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THE fundamental place which the atonement occupies in Christianity, gives importance to every aspect in which it can be contemplated. Of these aspects the chief are, its reference, its object, and its nature. For whom was it made? what was it intended to accomplish? what has it been in itself?

These are distinct questions, though the discussion of any one of them has generally more or less involved that of the other two. Certainly to be in possession of the true answer to any one of them must be a help in seeking the answers of the others; as also a misconception as to the answer of one must tend to mislead us in our consideration of the others. This is true, whichever aspect of the subject we may regard as the most important, or as having in it most light.

The question between the Reformers and the Church of Rome--the question of justification by faith alone--was most closely connected with the second aspect of the atonement, viz. what it has accomplished. The discussions which subsequently divided the Reformers among themselves turned on the first; being as to whether the atonement had been made for all men, or for an election only. Much recent advocacy of the atonement has dealt freely with the third point, i.e., what the atonement is in itself, as to which there was 2 no question raised in the earlier discussions, but as to which it has been latterly felt, that the other questions could not be rightly taken up until this one was more closely considered; and as to which the advocates of the universality of the atonement have begun to feel, that the received conceptions of its nature have given to the advocates of an atonement referring to an election only, an advantage in argument which a true apprehension of what the atonement has been would do away with.

It is this third aspect of the atonement--i. e., its nature--that I now propose to consider; which I propose to do with more immediate reference to the second aspect of the atonement, viz. what it has accomplished--i. e., its relation to the remission of sins, and the gift of eternal life. The first point, viz., the extent of the reference of the atonement, it is no part of my immediate purpose to discuss. I believe that the atonement has been an atonement for sin, having reference to all mankind; I believe this to be distinctly revealed; I believe it to be also implied in what the atonement is in itself. But it is the illustration of the nature of the atonement which I have immediately in view; for it is in the prevailing state of men's minds on this subject that I feel a call to write.

I have just noticed that the exigencies of controversy, and the natural desire to give a philosophical harmony to theological system, has recently led to a reconsideration of the subject of the nature of the atonement. I shall subsequently have occasion to notice particularly what the result has been; and why, I am not satisfied with that result: which had I been, I should gladly have felt this volume superseded. But the intellectual exigencies of systems are, if real, closely connected with the spiritual exigencies of the living 3 man; and something higher than an intellectual demand, though that is not to be slighted as if it were not of God also, is felt to call for light on the nature of the atonement, when previously received conceptions no longer satisfy conscience, developed, and spiritually enlightened. The internal evidence of Christianity all prize, and anything felt to be a real addition to it all must welcome, though the freedom with which men seek such increase in the internal light of the gospel, is various. Some, indeed, may give too much ground for the charge of intellectual arrogance, in the demand they make for internal evidence at every step; while others, while thankfiilly receiving such evidence, fall into the error of treating it as something over and above what was needed for faith. I believe the former little realise how much more they believe than they understand; and I believe the latter as little realise how much their reception of what they believe depends ultimately upon what of it they do understand, and spiritually discern to be to the glory of God. I am not now to write on the nature of the atonement as one whose first faith in the atonement rested on a clear understanding of its nature; and yet I do not look back on that first faith as unwarranted and unreal. Our first faith may have in it elements which are true and abiding, although mingled with much darkness, which, in the low undeveloped condition of conscience, causes us no pain or uneasiness. As the divine life is developed in us, these two things proceed happily together, viz. a growing capacity of judging what the conditions are of a peace with God in full harmony with his name and character; and the apprehension of these conditions as all present in the atonement. But it would be altogether in contradiction to the nature of that love, which, while we were yet sinners, gave Christ to die for us, to suppose that 4 true yieldings to the drawings of that love, however dimly and imperfectly apprehended, ever deceive the heart; or that the hope towards God, which accompanies them, can ever disappoint. To come to see more of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ is not to come to see reason to conclude that my hope was vain while I saw less. Yet surely, on the other hand, that God acknowledged me while I saw least, yet seeing something truly, is no reason why I should not seek to see more,--yea as much as God may give me to see.

The kindness and love of God our Saviour towards man--the grace of God which hath appeared bringing salvation to all men--has a twofold aspect; the one retrospective, referring to the evil from which that grace brings deliverance; the other prospective, referring to the good which it bestows. Of that evil men have the varied and sad experience, as they have also feelings that may be interpreted as longings after that good; but that experience is unintelligent and these longings are vague, and the grace which brings salvation is itself the light which reveals both our need of salvation, and what the salvation is which we need; explaining to us the mystery of our dark experience, and directing our aimless longings to the unknown hope which was for us in God.

The light which reveals to us the evil of our condition as sinners, and the good of which God saw the capacity still to remain with us, reveals to us, at the same time, the greatness of the gulf which separated these two conditions of humanity; and the way in which the desire which arose in God, as the Father of spirits, to bridge over that gulf, has been accomplished. That way is the atonement; as to which it is certain that, if we were so far from seeing the evil 5 of our own evil state as God saw it, and, I may say, so much farther still from being conscious to the measure of our own capacity of good, the way in which God was to accomplish the desire of his love for us we could not have of ourselves anticipated, but God himself must make it known to us.

