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BY THE REV. W. LEASK, OF CHAPMANSLADE.
Essay II.-ON THE Atonement..
In examining this the fundamental principle of Christianity, the solid basis on which the superstructure of the restorative system rests, we must take revelation as our guide. May He, whose Divine office it is to “guide into all truth," direct the writer, and bless the reader ! Numerous passages of Scripture might here be quoted, which directly assert or imply the doctrine of a substitutionary atonement; but, for the sake of order, we submit two or three propositions, which lead to the conclusion aimed at.
1. God is just. By this short, but comprehensive proposition, is meant that attribute in the moral nature of Jehovah, which leads Him to do what is rightand only what is right-only what squares with eternal rectitude, at all times and in all places, throughout the whole extent of the universe. Without this, there could neither be security for the happiness of any of His creatures, nor for the stability of His throne. Injustice in Him is a palpable contradiction—an absolute impossibility. The very idea, could it be entertained an instant, would be fraught with evils too terrible for description, too awful for thought. A single act of injustice, a single volition of His power, in any part of His dominions, at variance with equity, would unhinge all the relationships of creation, disunite every bond of unity, dissolve all moral obligation, and dismember the universe. The distinction between evil and good would instantly be lost, beyond the possibility of recovery. The principles of right and wrong would become abstractions in the mind, to which no intelligence could attach a tangible idea ; rebellion and allegiance would be confounded with each other; the superiority of earth over hell, or of heaven over either, would become a question : and the wheels of creation, having lost the hand of rectitude to guide their movements, would crash, as the signal of universal confusion, the chaos of infinitude, chaos, over which no power could exert itself to restore order!
We speak of God, as of a Being of absolute perfection, and of His attributes, or those characteristics of His nature which are necessary to perfection, as individually infinite. Thus-God is infinite perfection-perfection infinitely beyond the range of any species of error. He is holy; that is, holiness is an attribute of His nature ; but it is infinite holiness—holiness infinitely beyond the possibility of stain. He is wise; that is, wisdom is an attribute of God; but it is infinite wisdom-wisdom infinitely beyond the possibility of folly. í might adduce all the revealed attributes of Jehovab, and speak of them in like manner, as it is plain, that each characteristic of a Being absolutely perfect, must itself be the perfection of its kind ; that is, infinite in itself : for if it could be shown that any single attribute were not infinite, the same process which proved that, would demonstrate that the Being to whom it was attributed could not be absolute perfection. Thus, God is just ; that is, justice is an attribute of God; but it is infinite justice-justice
infinitely beyond the possibility of injustice ; but disprove this, and demonstrate that He has ever acted unjustly, even in the smallest instance, and you have also demonstrated that not a single attribute of His nature is infinitely perfect; that is to say, you will have proven that He is not a Being of absolute perfection. For the same process which disproves the assertion, that God is infinitely just, disproves its correlative, that He is infinitely holy; for a being capable of acting unjustly, is of necessity a being not perfectly holy, and of consequence not a perfect being. Therefore, if God not just, He is not holy; if not infinitely just, He is not infinitely perfect ; because the imperfection of any single attribute, renders the perfection of character impossible.
Is it objected, that though this is true so far as moral perfection is concerned, yet it is not necessarily so to the posssession of what we call the natural attributes of Deity; that is to say, a Being may be supposed omnipotent, or infinitely powerful, without necessitating the possession of infinite wisdom or justice? This objection arises from want of due consideration, and it is untenable on two grounds.
First. We can only think of one Being in the universe possessing onnipotence. But omnipotence is infinite power, and the Being possessing infinite power, must of necessity possess all the other attributes of His character, in an infinite degree; because a being partly finite and partly infinite, is an absurdity; or, if you will, a being naturally infinite and morally finite, is absolutely impossible. Therefore, if God be omnipotent, He must also be infinitely wise, and infinitely just.
Secondly. The objection under review is untenable, because omnipotence possessed by a being devoid of infinite wisdom and justice, could only be a source of unmingled terror to all the creatures which that omnipotent might call into being. Infinite power, without infinite wisdom to regulate its movements, would render its possessor the most dangerous being in the universe; and the same attribute, possessed by a being devoid of infinite justice, would render him an absolute tyrant. Omnipotence without wisdom might create worlds without design, and crush them without motive. Omnipotence without justice might create beings, but those beings would be liable every moment to become the victims of an injustice from which they had no appeal, and against which they could not contend, seeing their antagonist was infinite power. But even this involves a contradiction; for an unjust omnipotent could not communicate, by the mere exercise of power, the ideas of right and wrong to the beings he had created; so that here is another argument equally conclusive for the simple proposition that God is just.
