O glorious Morning Starre! O Lampe of Light!
Most lively Image of thy Father's face,
Eternal King of Glorie, Lord of Might,
Meeke Lambe of God, before all worlds behight,
How can we thee requite for all this good?
Or who can prize that thy most precious blood? -- SPENSER.
In the preceding chapter we have endeavoured to show that natural evil or suffering is not inconsistent with the goodness of God. We were there led to see that God, although he never chooses moral evil, often imposes natural evil, or suffering, in order to secure the well-being of the world. Of this general principle, the sufferings and death of Christ are a particular instance; they are not anomalous, but a striking manifestation of a great principle which pervades the whole economy of divine providence. These sufferings, so far from being inconsistent with the goodness of God, are a stupendous display of that sublime mercy which is over all his works. To illustrate this position, and clear it of sceptical cavils and objections, is the main object of the present chapter.
The sufferings of Christ not unnecessary.
Because the necessity of Christ's death and sufferings is not manifest at first view, or because the utility of them is not seen, it is concluded by some that they were wholly useless, and consequently inconsistent with the infinite goodness ascribed to the Ruler of the world. We shall content ourselves with disposing of this objection in the words of Bishop Butler. "To object against the expediency or usefulness of particular things revealed to have been done or suffered by him," says he, "because we do not see how they were conducive to those ends, is highly absurd. Yet nothing is more common to be met with than this absurdity. But if it be acknowledged beforehand, that we are not judges in this case, it is evident that no objection can, with any shadow of reason, be urged against any particular part of Christ's mediatorial office revealed in Scripture, till it can be shown positively, not to be requisite, or conducive, to the ends proposed to be accomplished; or that it is in itself unreasonable."(195)
Again: "It is indeed," says he, "a matter of great patience to reasonable men to find people arguing in this manner; objecting against the credibility of such particular things revealed in Scripture, that they do not see the necessity or expediency of them. For, though it is highly right, and the most pious exercise of our understanding, to inquire with due reverence into the ends and reasons of God's dispensations; yet, when those reasons are concealed, to argue from our ignorance, that such dispensations cannot be from God, is infinitely absurd. The presumption of this kind of objection seems almost lost in the folly of them. And the folly of them is yet greater, when they are urged, as usually they are, against things in Christianity analogous, or like to those natural dispensations of Providence which are matters of experience. Let reason be kept to, and if any part of the Scripture account of the redemption of the world by Christ can be shown to be really contrary to it, let the Scripture, in the name of God, be given up: but let not such poor creatures as we go on objecting against an infinite scheme, that we do not see the necessity or usefulness of all its parts, and call this reasoning; and what heightens the absurdity in the present case, parts which we are not actively concerned in."(196)
This reply is amply sufficient for such an objection. But although the concession is made, for the sake of argument, it is not true, that we do not see the necessity or usefulness of the sufferings of Christ. For, as the author well says: "What has been often alleged in justification of this doctrine, even from the apparent natural tendency of this method of our redemption -- its tendency to vindicate the authority of God's laws, and deter his creatures from sin: this has never been answered, and is, I think, plainly unanswerable; though I am far from thinking it an account of the whole of the case."(197)
It is true, we believe, that the position that the great work of Christ was necessary to maintain the authority of God's law, and to deter his creatures from sin, never has been, and never can be refuted. Yet nearly all of the commonly received systems of theology furnish a principle, a false principle, on which this position may be overthrown, and the sufferings of Christ shown to be unnecessary. For if a necessary holiness be not a contradiction in terms, if God can, as is usually asserted, cause holiness universally to prevail by the mere word of his power, then the work and sufferings of Christ are not necessary to maintain the authority of his law, and deter his creatures from sin. In other words, the sufferings of Christ were "not requisite to the ends proposed to be accomplished," because, on such a supposition, they might have been far more easily and completely accomplished without them.
Those who maintain, then, as most theologians do, that God could easily cause virtue to exist everywhere if he would, really set forth a principle which, if true, would demonstrate the sufferings of Christ to be unnecessary, and consequently inconsistent with the goodness of God. We must strike at this false principle, and restore the truth that a necessary holiness is a contradiction in terms, an inherent and impossible conceit, if we would behold the sublime significancy and beauty of the stupendous sacrifice of the cross. We shall then behold the necessity of that sacrifice, and see the omnipotent yearnings of the divine love in its efforts to overcome an obstacle, which could not be otherwise surmounted.