But we know that, though the gospel alone sheds clear and perfect light on the evil of man's condition as a sinner, conscience fully recognises the truth of that revelation of ourselves which the gospel makes to us. Were it otherwise, assuredly its light would be no light to us. So also as to the gift of eternal life. When that gift is revealed to our faith, its suitableness to us, and fitness to fill all our capacities of well-being as God's ofispring, is discerned by us in proportion as we are awakened to true self-consciousness, and learn to separate between what God made us, and what we have become through sin. And, in like manner, I believe that the atonement, related as it must needs be, retrospectively to the condition of evil from which it is the purpose of God to save us, and prospectively to the condition of good to which it is his purpose to raise us, will commend itself to our faith by the inherent light of its divine adaptation to accomplish all which it has been intended to accomplish. Nor can I doubt that the high prerogative which belongs to us of discerning, and, in our measure, appreciating the divine wisdom, as well as the divine goodness, in other regions of God's acting, extends to this region also; which doubtless is the highest region of all, but which, while the highest, is also the region in which our human consciousness, and the teaching of the Spirit of God in conscience, should help our understandings most. When the apostle represents himself as by manifestation of the truth commending himself 6 to every man's conscience in the sight of God, we are not to doubt that he so speaks with reference, no less to the atonement itself than to the high ends which it contemplates.

In this view the internal evidence of the atonement ought to be the securest stronghold of Christianity: whereas we find many who profess to rest all their hope of acceptance with God upon the atonement, receiving it as a mystery which they do not feel it needful to understand; so that to them it is no part of the evidence of revelation, being commended to their faith only by the authority of a revelation itself received upon other grounds; while there are others to whom the presence of that doctrine in revelation is a strong objection to revelation itself. In this state of things it is natural to ask, "Can it be that conception of the atonement which the apostle expected would commend itself to every man's conscience in the sight of God which some thus treat as an argument against revelation, and which others, while receiving it, hold only as a mystery?" and the latter part of the question is the more difficult: for a rebellious spirit may reject revelation for the very reason for which it has most claim to be received; while a meek, obedient spirit may be expected at once to receive and to understand. For the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he will shew them his covenant.

The lowest measure of internal evidence claimed for the doctrine of the atonement is, that conscience testifies to a need be for an atonement. It has been usual, in arguing with those who refuse to concede even this much, to urge the fact that in all nations, in every age, men have sought to atone for sin by sacrifice. Whether this practice be referable to the universal tradition of an original institution of sacrifice, 7 or be regarded as a consentaneous utterance of humanity, expressing its thoughts independently at all successive periods, and in places the most remote from each other, it is unquestionably an arresting fact. But, not to found a sweeping rejection of all the elements of the worship of the heathen on the testimony that they sacrificed to devils and not to God, even in the highest view that can be taken, their worship was that of "the unknown God,'' and, when brought by us to a higher light, must be judged by that higher light. If, in attempting so to judge, one man says,--"I see here sacrifices offered to propitiate the divine favour. They are offered in manifest ignorance, for some of them are monstrous and revolting, and the least objectionable are manifestly inadequate to the end contemplated; but still we must respect the feelings that suggested sacrifice;" another may reply, "To me the feeling and its expression are alike referable to radical ignorance of God." Clearly the determination of this controversy must be sought elsewhere than in the historical fact which is its subject.

As to the use that has been made of the recorded instances of heroic self-sacrifice connected with assumed divine requirements,--in reference to which it has been lately beautifully said that the love of Christ was "foreshadowed in these weaker acts of love'' (Thomson, p. 35),--however much we must admire the self-devotion manifested, it is not very clear how far the moral element in the sacrifice, by which the person sacrificing himself was endeared to those for whose sakes he so devoted himself, was that which was supposed to give its value to the sacrifice in the eyes of the angry deities whom it was sought to propitiate. All that the demand implied was the high value of the offering to those from whom it was required, and the offended gods may 8 have been thought of only as accepting what cost the people dearly; as Moloch received the children cast into the fire. But if indeed we are to conclude that the spirit of self-sacrifice in the victim was recognised as constituting the virtue of the sacrifice, there is here unquestionably a marvellous ray of light, from the midst of that gross darkness, shed upon the nature of atonement.

But if the testimony of conscience on the subject of the need be for an atonement, is sought in the history of religion, let it be sought in the history of Christianity: and let not this seem a begging of the question. No man is entitled to put aside the assertion of a true man, declaring what the testimony of his conscience is, because that testimony coincides with the man's faith. And to those who say that they find in themselves no internal testimony to the doctrine of the atonement, we present a fact which no serious mind will lightly put aside, when we refer, not to the dark and blind endeavours of the heathen to propitiate an unknown God, but to the experience, recorded by themselves, of those who, in all ages of the Church, have seemed to have attained to the highest knowledge of God, and closest communion with him, and who have professed that they have seen a glory of God in the cross of Christ; that is, in the atonement as the channel through which sinful man receives the pardon of sin and eternal life. No one, indeed, is called upon to constrain his conscience to adopt the testimony of the conscience of others, whoever they may be. But if a man understand the nature of conscience, and realise how imperfect its development usually is, and how much the more matured Christian mind of one man may, without dictating, aid the faith of another man, he can never make little account of the conclusions on 9 this great subject at which men characterised by holiness, and love to God and man, have arrived.

