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WHATEVER wisdom there is in any constitution of govern. ment, such constitution may be liable to plausible objections. The number and speciousness of these objections may be greater in proportion, as those, who make them are ignorant of all the ends, with reference to which, the constitution was framed. A transient observer is not surprised, if in a complicated machine he sees some parts, the utility of which is not obvious. If he has confidence in the skill of the architect, it will not much perplex him, should he even observe some parts, or appendages, which have the appearance of retarding the great object, for which the machine was constructed. But suppose that object were unknown to him, any objections, which might occur against particular parts, would be of still less importance, perhaps, even of none. And if this object is but partially understood, the force of his objections will be proportionably diminished.
I now proceed to notice some of those arguments, which are brought with most confidence against the doctrine of atonement.
1. If Christ, who was himself innocent, died to procure impunity for sinners, it is said to manifest an indifference to right and wrong: It is taking punish nent from those, who deserved it, and placing it on him who did not.
1 answer, that whether the doctrine in question is true or false, facts, of the nature here mentioned, are daily occurring before our eyes. Men often suffer in consequence of actions in which they took no part, and to which they were not accessory. If a son, by disorderly living, involve himself in debt, his friends, to procure his relief, consent to make many sacrifices, and endure many privations. If his extravagance has produced diseases, which threaten death, they sedulously interpose their good offices, to alleviate his pains, or to prevent dissolution. In these cases, we perceive nothing which is difficult to be reconciled with the justice of divine government. Because a parent chooses to intervene between his child, and those sufferings or that infamy, to which the latter, by indiscretions or crimes, has exposed himself, no person is ever led to suspect, that the Sovereign of the universe is indifferent to right and wrong. In like manner, if an angel should choose to submit to some privations or positive pain with a view to alleviate the temporal sufferings of men, or meliorate the present condition of human society, it would enter the mind of no person, that the existence of such a fact was, in the smallest degree, discordant with divine impartiality and justice. But even were this matter attended with much difficulty, whatever mode of proceeding is adopted in one part of divine government, may doubtless be admitted into another. If, in that part of the divine economy, which is known to us, the innocent endure anxiety and labor to relieve the guilty; we can by no means be sure, that the same does not take place in those parts which are unknown. It is perfectly absurd, to say, that such a thing cannot be true, because it is inconsistent with the character of God, if there are other things in his government of a like nature. If, therefore, it is an obvious fact, that the sufferings of the rash and dissolute are relieved, or that such persons have health and comfort restored to them by the intervention of those, who took no part in their crimes, how can a reasonable man deny, that the salvation of sinners may be procured by the labors, or sufferings of Messiah ?
If this most benevolent and exalted being chose to divest himself of original glory, and to die the just for the unjust; is the divine character liable to impeachment, because nothing was done to prevent or discourage the measure?
Besides : It is a fact, as we have before observed, that Jesus Christ did suffer. He suffered then either for himself, or for others, or for nothing. That he suffered for personal crimes, will not be asserted by any one, who believes his religion. That he suffered for nothing, is a proposition, which will as readily be rejected. There is but one alternative: He suffered on account of others.
The person objecting, will perhaps, be willing to allow this. Those who disbelieve the doctrine of atonement, do not deny, that in some general sense, Christ suffered for the advantage of men. They are not unwilling to admit, that Christ died to confirm his doctrines, and that these doctrines are calculated to promote virtue and happiness. Now, though we endeavored in preceding lectures, to show, that Christ died, not only that men might be brought to virtue and repentance; but to render it consonant with the wise government of Jehovah to accept their penitence, yet the objection under consideration, lies with no greater strength, against the last opinion, than against the other. Suppose for a moment, that our own opinion is wrong, and the other is right. Suppose, that Christ died for no other purpose, than to confirm his religion; which religion is designed to bring men to virtue, and thus prepare them for glory. It will still be true, even by the consession of those, who hold this opinion, that Christ died for the guilty: an innocent person suffered, that the guilty might not suffer, which is precisely the thing, objected against the doctrine of alone. ment, as showing a manifest indifference to right and wrong. It is no more true on one supposition than on the other, that punishment is taken from those, who deserve it, and placed on him who did not. Can you possibly discern any difference? As to the sufferings of Christ, there is none; nor is
there any as to his innocence. It is undeniable on either supposition, that an innocent person suffered. Nor can it be denied, that these sufferings were endured on account of the guilty. For, had not men been sinners, a religion sealed, or confirmed by the death of Christ, would not have been necessary to their reformation. If an infidel brings the objection, with design to discredit the christian religion, I an" swer it, by saying first, the thing objected to, is analogous to facts, constantly existing under the government of God; and, therefore, the objection no more proves, that christianity is not from God, than that the system of nature and the government of the world are not from Him. I observe secondly, that the objection has no weight, because the sufferings of Christ, were not a matter of constraint, but of choice. But if a believer in christianity brings the objection, we are no more concerned in its removal, than he: and, therefore, it is absurd for him to attempt to subvert, by such means, the doctrine in question.
Varying the objection a little, it may be said, that every accountable creature ought to be treated according to his deserts : and that the suffering of one innocent being, in place of many offenders is inconsistent with this. I answer; It is no more inconsistent with this, than with the exercise of mercy in general. It is implied in the idea of mercy, that he, who is the subject of it, is not treated as severely, as he deserves. If that which is asserted in the objection, is true, I apprehend it fixes the doom of our whole guilty race. That they have sinned, is incontrovertible. If they must be treated according to their desert, they must endure the penalties of a violated law.
Should any reply be made to this, it must be, that human offences do not deserve punishment; or that obedience in one instance, makes amends for disobedience in others. I rejoin, that both these propositions are contradictory to the divine law.
1. Were it true that human offences do not deserve punishment, the divine law is calculated to deceive mankind by threatening a punishment, which cannot, without injustice, be inflicted: for it would be unjust to punish sin, if such punishment is unmerited. Nor is this all. If what is here asserted, is true, either the law misrepresents the divine character, or that character itself is wanting in moral purity. Nearly the same consequences will result from the other suggestion, viz. that obedience in one instance makes amends for disobedience in others. This, no less than the other opinion, is contradictory to the law of God. Nor can any rule of rectitude be conceived, to which this suggestion may be reconciled.
II. It is objected, that the doctrine of atonement is not consistent with our best ideas of divine mercy: for if God has received compensation for the offences of men, his not exacting punishment from them is no indication of compassion or liberality.
If it were correct to represent the sacrifice of Christ, as perfectly analogous to the payment of a debt; and that this measure originated with Christ, and not with the Father, the objection, perhaps, could not easily be removed: for when a debt is paid, he, to whom it was owed, has no further demands; and gratitude seems exclusively due to him, by whom the payment was made.
But this representation is not sanctioned by the scriptures. They speak of the Father, as originating the constitution of grace: and they describe the atonement, as that, through the medium of which grace is so exercised, that the sinner's pardon may be accompanied with a declaration of the divine displeasure against sin : that “God may be just, and the justifier of him, that believeth.” Now, it can surely derogate nothing from the riches of divine liberality, that in the manner of exercising it, wisdom is employed, and precautions are taken to prevent abuse. It were strange indeed, if the generosity of a prince must be questioned, because it is not an unqualified, random generosity, but exhibited in company with discretion and foresight.