It is often said, we are well aware, that God might have saved us by a mere word; but he chose not to do so, preferring to give up his Son to death in order to show his love. But how can such a position be maintained? If God could save us by a word, how can it display his love to require such immense sufferings in order to save us? If he could accomplish the salvation of all men by a mere word, how does it show his love to make such wonderful preparations for their salvation; and, after all, permit so large a portion of them to be eternally lost? If we could save the life of a fellow-being by merely putting forth a hand, would it display our love for him if we should choose to travel all around the earth, and incur incredible hardships and sufferings in order to save him? Would this display our love, we ask, or our folly? Is it not evident, then, that the principle that virtue or holiness might be easily caused to exist everywhere, is utterly repugnant to the glory of revelation? Is it not evident that it causes the transcendent glory of the cross to disappear, and reduces the whole complicated system of means and appliances for the salvation of the world to a mere idle mockery of the miseries of man's estate? Does it not show the whole plan of salvation, as conceived and executed by the infinite wisdom of God, to be an awkward and bungling attempt to accomplish an end, which might have been far more easily and perfectly accomplished? And if so, does it not become all Christian theologians to expunge this false principle from their systems, and eradicate it from their thoughts?
The sufferings of Christ a bright manifestation of the goodness of God.
The reason why the love of God does not appear to all men in the sacrifice of his Son is, that it is often viewed, not as it is in itself, but through the distorting medium of false analogies, or of a vague and ill-defined phraseology. Hence it is that the melancholy spectacle is everywhere presented of men, of rational and immortal beings, living and dying in a determined opposition to a doctrine which they have not taken the pains to understand, and of whose intrinsic grandeur and glory they have not enjoyed the most remote glimpse. So far from beholding the love of God, which shines forth so conspicuously in the cross of Christ, they see in it only an act of injustice and cruelty on the part of God.
One source of this error, we have no doubt, is to be found in the use, or rather in the abuse, of the term punishment. In the strict sense of the word, it is not only unjust, but impossible, for God to punish the innocent. The very idea of punishment, according to the strict sense of the word, implies the notion of guilt or ill-desert in the person upon whom it is inflicted. It is suffering inflicted on an offender, on account of his real or supposed personal guilt. Hence, as God regards all things just as they are in themselves, he cannot possibly look upon the innocent as guilty; and consequently he cannot, in the strict sense of the word, inflict punishment upon them. And when we speak of the punishment of Christ, we merely mean, or should merely mean, to convey the idea that he suffered, in order to release us from the punishment due to our sins. It would be well, perhaps, if this could always be borne in mind; for most men are more under the influence and power of words than they are apt to see, or willing to acknowledge. The mere expression, the punishment of the innocent, is apt to awaken associations in the mind which are inconsistent with the dictates of justice; but which the idea of the atonement would never have suggested, if clearly and distinctly viewed in its own clear light, and not through the dark medium of an ill-defined phraseology.
Another source of the error in question is to be found in the ambiguity of the term justice. It is frequently said that the atonement is a satisfaction to divine justice; to which it is replied, that justice requires the punishment of the very individual who offends, and not of another person in his place. Let us consider this subject.
The term justice has two distinct significations, which I shall designate by the epithets retributive and administrative. By retributive justice, I mean that attribute which inclines Him to punish an offender merely on account of the intrinsic demerit and hatefulness of his offence; and which animadverts upon the evil conduct of a moral agent, considered as an individual, and not as a member of the great family of intelligent beings. This attribute seeks to punish sin merely because it deserves punishment, and not because its punishment is necessary to secure the ends of government; and, supposing sin to exist, it would have its object, even if there were only one accountable creature in the universe.
The object of public or administrative justice is quite different. It inflicts punishment, not because it is deserved, but in order to prevent transgression, and to secure the general good, by securing the ends of wise and good government. In the moral government of God, one of the highest objects of this kind of justice, or, if you please, of this phase or manifestation of the divine justice, is to secure in the hearts of its subjects a cordial approbation of the principles according to which they are governed. This is indispensable to the very existence of moral government. The dominion of force, or of power, may be maintained, in many cases, notwithstanding the aversion of those who are subject to it; but it is impossible to govern the heart by love while it disapproves and hates the principles to which it is required to submit, or the character of the ruler by whom those principles are enforced.