But the question is not to be decided by authority. Nor would I seem to be insensible--for I am not--to the force of what may be urged, even in reference to the recorded experience of the better portion of the Church, as to the extent to which theological systems, and traditional habits of thought, may affect, and have affected, religious experiences. I have, indeed, seen, in cases of deep awakening of spirit on the subject of religion, an identity of experience in reference to this matter under teachings so very different as to form of thought, as to preclude the idea that these experiences were an echo of the teaching; while, most certainly, they were not traceable to any previous habits of thought in the taught. But I dwell not on the argument from this source, as no man will, or should accept the doctrine of the atonement because it has commended itself to the consciences of others while it does not as yet commend itself to his own.

But a response in conscience as contemplated by the apostle, implies much more than a reception of a need be for an atonement; nor can it be regarded as accomplished, unless the atonement revealed be felt to commend itself by its own internal light, and its divine fitness to accomplish the high ends of God in it. And as this presupposes that these ends are themselves seen in the light of God, it is necessary, before proceeding further, to fix attention for a little, on the amount of the assertion, that there is a response in conscience to the testimony of the gospel regarding the evil condition in which the grace of God finds us, and the excellence of the salvation which it brings.

When it is said that the representations of revelation on the subject of our sin and guilt, and need of 10 forgiveness, have a response in conscience, this is not asserted on the ground of the ordinary habit of thought of men's minds on these subjects, or of the feeling with which they usually treat the statements of the word of God regarding them. Men, indeed, readily enough confess that they are sinners, and that they need forgiveness; but this does not at all imply that they understand the charge of guilt, which the Scriptures contain, far less respond to it; or that they have any conception of the forgiveness which they need, while they speak about it so easily. How far it is otherwise becomes very manifest when the reality of sin is steadily contemplated, and the charge of guilt is weighed, and the testimony of conscience in reference to that charge is calmly listened to, and its solemn import is considered. All the experience that now ensues, shews how much the fact of sin is a discovery to the awakened sinner. Seeing what it amounts to, he now shrinks from the admission which he had previously made so easily;--though he may not now dare to recall it;--while, as to forgiveness, in proportion as he comes to understand that he really needs it, he finds it difficult to believe that he himself, and his own sins, can be the subject of it. As long as to confess that I am a sinner is felt to be nothing more than to confess that my moral state is an imperfect one, that it presents a mixture of good and evil,--that much in me needs forgiveness,--I cannot say how much; while I trust that there is also good in me which God accepts, and which may so far counterbalance the evil, I can easily say, "'I know I am a sinner; but I trust in God's mercy." But when the light of that word, ''Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbour as thyself," shines 11 in upon me, and the clear, calm, solemn testimony within, is heard responding, "It is true--so it ought to be;" and in proportion as I am honest with myself I feel constrained to reply, "But it is not so with me, I do not so love God, I do not so love my neighbour;" then the case is altogether changed. I am tempted to turn away, alike from the testimony of Scripture, and the testimony of conscience.--shrinking from the confession which, if I listen and reply honestly, I must make. Or, if I am too much awakened, and too much in earnest, so to tamper with the light that is dawning on me,--if I feel that I must look this terrible fact of sin full in the face, and do look at it; then does the forgiveness, of which I spoke easily while I knew not what it was to be forgiven, become to me most difficult of faith.

Now it is not strange, or, in one sense, wrong, that we should shrink from the feeling of simple unqualified guilt. It would not be well that it should be otherwise than both painful and terrible to conclude that, in the sight of God, I am guilty of not loving God, and not loving men. Things would be worse than they are with us, if such a discovery could be without causing both self-loathing and fear. Nor, as to forgiveness, is it to be wondered at, that, when we really come to understand that we need it, we find it most difficult to believe in it. God has been to us too much an unknown God, and our thoughts of him too far removed from the apprehension that there is forgiveness with God that he may be feared, to permit it to be otherwise. But, however painful the discovery of our sin, and however unprepared we may be to bear it by the knowledge of the help that is for us in God, the thoroughly awakened conscience, or rather conscience when we are thoroughly awakened to hear its voice, 12 forces upon us the conviction, that the testimony of the Scriptures as to our sin and guilt before God, and our need of forgiveness,--of a forgiveness that shall be purely and simply such,--the forgiving of a debt to one who has nothing to pay, is just and true.

If any will not concede this much,--if any will extenuate the guilt of sin by referring what man is to his circumstances,--or by treating his moral condition as a low state of development, corresponding to that in which intellectually he is found in savage life, and if the forgiveness needed be thus reduced to the lowest possible amount, until, indeed, it ceases to be forgiveness, and there is room left only for a benevolent pity at the most; from persons in this mind I cannot expect that they will take the next step with me in this path, seeing they do not take the first. But, although I can concede much qualification of the apprehension of sin which we find uttered by newly awakened sinners, and admit that their language is very much affected by their ignorance of God, and the perturbing effect of the awful discovery as to their own moral and spiritual state which they have made, I cannot qualify the assertion, that the testimony of Scripture as to the reality and guilt of sin, and the sinner's dependence upon free grace for pardon, has a clear and unequivocal response in conscience; the recognition of which response on the sinner's part, is the proper attitude for his mind to assume, in listening to, and weighing the doctrine of the atonement.

