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to forgive the repentant sinner. I shall refer to only a few of the many passages which clearly inculcate this truth.
Isaiah lv. 7., we read: “Let the wicked forsake. his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
Exodus xxxiii. 2.: “Say unto them: As I live saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn ye, turn ye, from your evil ways, for why will ye die, O house of Israel?”
Dan. ix. 9: “To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against him.”
In Luke xv., we find recorded the beautiful and instructive parable of the prodigal son. The father, in that parable is the representative of the Deity; and in his conduci towards his repentant son, we have a representation of God's dealings with us, his human offspring. Now here we find, that this good father forgives his son the moment that the son returns to him. He does not require that another shall first suffer in that son's stead, to satisfy his offended justice. The son has already suffered the natural consequences of his follies. His sufferings have produced the desired effect; they have restored the wanderer to his duty and to his home; and the moment that he thus returns, his father forgives him freely and unconditionally. Now this, according to our Saviour's teaching, is the exact representation of God's conduct towards man. His wisdom and goodness have so ordered it, that virtue and spiritual happiness are inseparably connected as cause and effect; and that vice and folly necessarily lead to spiritual unhappiness and suffering. Whenever, therefore, man leaves the path of duty, which alone leads to true happiness, and seeks his happiness in vice, in folly, and in the gratification of his animal passions, he then becomes unhappy, and suffers the necessary consequences of his aberrations from the path of duty. But when his sufferings, and the other motives to goodness with which his heavenly father has surrounded him, produce the intended effect, and recall the wanderer to virtue and to God, then that Father, like the parent in the parable, receives his repentant child with open arms.
All his errors are freely forgiven; and the celestial spirits rejoice, that another has been added to the number of the heirs of immortality.* Now all this is worthy of the goodness and mercy of God;-all this is in perfect accordance with the uniform teachings of the scriptures; but it is totally irreconcilable with the doctrine of a vicarious atonement,
* Luke xv. 10.
Another passage, decisive of the point under consideration, is found in Matt. xviii, from the 25th to the 27th verses, where our Saviour compares the divine mercy to that of a king, who forgave to one of his poor servants a very large debt. Here, again, we find nothing of a surety, or substitute;-nothing of another's paying the debt, or making satisfaction for the poor servant. His deliverance is solely due to the unpurchased goodness and generosity of the king.
The last passage which I shall notice as bearing on this point, is the exhortation of our Saviour, recorded in Luke vi, 36: "Be ye therefore merciful as your Father also is merciful.” In several places our Saviour had recommended a mer. ciful disposition, and the forgiveness of injuries, as belonging not only to the principal graces, but also to the essential duties of a religious character. In the text last quoted, he endeavors to enforce those precepts by setting forth to his followers the example of their heavenly Father, for their imitation. I do not know that a stronger incitement to charity could be presented to the human mind, than that here adduced by Christ, or one better calculated to call into action the best affections of the human heart. But let us now for a moment suppose the popular doctrine of the atonement to be true, and what will then be the import of the above text? It will then teach us, that, in order to assimilate our conduct to that of our heavenly Father, we must never forgive an injury, until full satisfaction for it has been made to our offended justice, by the infliction of an adequate punishment, either on the offender, or on his substitute. How totally different is this from the teachings of the Saviour, and from the example which he has set us?
Another branch of the popular doctrine which deserves being noticed, is that which teaches that sin is an infinite evil, because it is an oflence against an infinite God, and that therefore it was requisite that the atonement for it should be made by an infinite surety, or, in other words, by one of the Persons of the Godhead.
Now there is a sense in which sin is an infinite evil, namely: because its consequences follow us into eternity, and there affect our well being. But it is not an infinite evil in the sense in which it is said to be so by the Orthodox, nor for the reasons assigned by them. If it were so, then there would be no gradation in human guilt. Beyond infinity we cannot go, so that, if every sin be an infinite evil in the sense here
referred to, then the slightest aberration from the path of duty, the consequence of a momentary want of watchfulness, and the most atrocious, deliberate crime, must render man equally culpable in the sight of God. I suspect that this will hardly be maintained by any one; and yet this is the unavoidable consequence of the doctrine, that sin is an infinite evil in the orthodox sense.
But the theory of an infinite surely, is equally inconsistent as that of sin's being an infinite evil. According to the former, Christ, the second person of the Trinity, a being possessed of both a divine and a human nature, made, by his sufferings, satisfaction to the offended justice of the Father. Now it is not pretended by any one, that the divine nature of Christ either did or could suffer. All agree that God is impassible; and hence the sufferings of Christ were only those of man, not those of an infinite being.
