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Art. IV.-1. The Catholic Doctrine of Redemption vindicated;
or Modern Views of the Atonement, particularly those of Dr. Wardlaw, examined and refuted. By ANDREW MARSHALL,
D.D. LL.D. Glasgow, 1844. 2. Of the Moral Principle of the Atonement. Also of Faith, and of
its two Sorts, Conviction and Confidence, and of the Connection between them. By the Rev. John PENROSE, M. A. Formerly of Corpus Christi College, Oxford; Author of the Bampton Lecture
Sermons for 1808, &c. London, 1843. 3. Christ the only Sacrifice: or Atonement in its Relations to God
and Man. By Nathan S. S. BEMAN, D.D., Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, Troy, N. Y. With an Introductory Chapter by SAMUEL HANSON Cox, D.D., Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, Brooklyn, N. Y. Second edition. New-York, 1844.
It has been well said, that, “in its simplest form, the problem of a religion may be expressed thus :-given a supreme Deity, the Creator and Governor of all things, and an intelligent creature in a state of alienation and estrangement from his Creator :-10 determine the means whereby a reconciliation may be effected, and the creature restored to the favor and service of his God.”
That the world is under a providential government which partakes distinctly of a moral character is proved from the constitution and course of things, and is a belief in which all people in all ages have participated. The progress of civilization, of ethical science, of public morality and political freedom, has tallied, in every age, with the advance of theological science. We make this statement with our eye resting clearly upon the annals of the past, and upon the influence which religious opinion has always exerted upon individuals and upon nations. Theology has always held the foremost rank in the sciences of every people, whether pagan or Christian; and thus will it continue to be regarded, while the constitution of the human mind remains as it is. Co-extensive with the belief in a moral government is the conviction, more or less distinct, of having offended against the supreme Administrator. A consciousness of guilt produces dread of punishment, and the unhappy delinquent betakes himself to measures whereby the apprehended vengeance of Heaven may be averted, and reconciliation attained. Meantime, by an eternal law of our moral nature, conscience appropriates each temporal calamity, or natural evil, as an omen of vindictive wrath.
The state of theological knowledge among any people has been distinguished by nothing more than by their views respecting the placability of the divine nature. The lowest type of the Gentile superstition invested the gods with a malicious and turbulent disposition toward mankind, “το θειον παν φθονερον τε και ταραχωδες;” and, if we may believe Herodotus,* this was the sentiment, and these the words, of the wise and good Solon. From the gloomy horrors of such a faith, the heathen mind arose by degrees to a more distinct idea of the divine benevolence, and to the hope that penitence might be accepted, and the divine Being be disposed to regard again with favor the offending creature. From the lips of the great Cicero we hear the almost inspired statement that piety and holiness will render the gods propitious : “Deos placatos pietas efficiet et sanctitas:"-a declaration which calls to mind the beautiful words of David: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” Some idea of the principles of reconciliation the heathen mind attained; still, after the lapse of four thousand years, the melancholy fact of pagan ignorance was confessed by Porphyry, that learned and bitter enemy of the Christian faith, "that there was wanting some universal method of delivering men's souls, which no sect of philosophy had ever yet discovered.”
From the nature of the case, if ever the human mind attains to just views of the plan of reconciliation, it must be by explicit revelation from God, and we turn to the Bible as to the only authentic source of information on the subject. But in approaching the sacred volume to deduce from it the true moral theory of the universe, the reader must be premonished that it is a book of facts, rather than of philosophy. All the great truths connected with our well-being are, indeed, clearly stated; but they are stated as facts. Nor are even these collected and arranged in any topical order, so as to present us with a regular system, but lie scattered over a vast field, falling out, rarely in set discussion, generally in an easy, matter-of-course way, in narrative, or song, or familiar colloquy, or hortatory address, as the particular occasion might suggest. To arrange these subjects in natural order, and illustrate and defend them by appropriate argument, is the business of systematic divinity,-if we would reduce theology to a science, in the proper sense of that word, we must advance a step further, we must offer the rationale of these facts. The atonement presents itself to us in
• Lib. 1, cap. 32.
these two aspects—as a fact, and as a scheme of government. To prove the fact, we appeal to the text of Scripture explained by the common laws of language; to understand the theory, we burst from the mere exegetical (we had almost said chrysalis) state of the inquiry, and advance to those generalizations by which the facts of revelation are explained, appealing to the principles of abstract truth. The text itself must never be lost sight of, must never be contradicted, must be implicitly followed without addition or diminution. The object is not to improve upon the sacred oracles—to proceed to new discoveries in religion-nor to alter the plain, practical bearing of Bible statements, but to adduce those general principles of which the facts of revelation are predicated, and by which the reasons of the divine conduct may be, in some humble sense, disclosed to the admiration of intelligent creatures. The fact of atonement is proved when it is shown by fair, defensible exegesis of the sacred text, that the mediation of Christ, including his active obedience, his sacrificial death, and his intercession, has the efficacy to procure pardon to the guilty: the philosophy of atonement is concerned with the question, On what principles does this mediation avail to this end ?