Now, it is very true, that Christ has made a satisfaction to divine justice. This is frequently asserted; but it is seldom considered, we apprehend, with any very great degree of distinctness, in what sense the term justice should always be understood in this proposition. It cannot properly refer to the retributive justice of God. This requires the punishment of the offender, and of no one else. It accepts of no substitute. And hence, it is impossible to conceive that it can be satisfied, except by the punishment of the offender himself. The object of this sort of justice, as I have said, is personal guilt; and hence, as our Saviour did not become personally guilty, when he assumed our place and consented to die for us, so it is impossible to conceive that he became liable to the infliction of the retributive justice of God. And we suppose it is this idea, at which the Socinian vaguely and obscurely aims, when he says, that the justice of God requires the punishment of the transgressor alone; and that it is absurd to suppose it can be satisfied by the substitution of the innocent in his stead. He denies the whole doctrine of satisfaction, because he sees and feels that it is not true according to one meaning of the terms in which it is expressed.
In truth and in deed, the sinner is just as guilty after the atonement as he was before; and he is just as obnoxious to the inflictions of the retributive justice of God. He may be most justly punished; for as the claims of retributive justice have not been satisfied, so they may be demanded of him without being a second time exacted. He really deserves the wrath of God on account of his sins, although administrative justice has been satisfied; and hence, when he truly repents and believes, all his sins are freely and graciously remitted. No satisfaction is made to retributive justice.
It is the administrative justice of God that has been satisfied by the atonement. This merely enforces the punishment of the sinner, as I have said, in order to secure the ends of good government; and hence, it is capable of yielding and giving place to any expedient by which those ends may be secured. In other words, it is capable of being satisfied by whatever method God may be pleased to adopt in order to secure the ends of good government, and to accomplish his own glorious designs, without the punishment of the sinner. All this, as we shall see hereafter, has been most gloriously accomplished by the death and sufferings of Christ. God can now be just, and yet the justifier of him that believes. The great obstacles which the administrative justice of God interposes to the forgiveness of sin, having been taken out of the way and nailed to the cross, that unbounded mercy from which the provision of such a Saviour proceeded, can now flow down upon a lost and ruined world in all the fulness and plenitude of its pardoning and sanctifying power.
As a general thing, those who undertake to vindicate the sufferings of Christ against objections, rest their defence on the ground that they are a satisfaction to the administrative justice of God. This is seen, not from their express declarations, but from the nature of their arguments and defence; as if they unconsciously turned to this position as to their stronghold. On the other hand, those who assail the sacrifice of Christ, almost invariably treat it as if it were a satisfaction to the retributive justice of God. Both sides seem to be right, and both wrong. The whole idea of satisfaction to divine justice by a substitute is not absurd, because the idea of satisfaction to retributive justice is so; nor is the whole justice of God, or the justice of God in every sense of the word, to be conceived of as satisfied by the atonement, because his administrative justice is thus satisfied. When it is thus asserted, then, that the justice of God is satisfied by the atonement; we should be careful, we think, to observe in what precise sense this proposition is true, and in what sense it is false; in order that we may pursue the clear and shining light of truth, neither distracted by the clamour of words nor enveloped in clouds of logomachy.
There is a class of theologians, we are aware, and a very large class, who regard the sufferings of Christ as a satisfaction to the retributive justice of God. But this forms no part of the doctrine which we have undertaken to defend; and, indeed, we think the defence of such a view of the atonement clearly impossible. It is placed on the ground, that the sins of the world, or of those for whom Christ died, have been imputed to him; and hence he really suffers the inflictions of the retributive justice of God. The objections to this scheme, which seek to remove the apparent hardships and injustice of the sufferings of the innocent, by the fiction of the imputation of the sins of the guilty, we shall not dwell upon here; as we so fully considered them in the preceding chapter. To our mind they are plainly unanswerable. We would vindicate the sufferings of Christ no more than those of infants, on the ground that sin was imputed to him, so as to render them just. On the contrary, we hold them to have been wholly undeserved; and instead of vindicating them on the ground of stern justice, we vindicate them on the ground of the infinite, unbounded, and overflowing goodness of God.
