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It has often been said, by the enemies of the doctrine for which I have contended, that it would do to live by, but not to die by; meaning that it would not give the mind satisfaction, when sensible it was about to leave a mortal, for an immortal state. As to the truth of the assertion, I cannot positively say, that moment has not yet been experienced by me; and as those who make the remark have never believed the doctrine, I cannot see how they should know any better than I do. Thus much I can say, I believe I have seen, and often heard of persons rejoicing in the doctrine, in the last hours of their lives; but I do not build my faith on such grounds. The sorrows, or the joys of persons, in their last moments, prove nothing to me of the truth of their general belief. A Jew who despises the name of Christ, from the force of his education, may be filled with comfortable hopes, in his last moments, from the force of the same education. I have no doubt but a person may believe or pretend to believe, in the doctrine of universal salvation,when he knows of no solid reason for his belief, but has rather rested the matter on the judgment of those in whom he has placed more confidence than he has in reality, on the Saviour of the world; and I think it very possible, that such Universalists may have strange and unexpected fears, when the near approach of death, or any other circumstance, should cause them to think more seriously, on so weighty a subject.
What my feelings might be, concerning the doctrine which I believe, was I called to contemplate on a death bed, I am as unable to say, as I am what I may think of it a year hence, should I live and be in health. But I am satisfied, beyond a doubt, that if I live a year longer, and then find cause to give up my present belief, that I shall not feel a consciousness of having professed what I did not sincerely believe; and was I called to leave the world and my writings in it, and at the last hour of my life should find I had erred, yet I am satisfied, that I should possess the approbation of a good conscience in all I have written.
Therefore, though sensible of my imperfections, yet enjoying great consolation in believing the doctrine for which I have argued, in the following work, and in the enjoyment of a good conscience, I submit the following pages to a generous and candid public, praying for the blessing of the God whom I serve, on the feeble endeavors of the most unworthy whom he hath called as a servant of all men.
THE AUTHOR'S PREFACE TO THE FIFTH EDITION
As this edition of the treatise on atonement, in several re spects, varies from former editions, the author feels that he owes it to the public to offer some reason for such variations.
It has pleased God to continue his life, until this work has passed through four editions, with all the imperfections which it contained when first published, nearly thirty years ago. For a number of years he has seen reasons to doubt the correctness of some of the opinions which he entertained at the time he wrote the work; and also the propriety of the use he then made of certain passages of scripture. In his preface to the first edition, he says; I have had, for sometime, an intention to write a treatise on this subject, but thought of deferring it until more experience might enable me to perform it better, and leisure give me opportunity to be more particular. But the consideration of the uncertainty of life was one great stimulous to my undertaking it at this time, added to a possibility of living to be informed with what success it meets in the world, and of having an opportunity to correct whatever I might, in my future studies, find incorrect, were not the smallest causes of my undertaking it.'
Now as he has lived to know that the denomination of christians, to which he belongs, has given to this humble work a much more favorable reception than he had any reason to anticipate, and bestowed on it an attention which far exceeds his most flattering hopes, and as he has, as he thinks, improved in his understanding, in certain particulars; so as to feel satisfied that the work needed correction, he felt bound, in duty to himself and the public, to make such corrections as his present views required.
But be it known, and duly considered, that in no particular has the author's views, undergone any change unfavorable to the main doctrine, to the support of which the treatise was devoted.
The main points, in relation to which his views now differ from those he entertained when he first wrote the following work, relate to the pre-existence of Christ, of man's existence before his corporeal organization; and the application of some passages of scripture solely to the purifying operations of divine truth in man's understanding which passages he now believes embraced, in their true sense, all the temporal judgments with which a most perverse and wicked generation was visited.
Although he as fully believed in the dependence of Christ on his God and Father, as he now does, he entertained the opinion that he had a sentinent existence before he was manifested in flesh; and he then thought that certain passages of
scripture evidently supported that opinion. These passages, though they seem to favor such a sentiment, do not appear altogether sufficient, fully to warrant the belief of it. Could the opinion now be fully supported that Christ existed in a sentinent state before he was manifested in the flesh, it would not be difficult to yield to a belief that Adam also had an existence before he was formed of the dust of the ground. However these things are, in fact, they now appear to the author as points of mere speculation, much too obscure to be laid down as matters of faith.
It is of importance here to remark, that the moral relation which the treatise originally represented man to hold to the Creator, from which relation momentous deductions were drawn, is still believed; and all those deductions are retained.
To the foregoing it may be proper to add, that the doctrine of a future disciplinary state, and the application of certain passages of scripture to that state of suffering which were left in suspense, undecided, in the treatise originally, were so left on account of the author's mind being then undecided in relation to these subjects. He was, however, as well convinced then as now, that the doctrine of a future retribution could be supported on no other hypothesis than that of the continuance of sin in a future state; but he was not then so fully satisfied, that all which the scriptures say about sin, and the punishment of it, relates solely to this mortal state as he now is.
The author entertains no doubt that many will regret, that, as an opportunity has offered, the treatise should not be more improved as to its style. As an apology for this defect, he offers two suggestions: first. He could not consent so entirely to alter the work as to endanger the loss of what has probably given its arguments and easy access to the understanding of common readers. And second. A consciousness that any effort or labor in his power to make or bestow, would, after all, leave many offences to the delicate nice reader.
The author is not willing to neglect this opportunity to tender his grateful acknowledgements to his numerous friends who have so indulgently regarded his different publications, and so extensively patronised his labors. That a growth in the knowledge of divine truth, and treasures laid up where neither moth nor rust can corrupt, may be their recompense, is the sincere prayer of their devoted servant The Author.
In this treatise on atonement, I shall confine myself to three general inquiries. 1st. Of Sin. 2d. Of Atonement for Sin. 3d. Of the Consequences of Atonement to Mankind. These particulars may be represented by a disorder; the remedy for the disorder, and the health enjoyed in consequence of a cure.
And 1st. Of sin, which for the sake of ease, I subdivided as follows. 1. Its nature. 2. Its cause. And
3. Its effects.
And first of the nature of sin. Sin is the violation of a law which exists in the mind, which law is the imperfect knowledge men have of moral good. This law is transgressed, whenever, by the influence of temptation, a good understanding yields to a contrary choice. Where a law exists, it presupposes a legislature whose intention, in legislation must be thwarted, in order for the law to take cognizance of sin. This legislature, in all moral accountable beings, is a capacity to understand, connected with the causes and means of knowledge, which standing or existing, on finite and limited principles will justify my supposition, that sin, in its nature ought to be considered finite and limited, rather than infinite and unlimited, as has by many been supposed.