Nay, more, looking at sin in reference to a still deeper weighing of a man's own state as a sinner, I believe that the experience which the apostle Paul speaks of, in the close of the seventh chapter of his Epistle to the Romans, must be recognised as the completeness of that development of conscience, which fitly 13 prepares the mind for understanding and welcoming the atonement. I refer to that condition of the human spirit in which a man has so seen the claims of the law of God in the light of conscience, that he can say, "I delight in the law of God after the inner man," while, by that same light, he judges what his own flesh is, and what its power over him makes him to be; so that he says, "I find a law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin that is in my members," and his heart's cry is, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" Until, not only the contrariety that is between sin and the law of God, and the position of guilt in which it places the sinner, are seen in the light of conscience; but, beyond this, the inward contradiction with the law of his own well-being, and with that which he must recognise as the true ideal of excellence for humanity, is also seen in that light, and painfully felt, a man is not truly having the full testimony of conscience on the subject of sin, or conscious in himself to that foil response which is in man to the teaching of revelation on this subject. And until a man has come to stand at this point, he is not fully prepared to consider the atonement retrospectively, that is, in its relation to the evil condition from which it is our deliverance.

As to the testimony of conscience to the discovery of revelation on the subject of the gift of eternal life, to which the atonement has prospective reference, the fact of this testimony is not alleged on the ground of men's ordinary habits of thought and feeling, in this case any more than in the former. The intelligent apprehension of that which is said, when it is said, that "God has given to us eternal life," and the enlightened self-consciousness in which that gift is welcomed as 14 altogether suited to man, and the highest good of which he is capable, imply a development of conscience, and a clearness of inward light, beyond even what the fullest reception of the teaching of the Bible on the subject of sin, and guilt, and spiritual death, supposes.

But conscience is capable of such development; and eternal life may be apprehended by us as a manner of existence--a kind of life, the elements of which we understand, the excellence of which commends itself to us, and our own capacity for participation in which as originally created in God's image, and apart from our bondage to sin, we can discern in ourselves.

I speak of eternal life--that life which was with the Father before the world was, and which is manifested in the Son--of his own acquaintance with which as a life lived in humanity, through his acquaintance with Him in whom it was manifested, the apostle John speaks with such fulness of expression in the beginning of his first epistle. I do not speak of an unknown future blessedness, in a future state of being, of which conscience can understand nothing; but I speak of a life which in itself is one and the same here and hereafter,--however it may be developed in us hereafter, beyond its development here. Of this life conscience can take cognisance, its elements it can understand and consider,--comparing them with the elements of that other perishing life of which man has experience; and, taking both to the light of what man is as God's offspring, it can, in that light, decide on the excellence of eternal life, and on the great grace of God in bestowing it, and the perfect salvation in which man partakes in receiving it. How little men's consciences address themselves to this high task, is too manifest; inasmuch as ordinary religion is so much a struggle to secure an unknown future happiness, 15 instead of being the meditation on, and the welcoming of the present gift of eternal life. But to this high task conscience is equal, and to engage in it is the imperative demand which the preaching of the gospel makes on it, that preaching which seeks to commend itself to every man's conscience in the sight of God.

This, then, is the second part of the due preparation for considering the nature of the atonement, with the purpose of coming to know what response that doctrine has in the heart of man, viz.--that the gift of eternal life, revealed as bestowed on us through the atonement, be taken to the light of conscience; and what that gift is, be there seen; and the high result that is accomplished in man in his coming to live that life, be truly conceived of. For thus having before the mind what God has proposed to do through the atonement, now prospectively, as formerly retrospectively, there is the likelihood that its nature, and its suitableness for accomplishing the divine end, shall become visible to us; if that may be at all.

These two extreme points being clearly conceived of, and together present to the mind; and the evil condition of man which the gospel reveals, and the blessed condition to which it raises our hopes, being seen in the light of conscience, developed to this degree under the teaching of God; the gulf which separates them is seen to be very great. We are contemplating extreme opposites, in the highest and most solemn region of things:--spiritual darkness and death, sin and guilt, the righteous condemnation and wrath of God, inward disorder and strife between man and the law of his own well-being;--from these our thoughts pass to divine light filling humanity, eternal life partaken in, righteousness and holiness, the acceptance and favour of God, 16 inward harmony experienced in the fulfilment in man, of that ideal for him which was in the divine mind from the beginning.

It is difficult for us to realise the opposite states, which, by such words, we attempt to describe. The very words we use, though we know them to be the right words, we use with the consciousness, that they have, in our lips, but a small part of their meaning. If
we set ourselves steadfastly to study their use in the Scriptures, and listen with open ear and heart to the interpretation of them, which conscience, under the teaching of the Holy Spirit, accepts, we find these awful realities of evil and good, becoming gradually more and more palpable and real to us; so that they come to be felt as the only realities, and existence comes to have its interest entirely in relation to them. But the wings of our faith do not long sustain this flight. Not that we come to doubt the conclusions at which in such seasons we have arrived; but that, so to speak, we descend from this high region of light and truth, and come down to the earth, and to ordinary human life, and the conditions of humanity that present themselves around us; and, looking at men and women as they are, and at the mixture of good and evil which they exhibit,--seeing also ourselves in others--we practically reconcile ourselves to them, and to ourselves; and the vision of unmixed evil, and of perfect good, fades from our remembrance, or, at best, from having been felt as that which was most real, becomes but as an ideal.

