« AnteriorContinuar »
they have left it? If they present the death of Christ as a most awful and affecting display of the evil of sin, and of the divine displeasure against it, enhanced beyond description by the dignity of his person, and the peculiar severity of his sufferings; and if this makes an appeal to the moral sensibilities of the human race, in favour of gratitude and obedience to God, and against sin, in a manner far more affecting and successful, than the literal execution of the penalty of the law on sinners; is not this sufficient? And if thus much lies on the face of the New Testament, and every reader, learned and unlearned, can see and feel it; this is enough; the object of the law is in the most effectual manner answered.
For myself, I need nothing more than this to produce quietude of mind, in regard to this part of our subject. More than this, the Laplander and the Hottentot-nay most of the human race-cannot well be expected to understand ; nor can I see how it is really important that they should. If others feel that clear and satisfactory views about the manner in which equivalency is made out, are to be obtained by pursuing the speculations of a refined philosophy, I will not object. But I may suggest one caution, viz. that if we attempt to build the doctrine of atonement on the speculations of philosophy, and do not acquiesce in the subject, as it is simply presented by the writers of the New Testament—so simply, that the heathen can understand and feel it as well as we—then we must not be surprised, if we find philosophy objecting to
the atonement, and claiming a'right to prostrate our edifice, by the same power which has raised it up.
I have said enough, I trust, to explain what I mean, and what I do not mean, by the principal terms employed relative to the doctrine which I am discussing. I pass on then
II. To prove the doctrine, that Christ in his sufferings was our suBSTITUTE, or that by them he made an EXPIATORY OFFERING for sinners.
Here I must ask at the threshold : Before what tribunal must the question be brought which this subject necessarily raisés ?
I am bold to aver that philosophy is not a competent judge to decide it. In averring this, however, I take it for granted, that philosophy is unable to disprove the credit due to divine revelation. On the supposition that such is the fact, and as a believer in divine revelation, I hold myself under obligation to prove nothing more in regard to the substitution or expiatory sacrifice of Christ, than that the Scriptures have revealed it as a fact. Has God declared it to be a fact? Do the Saviour and his apostles declare it to be so ? These are the questions, and the only ones of any particular importance, about which a sincere and implicit believer in the divine testimony needs to be solicitous. It cannot surely be of much consequence, what difficulties can be raised by speculating on philosophical grounds, about the nature or manner of substitution. The fact itself is that with which we are concerned, as poor ruined sinners. We might indeed well say, that when the authority of
revelation is admitted, the questions why and how, in respect to the atonement, could be entirely dismissed from our discussion, as being by no means necessarily attached to it. Does philosophy find the doctrine of atonement by the death of the Son of God mysterious? We readily concede that it is so; and we know that the distinguished apostle of the Gentiles believed the mystery of godliness to be great ; and that the angels themselves are represented as earnestly desirous of prying into this mystery.
But if philosophy wonders here, (for which we will not blame her,) yet she has no right to scoff. If atonement by the vicarious suffering and death of Christ be a reality, it is one which the book of God only reveals. I fully agree with the naturalists in saying, that the book of nature presents nothing but a blank leaf, in respect to an atonement effected in this manner. Not one syllable can be made out from it, with any certainty. The necessity of some atonement or expiatory offering, has indeed been felt by nearly all the human race, however unenlightened; and acknowledged in the bloody sacrifices which they have offered to the gods whom they worshipped. But the method of it, as proposed in the Gospel, is quite above the discovery of unenlightened or even philosophical reason. The most rigid sect of moralists among the heathen, did not admit that pardoning mercy could with any propriety be extended to those, who had incurred the penalty which justice demanded. Seneca declares that a wise man does not remit the punishment which he. ought to exact, (De Clementia II. 6. 7). How then could this philosopher, or those who were like him, discover or believe the doctrine of substitution or vicarious suffering by the death of the Son of God? What they never imagined, or what many when it is proposed to them regard as foolishness, God has declared to be the means of salvation. To revelation then we must go for any instruction, with regard to the doctrine of pardoning mercy through the atoning blood of Jesus.
But another view of the subject is necessarily suggested by that which has now been taken. This is, that as philosophy was unable to discover the doctrine of atonement by Christ, so she is equally incompetent to make any valid objections against it. She cannot shew that it is absurd. Could this be done, then we must admit that the doctrine of atonement by vicarious suffering would be incapable of defence; for the human mind, if it be well illuminated, and guided in its researches by candour and a love of truth, cannot receive and accredit that which is absurd. But who does not know that through ignorance, prejudice, and haste, or when influenced by erroneous philosophy, some men may pronounce things to be absurd, which the most acute, sober, and judicious think to be very rational ? In regard, however, to the doctrine of substitution, the matter seems to be quite clear. Absurd this doctrine of itself cannot be called; for the wisest and best human governments, as has already been mentioned, often admit the principle, in respect to penalties incurred. But will any one venture on
account of this, to accuse civil rulers of acting irrationally and absurdly? Will any one even venture the assertion, that this principle, prudently and soberly applied, is not the means of evident gain in respect to the great ends which civil government is designed to accomplish? If not, then surely it must be conceded, that infinite power, connected with infinite wisdom and benevolence, can employ substitution in such a way as to promote the important ends of the divine government. Philosophy, most evidently, has it not in her power to disprove this; and therefore has no right to deny the possibility of it; much less to declare that the doctrine is absurd. In short, as she cannot do this, nor disprove the credit due to revelation, it is plain that the matter comes not at all within her jurisdiction.
The question in respect to substitution, then, stands high above the objections which all the efforts of philosophy can raise ; equally unaffected by her sophistry at one time, or by her scorn and contumely at another.'
It follows from what has been said, that the impossibility of substitution, under the divine government, cannot be established. Nay, I advance farther, and aver that so far from there being any impossibility in the case, it is a matter of fact that substitution was admitted for nearly fifteen centuries, under the Mosaic dispensation ; to say nothing of the expiatory sacrifices of the patriarchal age. It was admitted too, under the Mosaic economy, as a type of the substitution or expiatory offering of Christ. Paul has taught us in the most explicit