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THE NECESSITY OF THE ATONEMENT.
The different branches of this great subject so far involve each other, as to render it difficult, or rather impossible, to avoid, in the discussion of one branch, the introduction of remarks which appear essential to the elucidation of another. The statements already made to illustrate the nature of the atonement, and the connexion which exists between the sacrifice of Christ, and the forgiveness of sin, exhibit with a considerable degree of clearness the necessity of that atonement. This important branch of the subject must not, however, be thus cursorily dismissed. The reader's attention is, therefore, called to the following position, as that which is about to be defended ; viz., that, as far as we are able to judge, there existed a moral necessity for the sufferings and death of Christ, in order to the forgiveness of sin. This position is to be maintained, not only against those who altogether deny the doctrine of the atonement; but against others, who acknowledge that, in point of fact, pardon does flow to us through the atonement, while they are backward to affirm, and contend, indeed, that we have no right to affirm, that it could not have made its way to us through any other channel.
The latter appears to be the opinion of Dr. Magee. He gives the following as the title of one of the notes appended to his discourses: “ The doctrine of atonement falsely charged with the presumption of pronouncing on the necessity of Christ's death." (P. 188.) “That men could not have been forgiven unless Christ had suffered to purchase the forgive
IT IS A MORAL NECESSITY,
ness, is no part,” he assures us, " of the doctrine of atonement as held by the Church of England.” Now, if his Lordship had merely intended to deny that we are entitled to affirm that men could not have been forgiven unless that particular mode of satisfying Divine justice which the gospel reveals, had been resorted to, I should not have taken any exception against his statements. It would be hazardous in us to affirm, that, by the unsearchable and infinite wisdom of the Deity, no other mode of effecting this important object could have been devised. But the difference is great between denying the necessity of satisfaction for sin altogether, and denying the necessity of a particular mode of satisfaction; and, unless I have mistaken his Lordship's meaning, it is of the former that he seems to intimate doubt. I say seems to intimate doubt, because the following passage appears to grant, at the conclusion, what it denies at the commencement. “When, therefore, Grotius, Stillingfleet, and Clarke, are charged with contending for the necessity of a vindication of God's honour, either by the suffering of the offenders, or by that of Christ in their room, they are by no means to be considered as contending that it was impossible for God to have established such a dispensation as might enable him to forgive the sinner without some satisfaction to his justice, which is the sense forcibly put upon their words; but that, according to the method and dispensation which God's wisdom has chosen, there results a moral necessity of such vindication, founded in the wisdom and prudence of a Being, who has announced himself to mankind as an upright Governor, resolved to maintain the observance of his laws." (P. 191.) Now, if there exists this moral necessity for such a vindication, how could a dispensation have been established which would have admitted of pardon without it? That it is both absurd and impious "to enter into the councils of the Almighty, and to decide what infinite wisdom must have determined under a constitution of things different from the present,” we are as fully persuaded as his Lordship. But, when we maintain the moral necessity of the atonement, we make no approach to such unhallowed license. Our statements are based upon facts-facts admitted by himself, as well
AND ESTABLISHED BY FACT.
as by us. Jehovah is the head of a system of moral government—that system has been invaded by sin—the transgressor is pardoned through the atonement. It is, of course, on contemplating the entrance of sin, that we affirm the necessity of satisfaction. That necessity is established by the fact of its having been made. The necessity of a satisfaction equal in magnitude to that which was actually rendered, is also established by fact—the fact, that one of inferior importance was not presented. Jehovah would not have gone to greater expense than was necessary. Had there been any other medium for the remission of sin, equally honourable to the character, and safe to the government of God, not requiring so illustrious a sacrifice as the death of his Son, then most assuredly the Saviour would not have died upon the cross. It is by facts, then, that we justify our statements in reference to the necessity of the atonement. By necessity we mean, of course, a moral necessity;-a necessity originating in the rectoral character of Jehovah, and the nature of the government which he exercises over intelligent creatures; such a necessity, in short, as is exhibited in those memorable words of the apostle, “ It became Him, of whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through suffering."
