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expressed, that the veracity of God is pledged to inflict the penalty of the law, in case of transgression; and, if it is not inflicted upon the sinner, it must be upon Christ. There is no other way in which the sinner's salvation can be reconciled with the divine veracity. In reply to this, we would ask, does the setting forth of the penalty of a law, in the form of a threatening, bind the veracity of the sovereign to inflict it? If it does, then certainly it binds him to inflict it on the transgressor; and a remission of the penalty is, in every case, a violation of truth. There is no avoiding this conclusion. The law does not merely denounce a penalty, but denounces it upon the transgressor; not upon him, or a substitute, but upon him only. “The soul that sinneth, it," and not some other soul,“ shall die.” Such is the unequivocal language of law; and if this pledges the veracity of the sovereign, forgiveness is forever impossible. God cannot violate his truth; and if his truth is really pledged in the threatening, it must be executed according to the letter; and what sinner can ever be saved ?
But does a simple threatening, in all cases, bind the veracity of the sovereign? We think not. A threatening may so stand in connection with a promise, or be so involved in a covenant, as to pledge veracity; but a simple threatening of law, setting forth the penalty of the law, does not pledge it. The subject is not so understood among men; neither can it be so understood in respect to God. In dispensing pardon, a human government does not necessarily violate its truth; neither does the divine government. Just legislation, like justice itself, implies no necessity for punishment, except as the ends of punishment may require it. Let these ends be answered, and truth would lose the character of a virtue, if it should now prove a barrier to the free exercise of mercy. The penalty of a law, says John Howe, is “not to be taken for a prediction of what shall be, but a commination expressing what is deserved, or most justly may be.” They who think otherwise, says Calvin, “ labor under a delusion as to the meaning of threatenings, which, though they affirm simply, contain in them a tacit condition, depending on the result.”
But if the sufferings of Christ did not avail to make an atonement, either by paying our debt to justice, or by his suffering the proper penalty of the law for us; how did they avail? In what does their atoning virtue or efficacy consist ?
Before directly answering these questions, let us recur to some of the principles before laid down, when treating of the necessity of an atonement. We then said: “The law of God can be sustained by the infliction of the penalty on all those who have transgressed it. Can it be sustained in any
. other way? Is any substitute for this terrible infliction possible? A full substitute would be a sufficient atonement; but can any such substitute be found ?”
It is our happiness to know that such a substitute has been provided, in the voluntary sufferings and death of Christ. He endured, not the proper penalty of the law, but a complete governmental substitute for the penalty. His sufferings and death in our room and stead as fully sustain the authority of law, as fully meet the demands of justice, as fully answer all the purposes of the divine government, as would the infliction of the penalty itself; and consequently are a complete substitute for the penalty; or, in other words, a complete atonement.
It is commonly and justly understood among evangelical Christians, that Christ's death was vicarious, or that he died as a substitute. But a substitute how ? and for what? Not that he endured the proper penalty of the law for us, but that he endured an adequate substitute for that penalty; so that the penalty itself may now be safely and consistently remitted. Were the penalty all borne, there would be nothing to be remitted. But as it has not been borne, but only a substitute for it; as it has not been removed, but only a way opened in which it may be; there is as much need of forgiveness, and as much to be forgiven, as though the Saviour had not died.
