Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

gaging in this controversy at present, I simply remark upon the improbability that a thought, apparently so extravagant, should have ever occurred to the human mind by its own suggestion, as that the wrath of Heaven would be appeased by the slaughter of unoffending animals. Whatever gave rise to this service, it is certain that such sacrifices held an important place in the religion of the heathens, ard continue to be offered in one form or another, by idola. trous nations. Nay, in some cases, a nobler sacrifice was deemed necessary; a human victim was dragged to the altar; and the guilty hoped to wash away their own sins with the blood of one of their brethren. These things are mentioned to show, that a sense of guilt has been universally felt, accompanied with the fear of punishment, and that a persuasion has obtained, that there was no possibility of escaping with impunity, except by the suffering of another in the room of the transgressors. They are a proof that notwithstanding the loud exclamations against the atonement of Christ, as an impeachment of both the goodness and the justice of God, the human mind has with great uniformity, approved of the idea of substitution, and has found in it the best resource against the terrors of conscience.

But this statement has been controverted, and it has been confidently affirmed, that, from a review of the religions of all nations, ancient and modern, they appear to be utterly destitute of any thing like a doctrine of proper atonement; that a general belief has prevailed of the benevolence of the Deity; and that nothing has been deemed necessary to conciliate his favour but repentance and the practice of virtue. The power of prejudice is great. It hides from the mind the plainest truths, and leads it to draw the most illogical conclusions; it reconciles it to palpable absurdities, and renders it impenetrable to the most cogent arguments. But there are some cases in which the utmost stretch of charity cannot admit the power of prejudice as an apology. It is impossible to believe, that a man of learning and good sense has been so blinded by its influence, as to mistake the whole history of mankind upon a particular point, and not to see what, to every other person, presents itself with the brightness of a sun-beam. Either Dr. Priestley, who has made the strange assertion which I am now considering, had never read the history of the various religions of the human race, and in this case was guilty of presumption and dishonesty in pronouncing positively concerning their tenets; or, he has published to the world, with a view to support his own system, what he must have known to be utterly false. It would disgrace a school-boy to say, that the heathens knew nothing of expiatory sacrifices. Dr. Magee has refuted his assertion by an induction of particulars, which show that it is destitute of the slightest foundation. He has proved, that "a great part of the religion of the Pagan nations consisted in rites of deprecation; that fear of the Divine displeasure seems to have been the leading feature in their religious impressions; and that, in the diversity, the costliness, and the cruelty of their sacrifices, they sought to appease gods, to whose wrath they felt themselves exposed, from a consciousness of sin, unrelieved by any information respecting the means of escaping its effects. Hence the practice of human sacrifices among, not only the Phenicians, the Persians, the Egyptians, and the Carthaginians, but also the learned Greeks, and the civilized Romans; and hence the doctrine of the Druids, as related by Cæsar in his Commentaries, that, unless the life of men were given for the life of men, the immortal gods would not be appeased.t The gods are often represented as angry, and the idea of propitiating them is expressed by a variety of terms.

To turn away the wrath of another, was signified among the Greeks by the verbs indonestus, ειρηνοποιων, καταλασσεν, αποκατάλασσεν, and among the Latins, by the words placare,

Magee on Atonement, Vol. i. No. 5.

| De Bello Gall. lib. vi.

1

pacare, conciliare, reconciliare, and propitiare. The act and the effect were called by a single word in both languages; in the one incoues, and in the other placamen.

