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ON THE ATONEMENT.
“ For He hath made Him to be Sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the Righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Epist. to the Corinthians, c. 5. v. 21..
Among the various proofs of Divine Benevolence, it is worthy of observation, that, however difficult may be the remoter branches of Science, all the knowledge which is of general importance is also of easy acquisition. In no subject is this truth more apparent, than in that, which is of all others the most interesting, Christianity; the great doctrines of which, with the moral precepts thereto annexed, are not only easy to be believed, because clearly evidenced, but easy also to be comprehended, as faras the comprehension of them is necessary.
In the passage before us, the Apostle has set forth with great precision the important doctrine of the Atonement; which, though unintelligible in its highest mysteries even to the first of created beings,
is nevertheless, (considered as a matter of fact,) level to the meanest capacities. As a fact, however, revealed from Heaven to Man, it is by far the most interesting with which humanity bath yet become acquainted ; because it is the corner stone of that religion which must guide our youth and cheer our age! in prosperity and adversity, in sickness and health, in riches and poverty, must be our parent and friend, to lead us through the dangers of this life, and land us at last in safety on a happier shore. To the fuller explication, therefore, of this doctrine, as involving within itself the great outline of Christianity, I shall dedicate the following discourse.
Men require more generally to be reminded of the consequences of those truths which they acknowledge, than to be instructed in those of which they are ignorant ; and as few are unacquainted with the great points of the following summary, they will do well to remember, that if, without examining, they refuse to believe them, or, if believing, they neglect their correspondent duties, they rest not on the footing of Heathen nations, but must render an account of those advantages, which, if they refuse them as blessings, will become their heaviest condemnation.
" In the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth.” This was the commencement of the natural government of God over the present world, for the regulation of which he established certain laws, as in the revolutions of the seasons, the properties of all bodies, the nature of the ele.
ments, and such other various qualities as we see to belong to the external world. “And he saw that every thing he had made was very good ;” by which we understand, not that it was the best possible, for this may be either true or false, but that it was perfect, that is, a work excellent in its kind, and worthy of its great Creator. Of the nature of this excellence we can only form a conception by analogy: many things still appear to us faultless, and we may thence infer, that the whole creation once was such as many of its parts still seem to be. But the design of our great Maker was not confined to the conduct of this his natural government, which was but preparatory to a higher and more lasting establishment. When the field of his future probation was now fully prepared, Man, its illustrious Master, was ushered into it by the hand of the same Onnipotence, and invested with a lawful authority over his habitation. As was the scene of Action, such also was the Agent, perfect in his kind according to the perfection of humanity; exactly fitted for the situation which he was destined to fill, a situation of high pre-eminence, since he was formed in the express image of his Maker. Here then, commences the moral Government of God, which; as far as our researches can penetrate, appears to be closely interwoven with his natural Government, both verging to the same end, and consolidated in the same system.
Man was by nature virtuous, and therefore by nature happy. Had he continued to perform those
duties which his Creator had enjoined, the principle of rectitude would have daily strengthened, and his perfection increased ; but his virtue was free, and therefore capable of a fall, (capable it must be observed, without any degree of proneness,) and on the preservation of that virtue his happiness was dependent. The issue we too well know; our first Parent, by the actual commission of sin, incurred the penalty annexed to it, and entailed the consequences of it on himself and his posterity.
Henceforth a new Era commenced; by this voluntary infraction of the laws of his Creator, the whole moral constitution of things was deranged; Man became subject to death as a punishment, and to all other human infirmities as the direct consequences of his conduct; the balance of his nature, in which his perfection consisted, was now overthrown; his Body was assailed by disease ; and his Soul corrupted by pollution. To his Children he transmitted this depraved constitution, and as they, in their turn, increased the disorder by voluntary and additional guilt, the case must, humanly speaking, have been desperate, and we and all should for ever have advanced in progressive rapidity down the gulph of guilt and misery. This situation of the human race is indeed too melancholy to be contemplated without horror, yet, even in the depth of desperation must have been confessed to be just. What, then, should be our feelings of gratitude and admiration, when we learn, that in order to rescue us from the misery which we had embraced, to rec
tify that we had deranged, a dispensation was appointed in the councils of Almighty Wisdom, actuated and guaranteed by the pity of infinite benevolence; a dispensation operating to our eternal benefit, not through our own sufferings, but through the perfect righteousness and atoning death of the Son of God himself; by which man should be again reinstated in the divine favour, and rendered capable of attaining that excellence and happiness which seemed to be for ever annihilated. This holy dispensation the same gracious God was pleased to reveal to our first parents, before they were driven from the mansions of peace into that troublous world in which their posterity have so long wandered. Thus did Christianity in its earliest hours display the same character which it hath ever after maintained, to heal the broken hearted and ease the afflicted in spirit. The unhappy authors of their children's calamities might, perhaps, have sunk under the sense of present evil, and the dread of future vengeance; but in the moment when the clouds of horror seemed to thicken around them, when Heaven was aroused to indignation, and the earth cursed for their transgression ; a ray of consolation beamed on them from above, and the lamp of hope was illumed to point the way to pardon and to peace.
At the moment of the Fall, of Man, and the subsequent Revelation of God, the date of Christianity commences. We are told, indeed, that the Lamb of God was slain before the foundation of