Full well we appreciate the magnitude and awful sanctity of this stupendous theme. It extends through all time, stretches through eternity, and loses itself from our view in the unfathomable counsels of the only Wise. The greatest minds have stood awe-struck at the contemplation of those heights and depths which the human intellect can never adequately reach. The great Butler stood here, as Moses before the Mount of Horeb: we, too, will “ take off our sandals.” “Angels desire to look into this;" not into the factthat a little child understands—but into the only mystery which belongs to it—the reasons of this wonderful plan. We imitate the celestial example. It is not inquiry that is prohibited, but only irreverent inquiry. The whole analogy of providence and of revelation authorizes the belief, that somewhat of the reasons of the divine conduct may be sought out and comprehended by us. God has revealed to us somewhat of the philosophy of this subject. All men have had theories of atonement, and of moral government, just as of natural philosophy, and so will they have to the end of time. The question is not, Shall we have a theory? but, Shall we have the right one? Two errors we should avoid. We have no right to deny an authenticated fact, because we cannot explain all its relations to all other facts; nor should our inability to discover all the connecting links of cause and effect, nor the manifest impiety of an attempt to penetrate into the secret counsels of the Almighty, operate to disparage a reverent and humble inquiry into the great principles of the mediatorial administration.
Everywhere in Scripture the mediation of Christ is asserted to have a connection with the pardon of the sinner. Few, even among Unitarians, deny this. It is only the lowest type of Socinianism, which is scarcely a shade different from Deism, that has the hardihood to reject this doctrine. But the important question is, What is this connection? How do the life and death of Christ exert an influence to procure pardon and eternal life to the penitent guilty? It is not our intention to discuss the Socinian theory, nor yet that "middle scheme,” as it has been called, for which H. Taylor, Dr. Price, and others, have so earnestly contended; we confine our remarks to the views entertained by the orthodox party.
Three opinions respecting the nature of atonement, or satisfaction, made by Christ, divide orthodox divines of the present day. First, we may mention that which is advocated by Dr. Marshall, in the work whose title is given at the head of this article. This theory supposes the divine Lawgiver, in providing and accepting the atonement, to have proceeded throughout upon the principle of retributive justice; that the penalty of the law, being due from the offender after transgression, was still rigorously exacted, but was accepted from Christ as the sinner's substitute. According to this scheme, the rectoral honor and integrity of the divine Governor could be vindicated in no other way than by a literal process of law. Satisfaction, therefore, must consist of an exact fulfillment of the original demand,—the life of Christ satisfying for a broken precept, his death for a non-inflicted penalty.
The second theory we notice is at the opposite extremity from this, and among late writers has not found a inore able advocate than Mr. Penrose, whose work is mentioned at the head of this article. This theory bases itself upon what is called the natural availableness of repentance. Its fundamental principles may be thus stated:—God is infinitely good, and of his own nature disposed to make his creatures happy. To secure their happiness he has given them rules for their government, and in case of defection from these rules, he requires only that they return to their duty with penitence for their sin, when he graciously receives them, and from his spontaneous goodness forgives their past delinquency. As true repentance is the grand prerequisite and only condition of pardon, so the gospel is but one vast system of means adapted to induce right moral exercises in the heart; and the death of Christ, which is fundamental to the gospel scheme, operates as a powerful motive to repentance and reformation, in which suasive power all
its saving efficacy consists. Take the following as Mr. Penrose's notion of pardon through a mediator. He says :
“ As a prisoner is redeemed by paying a ransom, so all they who choose to escape from the bondage of corruption may obtain liberation from it if they will lay hold of the price which Christ has paid to set them free: that is, if they will lay hold of it as an effectual motive to break its chain. As a creditor, when satisfied by payment, remits a debt, so God, when we have made to him that offering of faith and repentance which Christ enables us to make, remits our heavy offenses.... Christ's death, moreover, is to be especially regarded as the hinge, the moral hinge of the whole gospel system; inasmuch as it teaches us, in the most expressive manner, the necessity of dying to sin ; of expunging through the same moral application of this doctrine, and through the preventing aid of the Spirit, the blot on our nature which sin makes; and as it also teaches us the necessity of a new creation to holiness.”—Pp. 38, 39, 181, 183.
However defective this theory may be regarded, and however ultra Socinian its aspect may seem, it is not unsanctioned by the authority of great names in the orthodox family. It is well known that Bishop Warburton has long been complained of for lending the influence of his powerful mind in support of views essentially the same, while Dr. Johnson, though not of so high authority in matters of faith, is also claimed, and justly, by the same school. Bishop Gleig sides with the same viewf against Archbishop Magee, and others. The advocates of this theory are thorough trinitarians, and subscribe to the sacrificial and piacular character of Christ's death as heartily as do their orthodox opponents; but they, of course, adopt Scripture terms upon their own principles of explication. With much truth and plausible semblance to plead in its defense, this theory must, nevertheless, be regarded as radically defective. It does not so much teach doctrines palpably false, as omit those which are essentially and fundamentally true. It embraces at most but half the truth. We readily admit that the whole character of Christ, and the entire gospel system, are admirably adapted to exert a moral, reformative influence upon man; but this does not disclose the proper primary ground whereof the necessity of Christ's death is predicated. It leaves out of view the public character of offense, and makes it a mere private affair with Deity, whose natural generosity is supposed to be the only requisite secu
* See his 9th Book of the Divine Legation, &c. | See Rambler, No. 110.
| Study of Theology, pp. 215–220. See the same view held forth in Dr. N. Lardner's Sermon on Gal. iii, 13, 14; Works, vol. v.