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grace to the unworthy, and mercy to the miserable, would never have been expressed but for the atonement. Nevertheless, that atonement supposes
that grace and mercy were previously in exercise, suggesting and providing such a measure for the honorable deliverance of the unworthy and the miserable. In the case of Daniel, the mercy of Darius was in exercise, though it was not expressed. The satisfaction which Zaleucus provided in the case of his offending son, was not the means of calling his mercy into exercise, but the medium of publicly expressing it.
The moral governor of the universe was as much disposed and inclined to grace and mercy without an atonement as with it, provided they could be expressed with honor to the government, and with safety to the public good. Grace and mercy are, as well as justice and truth, attributes essential to the nature and character of God. Hence the scriptures represent the atonement as the means of expressing, not the cause of exciting, the exercise of any divine perfection. When the atonement is represented by men as exciting in God an inclination to be merciful, and as producing a disposition to save, it is, in other words, adding a new perfection to God, of which the absurdity and the blasphemy are equal. God gave his Son to be an atonement, because he had loved the world: and redemption is through the blood of his Son, according to the riches
The atonement is never represented in the scriptures as changing or modifying the nature of any divine attribute.
In the theology of popular declamation, and in some of our hymns and spiritual songs, God is often exhibited as maintaining inexorably every jot of the utmost claims of strict justice, as unflinching in his anger and severity, as high-toned and unbending in his wrath and fury against the sinner, and then, by mercy's exhibition of the atonement, he is calmed, assuaged, pacified, and ready to forgive. This is the kind of theology that is
of his grace.
always embodied in the dialogues or colloquies which writers frequently introduce between justice, mercy, etc. etc., about the salvation of man.
It is true that the inspired writers often speak of the indignation, the wrath, the anger, and the fury of Jehovah against his foes; and of his being reconciled towards an offender, and of his being propitiated through the atonement. Such a figurative, and metaphorical language as employed by these holy men of God when speaking of him is bold, elegant, and suitable. literal construction of them would not only offend against every good canon of Biblical interpretation, but would lead to every species of absurdity. These anthropopatheia of the scriptures, these figurative expressions concerning wrath, indignation, reconciliation, etc., refer to the aspect of the divine dispensations, and to their effects upon the offender, and never to the properties, affections, and dispositions of the divine nature. When the aspect and effects of the divine dispensations alter, the change is not in the infinite and eternal mind, but in the state and relations of the offenders towards the divine government. The cloudy pillar had an aspect towards the Egyptians very different from that which it had towards the Israelites. A change in the aspect of it would have been produced, not by a change in the pillar, but by a change in the relations of the two different nations.
When a change is produced in the aspect of the divine administrations; that is, when God is said to be propitiated or reconciled through the atonement; it is not meant that the atonement made bim propitious, or rendered him favorable and kind: but it is meant that the atonement was the ground on which he declared himself propitious, and the medium through which he expressed himself gracious. The actual change is in the state of the sinner. The atonement places the sina ner on a ground where the divine administrations may have a favorable aspect on him. It should, however, be never forgotten that until the singer himself person
ally avail himself of the atonement, and plead it in his own behalf; that until his moral relations be changed, God will not express himself propitiated towards him. God was, indeed, reconcilable and propitious to the three friends of Job, yet he would not express himself propitious, and declare himself reconciled, until the three friends had offered their sacrifices. Then, after a change in them, there was a change in the aspect of the divine dispensations towards them. God was still unchanged, and therefore they were not consumed. Their sacrifices produced no change in him, but they were expressive of a change in their moral relations towards him. Just so is the act of a sinner pleading the atonement of Christ in his personal behalf expressive of a change in his state and moral relations towards God.
The word of God never represents the atonement as restraining or preventing the free exercise and expressions of any divine perfection.
It cannot be concealed that 'some human systems of theology represent the atonement as an effectual barrier raised against the operations of infinite justice. Our books and our discourses abound with such statements as the following:—that the Lord Jesus Christ endured or paid to infinite justice the utmost farthing of its demands against a certain number of offenders;—that he endured the identical amount of the punishment due for their sins;—that it is a grievous wrong to exact the same punishment once of the surety, and again of the offenders: and that, consequently, justice can now lay nothing to their charge, can never proceed against them in judgment, and that they are within the enclosures of the atonement, where justice cannot reach them. Thus, the atonement is frequently represented as the city of
and infinite justice as the avenger of blood, thirsting for the death of the sinner.
It is not a likely way to promote reverential piety, to represent infinite justice as an infinitely dreadful and unlovely attribute; nor can it promote practical holiness
to represent our salvation as secured, not only in direct opposition to divine justice, but, also in manifest superiority and triumph over it. This species of atonement would entirely subvert all moral government. The language of the scriptural atonement is, that the blood of Christ redeemed us to God, not from God.
The claims of infinite justice are as honorable as unabated, and as unimpaired with an atonement, as without it. Eternal righteousness has not resigned a single demand, nor relaxed a single bond, nor withdrawn a single threatening. Every iota and tittle of the law is as much in force and honor after the atonement as before it; with it, as without it. Atonement has no ground enclosed out of the domains of justice.
No sinner pleading the atonement before the throne of God shall be accepted, unless he also distinctly acknowledge and own that the claims of justice on him are right and true. Under this practical acknowledgment every good man is to live as one that inust give an account to infinite righteousness. And eventually all the despisers of salvation will feel that the operations of justice towards them are free and unshackled, notwithstanding the splendid atonement once offered for them.
We have now brought under notice three representations of the atonement in connection with the divine attributes, which we deem incorrect and unscriptural. The atonement that is exhibited as exciting, changing, or restraining the exercise of any perfection in God, is not the atonement of the scriptures.
It ought to be remarked that these three representations of atonement originate in the conception that the atonement is of the nature of a commercial transaction, the payment of a debt, or the literal endurance of a threatened punishment. A commercial atonement is the TP6tov feudos of every error connected with unscriptural views of redemption. This is the only principle that can maintain that God is, by the atonement, induced to be merciful, just as a creditor is induced to release his
debtor upon the full payment of his debts. This is the only principle that can aver that the atonement effects a modification or change in the divine feelings or dispositions towards the sinner, just as a judge would be disposed to remit a criminal's punishment, after his severity had spent itself in the unmitigated lashes inflicted on the criminal's friend. This is the only principle that can assert that the atonement restrains and checks the operations of infinite justice, just as a creditor cannot again imprison a debtor for a debt once discharged or as a tyrant cannot claim a captive for whom he has received a ransom price. And I must add, this is the principle, that unnerves our ministerial addresses, that jaundices our view of Christian doctrines, that drives its thousands to apostasy, and lulls its millions into a false and fatal security.
Since the atonement does not produce the effects and modifications above mentioned, it may be asked, what is the relation which the atonement sustains towards the divine perfections? The reply is, that the atonement does not affect or modify the character of any of the perfections of God; but it is a medium capable of giving a full expression to them all. It is a public expres
a sion, display, and vindication of all the divine attributes.
The Divine Perfections honored by the Atonement.
In the evangelical history of the sufferings of the Son of God, we often meet with the remark, that in them or by them "God glorified his name." The name of God is the entire character of all his perfections. It is the purpose of this section to shew how this has been fully honored in the atonement.
In the first place,—The atonement shews that no divine perfection was implicated in the intrusion of sin into the universe.