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THE CLAIMS OF JUSTICE ON THE SINNER
guilt, or desert—he acts under the guidance of certain fixed principles. What are they? What does a subject of moral government—of the moral government of God, for instance, deserve to suffer? Can any other answer be returned than that he deserves to endure that precise amount of punishment which is adapted to answer the ends of moral governmentto array the law in those terrors which are calculated to prevent, and which, if they were rightly considered, would prevent, the inroad of sin? To attach to transgression any amount short of this, would be folly; and, therefore, useless cruelty. To attach an amount beyond this would be unnecessary; and, therefore, malevolence, and injustice. The fact is, that guilt, i. e., desert of punishment, can only exist in connexion with a moral system. This is true, also, of its opposite, to which we may give the name of moral merit. Both guilt and moral merit necessarily suppose the pre-existence of moral government; for they are, in fact, the claim upon the head of that government which the conduct of its subjects gives them to its punishment, or its rewards. There is a difference in this point of view between guilt and merit, and virtue and vice. The two latter do not seem necessarily to suppose the existence of moral government. Hence, though Jehovah is a perfectly holy Being, and perfectly happy on that account, we never say that he deserves to be so, because he is not a subject of moral government.
In the case of a transgressor, then, justice is satisfied when that measure of punishment is inflicted upon him, which will restore to the law its original power and efficiency. So far every thing seems to be tolerably plain. It is only when we approach a case of substitution that much difficulty is experienced. Granting, that moral government will at all admit the principle of substitution, (and that it will do this is manifest from the fact that it has done it; nor do I see any difficulty in the case, where the individual presenting himself in the place of the transgressor has a right to do it and where the acceptance of him would equally answer the ends of moral government, the question is, “ With what measure of suffering in the substitute will justice be satisfied ? Must
AND ON THE SUBSTITUTE.
he, in all cases, bear the exact amount which the guilty party himself would have sustained ?" To this question I reply very firmly in the negative. The same principles which afforded direction in reference to the transgressor himself, will guide us here. Justice, accepting of the substitute, is satisfied with that measure of suffering, in his case, which will as effectually secure the honour and influence of the law, and the consequent safety of the government, as if the transgressor himself had been the victim. Should the substitute be greatly superior in character and station to the criminal, the ends of moral government may be as effectually secured-perhaps indeed more so-by the infliction of a few strokes upon him, as by the laying of the whole number upon the offender in his own person. Should the substitute be a being of infinite dignity and glory, a still inferior degree of suffering would be required; nay, justice might be as completely satisfied by the infliction of a single stroke upon him, as if not only the guilty individual himself, but the whole race to which he belonged, had suffered the full amount of punishment which the law attached to their crimes ; i.e., atonement would be made for the whole race; or, which is the same thing, the obstacles which formerly opposed the bestowment of pardon upon the whole, or any part of the race, would be removed. It would be competent to the moral governor to pardon one or all, without destroying the influence of his law, and endangering the safety of his government. I have been exhibiting the substitution of the Saviour himself; and the important bearing of these statements upon the extent of the atonement, will be more particularly noticed when we advance to that interesting branch of the subject.
I would just observe, before I proceed to the next point of inquiry, that the general views already presented to the reader, will guide to an explanation of the phrase, “ the value of the sufferings of Christ," somewhat different from that which is usually attached to it. It is generally, I believe, understood to denote the intrinsic excellence, or virtue, of the act of our Lord in offering himself as a sacrifice for our sins. To me it appears that this intrinsic excellence, though essential to the value of his sufferings, did not constitute it. That value is
THE CONNEXION BETWEEN
rather to be regarded as consisting in their tendency, in consequence of their manifestation of the righteousness of the law, and the danger consequent upon transgression, to preserve unimpaired the moral power of the law, even while pardon is extended to those who have violated it.
Thirdly, we now proceed to show the ground on which pardon flows to those who repent and believe the gospel on account of this sacrifice ;-or the connexion which exists between it, and the forgiveness of sin.
The observations which would seem to be required on this particular, have been so completely anticipated, that we might proceed at once to the following section, were it not proper to examine the statement of those writers who maintain that the atonement is, in fact, the channel through which forgiveness flows to the penitent, but avow at the same time, that there is no discoverable connexion between the one and the other ;or, that it is impossible for us to explain the manner in which the sacrifice of our Lord operated to procure the pardon of sin.