I believe there are many persons who cling to the doctrine of the Trinity, chiefly on account of the support which it is supposed to give to the doctrine of the atonement. Now it appears to me that these two dogmas are entirely incompatible the one with the other. I have already shown that, when properly considered, the sufferings of Christ are those of a human being only! but this difficulty which arises hence, is trifling in comparison to the far more startling one which the connection of these dogmas presents under another point of view. According to the popular theology, sin is an offence against the divine justice, of so heinous a nature, that it could not be forgiven unless an adequate punishment was inflicted either on the sinner or on his substitute. To free mankind from this punishment, Christ, the second person in the Trinity, took on himself our nature, and, in our stead and place, bore the punishment due to our transgressions, and thus made atonement to the offended justice of the Father, the first person in the Trinity. But according to the same theology, Christ and the Holy Ghost are, each of them, God, equally with the Father. If so, sin must be to the two former equally offensive as it is to the latter, But no atonement has been made to their offended justice. The justice to the first person in the Trinity alone has been satisfied; and, until two more atonements be made, the situation of the sinner must remain hopeless. I do not see how this consequence can be avoided, unless it be admitted, that the second or third persons in the Trinity are more placable, and more willing to forgive than the first person; a doctrine, which, though it is the burden of all the teachings on this subject, it would not do so well to
avow in direct terms. Such are some of the difficulties in which we become entangled, when, leaving the simple teachings of Jesus, we substitute for them the bewildering doctrines of man's devising.
The only other feature of the popular scheme which I shall notice, is the doctrine of imputation. By that we are taught that our sin is imputed to Christ as our surety, and that his righteousness is imputed to us. Now, this doctrine on the very face of it, involves a manifest impossibility. Sin and righteousness are strictly personal things which cannot possibly be transferred. What is sin? It is the wilful transgression of a known law of God. And what is righteousness? It is the voluntary conformity to the known Jaw of God. From this it is perfectly clear that both are of a nature which renders their imputation, or transfer from one person to another, perfectly impossible. Can even Omnipotence recall the past, and so alter its events, that they shall have been different from what they were? Can it by any possibility, be brought about, that A shall have committed the fault which he did not commit, but which was committed by B; or that B shall have yielded the obedience which he did not yield, but which was yielded by A? Surely not. And yet this must be, to render the imputation of either sin or merit possible. Without this, it is not an imputation of sin or merit, but a mere arbitrary transfer of punishment or suffering from the guilty to the innocent, and of reward, from the deserving to the undeserving, which, so far from being evidence of God's justice, would prove directly the reverse.
This pretended imputation of sin and of merit, is also in direct opposition to the solemn declarations of Jehovah. In the xviii. chapter of Ezekiel, 20th verse, God says: “ The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him." Can words be more explicit? And may we not then well apply to the system under consideration, the reproach which our Saviour brought against the traditions of his time: That it renders the word of God of none effect !*
In thus applying the test of reason and of revelation to the system under consideration, I have not taken the pains to note what part of the evidence applied exclusively to the high orthodox scheme; what to the modified scheme; and what is applicable to both. The intelligent reader will easily
Mark vii. 13.
make this application himself. If I mistake not, the modification of the doctrine of the atonement formerly referred to, is the result of the conviction of its fallacy, on minds which, from early impressions, are too much wedded to the popular creed, to discard it altogether. The doctrine, that Christ died to show God's disapprobation of sin, and to prevent his justice from being contemned, is certainly somewhat less harsh, less repulsive, and less impossible, than the high orthodox doctrine; but it is not on that account any the more rational or true. To convince ourselves of this, we have only to look at it as it is, when stript of the halo which a false theology has thrown around it. Suppose that we were present at a common place of execution, and saw there a person tortured and put to death, of whom we were told that he was perfectly innocent; but that, another having committed a crime, the innocent man was put to death to vindicate the injured laws of the country, and to save them from falling into contempt by reason of the impunity of guilt: what would we think of such a vindication of the laws? Would not every better feeling of our heart revolt at the manifest injustice of the scene! Would we not feel, that this so far from being a vindication of the majesty of the law, was a direct violation of it. But to come still nearer to the point, suppose we had been at Jerusalem at this ever memorable pascal feast;—that we had witnessed the blood-thirsty malice of the Jewish rulers;—the moral cowardice of Pilate, and the bloody tragedy enacted on Calvary;suppose, I say, we had witnessed all this, would this scene of complicated malice, meanness and cruelty have appeared to us as an exhibition of God's love of Justice? And even now, when the light which the gospel has shed on the sufferings and death of Christ, presents them to us under a new aspect, though we can view them as an evidence of love. Of the love of God who sent Jesus into the world to redeem us from sin and death;of the love of Christ who died that he might bring us to God—yet never can we view that death, which was brought about by a violation of every principle of law and justice, as a vindication of the divine law.
I have thus endeavored to show, that the popular doctrine of the atonement is not only not supported by the scriptures, but is in direct opposition to them; and that it is also opposed to reason; and if it be so, then this doctrine cannot be true: for whatever is opposed to reason and revelation cannot be of God.
But perhaps some one may ask, in what manner Unitarians, who reject the popular opinions on this subject, view the