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to direct us in the choice of proper language in speaking on the subject ourselves, and tend to facilitate our right understanding of what is spoken by others. The terms are not to be regarded as mere synonymes or expletives. The death of Christ was at once expiatory, and vicarious, and propitiatory, and atoning. When we say it was expiatory, we mean that it was for sin that he died. When we say it was vicarious, we affirm that he died for the sins of others, not for his own. When we speak of it as propitiatory, we represent it as designed to appease the wrath of God, who is angry with sinners for their sins. And when we say it was atoning, we regard it as effecting a proper reconciliation.
Let the reader strive, before he proceeds, to fix in his mind correct notions of the language in use on this subject. Whatever be the matter of investigation, this is of vast moment; and more so, surely, when the theme, as in the present case, is one of such awful magnitude. Let the doctrine in question be clearly distinguished from others which have been substituted by heretics in its place. Let it be distinctly understood what is meant by Christ's atonement. Let the terms in customary use in treating of it be associated with definite conceptions. Thus may we expect the issue of our investigation to be satisfactory and profitable. But if we content ourselves with vague ambiguities, like persons in a mist every thing must appear to us dim and ill defined; we are likely, at every step, to get more and more bewildered; and the result is sure to be darkness and confusion.
It may be proper to remind the reader of the necessity of bringing a candid, humble, and well-disciplined mind, to the investigation of this great question. A subject so high and difficult in itself, and withal so much controverted, is not to be approached under the influence of prejudice or passion. In such an inquiry much depends on the state of the moral feelings. In justice to the pure light of sacred truth, the dark mists of moral prejudice must be dissipated, and the soul freed from every unholy bias which the love or practice of sin is fitted to impart. Perfect submission ought to be given to the word of God as the sole standard and unerring guide. There should be humble reliance on the promised assistance of the divine Spirit, and the wrestlings of fervent prayer at the throne of mercy for light and direction. Care ought to be taken to view the subject as one, not of speculative research, but of practical and awful importance; affecting the very foundation of a sinner's hopes; the bond of Christian doctrine; the heart and lifeblood of the religion of Jesus. Then will levity, self-confidence, and pride, be discarded; and the investigation be pursued in that lowly, pure, and reverential spirit, which cannot fail to be rewarded with ultimate success. What man is he that feareth the Lord? him shall he teach in the way that he shall choose.
OBJECTIONS TO ATONEMENT CONSIDERED.
THE View given, in the former section, of the nature of atonement, is strenuously opposed by many. The orthodox doctrine on the subject is disbelieved by not a few, who, nevertheless, lay claim to the Christian name. Their objections are at best but the specious cavils of a cold and speculative philosophy, and, in many cases, there is reason to fear, the natural result of criminal passions and irreligious prejudice, producing a secret dislike at those exalted views of the divine purity, and those humiliating sentiments of man's guilt and depravity, which the doctrine necessarily presupposes. But from whatever source they spring, the objections in question must be duly weighed. If found to be valid, it will be unnecessary to advance another step: if proved to be unfounded, the future discussion will be freed of no little encumbrance. To the candid consideration of these objections, let us, then, proceed.
I. It is objected that the doctrine of atonement represents the Supreme Being in an unamiable light,
destroys the attribute of mercy, and resolves his whole character into stern and inexorable justice.
This it is supposed to do by representing the death of Christ as that which procures the mercy or love of God for sinners; that which renders him willing to pardon the sins of his creatures, and without which he would not be so willing: in short, as a motive, an inducement, a price, a bribe, a something which effects a change in the divine mind from stern and vindictive wrath to melting compassion. Now, say our opponents, so far from this being the case, God is uniformly spoken of in scripture as in his very nature merciful and gracious; as disposed to regard sinners with spontaneous benevolence; as perfectly reconciled, and instead of needing to be appeased, as 'waiting to be gracious' and 'ready to pardon.' That such is the light in which the sacred writers exhibit the character of God, is not denied; and if the doctrine we maintain could be shown to be at variance with this view of the divine character, this must be regarded as an insuperable objection against it. But we beg attention to the following remarks.
1. The objection gives a mistaken view of what the atonement is understood to effect.
It is never supposed, by those who understand the subject, that the work of Christ is, in any sense, the cause of divine love, mercy, or grace; but the medium through which these perfections of God find expression to guilty creatures. It is never regarded as necessary to produce in God love toward men, but as necessary to his love being manifested. It is not
looked upon as that which renders God placable, but as that which renders the exercise of his placability consistent with the other perfections of his nature. It does not procure the divine favour, but makes way for this favour being shown in the pardon of sin. There is a clear and broad distinction betwixt these two things, to which it is of the utmost importance to attend. This distinction is consistent with scripture, where the whole scheme of human salvation is referred to divine love as its origin; and it is as clearly implied in the doctrine under consideration, namely, that the work of Christ gives satisfaction to God for the sins of his people, for this necessarily supposes a previous willingness on the part of God to accept of satisfaction; and what is this previous good-will but love, or mercy, or grace? The true view of the matter is this, that divine love is the cause of the atonement, and not that atonement is the cause of the divine love. And when the subject is placed in this its just and proper light, so far from the atonement representing the Deity as unamiable, it must be regarded as itself the brightest display of the divine loving-kindness. Nothing can be conceived more expressive of the benevolence of God, than his sending his Son into the world to suffer and die for the guilty objects of his love. In the estimation of the inspired writers, the gift of his Son is ever regarded as the most perfect manifestation of the riches of God's grace. 'For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have ever