As our great Creator formed man and all other intelligences in a state of moral perfection, and could do no less because He Himself was infinitely perfect, so the assertion that He is not absolutely just, involves the assertion that no attribute of His character is infinite, and that He Himself is not in any respect infinitely perfect; and it leaves the guilty assertoi chargeable with follý, absurdity, and blasphemy.
Further proofs might be here adduced from Jehovah's denunciations against injustice-His promises to the just—His law-His actions among men, angels, and devils; and I might also have examined some of the objections of infidelity; but I shall only now invite you carefully to ponder the subjoined passages in corroboration of the assertion that God is just”—(Gen. xviii. 25; Deut. xxxii. 4, and xxxiij. 2 ; Nehem. ix. 33 ; Job. iv. 17, and viii. 3 ; Psa. Iviii. 11; lxxxix. 14; xcvii. 2; Prov. iii. 33 ; xvi. 11; xvii. 15; Isa. xxvi. 7, and xlv, 21 ; Ezek. xviii. throughout; Dan. iv. 37; Hosea xiv. 9; Zeph. iii. 5; and Rev. xv. 3).
II. Jesus Christ WAS PERFECTLY HOLY. Having already endeavoured to prove that Jehovah is a Being possessing every possible perfection, it is also demonstrated that Christ, as the Son of God, the Father's equal, the Father's “ Fellow,” is posessed of the same attributes, each infinitely perfect, and is Himself, therefore, infinite perfection ; my second proposition, therefore, refers to Jesus in His human nature as man. It may be assumed, as necessary to the mysterious union subsisting between Deity and humanity in the person of the Anointed, that that humanity should be pure from every stain of pollution, either original or actual, either derived or acquired, either innate or external; for if “there is no communion between light and darkness,” there could not be any such union as that under notice, between
perfect Deity and fallen humanity. The body prepared for the “ Mediator between God and men,” had to be a body without spot or stain; for the idea of such an union between perfection and imperfection, purity and impurity, light and darkness, is revolting to reason.
It may indeel suit those who deny the essential Godhead of the Redeemer, together with the doctrine of the atonement, to affirm that Ile was a fallible and peccable man. It may be consistent with their theory ; but it is opposed to expe; rience, and at war with the express declarations of Scripture, both prophetic and historic.
First It is consistent with their theory. For if the Deity of the Saviour and the fact of His liaving made an atonement for sin be expunged from revelation, absolute perfection is impossible and unnecessary-impossible, because absolute perfection has not been found in any one descending by ordinary generation from Adam since “ sin entered the world,” and without the intervention of miraculous agency the race must continue liable to sin ; for our first father having sinned, every individual of the human race stands in the same moral relation to him as did his firstborn son.
No multiplication of the species can destroy the proper characteristics of its origin. No distance in time can change the original quality. Transplant the Upas tree a thousand times, and carry it to every region of the globe, if you will, yet its production remains only poison. Or, to quote the beautiful language of Him, to vindicate whose glorious character from calumny I would desire to list my feeble voice; “Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit” -(Matt. vii. 16–18). But, further, if Jesus Christ did not make an atonement for sin, the necessity of His personal freedom from liability to transgress ceases so far as the destiny of the world is concerned ; because there is no plainer truth than this, that that he who atones must himself be free from the crime for which he atones. One criminal cannot propitiate his sovercign for another, as they are both obnoxious to that sovereign's justice.