One cause of the practical difficulty that is experienced in keeping our habitual thoughts and feelings in harmony with the perceptions of our most far-seeing moments, is this, that the world in which we are is actually a mixture of good and evil; that it presents neither the unmixed evil of which the Scriptures speak, 17 and to which conscience testifies as man's sinful state, nor this unmixed good, which the Scriptures reveal, and which, in the light of conscience, we recognise as eternal life. We are not in a world yet unvisited by the grace of God; on the contrary, we are encompassed by fruits of that very atonement in which we are called to believe. Nay, the appearances presented in man's condition as we know it, which have furnished the objectors to the atonement with their most specious arguments, are actually to be traced to that atonement itself; while, at the same time, the power for good which belongs to the atonement, and its true working, have no perfect realisation in what men are seen to be; for none are, simply and absolutely, what the atonement would make them; so that, on the one side, none are seen so far from God as, but for the atonement, they would have been;--while, on the other hand, none are seen so near to God as it has been the end of the atonement to bring them. The light shining in the darkness modifies the darkness, even while the darkness comprehends it not;--and, even where it is comprehended, the darkness is not yet seen altogether destroyed by it.

Therefore we must, in studying the subject of the atonement, exercise our minds to abide in that sense and perception of things to which we attain, when the teaching of the Bible, as to the sinful state from which the atonement delivers us, and the eternal life which through it we receive, is having a full response in conscience. So shall we see the work of God in Christ in the light of a true apprehension of what that work had to accomplish; and shall not fall into the error of allowing the partial effects of that work itself to be to us arguments for doubting its necessity and reality.

The first demand which the gospel makes upon us, in relation to the atonement, is, that we believe that 18 there is forgiveness with God. Forgiveness--that is, love to an enemy surviving his enemy, and which, notwithstanding his enmity, can act towards him for his good; this we must be able to believe to be in God toward us, in order that we may be able to believe in the atonement.

This is a faith which, in the order of things, must precede the faith of an atonement. If we could ourselves make an atonement for our sins, as by sacrifice the heathen attempted to do, and as, in their self righteous endeavours to make their peace with God, men are, in fact, daily attempting, then such an atonement might be thought of as preceding forgiveness, and the cause of it. But if God provides the atonement, then forgiveness must precede atonement; and the atonement must be the form of the manifestation of the forgiving love of God, not its cause.

But surely the demand for the faith that there is forgiveness in God has a response in conscience; and doubtless it is, in part at least, ignorance of God that causes the difficulty in believing in forgiveness, which is felt when an actual need of forgiveness that shall be purely such, is realised. For it ought not to be difficult to believe that, though we have sinned against God, God still regards us with a love which has survived our sins. Nay more, we cannot realise the two ideas with reference to man which we have just been considering, viz.,--the evil state into which sin has brought him, and the opposite good state of which the capacity has remained in him, as together present to the mind of the Father of the spirits of all flesh, without feeling that he must desire to bridge over the gulf that separates these two conceived conditions of humanity;--that if it can be bridged over He will bridge it over; that, if that conceivable good for man 19 is a possible good for man, it will be put within man's reach. Therefore, the first tone that catches the ear of the heart in hearing the gospel being, that ''there is forgiveness with God," it ought not to be felt difficult to believe this joyful sound. It ought to have, and doubtless it has an answer in conscience.

The expression once familiar to the lips of ministers of Christ in our land, and which the greater awakenedness of their people's minds on the subject of sin, caused them to feel the need of practically, viz., "that it is the greatest sin to despair of God's mercy," surely is a record of the inward sense of mercy as entering into our original and fundamental apprehension of God: ''Unto us belong shame and confusion of face: unto the Lord our God belongeth mercy," is an instinctive utterance of the human heart. Accordingly, when our Lord teaches us to "love our enemies that we may be the children of our Father in heaven, who makes his sun to shine on the evil and on the good," he assumes, that the witness without which God has never from the beginning left himself, in that he has given rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, has addressed something in man which could interpret the acting of love to enemies.

The atonement, I say, presupposes that there is forgiveness with God; and in doing so has a response in conscience. But this is not the question which the doctrine of the atonement raises, neither is it because it implies such forgiveness that it has been objected to: on the contrary, the objection has been made,--but an objection that could apply only to a false view of the atonement,--that that doctrine did not recognise the mercy that is essentially in God, inasmuch as it represented God as needing to be propitiated--to be made gracious. An atonement to make God gracious, 20 to move him to compassion, to turn his heart toward those from whom sin had alienated his love, it would, indeed, be difficult to believe in; for, if it were needed it would be impossible. To awaken to the sense of the need of such an atonement, would certainly be to awaken to utter and absolute despair. But the Scriptures do not speak of such an atonement; for they do not represent the love of God to man as the effect, and the atonement of Christ as the cause, but,--just the contrary,--they represent the love of God as the cause, and the atonement as the effect. "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him, might not perish, but have everlasting life."

