, children are involved in the punishment inflicted on their parents, for crimes of which the children are entirely
innocent; and on the other, are made to share in the honours and rewards conferred on their parents, for virtues, to which the children contributed nothing.
Since then, by the appointment of men, so many evils befal the innocent, and so many benefits come to the undeserving, on account of actions performed by others, in which they had not the least concern, why should it be thought inconsistent with the justice and goodnes of God, as moral governor of the world, to have subjected Adam's posterity to sin and death on account of his offence, notwithstanding they were in no respect accessary thereto? And having subjected them to these evils, it certainly must appear both proper and just, that he should have provided a remedy for them by the obedience of his Son, although the persons, benefited by it, contributed nothing to his obedience. Wherefore, the account which revelation hath given of the introduction of sin and misery into the world, and of the method in which these evils are remedied, cannot be found fault with, although in either case, no regard was had to the personal demerit of the individuals affected thereby : But in both, God acted agreeably to the sovereignty of his own will.
To prevent any mistake, however, on this head, let it be observed, that from what hath been advanced, it by no means follows, that mankind are not to be rewarded or punished according to the nature of their own deeds. For, as B. Butler hath observed, Analogy, part ii. chap. 5. sect. 7. "The world's "being under the righteous government of God, does indeed "imply, that finally and upon the whole, every one shall re"ceive according to his personal deserts: And the general "doctrine of the whole scripture is, That this shall be the com"pletion of the divine government. But during the progress, "and, for ought we know, even in order to the completion of "this moral scheme, vicarious punishments may be fit and ab❝solutely necessary." And if so, vicarious rewards may also be necessary for the same end.
Secondly, To the foregoing vindication of the account given in revelation of the ruin and recovery of the human species, it may be objected, that the evils, which, according to the present constitution of things, are brought on the innocent by the vices of the guilty, and the benefits which the undeserving receive through the good deeds of the virtuous, are things merely accidental, owing to the natural relations by which mankind are connected: Consequently, that no argument can be drawn from
such a constitution, to prove that it was consistent with the justice and goodness of God, to subject Christ, an innocent person, to sufferings and death, for the sake either of saving the guilty from the penal consequences of their transgressions, or of bestowing favours on the undeserving. True. Such an argument does not follow from that part of the constitution of things just now explained: But it follows from another part of the same constitution, equally original and equally evident. For to use Butler's words, immediately following those already quoted: "Men by their follies run themselves into extreme distress, "into difficulties which would be absolutely fatal to them, were "it not for the interposition and assistance of others. God com"mands by the law of nature, that we afford them this assistance, in many cases where we cannot do it without very great "pains and labour and sufferings to ourselves. And we see in "what variety of ways, one person's sufferings contribute to "the relief of another; and how or by what particular means, "this comes to pass or follows from the constitution and laws "of nature, which come under our notice and being fami❝liarized to it, men are not shocked with it." For example, many, by their vices and follies, bring on themselves diseases, and a variety of accidents, which would often prove fatal to them, were it not for the timely assistance afforded to them by others, who, in lending them that assistance, sometimes expose themselves to great dangers, and sometimes subject themselves to long and painful sufferings. Having, therefore, in the present constitution of things, instances of innocent persons suffering voluntarily, by the express appointment of God, extreme evils, for the sake of alleviating or removing the temporal penal consequences of the sins of others, it cannot be thought inconsistent with the justice and goodness of God, in his original plan of the government of our world, to have provided that the eternal penal consequences, which he hath connected with sin, shall not in every case and to every person, inevitably follow their transgression: and even that this deliverance should be accomplished by a person, different from the sinner himself, who, for a purpose so benevolent, voluntarily exposed himself to the greatest sufferings for a time. To object against this appointment, is in reality to object against God's original constitution of nature, and against the daily course of his providence in the government of the world. For, as the before mentioned excellent author hath observed, Anal. part ii. ch. 5. sect. 7. "The