In this class of writers, we are constrained to place one individual, to whom all who attach paramount importance to the doctrine of atonement, are ready to confess the deepest obligations. I allude to the very learned and talented Dr. M‘Gee, I cannot but regard the language of this powerful writer, in reference to this point, as the greatest blemish in his valuable work. The sacrifice of Christ was never deemed by any who did not wish to calumniate the doctrine of atone. ment, to have made God placable, but merely viewed as the means appointed by the Divine wisdom, by which to bestow forgiveness.” (Vol. i., p. 22.) Having advanced this general statement, which is true in one sense, and false in another, he proceeds, " But still it is demanded, in what way can the death of Christ, considered as a sacrifice of expiation, be conceived to operate to the remission of sins, unless by appeasing a being who otherwise would not have forgiven us ?” To this, he adds, “ The answer of the Christian is, I know not, nor does it concern me to know, in what manner the sacrifice of Christ is connected with the forgiveness of sins; it is enough that it is declared by God that this is the medium through
ATONEMENT AND FORGIVENESS.
which my salvation is effected. I pretend not to dive into the secrets of the Almighty. I submit to his wisdom, and I will not reject his grace, because his mode of vouchsafing it is not within my comprehension." And, after an attempt to illustrate the subject by stating that we might put a similar inquiry in reference to the manner in which the supplications of one man avail on behalf of others, he adds, “ The fact is, the want of discoverable connexion has nothing to do with either. Neither the sacrifice, nor the intercession, has, as far as we can comprehend, any efficacy, whatever. All that we know, or can know, of the one or of the other, is, that it has been appointed as the means by which God has determined to act with respect to men." (Pp. 24, 25.)
Further occasions for remark upon the statements of Dr. Magee will occur. In the mean time I cannot but express the fullest concurrence in the judgment expressed by Dr. P. Smith, “that some passages in Dr. Magee's work indicate a material difference from those views which I think it my duty to maintain upon the real value of the Redeemer's sacrifice its relation to the moral attributes and government of Godits connexion with the Divine nature of Christ-its efficiency —and its application.” (Vide Note 15th, 1st Edition.)
No doubt can be entertained that it is dangerous to attempt to be wise above what is written; yet, with attention to this maxim, we should blend the practical recollection, that it is as much a duty to aim at reaching the height of revelation, as to refrain from every effort to rise above it. Now I cannot think that the Scriptures are silent on this point; and to me, I confess, it appears not a little singular that a writer who entertains those views of the nature of the atonement which have been presented in the foregoing pages, and which seem to be held by Dr. Magee, should be able to veil from himself the connexion which exists between the sacrifice of Christ, and the forgiveness of sin. Did not the atonement of the Saviour exhibit the righteousness of God—the rectitude of his lawthe impossibility of transgressing it with impunity? Did it not thus render it possible for the moral Governor to pardon sin, without endangering the safety of his government ? And,
STATEMENTS OF MAGEE.
if we maintain this, what do we, in effect, but affirm, in different words, the tendency of that atonement to secure forgiveness? If the essential nature of Jehovah is love, and if the atonement of his Son broke down the barriers which the necessity of supporting his government had erected to prevent its communication to men, what mystery can there be in its flowing to them after that event? What connexion can be more natural -so necessary
indeed as that which exists between the sacrifice of our blessed Lord, and the issuing, in the first place, of an universal proclamation of mercy; and, in the second place, the bestowment of pardon upon those who seek this mercy, in this divinely appointed manner? Dr. Magee did not manifest his usual discrimination when he denied, in effect at least, that the atonement is founded on the Divine implacability. He does not make the necessary distinction between the public and the private character of Jehovah. It were to dishonour him, to attribute implacability to him in the one character, but not in the other. A judge ought, as we have said, to be implacable; i. e., not capable of being induced to pardon, whenthe law says, Inflict punishment. It is his honour and perfection to be so.
He must listen to no plea for mercy, which does not bring the case within the range of those to which mercy may be extended according to law; and then it loses, partially at any rate, its character of mercy. The sacrifice of Christ did render Jehovah placable; i.e., it rendered it possible for him, consistently with the claims and the safety of his government, to show mercy. It rendered it possible for the essential and infinite placability of the universal Parent, to develop itself in the actions of the Judge ;--possible for him to unveil to us his heart of love, by bringing us to enjoy the unutterable felicities of heaven through the death of his Son. Still I do not recommend the phraseology, that the death of Christ rendered the Father placable, because it may be misunderstood; and is, in fact, in great danger of being so ;-the word implacability being generally conceived to imply, though it does not necessarily imply, malevolence. This does not, however, justify Dr. Magee in throwing upon it unmingled contempt and scorn.