I observe again, that prior to the coming of Christ, sacrifices were offered, not only of thanksgiving, but of atonement, by the worshippers of the true God, in obedience to his command. Such appears to have been the sacrifice of Abel, because it consisted of the firstlings of his flock; and that he had authority for what he did, we infer from the words of the apostle, who says, that he offered by faith,* which pre-supposes a Divine revelation. This single passage, independently of other considerations, might decide the question respecting the origin of sacrifices. Such are the sacrifices of Job for his sons, lest they should have sinned during the days of feasting; and for his friends, who had sinned in their speeches, and were directed by God himself to adopt this method of averting his anger. When the Israelites were delivered from Egypt, a law was given to them, enjoining sacrifices, appointing a particular family to the priesthood, ordering an altar to be built, and specifying the animals to be used, and the time and manner of offering them. When any of them had transgressed, a sacrifice was prescribed, upon offering which his sin was pardoned, and the penalty was remitted. There were sacrifices also for the whole congregation, in the morning and evening of every day, and on the anniversary of expiation, when the high priest officiated, and entered into the holy place with the blood of the victim, which he sprinkled before the mercy-seat, signifying that it was only through an atonement that God would continue to be gracious to the people. In a word, the whole system proclaimed and illustrated this truth, that “ without the shedding of blood, there was no remission of sins."'+ No hope was given to the Israelites of the protection and blessing of the Almighty, unless they were purified by sacrifices. If it be said, that the death of animals without reason, could not satisfy Divine justice for the sins of men, we grant, that although they freed the offerer from ceremonial, they could not free him from moral guilt; but hence we infer, that the sacrifices of the law were shadows and figures of a nobler oblation, by which eternal redemption has been obtained.

We should have thought it so clear, that sacrifices were enjoined by the ancient law, and were of a propitiatory nature, that no person would have ventured to dispute it; but it has been asserted, that the Jews had no notion of expiatory sacrifices ; or that, if they had any such notion, it was derived from the heathens, contrary to the common opinion, that the heathens derived the notion from them. Nothing is more plainly taught in the Old and the New Testament, than that sacrifices were piaculiar. The idea is unavoidably suggested by the language of the law, and by the nature of the rites which it prescribed; and it is still retained by the Jews, although they are aware of the argument drawn from thence for the true and proper sacrifice of Christ, and would for this reason have been strongly tempted to renounce it. It is the doctrine of the modern Jews, that the mercy of God accepted the sacrifice of the animal in the room of the offerer, and appointed that in offering it, he should lay his hands upon it, to remind him that the victim was received as his vicarious substitute. In order to prove that the ancient sacrifices were not of an expiatory nature, it is alleged, that they were required in cases where no guilt could be supposed. In the cases of the high priest, the ruler, private individuals, and the whole congregation, a sacrifice was enjoined, when they had sinned through ignorance; and ignorance, it is insinuated, must have exempted them from criminality. Ignorance, however, may not signify the absolute want of knowledge, but inattention and inconsiderateness, which, being itself culpable,

. Heb. xi. 4.

# Ib. ix. 22.

Vol. II.-9

F 2

would not excuse the conduct to which it gave rise; or, if they were really ignorant, they were still to be blamed, because it was their duty to have made themselves thoroughly acquainted with the law which God had given them, and to have kept it constantly in mind. The truth seems to be, that the sins spoken of did not proceed ex ignorantia juris, but from want of reflection, from the sudden assaults of temptation, and the violence of passion; and they are opposed to presumptuous sins, sins committed with a high hand, that is, deliberately, against knowledge, and the present conviction of the mind. The former are called sins as well as the latter ; but this difference is made between them, that those were expiated by a sacrifice, whereas for these no atonement was provided. “If a soul sin, and commit any of these things which are forbidden to be done by the commandments of the Lord ; though he wist it not, yet is he guilty, and shall bear his iniquity. And he shall bring a ram without blemish out of the flock, with thy estimation, for a trespass-offering, unto the priest : and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his ignorance wherein he erred and wist it not, and it shall be forgiven him."*