It is easy to see that such a view of the atonement does not in the least degree conflict with the justice of God. It merely teaches, that God has provided for the salvation of the world by the sufferings of Jesus Christ, who was without spot or blemish. Surely we cannot find it in our hearts to object, that the sufferings of Christ for such a purpose are not consistent with the justice of God, if we will only read a single page in the great volume of nature and of providence. It has been said by Bishop Butler, that such an objection "concludes altogether as much against God's whole original constitution of nature, and the whole daily course of divine providence, in the government of the world, i. e., against the whole scheme of theism and the whole notion of religion, as against Christianity. For the world is a constitution, or system, whose parts have a mutual reference to each other; and there is a scheme of things gradually carrying on, called the course of nature, to the carrying on of which God has appointed us, in various ways, to contribute. And when, in the daily course of natural providence, it is appointed that innocent people should suffer for the faults of the guilty, this is liable to the very same objection as the instance we are considering. The infinitely greater importance of that appointment of Christianity which is objected against, does not hinder but that it may be, as it plainly is, an appointment of the very same kind with what the world affords us daily examples of. Nay, if there were any force at all in the objection, it would be stronger, in one respect, against natural providence, than against Christianity; because, under the former, we are in many cases commanded, and even necessitated, whether we will or no, to suffer for the faults of others, whereas the sufferings of Christ were voluntary."
Now, how very unreasonable is it in the theist, to object against Christianity, that it represents God as having acted upon a particular principle, i. e., as having appointed the innocent to suffer for the good of the guilty, when we see that he has everywhere recognised and adopted the very same principle in the government of the world? However remote this principle may appear from the conceptions of man, it is not only found in the volume of inspiration; it is deeply engraven by the finger of God himself upon every page of the volume of natural providence. And to question the divine original of revelation, because it contains such a principle or appointment, while we admit that God created and governs the world, is about as unreasonable as it would be to deny that a letter came from a particular person, because it was clearly written in his hand-writing, and bore evident traces of his peculiarities of style and thought.
Let us view this general principle in a particular instance. This will set it in a clear and striking light, and seem to vindicate the constitution of the world, as well as the doctrine of the atonement. The principle of compassion has been planted in our bosom by the finger of God. And thus the necessity is laid upon us, by a law of our nature, to suffer on account of the distresses which our fellow-men bring upon themselves by their own crimes and vices; and we are impelled in various ways to undergo inconvenience and loss, and self-denial and suffering, in order to avert from them the consequences of their own misconduct. But have we any reason to complain of this appointment of God? Certainly not: for if we obey the indications of his will, as seen in this part of the constitution of our nature, by doing all in our power to relieve the distresses of our fellow-men, we shall be infinitely more than repaid for all that we may undergo and suffer. However painful may be the feeling of compassion, we only have to obey its dictates by relieving the distressed to the utmost of our ability, and we shall be more than repaid by the satisfaction and delight which never fail to result from such a course of life; to say nothing of those infinite rewards which God has prepared for those who sincerely love and serve him.
Just so it is in relation to the sufferings of Christ. He was led by his boundless compassion to avert from us the awful consequences of sin, by the agony, and the sufferings, and the death, which he endured upon the cross. And, according to the doctrine of atonement, he is infinitely more than repaid for all this. Though he suffered in the flesh, and was made a spectacle to men and angels, yet he despised the shame, seeing the joy that was set before him. We do confess that we can see no insufferable hardship in all this, nor the least shadow of injustice. One thing is certain, if injustice is exhibited here, it is exhibited everywhere in the providence of God; and if the doctrine of the atonement were stricken from the scheme of Christianity, the injustice which is supposed to attend it would still continue to overhang and cloud the moral government of God. And hence, if the deist or the Socinian would escape from this frightful spectre of his own imagination, he must bury himself in the most profound depths and most cheerless gloom of atheism.
The doctrine in question is frequently misrepresented, and made to appear inconsistent with the justice of God, by means of false analogies. The Socinian frequently speaks of it, as if it were parallel with the proceeding of a human government that should doom the innocent to suffer in place of the guilty. Thus the feeling of indignation that is aroused in the human bosom at the idea of a virtuous man's being sentenced to suffer the punishment due to the criminal is sought to be directed against the doctrine of the atonement. But in vain will such rhetoric be employed to excite indignation and horror against the doctrine of the cross, in the mind of any person by whom it is at all understood.
The cases are not at all parallel. In the first place, no human government has a right to doom a virtuous man to bear the punishment due to the criminal; and if he were willing to suffer in the place of the culprit, no government on earth has a right to accept of such a substitute. The life of the virtuous citizen is the gift of God, and no earthly power has the authority to take it for any such purpose. It would be a violation of the will of God for any human government to admit of such a substitution. On the contrary, Christ had the power to lay down his life; and he did so, in perfect accordance with the appointment of God. In submitting to the death of the cross, he did not subvert, he fulfilled the end of his earthly existence.