Those, therefore, who object to the doctrine of the atonement on the assumption that the atonement is presented to them as the cause of God's forgiving love, are placed under a great disadvantage by this misapprehension of the demand that is made on their faith. What they are asked to believe has its difficulties,--and I do not wish to understate these; but they are as nothing in comparison; and let them learn with thankfulness, that that is not the true conception of the atonement which has so repelled them. That which they are really asked to consider as what, it is expected, being truly apprehended, will commend itself to conscience in the sight of God, is the way in which the forgiving love of God has manifested itself for the salvation of sinful men.

Those who, being under no misapprehension on this point, still draw back from the faith of the atonement, do so as feeling a difficulty which may be thus expressed: Seeing that there is forgiveness with God, that he may be feared, and that his love not only survives men's transgressions, but can confer new gifts 21 on those who have transgressed, why should not this love be manifested without an atonement? Why should not the pardon of sin as an act of Divine Clemency be simply intimated? Why should not this new and great gift of eternal life be simply bestowed, and presented to men as the rich bounty of God?

I have referred to the difficulty which a thoroughly awakened sinner feels in believing that God will pardon his sins, and grant to him eternal life; and such an objector would say, "Why should he feel any such difficulty? Is it not the evidence of a morbid moral state so to feel?" Now I have admitted that the feeling in question, arises in part from the extent to which God has been previously an unknown God. But only in part. There are other elements in that difficulty which are connected with the dawn of a true knowledge of God. God's mercy has not been previously apprehended, otherwise it would be felt wrong to despair of it;--but neither have God's holiness and righteousness, and his wrath against sin been previously apprehended;--and the fears, represented as indications of a morbid moral state, are, I believe, in reality the effect of light visiting the spirit of the man--flight as to the real sinfulness of sin, and its contrariety to the mind of God. Admitting that there is much perturbation of mind;--admitting that the light that is shed upon the truth of man's moral and spiritual condition, is but partial, and that the name of God and its glory have not yet shone in upon his soul and conscience full orbed,--still it is light that is visiting the man who uses language as to his own sinfulness, and the deserts of his sin, with the expression of fears as to the wrath of God, which the objector would refer to a morbid state of mind,--fears which may, indeed, seem extravagant, and almost 22 madness to others who have not yet taken themselves, and what they are in themselves, to that light of God in which he sees himself, and who can therefore speak to him of trusting in God's mercy, and rebuke his fears, so easily; not because they know more of God's mercy and forgiveness than he does, but because they have such different apprehensions of that sin, as to which forgiveness is needed.

Nor is the distress experienced connected with the forgiveness of past sin alone. That grace for the time to come--that gift of eternal life--which it appears to the objector to the atonement may so easily be believed in as the free bounty of God, may be so far conceived of by the awakened sinner, and may so commend itself to him, that he can say, "I delight in the law of God after the inward man;"--and yet, to believe that the good he apprehends is freely granted to him, is so far from an easy and natural act of faith in God's goodness, that the ideal which has dawned upon him, is felt to be the ideal of a hopeless good. He finds "a law in his members warring against the law of his mind, and bringing him into captivity to the law of sin that is in his members;"--so that he cries out,--"O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"

Now, we know that where, in such cases, all general urging of God's mercy and clemency, and willingness to pardon and to save, fail to give peace, or quicken hope; the presenting of the atonement for the acceptance of faith does both. Awakened sinners, (and I use the expression simply as to my own mind the most accurate, while also it is the echo of the word "Awake, thou that sleepest,") who are finding themselves unable to believe that God,--not because He is not merciful and gracious, but though merciful and gracious, and 23 however merciful and gracious He is,--can pardon their sins and bestow on them eternal life, are found able to believe in such pardon, and to receive the hope of eternal life, when these are presented to them in connexion with the sacrifice of Himself by which Christ put away sin, becoming the propitiation for the sins of the whole world.

This fact is surely deserving of the serious consideration of those whose objection to the atonement is, that it should be enough for man's peace and hope to be told, that the Lord God is merciful and gracious and ready to forgive, and to relieve all who call upon him. Here there is manifested an inability to believe in God's forgiveness as meeting man's need, when presented simply as clemency and mercy;--but, presented in the form of the atonement, it is believed in. Not surely because less credit for love and mercy is given to God now;--for on the contrary the conception of love simply forgiving, and of love forgiving at such a cost to itself, differ just in this, that in the latter, the love is infinitely enhanced.

An objector may reply that doubtless this is a remarkable mental phenomenon, and that he does not deny that what are called religious memoirs abound in illustrations of it; but that he cannot assume that those who have had this history were in the light, and that he himself is in the dark;--and that, to his mind, to preach forgiveness, and the gift of eternal life, in connexion with an atonement, is only to increase the difficulty of faith;--for that, while he sees in both these, contemplated simply in themselves, what he receives as worthy of the goodness of God, the addition of the doctrine of the atonement introduces other, and to him, mysterious elements into the question, complicating what should be a simple matter, and, in fact, 24 representing the love of God as not at liberty freely to express itself, but, having difficulties and hindrances to encounter,--the removal and overcoming of which involved such mysteries as the incarnation, and the self sacrifice of the Son of God.