Again, sacrifices were required from those who had been cured of leprosy, and from women after child-bearing, and, in neither case, it has been said, can sin be supposed. It is the observation of a Jewish writer,t that “ without committing sin, no person is ever exposed to suffering ; that it is a principle with the Jewish doctors, that there is no pain without crime ; and that for this reason, she who had endured the pains of child-birth, was required to offer a piacular sacrifice.” With regard to the leper, it has been remarked by the same person, that “ a sin-offering was enjoined, because the whole Mosaic law being founded on this principle, that whatever befals any human creature, is the result of Providential appointment, the leper must consider his malady as a judicial infliction for some transgression.”[ And certainly the loathsome disease of his body was an emblem of the natural pollution of the soul, and reminded him how necessary it was to seek the favour of that Being who had smitten him once, and might smite him again. But, although a case had occur

curred, in which we could not discover any vestige of guilt, manifest or implied, it would not, in the judgment of any

reasonable man, furnish an objection against the general import of the legal institutions, which so clearly teach, that an atonement is necessary to avert the anger of God.

I observe farther, That the Scriptures affirm, in the most express terms, that the death of Christ was a propitiatory sacrifice. They use the same language in speaking of that event, which is used concerning the piacular services of the law. He is called a priest, and the work of a priest is assigned to him.

Every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices ; wherefore, it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer."'S It is said, that “ he gave himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God, for a sweet-smelling savour;''|| and the same thing is asserted in many other passages. It is affirmed, that “ he died for our sins according to the Scriptures ;''T that “he bore our sins in his own body on the tree ;'** that “ he is the propitiation for our sins ;''H that “ he was made a sin-offering for us ;"# that by his death we are reconciled to God ;''SS that he has redeemed us to God by his blood.”'l'l This is the general strain of the New Testament, and I am not aware of a single expression which has a different meaning. One should think, that language so express, and occurring in so many places, would be sufficient to settle the question, whether the death of Christ was of an expiatory nature, and that no man who feels any reverence for the word of God, and submits to it

Lev. v. 17, 18. $.Heb. vii. 3. ** 1 Pet. ii. 24. AS Rom. v. 10.

† Abarbanel.
| Eph. v. 2.
# 1 John ii. 2.
!! Rev. v. 9.

# See Magee, vol. i. Note 33.
11 Cor. xv. 3.
## 2 Cor. v, 21.

as the rule of his faith, would venture to controvert this position, or allow a doubt to remain in his mind, But some persons are not so easily satisfied. They have conceived a prejudice against the doctrine, and will not be convinced by any evidence. Hence they have recourse to the same expedient, by which they endeavour to set aside the proofs of the divinity of Christ, namely, the pretence that the words are not to be understood according to their usual import. They cannot deny that he is called a priest, and his death a sacrifice; but they allege that the literal sense must be rejected, for no reason which I can discover, except that it is at variance with their system. Christ, they say, was a metaphorical priest; his death was a metaphorical sacrifice; and what follows, but that he has obtained for us a metaphorical redemption, that is, no redemption at all ?

As the Scriptures were given to instruct us in religion, it may be presumed that they are written in language which all may understand. To suppose that the style is highly figurative even in the didactic parts, that plain truths are wrapt up in metaphors, that the real is often different from the apparent sense, is to throw a most injurious reflection upon the word of God, and would justify the church of Rome in withholding it from the common people as a book liable to be abused by them. No person who has read the Old Testament, can be ignorant what is meant by a sacrifice. He understands it to have been a victim slain and offered upon the altar, in order to avert the anger and procure the favour of God. When he finds that, in the New Testament, the death of Christ is called a sacrifice, and considers that both parts of revelation proceeded from the same Author, he is necessarily led to believe that the word retains its ancient sense, and that Christ died in our room to reconcile us to God. We account him a blundering writer, who uses the same word upon the same occasion in different senses; and we call him an unfair writer, who, by changing the meaning without warning, seeks to impose upon his readers. ''To tell us that we ought to beware of being misled by the sound of words, and that, in the passages which speak of the death of Christ as a propitiatory oblation, nothing is intended but an allusion to the sacrifices of the law, is to tell us that we may seek truth where we please, but we shall not find it in the Scriptures.