Secondly. The affirmation that Jesus Christ was a fallible and peccable man, is opposed to experience. Peter, an intimate friend, disciple, and apostle of Jesus, an individual therefore who had every opportunity of seeing Him in private as in public, when He “rejoiced in spirit," as well as when He “wept"- -a man, moreover, whose shrewdness of observation was not likely to be deceived, calls Him " the Holy One and the Just.” Judas, a man of infamous character, of sordid mind, a thief, a misanthrope, a traitor, but a follower of Christ's person, (though not of His principles) and who had therefore also unlimited opportunities of detecting fallibility in the practice of his Master, had such existed, and who, moreover, from the wretched state of his own mind would have seized with avidity on the least symptom of peccability (for it is an indisputable tendency of bad men to impugu the character of others) in Jesus, had such appeared, declared—I say, this man declared, before the chief priests and elders of Jerusalem, " I have sinned, in that I have betrayed the INNOCENT BLOOD;” and to prove his sincerity, this lover of gold dashed the bribe from his polluted hands, and rushing from the temple in an agony of remorse put an end to his own existence. Further: the enemies of Jesus (and they were both numerous and malignant, wbilst many of them were highly educated, and not a few were practised sophists,) day after day attempted to " entangle Him in His talk,” by urging Him to "much speaking ;” they proposed hard questions to Him; they endeavoured to draw Ilim on the slippery ground of politics; questioned Him on the agitated subject of paying “tribute” to a foreign emperor; sent out “ spies” who should “ feign themselves just men" that they might" find an accusation against Him;" and, again, changing their tactics in this unholy warfare, they introduced a pretended love to religion, and “ zeal for the law,” as the weapon of attack, and forth with endeavoured to oppose Him to Moses-to set Him at variance with the elders~ to prove Him a glutton—a drunkard -a Sabbath-breaker-a blasphemer-a demoniac! Could malignity go further, Could hell do more? No. Well, what was the result ? Are these charges proven? Is one item proven? No. Hear the simple statement of Luke" All llis adversaries were ashamed !” Moreover, the bribed and perjured witnesses when He was arraigned in a hall of mock justice, willingly misinterpreted one or two of His sayings, talked puerile nonsense, and glaringly contradicted each other. Further; listen to the testimony of the Roman governor : but before you do so, remember who this personage was: the Governor of Judea,” the representative of Cæsar, a politic individual who wished to ingratiate himself in the favour of the Jews, who were clamorous for the death of Jesus ; and who, occupying a high station in life, was not likely either to know or care much about the doctrines of the despised Nazarene. Moreover, he saw Jesus under the worst possible circumstances. He was brought before him “ bound" as a great criminal; the “ whole multitude” vociferous in their clamours against Him; no counsel to plead His cause; no witnesses called to palliate His supposed offences; "of the people there was none with Him;" His followers had fled in cowardly search of hiding places for themselves, with the exception of one would-be hero, who mingled with the servants in the high priest's hall, and denied all knowledge of his master with oaths and curses; and as one of the charges which the artful calumniators of Jesus preferred against Him was, that He forbade to give tribute unto Cæsar, pretending that He Himself was King of the Jews, it behoved Pilate, if this charge were true, to suppress such incentives to insurrection against his imperial master. Now, bearing these things in mind, what is the testimony of this man regarding the accused, after he has listened to the charges and heard the witnesses ? “He took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this Just Person ; see ye"-(Matt. xxvii. 24). He washed his hands, the oriental mode of declaring innocence; he washed his hands" before the multitude,” that all might see and understand his official opinion; and he declared, loud enough to be heard by all the people, as we learn from the following verse, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Per son; see ye;" observe my action; notice what I have dope.' Further, permit me to refer to the testimony of one of the malefactors, (for when a person is in the grasp of death, he is likely to speak truth, however infamous may have been his previous character)—“This man hath done nothing amiss"(-Luke xxiii. 41). Still further, read the testimony of demons :-“And there was in their synagogue” (the synagogue at Capernaum) “a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with Thee, Thou Jesus of Nazareth ? Art Thou come to destroy us? I know Thee, who Thou art, the Holy One of God"
-(Mark i. 23, 24, and Luke iv. 33). The same historian, as well as Luke, tells us of a legion of demons crying out that Jesus was the “Son of the most High God”—consequently perfectly holy. Matthew, Mark and Luke concur in telling us that He was tempted of the devil; and Matthew and Luke, who detail the particulars, show that the temptation took place amidst circumstances most likely to have been successful had the tempted one been peccable. Was He an bungered? He was tempted to create bread. Had he declared himself to be the Son of God? He was tempted to prove it by casting Himself from a pinnacle of the temple, on the providence and promises of His Father. Was He poor? He was tempted with an offer of the kingdoms of this world. Was He despised ? the glory of those kingdoms was offered to Him. Were any of those temptations successful ? None. The fiend was baffled, " and angels came and ministered unto Him.” And from this I pass, by an easy transition, to the testimony of holy angels regarding Jesus, Listen to Gabriel :
-He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest." What! a fallible and peccable being ? Listen to the “angel of the Lord:"“Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people; for unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” Listen to “a multitude of the heavenly host" who join the angelic speaker, " praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. What! “glory to God in the highest" from the birth of a fallible man ? “peace on earth” because a sinner was born ? " good will toward men” because a peccable being had been ushered into the world? The rejecters of mystery must explain this. Does experience warrant the assertion that Jesus Christ was fallible? br does it warrant the assertion that He was perfectly holy?
