« PreviousContinue »
and does that which is lawful and right, and while such a change of disposition and conduct is plainly to be regarded as an indispensable condition, without which sinful man can entertain no just hope of salvation; we are not to imagine that repentance and amendment are, in themselves, available to procure us forgiveness, to prevent the fatal consequences of our sins, and to purchase our eternal peace. Such a notion is opposed to the dictates even of natural religion; it is inconsistent with the known course of the providence of God, and it is completely overturned by the declarations of Scripture, and by the revealed principles of the Gospel of Christ.
Natural religion, amidst all her obscurities, may be said to assume the doctrine, that God, who is a Being of absolute purity and justice, is the moral Governor of the world; and that, as such, he will, sooner or later, render unto every man according to his deeds. Now, when we regard the Supreme Being in this point of view, it is impossible for us not to perceive the unreasonableness of the supposition, that a person who has long been accustomed to a life of sin, and who afterwards repents and amends, can, without any satifaction for past transgressions, be regarded by him in the same light as if he were a perfectly virtuous person, who had never offended him. Present obedience does no more than fulfil present obligation; and, in the sight of a perfectly righteous God, there must always be an essential inequality between the partial and the complete fulfilment of the divine law. The difference which subsists between the two supposed cases may be safely brought to the test of the conscience, which, when rightly illuminated, and not perverted, is a sure, internal, representative of the mind of God. Were there any man existing, who had never, in the smallest particular, broken the divine law, his conscience would be at perfect rest; "for if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence towards God." But the conscience of the converted sinner has pronounced against him the verdict of guilty; and so far is his change of disposition and conduct from cancelling the record, that the deeper and more effective his penitence, the darker and more indelible are the characters in which that record is written; the more virtuous he becomes, the more he abhors himself for his vice; and the more he is brought to feel his need of some powerful dispensation of mercy, by which, independently of any works of his own, his iniquities may be blotted out from the book of God's remembrance.
These plain dictates of reason and conscience derive no slight confirmation from analogy; for, in the course of nature
and providence, as it is at present subjected to our observation, the moral government of God is already partially displayed. The spendthrift, the debauchee, and the criminal, may severally repent and amend. Nevertheless, in the ruined fortunes of the first, in the withered constitution of the second, and in the civil punishment of the third, we often perceive the strong practical indication that, under the moral government of our Creator, repentance and amendment are not, in themselves, sufficient to avert the effects of transgression. The effects of which I speak do indeed very usually arise in what is called a natural order; but that natural order is the mere result of the divine will; and in the same order may, very probably, arise also the eternal consequences of sin.
But the truths which are thus taught us, even independently of the aid of revelation, are rendered indisputable by the light of Scripture. In the sacred Volume, it is plainly recognized, that God is a Being of perfect holiness and justice—that he is "of purer eyes than to behold evil"-that he will by no means acquit the guilty for their own sakes-that, had we perfectly fulfilled his law, we should still be unprofitable servants, without any surplusage of merit-that, not having fulfilled it, but having broken it again and again, we are, by nature, the children of wrath, and are justly liable to the sentence of death pronounced and recorded against us: see Deut. xxxii, 4: Hab. i, 13: Nah. i, 3: Luke xvii, 10: Gal. iii, 10: Eph. ii, 3, &c. And, while the sacred writers plainly declare that forgiveness and salvation are ours, on the condition of repentance and amendment-with equal clearness, and with yet greater frequency, do they promulgate the doctrine, that the free mercies of our God towards us flow only through one appointed channel, and are bestowed upon us, not because we repent; not because we amend; not because we have deserved, or ever can deserve, those mercies; but because the Son of God, in pursuance of the counsels of the Father, and in his own voluntary love to man, offered himself up on the cross as an atonement, or propitiatory sacrifice, for the sins of the whole world. "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God, being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood; to declare his righteousness, for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time, his righteousness, that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus:" Rom. iii. 23-26.
It is in express reference to his propitiatory sacrifice, that
Jesus Christ is declared, by one of his apostles, to have been "foreordained before the foundation of the world :" (1 Pet. i, 19, 20;) and when another apostle describes our Lord as the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world," (Rev. xiii, 8,) he obviously alludes to the same original appointment of divine mercy. Before the creation of man, his fall was foreknown, and his recovery, through a Mediator, was preordained of God. In the eternal counsels of divine wisdom and love, it was predestinated, as we clearly learn from these passages of Scripture, that the blood of the Lamb-and that alone-was to cleanse from sin. We cannot, therefore, be surprised that the promise of a Redeemer should have immediately succeeded the fall of our first parents; (see Gen. iii, 15;) and that this promise should appear to have been accompanied or followed by the institution of an external rite, well adapted to the measure of illumination thus bestowed upon mankind, and calculated to point out, in a palpable and significant manner, the death merited by sin, on the one hand, and the atonement appointed to avert that death, on the other.