If a person is honestly inquiring after truth, he will have recourse to no shifts—no far-fetched and overstrained methods of establishing a particular point. There will be no prejudices admitted in favour of one opinion, and against another; there will be no reluctance to receive evidence, on whatever side it present itself; there will be a cautious and diligent use of all the means, by which a correct view of the subject is most likely to be obtained. Truth alone being his object, there will be no temptation to step out of the way which leads to it. When the question regards the sense of a particular author, he will proceed according to the plan pursued on all such occasions, and understand the terms in their common acceptation, unless it clearly appear that the author has designedly deviated from the established usage. He will not attempt to make him express sentiments different from those which he seems to express, if he is writing historically or didactically, without assigning a reason sufficient to satisfy any competent judge. If we see a person taking a different method, wresting words from their obvious import, talking of metaphors when the literal sense is perfectly intelligible and spontaneously presents itself to the mind, trying to find out, not what they naturally signify, but what they may be made to signify by the dexterity of bold and unprincipled criticism, and converting the text into an enigma, the recondite meaning of which can be discovered only by conjecture and not by any rational rules of interpretation, we have ground to suspect that he is not honest, and that his aim is, not to come at the truth, but to establish a doctrine of his own. Such is

[ocr errors]

the procedure of Socinians, with respect to the atonement and the divinity of Christ. It is itself sufficient to put every man upon his guard, and betrays a conviction, on their part, that the Scriptures, as we have them, and their system, cannot stand together. Socinianism requires a new Bible, or, what amounts to the same thing, an improved version ; that is, a corrupted text, and an equally corrupt interpretation.

LECTURE LVIII.

ON THE PRIESTLY OFFICE OF CHRIST.

The Correspondence between the atoning Sacrifices of the Levitical Law and the Death of

Christ, traced and proved-Christ a Substitute, and his Death an Atonement-Notice of Objections to the Doctrine.

We have ground for believing that the death of Christ was an atonement for sin, in the language of Scripture, which, being borrowed from the sacrificial rites of the law, is applied to that event in such a manner, as to leave no doubt that his death was considered by the sacred writers as having the same nature, and the same design, with the ancient oblations. But, in order more fully to establish the doctrine, let us take a closer view of the legal sacrifices, and observe how exact is the correspondence between them and the death of Christ in every thing essential. If we find that it has all the characters of a true and proper sacrifice for sin, we cannot hesitate to view it in this light, and to regard it as the procuring cause of pardon and eternal life.

The first point of resemblance is found in the substitution of the sacrifice. It was put in the place of the person who offered it, and was called an offering for his sin, or for his soul. It was not a free gift, a token of gratitude, or a tribute paid by a subject to his sovereign, but a vicarious oblation, which was slain to signify the death which he deserved, and to save him from personally undergoing the penalty. As this notion of a sacrifice is obviously taught by the law, so it was adopted by the Jews and by the Gentiles, who both considered the victim as given for them, as occupying their place. This was signified the act of laying his hands upon the head of the victim, by which the offerer transferred his guilt from himself to the devoted animal, that it might be punished in his stead. Jesus Christ was substituted in the rooin of sinners; and hence he is called yqucs, “ the surety of a better covenant. A surety is one who gives security for another, that the other will fulfil his engagements, or, in the case of failure, that he will fulfil them for him. Some say that he was surety to us for God, having engaged that God would perform his promises; or surety for us to God, having engaged to him that we should perform the condition of the covenant. Both ideas are inadmissible, and the true meaning is explained by the apostle in another place, when he says, that Christ was “the Mediator of the new covenant, that by means of death, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.”+ He was a surety who undertook to die for those whom he represented.

The substitution is evident from those passages in which he is said to have died for us, ime ripecor. It is acknowledged that the preposition in sometimes signifies merely on account of, or with a view to the advantage of; but it

* Heb. vi. 22.

| Ib. ix, 15.

« ÎnapoiContinuați »