Secondly, it would overthrow the ends of public justice for any human government to permit a good man, the ornament and blessing of society, to die in the room of the criminal, its scourge and plague. The sufferings of the good citizen in such a case would be pure and unmitigated evil. While they would deprive society of his services, they would throw back upon it the burden of one who deserved to die. They would tend to render the punishment of crime uncertain; they would shock the moral sentiments of mankind, and cover with odium and disgrace the government that could tolerate such a proceeding. But not so in relation to the sufferings of Christ. He assumed his human nature for the express purpose of dying upon the cross. He died, not to deliver an individual and turn him loose to commit further depredations upon society, but to effect the salvation of the world itself, and to deliver it from all the evils under which it groans and travails in pain. He died for sinners, not that they might continue in their sins, but in order to redeem unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works.
In the third and last place, the death of a good man is the end of his existence, the entire extinction of his being, in so far as all human government is concerned; whereas the death of Christ, in relation to the government of God, was but the beginning of his exaltation and glory. He endured the cross, despising the shame, in view of the unbounded joy that was set before him. The temporal evils which he endured, unutterably great as they were, if viewed merely in relation to himself, were infinitely more than counterbalanced by the eternal satisfaction and delight that resulted from them.
The objections of Dr. Channing, and other Unitarians, against the doctrine of the atonement.
It is likewise objected against the doctrine of the atonement, that it obscures the freeness and glory of the divine mercy. It is supposed to interfere with the freeness of the favour of God, inasmuch as it requires a sacrifice to procure the remission of sin. This point, no less than the former, the Socinian endeavours to establish by means of analogies drawn from the ordinary transactions of life. "I know it is said," says Dr. Channing, "that Trinitarianism magnifies God's mercy, because it teaches that he himself provided the substitute for the guilty. But I reply, that the work here ascribed to mercy is not the most appropriate, nor the most fitted to manifest it and impress it on the heart. This may be made apparent by familiar illustration. Suppose that a creditor, through compassion to certain debtors, should persuade a benevolent and opulent man to pay him in their stead; would not the debtors see a greater mercy, and feel a weightier obligation, if they were to receive a free, gratuitous release? And will not their chief gratitude stray beyond the creditor to their benevolent substitute? Or suppose that a parent, unwilling to inflict a penalty on a disobedient but feeble child, should persuade a stronger child to bear it; would not the offender see a more touching mercy in a free forgiveness, springing immediately from a parent's heart, than in this circuitous remission?"
If there were any force in such analogies, they would conclude quite as much against the scheme of Dr. Channing as against ours. For he maintains that the sinner can obtain forgiveness only by a sincere repentance of his sins. He teaches that God requires the sinner to humble himself, and take up his cross and follow Christ. Now to return to the case of the debtor. Would he not see a greater kindness, "and feel a weightier obligation," if he were to receive a free release, without any conditions being imposed upon him, than if it was accompanied by any terms or conditions?
But the analogy is false. However well it might serve some purposes, it is misapplied by Dr. Channing. If a creditor is known to love money, as most men are, and he should nevertheless release his debtors; this would undoubtedly be an exhibition of his kindness. And we might measure the extent of his kindness by the amount of the indebtedness which he had forgiven. But although the creditor, who is the most easily moved by the necessities of his debtor, may be the most compassionate man, it does not follow that the governor, who under all circumstances, makes the most free and unrestrained use of the pardoning power, is the best ruler. The creditor has a perfect right to release his debtor; and in so doing, he affects the interest of no one but himself: whereas, by the pardon of offences against public law, the most sacred rights of the community may be disregarded, the protection of law may be removed, and the general good invaded. The penalty of the law does not belong to the supreme executive, as a debt belongs to the creditor to whom it is due; and hence it cannot always be abandoned at his pleasure. It is ordained, not merely for the ruler, but for the benefit and protection of all who are subject to its control. And hence, although a creditor may show his mercy by releasing his necessitous debtors; yet the ruler who undertakes to display his mercy by a free use of the pardoning power, may only betray a weak and yielding compassion for the individual, instead of manifesting that calm and enlightened benevolence which labours to secure the foundations of wise and good government, and thereby to promote the order and happiness of the governed.