That the sacrifice of animals, as a ceremony of worship, was a practice which originated in the institution of the Supreme Being himself, is rendered extremely probable, in the first place, by the nearly universal prevalence of that practice, in all ages, through the known world. The uniform sense of mankind, that, in order to deprecate divine wrath, sin must be not only represented of, but expiated, may indeed be traced to the light of reason, and to the operation of conscience; but that, in order to this expiation, the harmless animal was to be slaughtered, and his blood poured over the altar of the offended deity that this was to be the mode in which the wrath of the gods was to be deprecated, and the punishment of the transgressor averted,―appears to be a notion so absolutely unaccountable on merely natural principles, that, amidst all the corruptions under which it has been entertained by idolatrous mankind, its universality and sameness may well be considered to indicate an original revelation on the subject. But this probability is considerably heightened when we open the page of Scripture, and study the only authentic history of the earliest ages of the world. There we learn, that, from the fall of our first parents to the institution of the Mosaic law, animal sacrifice was resorted to by the most favoured worshippers of the true God. And, that this peculiar ceremony was really of divine appointment, we have reason to conclude, first, because it is wholly improbable that persons who enjoyed the largest measures of divine illumination, as it was then dispensed to
mankind, and who were eminent for their piety and allegiance to the true God, should have ventured to approach him with a mere will-worship-with a rite apparently cruel and unreasonable, which had no other origin than their own delusive imaginations and secondly, because it is expressly recorded that this rite was approved and accepted, and, in some instances, actually prescribed, by the Deity himself.
When Abel "brought of the firstlings of his flock, and of the fat thereof, the Lord had respect unto Abel, and to his offering;" (Gen. iv, 4 ;) but to Cain and his offering, which was merely of the fruit of the ground, “ he had not respect," ver. 5. The reason of this preference is stated in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where we read, that "by faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice* than Cain :" xi, 4. Now the offering of Cain, as well as that of Abel, was an obvious indication of such a general faith in God as recognized his existence, his authority, and his power. But the faith by which Abel was enabled to offer the better sacrifice was directed to the promise of a Redeemer : (Heb. xi, 39;) and was manifested in a very conspicuous maner, by the performance of a strange and unnatural ceremony, in obedience, as we may reasonably suppose, to a divine command.† It is generally believed, that
* πλείονα θυσίαν.
+ Gen. iv, 3-7. "And, in process of time, (D' ppp) it came to pass that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock, and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel, and to his offering (nn); but unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth, and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted (or have the excellency n)? and if thou does not well, sin (non) lieth at the door: and unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him." There are good reasons for believing that nson, in this passage, does not signify sin, but a sin-offering—a sense which that substantive very frequently assumes, especially in the writings of Moses, vide Exod. xxix, 14: Lev. iv, 8. 20. 24, 25; x, 19; xiv, 13. 19, &c.; for, in the first place, the participle pan, with which it is here constructed, is masculine, for which circumstance we cannot well account, except on the ground that son (itself a feminine substantive) here denotes the male animal to be slain in sacrifice; and, secondly, the root pan, which does not appear to be very intelligible as connected with "sin," is properly descriptive of the lying down or couching of an animal: see Gen. xlix, 9: Isa. xiii, 21; xvii, 2: Ezek. xix, 2: Zeph. ii, 14. This slight change in the version of the passage removes the obscurities in which it is otherwise involved. Cain, having noticed the Lord's preference of Abel's sacrifice, is evidently jealous lest he should lose his preeminence and authority over his younger brother. The Lord, therefore, says to
the divine approbation of Abel's sacrifice was displayed by the breaking forth of a miraculous fire, which consumed the accepted victim; for it is evident, from the subsequent account of Cain, that the preference of his brother's offering to his own was indicated by some intelligible sign; and, from various passages in the history of the Old Testament, we learn that this was the sign by which Jehovah usually condescended to "testify" of the "gifts" of his servants: see Gen. xv, 17: Lev. ix, 24 Jud. xiii, 19, &c.: comp. Heb. xi, 4. If this is true, so admirable a mark of divine favor, while it excited the jealousy of Cain, must have amply confirmed the conviction of Abel, that, in shedding the blood of an innocent lamb, (notwithstanding all the strangeness of the action*) he had been fulfilling a religious duty, and had been acting in strict conformity to the will of his Creator.
The next sacrifice, mentioned in Scripture, is that offered by Noah. After he had come forth from the ark, with his sons, and his sons' wives with him, we read, that he "builded an altar unto the Lord, and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt-offerings on the altar." Now, that this sacrifice also was acceptable to that Being, to whom the beasts
him, "If thou doest well, shalt thou not have the excellency? and if thou doest not well, a sacrifice for sin lieth even at thy door; (that is, to atone for thy sin) and his desire (or deference) shall still be towards thee, and thou shalt rule over him."
Cain and Abel are described as presenting their offerings "in process of time," or rather " at the end of days," which is the literal meaning of the Hebrew, D'D' ypp. The expression appears to denote some fixed recurring period, at which it was ordained that sacrifice should be offered. Both their offerings are called an Mincha, a term which, under the law, usually described the meat-offering of flour. But, here the word has evidently its more general sense of an offering or sacrifice -donum, oblatio: vide Simonis lex. in voc. This passage is ably discussed in Magee's "Discourses and Dissertations on the Atonement,” 3rd ed. vol. ii, p. 235.
*The sacrifice of a harmless beast must have appeared the more strange in the view of Abel, because there is reason to believe that, before the flood, animals were not permitted to be slain for the sustenance of man. The green herb and the fruits of the trees were given to Adam and his posterity for their food. "Behold," said Jehovah, "I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed,
you it shall be for meat :" Gen. i, 29. And that vegetable food alone was, at that time, allowed to our species, is evident from the reference made to this original grant of the green herb, when, after the flood, another grant was added to birds, beasts, and fishes-" Every moving that liveth shall be meat for you: even as the green herb, have I given you all things:" Gen. ix, 3.