It is even so: and this, doubtless, is the difficulty,--the great and ultimate difficulty; and let its amount be distinctly recognised. That God should do anything that is loving and gracious--which implies only an act of will--putting forth power guided by wisdom, this seems easy of faith. But, either that any object should appear desirable to God's love, which infinite power, guided by infinite wisdom, cannot accomplish by a simple act of the divine will, or that, if there be an object not to be thus attained, God will proceed to seek that object by a process which implies a great cost to God, and self-sacrifice,--either of these positions is difficult of faith. But the doctrine of the atonement involves them both: and this we must realise, and bear in mind, if we would deal wisely, nay justly, with objectors.

Yet, doubtless, the elements, in the atonement which cause difficulty are the very elements which give it its power to be that peace and hope for man which the gospel contemplates, and which a simple intimation of the divine clemency and goodness could not quicken in him. It is that God is contemplated as manifesting clemency and goodness at a great cost, and not by a simple act of will that costs nothing, that gives the atonement its great power over the heart of man. For that is a deep, yea, the deepest spiritual instinct in man which affirms, that in proportion as any act manifests love it is to be believed as ascribed to God who is love. No manifestation of power meeting me can so assure me that I am meeting God as the manifestation 25 of love does. Therefore they greatly err who seek an external evidence of power, instead of an internal evidence of love, in considering the claim of anything to be received as from God.

Accordingly, a high argument in favour of Christianity, and which has awakened a deep response in many a heart, has been founded upon this very aspect of the doctrine of the atonement, viz., that it represents God as manifesting self-sacrificing love; and so reveals the depth, not to say the reality, of love, as creation and providence could not do. And as a final cause for the permission of a condition of things, giving opportunity to the divine love to shew the self-sacrificing nature of love, and to bless with the blessedness of being the objects of such love, and, as the fruit of this, the blessedness of so loving--in this view--this argument is both true and deep.

But the internal evidence which at the point at which we stand in our inquiry we need, must be something different from this. The evil condition to which sin had reduced man, the good of which nevertheless man still continued capable; these ideas in relation to man being conceived of as together present to the divine mind, it appeared to us that we could believe, that the desire would arise in the heart of the Father of the spirits of all flesh to bridge over this gulf if that could be: nay, it seemed impossible to believe that that desire should not arise. Now the gospel declares, that the love of God has, not only desired to bridge over this gulf, but has actually bridged it over, and the atonement is presented to us as that in which this is accomplished. What we seek is internal evidence--a response in our own spirits, as to the divine wisdom manifested in what is thus represented as the means by which divine love attains the object of its desire.


But in this view it is not enough to say that this way is that in which the greatest proof of love is afforded. Love cannot be conceived of as doing anything gratuitously, merely to shew its own depth, for which thing there was no call in the circumstances of the case viewed in themselves. A man may love another so as to be willing to die for him;--but he will not actually lay down his life merely to shew his love, and without there being anything to render his doing so necessary in order to save the life for which he yields up his own.

Therefore the question remains, "How was so costly an expression of love as the atonement necessary?"--and how costly this expression of divine love has been to God we must fully recognise. For there is no doubt that a chief source of the difficulty which is felt in receiving the doctrine of the atonement is, that the atonement presupposes the incarnation. "God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." A man who is contented to die for another manifests his love at ihe greatest cost to himself. By such an illustration, therefore, the Apostle teaches that the love that is manifested in Christ's dying for us is manifested at a great cost to God. Of course this assumes that Christ is God. That God should sacrifice one creature for another,--subject one of His offspring to death that others of His offspring might live,--would have nothing in it parallel to a man's laying down his own life for another. To say that Christ was not after all sacrificed in this transaction;--that what he endured was on his part voluntary, and endured in the contemplation of a reward,--for that, "for the joy set before him he endured the cross, despising the shame," is no answer; for that God takes credit to Himself for the love that


Christ manifests in dying for us--this is the point of the Apostle's argument! As to the reward set before Christ, it is that fruit of His self-sacrifice which must be presupposed in order that the self-sacrifice should be a reasonable transaction. Self-sacrificing love does not sacrifice itself but for an end of gain to its objects; otherwise it would be folly. Does its esteeming as a reward that gain to those for whom it suffers, destroy its claim to being self-sacrifice? Nay, that which seals its character as self-sacrificing love is, that this to it is a satisfying reward. ''He shall see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied."

In considering why our redemption has been at such a cost, and the whole subject of the nature of the atonement, we shall be greatly helped by keeping distinctly before our minds, these two extreme points to which the atonement is related in that it refers to the one retrospectively, to the other prospectively, viz. the condition in which the grace of God finds us, and the condition to which it raises us.

Christ has "redeemed us who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons"--Christ "suffered for us, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God." Both that we were "under the law" and "unjust" and that we were "to receive the adoption of sons" and to be "brought to God" may be expected to have affected the nature of the atonement as determining what it must be adequate to: more especially the latter, as the great result contemplated. Accordingly, in the writings of the Apostles, we find the necessity for the atonement being what it was connected with both--but more especially with the latter.