This leads me to remark, that the hope and the theology of the Socinian is built upon the most inadequate conceptions of the divine mercy. This is not a weak and yielding thing, as men are so fondly prone to imagine; it is a universal and inflexible law. The most perfect harmony exists among all the attributes of God; and as his justice demands the punishment of the sinner, so also doth his mercy. The bosom of God is not, like that of frail mortals, torn and distracted by conflicting principles. Even to the maintenance of his law, that bright transcript of his eternal justice, his mercy is inviolably pledged. Heaven and earth shall sooner pass away, than his mercy shall withdraw from the support of one jot or one tittle of it. It is not only just and holy, and therefore will be maintained with almighty power; but it is also good, and therefore its immutable foundations are laid in the everlasting and unchanging mercy of God.
For the universal good, it will be inexorably enforced against the individual transgressor. God is not slack concerning his promises. He is free from all human weakness. His mind is not limited, like that of man, to be more affected by partial suffering than by that universal disorder and ruin which must inevitably result from the unrequited violation of his law. The mind of man is unduly affected by the present and the proximate; but to God there is neither remote nor future. And when, in wisdom and in goodness, he first established and ordained the law unto life, he saw the end from the beginning; and he can never sacrifice the universal good by setting aside that law in order to avoid partial evil. His mercy to the whole creation makes the same demand as his justice. The execution of divine justice is, indeed, but a manifestation of that mercy which is over all his works; and which labours, with omnipotent energy, to secure the good of all, by vindicating the majesty and glory of that law, upon the preservation of which inviolate the good of all depends. The fire that is not quenched is kindled by the boundless love of God no less than by his justice; and the very fierceness of its burning is, that it is the "wrath of the Lamb." Let us not be deceived by the vain fancies and the idle dreams which our fond wishes and narrow-minded infirmities are so apt to beget in us. Let us remember that the mercy of God is united with omniscience; and that it is to be found only in the bosom of Him whose empire extends to the utmost bounds of the universe, as well as throughout the endless ages of eternity.
In the genuine spirit of Socinian theology, Dr. Channing, in his illustration, has set before us the mercy of God alone; and that, too, merely in relation to the sinner, and not in relation to his law and government. He entirely overlooks the fact, that it is impossible to exhibit either the justice or the mercy of God in the most affecting manner, except in union with each other. It is frequently said, we are aware, that if God had pardoned the sinner without enforcing the demands of the law, he would have displayed his mercy alone, and not his justice; but in fact this would have been a very equivocal display of mercy. It would have shown only one of two things: either that God regarded the sinner with an eye of compassion, or that he did not regard his sin: either that he was merciful, or that he had no great abhorrence of sin: either that he loved the transgressor, or that he did not hate the transgression.
To illustrate this point, let us take the case of Zaleucus, the king of the Locrians. He passed a certain law, with the penalty that every transgressor of it should lose both his eyes. It so happened that his own son was the first by whom it was violated. Now, any one can see, that although Zaleucus had been a hard-hearted and unfeeling tyrant, he might have pardoned his son, just because he had no regard to the demands of public justice; or, on the other hand, that he might have inflicted the penalty of the law upon his son to the uttermost, not out of a supreme regard to the law, but because he was destitute of mercy and natural affection. Neither by remitting the whole punishment, nor by inflicting it with rigour, could he have made such a display of his justice and mercy as to make a deep moral impression upon his subjects. In other words, if either of these attributes had been left out in the manifestation, the display of the other must have been exceedingly feeble and equivocal. Both must be seen in union, or neither can be seen in the fulness of its glory.
How, then, could Zaleucus have displayed both of these attributes in the most perfect and affecting manner? By doing precisely that which he is said to have done. He directed that one of his own eyes should be put out, and one of his son's. Whose heart is not touched by this most affecting display of the tender pity of the father, in union with the stern justice of the law-giver? His pity would not allow him to inflict the whole penalty upon his beloved son; and his high regard for the demands of public justice would not permit him to set at naught the authority of the law: and but for the possession and manifestation of this last trait of character, the mighty strugglings and yearnings of the first could not have burst forth and appeared with such overwhelming power and transcendent lustre. Hence, every system of redemption which, like that of the Socinian, leaves out of view the administrative justice of God, does not admit of any very impressive display of his goodness and his mercy.
