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ON THE ATONEMENT.
Heb. ix. 22.
And without shedding of blood is no remission.
IS it not enough (it may be asked,) in order to obtain the pardon of sins, that the sinner should repent of his trespasses and reform his conduct? Is not acknowledgment of the offence, and the reformation of the offender, all which God requires? In his threatenings or punishments, has he any other object? If these are wanting, can any thing compensate for them? If they appear, can the Father of his creatures, who delighteth in mercy, require any other inducement to shew it?
So have men reasoned concerning the Divine proceedings. Of such reasoning, however, we may observe, that it not only supposes us to know adequately the nature of God, and all the ends he has in view in his dispensations of justice and mercy; but assumes also, that there can be no possible reason why he should choose a particular mode in which forgiveness shall be dispensed. Doubtless, whenever God pardons sin, it is of his spontaneous grace and mercy; but yet that free
grace is not at all diminished by his choosing, for wise ends, that the sinner should receive his favours through the channel of some particular institution. And the Bible the only true history of God's dealings with man-has in fact shewn us, that it has very frequently pleased him to ordain some particular way of dispensing his mercies, independently of the repentance or the good disposition which he has required in the subjects of them.
Thus, on that memorable night in which the Israelites were to be permitted to depart out of Egypt, when the angel of God passed through the land and smote all the first born in every house, it pleased God to appoint, as the means of safety to his people, that they should sprinkle the door-posts, and the lintels of their houses with the blood of a lamb; and that, when the destroying angel saw it, he should pass over that house. For what purpose, it may be asked, was such a rite ordained? Was it not enough that the Israelites were his chosen people; and that the judgment about to be inflicted was intended to effect their deliverance? Could it be needful thus to mark their houses, lest the destroying angel should mistake? Or was this singular ceremony to have the effect of a propitiation? Or what was there so indispensable in the nature of the rite, that prayer to God, and humble confidence in his mercy, could not have engaged the Divine protection without it? I reply, that when we consider the rite without regard to its institution, there was nothing in it which could move the compassion of God, or recommend those who performed it to his favour. But if, for reasons of his own, it seemed good to him to prescribe it, as the condition and the medium of that blessing which he meant to bestow, was he not at liberty to do so? Shall we say, that the rite could not derive from such an appointment a value and efficacy which it did not naturally possess? Is it not, in short, sufficient to say, that the observance of this ceremony ensured safety, and
the neglect of it was followed by destruction, because God had so ordained it?
When the children of Israel were in the wilderness, being discouraged because of the way, they spake against God, and against Moses. "Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt, to die in the wilderness; for there is no bread, neither is there any water, and our soul loatheth this light bread. And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, and much people of Israel died. Therefore the people came to Moses and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee; pray unto the Lord that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people." In this case not only did the people repent and confess their sin, but Moses also, a most favoured servant and distinguished prophet of the Lord, interceded for them. Was not this. it might be said, enough to obtain forgiveness, and make way for the exercises of the Divine clemency? Yet it did not supersede the necessity of a particular appointment for the communication of that mercy. "And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole, and it shall come to pass that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole; and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass he lived." This was a very remarkable display of the power and goodness of God. The effect was no less than an instantaneous and perfect cure for every Israelite who had been bitten. But how was this cure to be obtained? The wounded were to look to the brazen serpent, elevated for that purpose in the midst of the camp. Consider merely the natural efficacy of these means, and what expedient could have been more hopeless? But God had ordained it to be the remedy. It was his pleasure, on this occasion, to bestow relief on those, and those only, who sought it in this particular way. To look at the serpent,
therefore, was an infallible cure: not one who beheld it perished.
But from these, it may be said, being particular instances, we can draw no inference with respect to those more public and general manifestations of mercy which it is our purpose to examine. In order, therefore, more fully to illustrate these, let me refer you to the institution of sacrifices. I need not remark, that under the Mosaic dispensation scarcely any mercy was sought or obtained without them, and that they therefore made a principal part of the Jewish religion. But I would observe farther, that it was not with the Mosaic dispensation that the use of them began. We must trace them to a higher original and more early antiquity. We find the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, sacrificing to the Lord. We read of Noah, that on his liberation from the ark, "he builded an altar, and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings upon the altar to the Lord;”— not only sacrificing, but making a selection of victims; and thus proving, that the rite had been known, and certain kinds of animals appropriated to it in the antediluvian world. Nay, traces of it may even be discerned in the short history of Adam and his immediate descendants. And that very high notions were entertained, with regard to the importance of sacrifices, may be learned from the accounts we have of Noah's posterity, who very generally, and for many ages continued the practice, even when they had lost the tradition of its original and Divine appointment.
Here, then, is a rite venerable for its antiquity, remarkable as being generally observed throughout the world, eminently conspicuous in the Jewish dispensation, and, indeed, constituting an important part of it, in which we discover the rule that God has seen fit to observe in bestowing pardon upon sinners. It is not enough that the offender acknowledges his sin, and implores forgiveness: "Without shedding of blood there