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V. By the atonement, a way is opened up for the honourable egress of divine mercy in the bestowment of salvation; sinners have ample encouragement to rely on this mercy; and foundation is laid for every pious emotion in the breasts of saints.
The exercise of mercy in consistency with the claims of justice, is the perplexing problem which only the doctrine of atonement solves. To the flow of the former the demands of the latter seem to present insuperable barriers. These demands must be satisfied, and, if satisfied in those on whom they primarily take hold, the way of mercy is necessarily shut up.
'Die man, or justice must, unless for him
The rigid satisfaction, death for death.'
It was the revelation of the all-momentous fact of Christ's atoning death, that enabled the gifted poet to hint even at this method of extrication from the above dilemma. Nought else could supply a reconciling principle. No tears of penitence however copious, no prayers however fervent, no good works however sincere, could warrant 'a just God' to 'justify the ungodly.' The sufferings of Christ solve the difficulty; by these every obstruction to the consistent exercise
mercy is removed; the stream of the Lord's blood has opened up a channel in which full, free, and abundant grace might flow unobstructedly and for ever to the very chief of sinners. 'God is in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not imputing unto men their trespasses.' Not only is this the way by
which God has seen meet to make an harmonious display of the perfections of his nature, but it may even, without presumption, be affirmed to be the only method by which he could do so. It is not, indeed, for us to limit the Mighty One, whose understanding is infinite. Yet, considering the constitution of things, and the peculiarity of the case, we may safely affirm, that the method which he has adopted is the best that could have been adopted; and, as it is impossible that a Being infinitely wise can do other than what is best, it follows that it was the only plan which even divine wisdom could employ. The necessity, be it observed, which is here supposed, is a moral necessity; and, in asserting that God could not save men otherwise than by the atonement of his Son, we no more impeach the perfection of his nature, than when we say that he cannot lie, cannot love sin, cannot contradict himself: we just affirm that he cannot but do what is best.
By the atonement every encouragement is held out to sinners to rely on the divine mercy in Christ for salvation. If the view which it exhibits of the rigours of justice and the inviolability of the law are fit to cause the sinner 'meditate terror,' the view which it, at the same time, gives of the greatness of God's mercy and of his willingness to save to the uttermost cannot but awaken hope. If God spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, will he refuse to receive such as come to him humbly soliciting pardon? The gift of his own Son is such a demonstration of his merciful design that no sinner need despair; and the merits of Jesus Christ, the intrinsic
worth and sufficiency of his sacrifice, are sufficient to inspire the hope of forgiveness, even should our sins be in number as the sand of the sea, and in aggravation as crimson and scarlet. 'It is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, even the chief.' 'He came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.' No degree of guilt can exceed the worth, no depth of pollution surpass the cleansing virtue, of the Saviour's blood. To the timid, the consciencestricken, the heavy-laden, the bowed down, he says, 'Come unto me, and I will give you rest.' And even should 'the whole head be sick and the whole heart faint, and from the sole of the foot even unto the crown of the head there be no soundness,' his call is still, 'Come now and let us reason together; though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson they shall be as wool.' Unbelief and despair are thus totally with
As the atonement is the hope of sinners, so is it also the source of every pious emotion in the breasts of saints. It is the very object of faith, 'Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.' It is the spring of repentance; 'they shall look on me whom they have pierced and they shall mourn.' The wisdom it displays, the amazing love it discloses, and the mighty power which it exhibits, are all fitted to fill the bosom with adoring wonder. Gratitude, the strongest gratitude, is awakened by a view of the magnitude of the blessings with which it
is fraught, and the sacrifices which required to be made in order to secure them. Who that thinks of the Son of God, who, being in the form of God, and thinking it no robbery to be equal with God, yet made himself of no reputation, took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men, and being found in fashion as a man, humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross;-who, that remembers that, though rich, for our sakes he became poor, that we through his poverty might be made rich, but must feel impelled to 'offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is the fruit of his lips, giving thanks to his name?'-It is eminently fitted to warm the heart with love. We must love him who has so loved us as to give himself a ransom for our sins. Cold must be that heart, obtuse must be those affections, which are not kindled into an irrepressible glow by the atonement of Christ. The love of Christ must constrain all who rightly understand this subject, to love him in return. 'Whom having not seen we love,' expresses the spontaneous feeling of every saint. No believer but will be willing to say, 'Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee.' This is indeed the test of personal christianity. 'If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema, maranatha.' 'Love the Lord, all ye his saints.' How is it possible to come under the ardent rays of this burning love, and not feel induced to reflect its beams in kindred and reciprocal emotion! How is it possible for a gracious
soul to treat love so dignified with neglect, love so free with ingratitude, love so productive with contempt, love so ardent with indifference, love so constant with even wavering affection!
Nor can any thing be conceived better calculated to produce true humility, than the doctrine that man is utterly incapable of saving himself, and that such were his guilt, and corruption, and misery, that less could not suffice for his escape than the awful sufferings of the Son of God. Oh, who that duly considers this but must be deeply humbled and selfabased! What better fitted to stain the pride of human glory, and to fill with all lowliness of mind! The man who firmly believes and cordially embraces this truth, must see himself to be nothing, yea, and less than nothing. Self-righteousness, self-sufficiency, self-complacency, self-dependence, can never be made to comport with Christ's having given himself a ransom for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity.
It is no way at variance with this, that the doctrine should be viewed as calculated to fill the soul with hope, and joy, and exulting triumph. No limits can be set to the rapturous gladness which it is its native tendency to inspire. In the lowest depth of his humiliation, the believing soul, looking forward to the blessings, and anticipating the triumphs the cross of Christ is destined to secure, rejoices in hope of the glory of God. Seeing in it every reason for the highest moral delight and complacency, and feeling that all besides is nothing in comparison, he