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On the Atonement for Sin, by the Death of Jesus
“GOD hath so loved the world, that he hath given “ his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in “ him may not perish, but enjoy everlasting life.” (p) Such is the remarkable language of the great Head of
(0) John, iü. 16. When reflecting upon this text, and many others in the New Testament, it has often occurred to me that it would be ex. tremely difficult to defend either our Lord or his apostles from the charge of egregious trifling upon the most solemn subjects, according to that interpretation of Christianity which denies the extent of human depravity, and the Doctrine of Christ's divinity. Thus, in the case before us, a Jewish Ruler, convinced that Jesus Christ was " a teacher sent from “ God,” solicited a conference with him. In the course of it, this Jew hesitated much at the doctrine of regeneration ; but his teacher prepared his mind for still more extraordinary discoveries of divine truth, by say, ing, “ If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall 66 ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things ? ” What, then, is the mysterious truth for which the mind of Nicodemus was thus prepared ? Why, that “God so loved the world as to send” a good man into it! That is, to send a good man as an example to a world that already con. tained many good men, and to give unto those good men eternal life! Or, “God so loved the world as to give," not his Son by nature, but by adoption and elevation from a state of wretchedness and poverty, to inexpressible glory at his own right hand !! Who would ever extol so wonderfully the clemency of a monarch that should pretend to give his own son to die for rebels, and instead of so doing should adopt one of the most indigent and wretched of his subjects for that purpose ? So again, the language of the apostle to Timothy, “ Without controversy " great is the mystery of Godliness, God was manifested in the flesh,” has an intelligible and important meaning, if it signify that the Divine
the Church, concerning himself. It is important for us to determine the precise meaning of this proposition; and therefore to inquire whether we believe in him when we consider him as one who came merely to teach us and to set us an example, or when we farther regard him as one who died a sacrifice for sin ?
To me it appears that the latter is the correct interpretation of the passage: and that, therefore, though the preaching of “ Christ crucified was unto the Jews “ a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolish“ ness,” (q) both in the primitive and most succeeding times, yet it is a genuine and awfully momentous Christian doctrine, that Christ by his death has made atonement or satisfaction for the sins of all those who truly repent, and return unto God in the way of sincere though imperfect obedience.
This great truth (for such I doubt not you will find it to be) has been believed and defended by good men in all ages. Among the Christians of the earliest times, we have, first, Clemens Romanus (whose first epistle even Mr. Belsham commends) saying, “ Let us look “ stedfastly to the Blood of Christ, and see how “ precious it is in the sight of God; which, being “ shed for our salvation, has obtained the grace of “ repentance for all the world.” And again, “ By the “ blood of our Lord there shall be redemption to all
nature was mysteriously united to human nature in the person of Jesus Christ. But deprive the passage of this interpretation, and give it that of the Socinians, and you cannot, I think, conceive any thing more puerile. (9) 1 Cor. i. 23.
“ that believe and hope in God.” (r) Ignatius, also, in his epistle to the Smyrnæans, says, “ Now all these 6 things he suffered for us, that we might be saved. “ And he suffered truly, as he also truly raised up “ himself; and not, as some unbelievers say, that he “ only seemed to suffer.” (8)
POLYCARP, again, in his epistle to the Philippians, quotes 1 Pet. ii. 22—24, in proof of the doctrine of Christ's atonement; adding, “ He suffered all this " for us, that we might live through him.” And in the account given of his martyrdom by the church at Smyrna over which he presided, they speak of it as an indisputable Christian sentiment, that “ Christ suffered “ for the salvation of all such as shall be saved 6 throughout the whole world, the righteous for the “ ungodly.” (1)
Let it be recollected that unless this be a true doctrine of Christianity, Ignatius and Polycarp are not, in the restricted sense of the word, martyrs, “ wit“ nesses of the truth ;” and farther, that in the case of Polycarp, at whose martyrdom a miracle was wrought, if the doctrine of the atonement is erroneous, God permitted a miracle to be wrought, or rather, wrought a miracle, in attestation of a false doctrine, and caused many thereby to be seduced into error.
It would be easy to quote pages from Barnabas, Justin Martyr, and the succeeding fathers, in favour of the atonement; but, for the sake of brevity, I
(c) Clem. Ep. ad Corint. § 7, 12.
shall cite only one more passage, and that from a work of acknowledged antiquity, the Apostolical Constitutions, most probably compiled in the third century. In the fine prayer given in the Liturgy for the Eucharist, we read, “ He was pleased by thy good “ will to become man, who was man's Creator; to be “ under the laws, who was the Legislator; to be a “ sacrifice, who was an High Priest ; and reconciled “ thee to the world, and freed all men from the wrath 6 to come.” “ He that was the Saviour was con“ demned; he that was impassable was nailed to the “ cross; he who was by nature immortal died, and he " that is the giver of life was buried, that he might 66 loose those for whose sake he came, from suffering 6 and death." (0) · Descending to later times we find the same doctrine maintained as essential, in the Greek and in most of the reformed churches. It is clearly stated by the venerable fathers of the English church, and by many of the most profound, eloquent, and learned of the episcopal clergy. To prove this the three following quotations may suffice.
• We are all miserable persons, sinful persons, 6 damnable persons, justly driven out of Paradise, “ justly excluded from heaven, justly condemned to “ hell-fire: and yet (see a wonderful token of God's “ love) he gave us his only begotten Son, us, I say, “ that were his extreme and deadly enemies, that we,
(v) Const. Apost. lib. viii. cap. 12.
" by virtue of his blood shed upon the cross, might 66 be clean purged from our sins, and might become “ righteous again in his sight.” (w)
« In correspondence to all the exigencies of the .6 case (that God and man both might act their parts “ in saving us), the blessed eternal Word, the only “ Son of God, by the good-will of his Father, did 66 vouchsafe to intercede for us, and to undertake our “ redemption: in order thereto voluntarily being sent 6 down from heaven, assuming human flesh, subject6 ing himself to all the infirmities of our frail nature, 6 and to the worst inconveniences of our low condition ; 6 therein meriting God's favour to us, by a perfect “ obedience to the law, and satisfying God's justice by “ a most patient endurance of pains in our behalf; “ in completion of all willingly laying down his life " for the ransom of our souls, and pouring forth his “ blood in sacrifice for our sins.” (x)
“ In what particular way the blood of Christ had 66 this efficacy there are not wanting persons who have “ endeavoured to explain : but I do not find that the “ Scripture has explained it. We seem to be very “ much in the dark, concerning the manner in which “ the ancients understood atonement to be made, i. e. “ pardon to be obtained by sacrifices. And, if the “ Scripture has, as surely it has, left this matter of “ the satisfaction of Christ mysterious, left somewhat “ in it unrevealed, all conjectures about it must be, if
(w) Second Homily on the Passion. See also Art. 31.