Page images

spirit of revelation; and how utterly irreconcilable with the exalted nature of the mediatory reward.

The Middle system rests on the supposition that a certain power to pardon sin was conferred on Christ in consequence of what he did. Like the former, it discards the idea of anything being done to procure pardon, but holds that Jesus, by his obedience and sufferings, acquired a power to save. The friends of this system, while they allow that God could freely forgive the sins of his creatures without any satisfaction, conceive it right in itself that some distinction should be put between innocents and penitents-that, while the former are accepted for their own goodness, the acceptance of the latter should proceed on some principle which shall serve to mark their character as transgressors, and to prevent them from feeling on a perfect equality with those who have never deviated from the commandments of God. These purposes are supposed to be served by sinners being pardoned, on profession of penitence, for the sake of something done by Christ, which entitles him to intercede for their deliverance as one friend intercedes on behalf of another. In some respects this scheme may be thought nearer the truth than the former, but it is open to substantially the same objections. It gives a most defective view of the divine character. It does not serve to explain the tenor of scripture language respecting the work of Christ: not to speak of its failing to account for the peculiarity and severity of the Redeemer's sufferings.


The Catholic system, so called because it seems to have been held by the great body of Christians since the days of the apostles, is founded on the principle that God is just as well as merciful. It maintains that the pardon of sin is procured by the work of Christ, by which he gave satisfaction to the justice of God on behalf of those to be redeemed. This is what is commonly known by the doctrine of ATONEMENT, deemed, in every age of the church, of such transcendent importance as to deserve the most complete and patient discussion. Such is the system which it is our object to explain, prove, and defend. In doing so, the others must, of course, necessarily fall to be refuted; and the objections against them, which have already been hinted at, will be more fully illustrated and confirmed.1

It is important, at the outset, to have a correct definite idea of the doctrine of which we are to treat. Many definitions have been given. Perhaps the substance may be comprehended in the following:-The atonement means, THAT PERFECT SATISFACTION GIVEN TO THE LAW AND JUSTICE OF GOD, BY THE SUFFERINGS AND DEATH OF JESUS CHRIST, ON BEHALF OF ELECT SINNERS OF MANKIND, ON ACCOUNT OF WHICH THEY ARE DELIVERED FROM

This statement supposes that mankind have offended against the law and justice of God. The fact

1 For a more complete delineation of the three systems, see Principal Hill's Lectures in Divinity (w. ii. pp. 398—434), to which we have been indebted in drawing up the above abstract.

of man's sin cannot be denied. And that sin is an offence against the almighty moral Governor, which calls forth his high displeasure, cannot be questioned, without blasphemously supposing that he makes no distinction between moral good and moral evil; that obedience and disobedience, righteousness and sin, are to him objects of equal indifference or complacency.

That God, being offended, requires to be satisfied, is also supposed in the statement. This is a point, the evidence of which will fall to be presented afterwards. We now call the attention to it as a matter of fact, and content ourselves with remarking, that the contrary supposes either a want of truth in his professing to be offended, or a want of power to punish the offender.

It is farther supposed, in our definition of the doctrine, that the requisite satisfaction is given by a substitute, not by the offenders themselves. Satisfaction may be given by the offender himself, when what is required for this purpose is not previously due to the party offended; but where this is the case, if satisfaction be given at all, it must be by a substitute. The case before us is of the latter kind. To whatever men can perform, the divine Lawgiver has a prior claim on other grounds, a claim as strong as he has to that the non-performance of which constitutes the original ground of offence. Into the scripture doctrine of atonement the idea of substitution enters as an essential element.

On account of the satisfaction given by the sub

stitute, the party offended is pleased to pardon the offenders, and to be reconciled to them. This is another thing supposed in the doctrine. There could be no atonement without this. God is pleased to accept the satisfaction offered by his Son, and on this ground to dispense pardon and reconciliation to


The only other thing included in the definition is, that the persons on whose behalf the atonement is made, are a definite number of mankind; not angels, but men; not all men, but elect sinners of the human family.

[ocr errors]

To prevent ambiguity, it may be proper, before proceeding farther, to give a brief explanation of the principal terms in common use on this subject.

ATONEMENT. (—zaraλλayn.)—This is the characteristic appellation of the doctrine. It occurs frequently in our English translation of the scriptures, but only once in the new testament. The Hebrew word which is so translated signifies a covering. The verb means to cover, to draw over; whence it comes, by an easy and natural process, to signify to forgive, to expiate, to propitiate; that is, to cover an offence from the eye of offended justice by means of an adequate compensation. The term is applied to the mercy-seat, which was the lid or covering of the ark of the covenant, a divinely appointed symbol closely connected with the presentation of sacrifices on the day of expiation. The idea that seems to be expressed by this word, is that of averting some dreaded consequence by means of a substitutionary interposi


tion. It thus fitly denotes the doctrine of salvation from sin and wrath, by a ransom of infinite worth.The Greek word more closely harmonises with the English term atonement. It signifies reconciliation, or the removal of some hinderance to concord, fellowship, or good agreement. This is the true import of the term AT-ONE-MENT, the act of reconciling or uniting parties at variance. The next day, he (Moses) showed himself unto them, as they strove; and would have set them AT ONE again, saying, Sirs, ye are brethren; why do ye wrong one to another?" Sin has placed God and man apart from one another; all harmony between them has been broken up; and those who once dwelt together in perfect concord have been separated and disjoined. What Christ has done has had the effect of reconciling the parties—of restoring them to a state of one-ness with each other. The Deity is at-oned; God is brought to be at-one with his people; the work of the Redeemer is a proper at-one-ment. "We joy in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the AT-ONE-MENT.'

RECONCILIATION. This term occurs in both the old and new testaments several times. But it is generally, if not always, used as a translation of the original words above explained. Indeed, as has already been remarked, it is quite synonymous with the term atonement, involving the same ideas and serving the same purposes. It supposes bringing into a state

2 Acts vii. 26.

« PreviousContinue »