Page images
PDF
EPUB

apostle has, with perfect clearness, shown how this redemption is obtained ; viz. by our Savior's being made a curse for us: i. e. by his baving endured that penalty of the law, in consequence of which, we are set at liberty. The penalty of the law is an expression of God's displeasure at sin: this expression has been made by the sufferings of Christ.

The apostle John speaks of Christ, as “the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only; but for the sins of the whole world.” In the preceding verse, he appears in a different character; namely, that of an advocate. “If any man sin," saith the sacred writer, " we have an advocate with the Father; it is then suhjoined, “And he is the propitiation for our sins.” In discharging the office of advocate, he proceeds on the groạnd of that propiatory sacrifice, which he offered upon earth. The Father is besought to confer favors on men, in virtue of those sufferings, which the Son endured at his crucifixion. “As the sacrifices of the Old Testament,” says Dr. Wbithy, “ were slain, and the blood shed, before it was brought to the mercy seat, and yet the high priest made atonement with it, when, at his entrance into the holy place, he offered up that blood to God, in his peculiar presence; so, though our Lord was slain and shed, his blood on earth, yet may he make atonement in the presence of God with it, hy virtue of the sufferings, which he endured, when this blood was shed.”

We ought, by no means, to pass unnoticed the words, used by our Saviour, when he instituted the sacrament. “This," saith he, speaking of the wine, " is the New Testament in my blood, which is shed for you."

It would be easy to multiply passages of a similar nature, They are scattered in great profusion through the scriptures, especially the New Testament. That the apparent meaning of these passages is such, as to countenance and support the doctrine of atonement, will hardly be denied. It would be criminal and absurd, therefore to seek a different interpreta. tion, vnless there is something in the doctrine itself, abhor

rent from reason, or from other parts of inspired scripture.

But I have endeavored to show, that reason is so far from presenting obstacles to our belief in the doctrine, that the hypothesis of God's pardoning sins without any atonement, is liable to such objections, as reason is wholly unable to remove. It is, by consequence, so far from being true, that previous improbability renders it necessary to seek some interpretation of these similar texts, different from that which is most obvious, that there is a strong presumption in its fivor. Were these passages equally susceptible of two interpretations, one in favor of atonement the other having no relation to it it; is questionable whether any person, who had been habituated impartially and sedulously to contemplate the first principles of natural religion, would hesitate to adopt the former interpretation. How much less, when this interpretation is undeniably far more literal and obvious, than any other. It must, I think, be conceded by those, who deny the doctrine of atonement, that had it been the intention of the apostles to have taught it, ihey could not easily have found language, more to their purpose.

We will now briefly notice the remarks, which are made to enfeeble or destroy the evidence hence arising.

1. That the death of Christ is called a sacrifice for sin, not because it really was such; but merely in accommodation to the prejudices of mankind, who, from the beginning of the world, expected pardon through the efficacy of sacrifice. By this it appears, that the general sentiment of mankind has been such, as we have conveyed; viz. that repentance and amendment of life are not of themselves sufficient to procure forgiveness.

We will now attend to the objection; that the death of Christ is called a sacrifice for sin in accommodation to the prejudices which prevailed. This objection you will observe, concedes to us, that the languageof scripture is such, as to convey the ideas, for which we contend; viz. that Christ died, as a sacrifice for sin.

That he did die for this purpose, is either true, or it is not. The latter is what the objector designs to prove: but he allows, at the same time, that the writers of scripture designed no such thing. They, to be sure, disbelieved the doctrine: but since mankind in general had a false belief concerning the efficacy of sacrifice, they not only forbore to oppose the error; but used such language, as was calculated to confirm it. The objection does not require nor deserve more particular examination.

II. Our Saviour is said to have been made a sacrifice for sin, it may be urged, not indeed, with design to deceive, but in allusion to Jewish sacrifices. The author of the epistle to the Hebrews, however, it has long since been observed, gives a very different account of the matter. He assures us, that the Mosaic phraseology was founded on the Levitical sacrifices being types, or prefigurations of the sacrifice of Christ. “The law was a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things. The priests, that offer gifts according to the law, serve under the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God, when he was about to make the tabernacle.” The Levitical priesthood was a shadow of the priesthood of Christ, in like manner, as the tabernacle, made by Moses, was according to that showed him in the mount.

The doctrine of this epistle, saith Butler, and after him, M'Knight, plainly is, that the legal sacrifices were allusions to the great and final atonement, to be made by the blood of Christ: and not that this was in allusion to those. To support which, the following passages are pertinently cited. " It is not possible, that the blood of bulls and of goals, should take away sin. Wherefore, when he cometh into the world, he saith, sacrifice and offering; i. e. such as were made under the law, thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me. Lo I come, I delight to do thy will, O God. By which will, we are sanctified, by the offering of the blood of Jesus once for all."

III. Though the death of Christ is called a sacrifice, other things, which are not literally so, it may be observed, are mentioned under that name. Good works are called sacrifices; and christians are required to " present themselves, as living sacrifices to God.” But these are never represented, as sacrifices for sin : nor are they cver mentioned in a manner, which has the least tendency to lead men to regard them in this manner.

We are sometimes reminded of this passage, found in Colossians 1. 24. “ I fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh, for his body's sake, which is the church.” By the afflictions of Christ, here mentioned, what must we understand ? Surely, not the sufferings, which Christ endured: that were impossible. Evidently then, those sufferings in the cause of Christ, are meant, which were reserved for the apostle. These he was ready, cheerfully, and bravely to encounter, for the sake of the church. It is, by no means, denied, that a man may die for the religion, or for the church of Christ. This was actually done by St. Stephen. But it is not said of Stephen, or of any other merely human being, that “he died for the sins of the world;" that he was made a sin offering:” that he “appeared to take away sin, by the sacrifice of himself:"' that he “bore our sins in his own body.” It is not said, that on Stephen, “ the Lord has laid the iniquities of us all;" nor has any apostle thus judged; If St. Stephen“ died for all, then were all dead."

Though Christ is represented in a great number of places, as a sacrifice for sin, the whole scripture evidence of his atonement is far from depending on such representation. In many of the passages quoted, no allusion to the sacrifices of the Mosaic law is recognized. They would have an important meaning, and afford strong proof of the doctrine in question, even if the Mosaic ritual had never existed. The expressions are extremely various: but the ideas conveyed are the same; viz. that in consequence of the sufferings of Christ, the sins of all, who repent, are remitted.

IV. Some persons may tell us, that the reason, why the scriptures speak so often of our being saved by the death of Christ, is, that his death was incurred in discharging the duties of a ministry, undertaken for the promotion of present virtue, and future happiness. I answer, that the same may be said of Stephen, Paul, or of any of the christian martyrs. Yet it is not said of them, that they have “washed us from our sins, in their own blood.”

Lastly. You may imagine, perhaps, that the reason, why so close a connexion is said in scripture to exist between human salvation and the death of Christ, is, that by that event, his doctrines, all which are of a salutary tendency, have been confirmed. The reply, which has just been made to another remark, is applicable to this; for the martyrs as much confirmed their doctrines by suffering, as did our Saviour. Both, in the same way evinced their integrity; their full belief in what they taught. But with regard to Christ, his death was far less than his resurrection, a proof of his doctrines. The former proved his own belief: the latter proved, that they received the Father's approbation. If either event, therefore, were on this account suitable to be mentioned very frequently, and very distinctly, as procuring the rernission of sins, it was beyond controversy, that of the resurrection. The fact is, not only, that the language of scripture is favorable to the doctrine of atonement; but will not without great violence, admit a different explanation.

« PreviousContinue »