Yet in our systems of theology the former, and not the latter, has been chiefly the foundation of the 28 arguments employed. Not that the latter has not also been taken into account, and provision made for it; but it has not been regarded as shedding light on the nature of the atonement. This is certain. For however our "receiving the adoption of sons" and our being "brought to God" enter into the scheme of salvation as represented in these systems, it is in the fact that we "were under the law" and "unjust"--that is to say, that we were sinners, under the condemnation of a broken law, that the necessity for the atonement has been recognised.

The important consequences that have followed from this, as seems to me, departure from the example of the Apostles will appear as we proceed. But with the conclusions arrived at as to the necessity for an atonement, as arising from the fact, that we, whom the grace of God has visited, were sinners under the condemnation of a broken law, I fully accord. I believe that "by the deeds of the law could no flesh living be justified"--understanding by the law, not the Mosaic ritual, but that law of which the Apostle speaks when he says, "I delight in the law of God after the inward man"--that is to say, the law, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart and mind and soul and strength, and thy neighbour as thyself." I believe that no modification of the law as a law, in accommodation to man's condition as a sinner, is conceivable that could either give the assurance of the pardon of sin, or quicken us with a new life ; and that all idea of bridging over, by a modified law, the gulf which we have been contemplating is untenable. I believe that, if this was to be accomplished, it could only be by some moral and spiritual constitution quite other than the law: while, at the same time, such other constitution cannot be conceived of as introduced in any way that does not duly honour the law; or that delivers from the consequences 29 of transgressing it, without vindicating the righteousness of the law, and the consistency of the law-giver. Finally, I believe that this requirement is recognised in the gospel, being fully met in the atonement.

But I must guard against seeming to give to the reasonings by which these conclusions have been arrived at, an unqualified assent. When it is argued that the justice or righteousness of God and his holiness,--and also his truth and faithfulness, presented difficulties in the way of our salvation, which rendered for their removal an atonement necessary, I fully absent to this; and, when it is added, as I have seen it lately urged, that the goodness, the love of God as the moral ruler and governor of the universe, also demanded an atonement, that our salvation might be consistent with the well being of the moral universe,--I can freely concede this also: nay, more, I would say, not the love of God having respect to the interests of the moral universe only, but the love of God having respect to the interests of the subjects of the salvation themselves. For indeed to me salvation otherwise than through the atonement is a contradiction.

But while in reference to the not uncommon way of regarding this subject which represents righteousness and holiness as opposed to the sinner's salvation, and mercy and love as on his side, I freely concede that all the divine attributes were, in one view, against the sinner in that they called for the due expression of God's wrath against sin in the history of redemption; I believe, on the other hand, that the justice, the righteousness, the holiness of God have an aspect according to which they, as well as his mercy, appear as intercessors for man, and crave his salvation. Justice may be contemplated as according to sin its due; 30 and there is in righteousness, as we are conscious to it, what testifies that sin should be miserable. But justice looking at the sinner, not simply as the fit subject of punishment, but as existing in a moral condition of unrighteousness, and so its own opposite, must desire that the sinner should cease to be in that condition; should cease to be unrighteous,--should become righteous: righteousness in God craving for righteousness in man, with a craving which the realisation of righteousness in man alone can satisfy. So also of holiness. In one view it repels the sinner, and would banish him to outer darkness, because of its repugnance to sin. In another it is pained by the continued existence of sin and unholiness, and must desire that the sinner should cease to be sinful. So that the sinner, conceived of as awakening to the consciousness of his own evil state, and saying to himself, "By sin I have destroyed myself. Is there yet hope for me in God?" should hear an encouraging answer, not only from the love and mercy of God, but also from his very righteousness and holiness. We must not forget, in considering the response that is in conscience to the charge of sin and guilt, that, though the fears which accompany that response are partly the effect of a dawning of light, they also in part arise from remaining darkness. He who is able to interpret the voice of God within him truly, and with full spiritual intelligence, will be found saying, not only, "There is to me cause for fear in the righteousness and holiness of God"--but also, "There is room for hope for me in the divine righteousness and holiness." And when gathering consolation from the meditation of the name of the Lord, that consolation will be not only, "Surely the divine mercy desires to see me happy rather than miserable"--but also, "Surely the divine righteousness desires to see me righteous--the 31 divine holiness desires to see me holy--my continuing unrighteous and unholy is as grieving to God's righteousness and holiness as my misery through sin is to His pity and love." "Good and righteous is the Lord; therefore will He teach sinners the way which they should choose." "A just God and a Saviour;" not as the harmony of a seeming opposition, but "a Saviour," because "a just God."

If this thought commends itself to my reader's mind as it does to mine, he will feel it to be important; and he will see, in reference to the atonement, not that it tends to make an atonement appear less necessary, but that it may greatly affect the nature of the atonement required: for it implies that the prospective aspect of the atonement,--its reference to the life of sonship given to us in Christ, has been its most important aspect as respects the demands of righteousness and holiness, as it confessedly is as respects those of mercy and love. This is so--while, assuredly, it is also true that the retrospective aspect of the atonement as connecting the pardon of sin with the vindicating of the honour of the divine law, is not less a meeting of a demand of divine love than of the demands of righteousness and holiness. How could it be otherwise, seeing that the law is love?

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