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A limited Atonement inconsistent with the principles
of Moral Government.
It supposes fur
By a limited atonement, I understand, an atonement that consists in suffering the limited amount of punishment due in law to a certain number of offenders, the benefits of which are limited to that number, and to that number only. Such an atonement is at variance with the declared principles of divine moral government. It is at variance with the accountableness of sinners to the law, in their present state of probation; and it is inconsistent with the principles of justice on which the divine government is administered.
A limited atonement is established on the principle that the penalty threatened by the law must, of indispensable necessity, be executed, executed literally and fully, or otherwise the justice of the divine government would be weakened and dishonored. ther, that if the punishment of the law be not executed on the offender, it must be executed on the substitute. Then it proceeds to argue,-some offenders are through grace delivered from the punishment, therefore their punishment must have been inflicted on their substitute. And again,-some sinners will forever suffer the punishment of the law in hell, but it would be unjust to inflict the punishment again upon them, if Christ, as a substitute, endured it for them; and therefore the punishment of these sinners was never sustained by Jesus Christ in his atonement.
Sometimes the necessity of the sufferings of Christ as an atonement, is made to arise from the inexorableness of vindictive justice; and then, vindictive justice is represented as impossible to be satisfied and appeased, except by the awful intensity of the sufferings of the Mediator. Nothing less would propitiate it. Our ears and our hearts have been pained a thousand times, by
representations of the blessed God as if revelling in the agonies of the cross, and in the blood of his own Son. When “it pleased the Lord to bruise him,” it was not for the undivine gratification of inflicting pangs and tortures of intense pain; but "it pleased the Lord” to deliver him up a sacrifice for our offences, to substitute his sufferings instead of ours, an expedient for honoring the law and saving man. God still held bis Son in undiminished love, and had infinite pleasure in his vicarious undertaking, and had, in all the mysterious sufferings of the cross, sincere good-will towards the salvation
If we suppose the compensative scheme of atonement to consist not in a substitution of person only, but also in a substitution of sufferings, the atonement ceases to be a satisfaction to vindictive justice, but it will appear to be what it really is, an atonement to satisfy the ends of public justice.
Upon the principle of distributive justice, it is impossible to account for the atonement of Christ and for the salvation of man.
Some divines constantly affirm, that divine justice required the death of Jesus Christ as a substitute, and that the death of Christ satisfied divine justice.
Is this, indeed, true? To ascertain this, think, What is justice? Justice is giving to every one his due, or treating every one according to his character. Now, let us ponder it; “Was this justice satisfied in the death of Christ?” Justice is satisfied when it gives to every one his due, or treats every one according to his character. But, were the sufferings of an ignominious death really due to Christ? Did he DESERVE the treatment which he received? Is the salvation which sinners receive through his death really due to them? In short, is either Christ, or the sinner, treated in this transaction according to character?
I conceive that any man looking at this stupendous scheme, not through the colored medium of a theological system, will see that Christ received sufferings which he never deserved, and that the sinner receives blessings which were never due to his character. Divine justice treats neither party according to character: "the Just who “did this,” and deserved to "live,” dies; and “the soul that sinned,” and deserved to die, lives; both cases being contrary to the principle of distributive justice.
The remark is probably ready, that, "this is a peculiar exercise of justice, as 'the just' is substituted for “the unjust,' that the unjust might be saved for his sake.” Very well. Such a measure will be deemed and admired by all as an expedient of transcendent benevolence and clemency: but the original question still presses on us; “How is justice satisfied in it, when neither party has what is due to his character?” In this critical difficulty, reason and revelation meet us with the assurance, that though this expedient of substitution is not distributive justice, either to Cbrist or to the sioner, yet it is a measure of entire justice towards the interests of the community under divine moral government, because the ends of justice are as fully secured by the substitution, as if the offender himself had suffered. It is therefore evident that the justice which admitted of substitution is not what is called distributive justice. It is public justice.
The exercise of public justice is suitable to the relations existing between God and man, because it is free, benevolent, and honorable. Public justice is voluntary and optional. The standing order of the divine government is not that God must be just in executing punishment, but that he might be just in shewing elemency. It makes the infliction of the penalty not indispensable, but admissible, and it makes the suspension of the penalty admissible too, if the ends of its infliction can be otherwise honorably secured.
It is benevolent. It shews that God is on the side of good; that he has good-will to each subject, and to all his empire. "Therefore will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious; and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you; FOR the Lord is a God
of judgment.” Public justice is honorable. exercise God humbles himself without being dishonored: and man is condemned without being injured, and he is saved without reproach. God himself regards its exercise for a pleasure, a joy, and a glory. It is as a just God and a Savior, that he rests in his love, and joys over the universe with singing.
The hypothesis of a limited atonement is founded upon commercial views of the justice of God. It supposes that justice was administered to Christ as a substitute, upon commutative principles. The hypothesis stands thus: A certain number of souls was given to Christ to be saved—a certain amount of punishment was due to them for so many sins-Christ suffered that amount for them, and for them only; the benefits resulting from that suffering is limited to them, and to them only.
The supposition of God acting on the principle of commutative or commercial justice, taking and receiving a quid pro quo, completely perverts and destroys the moral dignity of the atonement, and its influence as a medium of saving man with honor to the divine government. It makes God to exact punctually from Christ the identical punishment threatened to the sinner, as none other could have been due, to be inflicted. It makes God to proportion the sufferings of his Son to the number of sins imputed to biin, as it would have been unjust to have inflicted more or less than the proportion really due. It represents the Father of mercies as doling out favors in proportion to the number and degree of his Son's sufferings, giving neither more nor less to any man than the purchased quantum. It represents the elect as claiming salvation as what is justly due to them from God, for value which he has received
, from their substitute, as it would be unjust to exact the same debt twice.
It represents the salvation of some men as utterly impossible, because their debt has never been paid. It exhibits the great and blessed God as mercenary in his gifts, unwilling to yield a single boon but for value received in the sufferings of his Son-sufferings which are represented as inducing (not to say bribing) Him to be propitious and merciful. . All these limitations of the atonement are to be traced to commercial views of divine justice; and surely, such troubled and unwholesome streams should make us seriously doubt the purity of their source,
I will now introduce a few citations from two of our most masterly divines, partly to supply specimens of what I mean by commercial views of the divine administrations; partly to shew that such commercial views naturally produce the doctrine of limited atonement; and partly to indicate how much these commercial views have colored a great portion of systematic theology. The number of citations of this character, either from these two authors themselves, or from other theological writers might be indefinitely increased-but these are sufficient.
The first author is Dr. Thomas Goodwin, a great master in the Israel of his day, whose works are marked by deep research, independent thinking, and evangelical suavity. The extracts will be from his “DISCOURSE OF CHRIST THE MEDIATOR," found in the third volume of his works in folio. ed. 1692. In b. i. chap. 5, Dr. Goodwin introduces the singer as proposing to God for his pardon, “rivers of oil, the first-born of his body, &c.” but all being too low, the Doctor remarks, “There is no proportion. God would never have turned away so fair a chapman, if his justice could afford so cheap a.commutation. In b. i. chap. 7,
In b. i. chap. 7, he says of Christ, “He must pay God in the same coin we should, and therefore, must make his soul an offering for sin-and if he be made sin, he must be made a curse; and which is more than all this, God himself must be the Executioner, and his own Son the person who suffers, as no creature could stroke hard enough to make it satisfaetory." In b. i. chap. 8, he says, "As his Father recommended the business to him [Christ] so' also he gave special recommendation of the persons for whom he