All such illustrations must be imperfect, in some respects; but the one above given conveys a far more adequate view of the atonement than that presented by Dr. Channing. The application of it is easy. Such was the mercy of God, that he could not leave his poor fallen creatures to endure the awful penalty of the law; and such was his regard for the purity and happiness of the universe, that he could not permit his law to be violated with impunity. If his administrative justice had not stood in the way, the offer of pardon to the sinner would have cost him merely a word. And hence the length, the breadth, and the depth of his love could not have been manifested. But he was the Ruler of the universe, and as such his law stood in the way. He owed it to himself not to permit this to be trampled under foot with impunity, nor its violation to be forgiven, until he had provided some way in order to secure the high and holy ends for which it had been established. Hence, as it was not possible for God to deny himself, he sent forth his beloved Son, who had been the companion of his bosom and his blessedness from all eternity, to take upon himself the form of a servant, and by his teaching, and obedience, and sufferings, and death, to vindicate the majesty of the law, and to render it honourable in the sight of the universe. And it is this wonderful union of the goodness and the severity, of the mercy and the justice of God, which constitutes the grand moral tendency and glory of the cross.
The course pursued by the king of the Locrians, in relation to the crime of his son, secured the ends of the law in a much greater degree than they could have been secured by a rigorous execution of its penalty upon the person of his son. It evinced a deep and settled abhorrence of crime, and an inflexible determination to punish it. It cut off all hope from his subjects that crime would be permitted to escape with impunity. And hence, after such a manifestation of his character as a king, he could permit his son to enjoy the unspeakable blessings of sight, without holding out the least encouragement to the commission of crime.
So, likewise, in relation to the sufferings of Christ. These were not, in strictness, the penalty of the law. This was eternal death; whereas the sufferings of Christ, inconceivably great as they were, were but temporal; and there can be no proportion between sufferings which know a period, and those which are without end. Hence, as we have already said, he did not satisfy the punitive justice of God. But the sacrifice of Christ answered all the purposes that could have been answered by the rigorous execution of the law; and it answered them in an infinitely greater degree, than if the human race had been permitted to endure it without remedy.
God's love to his Son was inconceivably greater than that which any creature ever bore to himself or to any other; and, consequently, by offering him up as a substitute for guilty mortals, in order that he might save them without doing violence to his administrative justice, he manifested the infinite energy of his determination to destroy sin. No account of the indescribable odiousness and deformity of evil, nor of the inconceivable holiness of God, could have made so deep an impression of his implacable abhorrence of sin, as is made by the cross upon which his Son was permitted to expire amid the scorn and contempt of his enemies. The human imagination has no power to conceive of a more impressive and appalling enforcement of the great lesson, "Stand in awe, and sin not," than that which is presented to an astonished universe in the cross and passion of the Son of God.
And besides, it possesses this other unspeakable advantage, that while it manifests an infinite abhorrence of sin, it displays the most heart-subduing love of the sinner. If Zaleucus had exhausted the penalty of the law upon his son, this would have had little or no tendency to reform his heart, or to induce him to acquiesce in the justness of the law. It would have been more apt to lead him to regard the king as an unfeeling father. But when he was made to see, by the manner in which the king had dispensed the law, that he cherished the warmest feelings of affection for him, there was no cause left for a murmur on the part of any, but for the highest admiration on the part of all.
Just so in relation to the sufferings and death of Christ. If God had exhausted the fearful penalty of the law upon poor, suffering, and degraded humanity, this would have been well calculated to inspire his creatures with a servile and trembling awe of him. From their limited and imperfect views of the evil of sin, and of the reasons why it should be punished, they would not have been prepared to acquiesce in such tremendous severity. Thus, one of the great ends of God's moral government would have been subverted: the affections of his creatures would have been estranged from him, through a distrust of his goodness and a dread of his power, instead of having been drawn to him by the sweet and sacred ties of confidence and love. But how different is the case now! Having given for us his beloved Son, who is greater than all things, while we were yet enemies, now that we are reconciled to him, we are most firmly persuaded that he will freely give us all things that can possibly conduce to our good. Surely, after such a display of his love, it were highly criminal in us, to permit the least shadow of suspicion or distrust to intercept the sweet, and cheering, and purifying beams of his reconciled countenance. Whatever may be his severity against sin, and whatever terror it may strike into the conscience of evil-doers, we can most cordially acquiesce in its justness: for we most clearly perceive, that the penalty of the law was not established to gratify any private appetite for revenge, but to uphold and secure the highest happiness of the moral universe.