Thirdly. The assertion that Jesus Christ was fallible and peccable is at war with the express declarations of Scripture both prophetic and historic.
1st. Prophecy. In Psalm xvi. 10, David says, “ Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt Thou suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption.” And the apostle Paul, in his sermon at Antioch, in Pisidia, applies this prediction to Jesus Christ (Acts xiii. 35). "The Holy One of Israel”—(Isaiah xli. 14); “Mine elect, in whom My soul delighteth"-(chap. xlii. 1); “He hath done no violence, neither was any deceit in His mouth"-(chap. liii. 9); “Righteous servant”--(verse 11); “Sun of righteousness”—(Malachi iv. 2); “He shall judge Thy people with righteousness" -(Psalm lxxii. 2); “With righteousness shall He judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth : and He shall smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked : and righteousness shall be the girdle of His loins, and faithfulness the girdle of His reins” (Isaiah xi. 4, 5); “ Most holy?—(Daniel ix. 24).
2. History. “And lo, a voice from heaven, saying, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased"-(Matthew iii. 17 ; Mark i. 11; see also Matthew xii. 18, in proof that the passage in Isaiah xlii. 1, refers to Christ.) " While he" (Peter) “yet spake, behold a bright cloud overshadowed them; and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am wellpleased"-(Matthew xvii. 5; Mark ix. 7 ; Luke ix. 35 ; 2 Peter i. 17). “The Beloved”-(Ephesians i. 6), Dear Son"-(Colossians i. 13). "The brightness of His” (God's) “glory and the express image of His person"-(Hebrews i. 3). “ And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld'His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth”-(John i. 14). – Image of God"-(2 Corinthians iv. 4). - Without sin"-(Hebrews iv. 15). “Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth”-(1 Peter ii. 22). “ In Him is no sin"-(1 John iii. 5). It is superfluous to proceed further with this topic. These
passages are too plain to require comment, and too explicit to admit of quibble.
III. Jesus CHRIST SUFFERED AND DIED IN FULFILMENT OF THE PREDICTIONS AND IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE DETERMINATION OF GOD.
Hear the prediction of the son of Jesse ; “ My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" A prediction fulfilled when the dying Jesus exclaimed, “ Eli, Eli, lama sabacthani?” Again ; “ Then Thou speakest to Thy Holy One, and saidst I have laid help upon One that is mighty”—(Psalm lxxxix. 19). Hear Isaiah ; “The Lord God hath opened Mine ear and I was not rebellious, neither turned away My back; I gave My back to the smiters and My cheeks to them that plucked off the hair; I hid not My face from shame and spitting”—(Isaiah l. 5, 6). Again; “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him, He hath put to Him grief”(Isaiah liii. 10). Hear Zechariah, “Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, and against the Man that is My Fellow, saith the Lord of Hosts ; smite the Shepherd and the sheep shall be scattered"-(Zechariah xiii. 7); and in connection with this, read Matthew xxvi. 31, and Mark xiv. 27. Turn to the New Testament.
". The Son of Man goeth as it is written of Him”-(Matthew xxvi. 24). “And truly the Son of Man goeth as it was determined”-(Luke xxii. 22). Peter, speaking of Jesus of Nazareth, says, “He was delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God"-(Acts ii. 23). Again ; the same searching preacher declares, that “ those things, which God before had showed by the mouth of all His holy prophets, that Christ should suffer, He hath so fulfilled”-(Acts iii. 18). Further, hearken to the song of the Church after Peter and John had escaped from the infuriated Jews. “of a truth, against Thy holy child Jesus, whom Thou hast anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel had determined before to be done”-(Acts iv. 27, 28). The sum of these passages, to which a multitude more might be added, is, that God selected Christ for sufferingthat He “opened" or bored His ear, to indicate that He was Jehovah's servantthat Christ obediently " turned His back to the smiters and His cheeks to them that plucked off the hair, and His face to shame and spitting”-that Jehovah's "sword” was employed in smiting Him-that “it pleased the Lord to bruise Him, to put Him to grief”—that God forsook Him amidst His agony—that all His sufferings were ordained by God—that He was delivered up to death by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, and that the prophets had been commanded to foretel these eyents.