The view here taken as to the manner in which Christ's death avails to make an atonement for us, is believed to be the general prevailing sentiment of evangelical Christians on the subject. For though some excellent men have denied it
in terms, insisting that Christ did bear the proper penalty of the law, yet, when they come to explain, and answer objections, they insensibly fall into the other view, as that alone which will bear a thorough examination. Thus a writer in the late Dr. Green's Christian Advocate, says, that “the Redeemer did not endure eternal death,” but “the infinite dignity of his person imparted to his temporary suffering, a value that made them a fair and full equivalent for the everlasting sufferings of all who shall be finally saved.”1 Dr. Hopkins also, in his excellent chapter on “ the Design and Work of the Redeemer," after having said more than once that Christ bore the penalty of the law for us, brings out his real meaning, in language such as this : " He suffered the evil threatened, or as great evil, a complete equivalent, if not precisely the same evil in every circumstance, which the sinner must have suffered, had the threatening been executed on him. All the ends of the threatening, and of the penalty, are as fully answered by the sufferings of Christ, as they could be by the execution of it on the sinner.” The younger Edwards, too, in his Sermons on the Atonement, which we really think the most satisfactory discussion of the subject which has ever been given to the American public, says, that “the atonement of Christ is a substitute for the punishment of the sinner, according to the divine law, and is designed to support the authority of that law, equally as the punishment of hell.”: So Dr. Woods,
3 speaking of the penalty of the law, says: “ Christ suffered it virtually. He suffered that which had a like effect, or which had a like value in God's moral government. As to the ends of government, it was as though the curse of the law had been endured literally. So that it is sufficiently correct, for common purposes,
to say, as Storr and Flatt and a thousand others have said, that Christ endured the penalty of the law; that he suffered the punishment due to sin." This shows how Dr. Woods understood those writers, who use the
1 Volume for 1826, pp. 388, 389.
? Works, Vol. I. p. 340.
phraseology of Storr and Flatt. Indeed he says that the view we have taken, — Christ suffering, not the literal penal
, ty, but an equivalent, a substitute, - is the only reasonable view; the only one which a sober man can take.
Having dwelt thus long on the more essential features of the atonement, we now pass to a consideration of some minor collateral questions.
Our first inquiry will be as to the extent of the atonement. Is it universal or particular? Is it sufficient for all men, or only for the elect?
Without doubt the atonement was intended to be applied, savingly, only to the elect. In other words, it was certain to the mind of God, from all eternity, that none but the elect would embrace it, and be saved by it. Still we believe that, as to its sufficiency, the atonement is strictly universal. We might infer as much as this from the nature of the atonement. It is, in its nature, general, unlimited, we had almost said infinite. It can be limited by nothing but the good pleasure of him who made it, or by the extent of the race for whom it was made.
Then the Scriptures decide, expressly, that the atonement was made for all men. Christ is said to have “ died for all ” (2 Cor. 5: 14). He “gave himself a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:6). He “ tasted death for every man” (Heb. 2: 9). He is “ the propitiation, not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2: 2).
Again, the offers of the gospel, which are all based on the atonement, are strictly universal : " Ho! every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters.” “ Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." “ Whosoever will, let him take the waters of life freely.” It cannot be supposed that God would offer salvation to those for whom no atonement had been made, and to whom salvation would be impossible were the offer accepted. Yet he certainly does offer salvation, to all men, in the gospel. All, without exception, are invited to come, and partake of the waters of life freely.
It should be further considered, that all men are actually receiving benefits, in this life, through the atonement. Our very existence in this world of light and hope, the blessings of Providence we here enjoy, our means of grace, our probation of grace, indeed everything we receive which is better than the perdition of ungodly men, all is a matter of grace and mercy, and all comes to us through the atonement and intercession of Christ. The fact that the non-elect here upon earth are now receiving blessings through the atonement, all the blessings they have ever received, or ever will, is proof that the atonement was made for them, and is sufficient, if they would embrace it, for their salvation.
We next inquire for evidence that divine justice is satisfied in the atonement, and that it has been accepted of the Father. We have evidence of this fact in the divine and perfect character of the Saviour. He would not have undertaken that which he had not the intention and the ability to accomplish. He would not have declared the atonement finished, when he bowed his head and gave up the ghost, if it were still unfinished and incomplete.
Again, the Father openly manifested his acceptance of the atonement by raising the Saviour from the dead. Accordingly, Christ is said to have been “delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification.” He is also declared to be “the Son of God with power, by his resurrection from the dead."
It may be further remarked, that every believer who has been pardoned and saved through the atonement, every justified soul now in existence, whether on earth or in heaven, is a living witness that the atonement has been accepted. Would God have justified any of our fallen race on this ground, and received them back to his favor and love, if justice were not satisfied, and the work of atonement was not complete.
It may be inquired, in this connection, how much Christ must have suffered in order to satisfy divine justice, and make a full atonement for sin. How much? Though we may not be able to answer this question with definiteness