There are those, however, who deny at least one of the facts to which we have now referred, and who, of course, cannot feel the force of the argument just urged upon those by whom the whole are acknowledged. Unitarians, who harmonize on this subject with Deists, join to represent a satisfaction for sin as unnecessary; and deny, of course, that any such satisfaction was intended or made by the death of Christ. Dr. Priestley, in his history of the doctrine of atonement, says, “That the great object of the mission and death of Christ, was to give the fullest proof of a state of retribution, in order to supply the strongest motives to virtue; and the making an express regard to the doctrine of a resurrection to eternal life, the principal sanction of the laws of virtue, is an advantage peculiar to Christianity. By this peculiar advantage the gospel reforms the world, and remission of sins is consequent on
PARDON IS NOT NECESSARILY
reformation. For, although there are some texts in which the pardon of sin seems to be represented as dispensed in consideration of the sufferings, the merits, the resurrection, the life, the obedience of Christ; we cannot but conclude, upon a careful examination, that all these views of it are partial representations, and that, according to the plain general tenour of Scripture, the pardon of sin is, in reality, always dispensed by the free mercy of God, upon account of men's personal virtue, a penitent upright heart, and a reformed exemplary life, without regard to the sufferings or merit of any being whatever."
The Deist tells us, that, since obedience must be the object of God's approbation, and disobedience the ground of his displeasure, it must follow, by natural consequence, that when men have transgressed the Divine commands, repentance, and amendment of life, will place them in the same situation as if they had never offended."
“ It is lamentable to confess,” says Magee, “ that the name of Warburton is to be coupled with the defence of the deistical statement just made. But no less true is it than strange, that in the account of natural religion which that eminent writer has given in the ninth book of the Divine Legation,' he has pronounced, in terms the most unqualified, upon the intrinsic and necessary efficacy of repentance; asserting, that it is plainly obvious to human reason, from a view of the connexion that must exist between the creature and his Maker, that, whenever man forfeits the favour of God by a violation of the moral law, his sincere repentance entitles him to the pardon of his transgressions.'
In opposition, then, to those writers who mantain the necessary connexion between repentance and forgiveness, I argue that they have taken up a false and a useless position.
1st. It is a false position. Granting that the systems afforded any security for the repentance of the transgressor, there are powerful reasons against the supposition that penitence will place him in the same situation as if he had never offended; for,
First, It is manifest that the case of the penitent differs
CONNECTED WITH PENITENCE.
very materially from that of the innocent man. It is obvi. ously, therefore, most unlikely that, under the government of a Being who has declared that he will render to all the subjects of his government according to their works, the transgressor, though a penitent, should receive the honour and reward which the law attaches to perfect obedience. Were that the case, how could the ways of God be equal ?
Secondly, In the case of human governments, repentance does not place the transgressor in the situation in which he stood before the commission of the crime; nay, it does not even arrest the descent of the sword of vengeance. When did an individual guilty of theft, or murder, or treason, escape on account of his sorrow for what he had done, although his sorrow were most profound as well as sincere? When, indeed, was the plea of penitence, in bar of punishment, urged by a cri. minal, unless the horror of his situation had unsettled the balance of his mind? Never. A moment's reflection serves to convince us that such a plea could not be regarded; that, strongly as the personal feelings of the judge might prompt him to the exercise of mercy, a regard to his character, his duty, his office, to the safety of the government, and the welfare of the country, ought to lead to their suppression, and constrain him, as the mouth of the law, to pronounce the sentence which that law attaches to the offender's crime.
Thirdly, In reference to that part of the Divine government which falls under our observation, it is not the case that repentance places an individual in the position which he occupied previously to his transgression. “Actual experience of the course of nature,” says Dr. Magee, “ directly contradicts the assertion." “In the common occurrences of life, the man who, by intemperance and voluptuousness, has injured his character, his fortune, and his health, does not find himself instantly restored to the full enjoyment of these blessings, on repenting of his past misconduct, and determining on future amendment. Now, if the attributes of Jehovah demand that the punishment should not outlive the crime, on what ground shall we justify this temporal dispensation? The difference in degree cannot affect the question in the least. It matters