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may puzzle ourselves, and puzzle others, by asking with Nicodemus, "how can these things be?" But we should remember, that the demonstration of such problems is not given to scholars on our form, that our work is to search the scriptures "whether these things are so," and to act accordingly. In these scriptures we discover, that the divine decrees did not interfere with the freedom of any person concerned in the murdering and crucifying of Christ.
This non-interference with free agency, the atonement maintains in all its operation and influence in moral government. The gospel exhibits the atonement, as an open medium of reconciliation with God, and as a motive to deter froni sin, and persuade to holy obedience. The benefits of the atonement are freely offered to the unconstrained acceptance
every one who hears the gospel. Any acceptance of it that is not free and unconstrained, is not pleasing to God, nor available to the benefit of man. In accepting it, and choosing it, as a motive to holiness, and as a medium of pardon, the believer is free and unconstrained; and in rejecting it as the means of salvation, every sinner acts according to his own free and uninfluenced choice.
When the Holy Spirit opens the heart to attend to the claims and influence of the atonement, there is no more violence offered to the freedom of the will, than there was in Christ shewing his wounds to Thomas to make him “not faithless but believing.” The atonement effects no change whatever in the laws of liberty. It does not constrain God to exercise mercy: and it does not constrain the sinner to accept of pardon. As this “counsel of God” can be administered without infringing on free agency, it is a sample that all the purposes of God may be so too.
All the works of God are the products of his mind and counsel, and are, therefore, all of the same nature and tendency. The works of God do not contradict his thoughts, nor do his thoughts contradict his works. His works are always the open and sincere expression of his thoughts and purposes, and as the atonement is one of his chief works, it is an expression and a specimen of the benevolence of all his decrees, and of their non-interference with the laws of free agency.
The Atonement a Vindication of the Divine
In the history of moral dispensations the divine purposes have been liable to many charges, as having been accessary to the intrusion of sin, as throwing an air of insincerity on divine warnings and invitations, as being arbitrary in determining to communicate gracious influences, and as occasioning the eternal perdition of unbelievers. As God works all things in his government according to the counsel of his own will, it was necessary for the ends of government, that the character of the divine counsels should, not only be explained and illustrated, but be clearly and publicly vindicated.
First. The atonement of Christ vindicates the divine decrees from having been accessary to the intrusion of
Jesus Christ is not a minister of sin, and his atonement is not an apology for sin. There is nothing in the measure of atonement that is designed or ealeulated to favor sin, or to extenuate its enormity, but every thing to oppose, to destroy and to prevent it. The atonement is a demonstration to the universe, that there never was in the eternal mind a decree accessary to evil, for every thing in its provisions is purposed, and designed, and fitted to suppress all sin., God, indeed, foresaw that evil would intrude into the universe, and he made provisions against its entrance; but his mind and counsels are quite guiltless of it. To vindicate his decrees from the suspicion of any share in evil, he has, at an infinite expense, shewn how repugnant sin was to their order and character, by publicly condemning it in the person of his own Son,
Evil is not the product of mind. Sin is not the result of design and arrangement. Suppose I were to say that the annihilation of the world would be an act of omnipotence; I should be speaking what is absurd; for I should make Almighty power to act-for what? to do nothing. It is highly inconsistent to suppose omnipotence in effort or at work to produce-nothing. And it is as inconsistent, though we may not perceive the incongruity so distinctly, to suppose evil to be the product of mind, and purpose, and decree in God.
God does nothing but good. To purpose not to do good is to purpose to do nɔ-thing, and a purpose to do NO-thing is surely no purpose, no decree; that is, the absence or the reverse of good is not the product of design, evil is not the result of arrangement. Paley has observed that in the bodily frame of man there is nothing intended or designed to produce pain. Whatever, therefore of pain may be in the human frame, it is not the result of design or purpose. That which is true of the frame of one man, is true of the frame of every man in the world; yes, it is true of the frame of the entire universe. In the whole vast, multifarious, and boundless system, there is not one principle, not one movement arranged, designed, and intended to produce evil.
Suppose an objector, viewing an emaciated man "in sore pain upon his bed,” to say, “This pain is not accidental, there must be some cause for it, there must be something in the formation of man, contrived, purposed, and secretly introduced to give pain, which argues the want of benevolence in the author of his frame.” We would reply, "No, you are wrong. If you knew well the constitution of man, you would know that there is nothing introduced that is calculated to give pain, there is no sinew, nor muscle, neither gland nor a duct, that is calculated and designed to produce disease. But if your knowledge of the frame of man does not convince you of the benevolence of its author, look at the provision of medicinal virtue which he has plentifully stored in vegetables and in minerals, and in the air and the water around us, and see that all his designs and purposes are--to produce health, and to prevent disease."
If the same objector, viewing the shattered moral constitution of the universe, were to say, “This evil was foreseen, and might have been prevented; its existence, therefore, argues the want of benevolence in the nature or in the purposes of its author." We would again reply, “No, you are wrong. If you knew thoroughly the constitution of the universe, you would know that there is in it no law, no motive, no power, no influence, that is calculated or intended to produce evil. But if your knowledge of the arranged constitution of the universe does not convince you of the benevolence of its Maker, and justify to you the ways of God to man, examine the splendid compensative provision which he has made in the atonement of his own SON, a njeasure of pure benevolence and unmixed good.”
If we are not to judge of an agent's designs and purposes from the adaptation of his means, the fitness of his actions, and the tendency of his measures, there must be an end to all reasoning, the agent must be either without contrivance, or without sincerity. In the measures of a wise agent, the benevolent tendency of the means is a proof, and a vindication of the benevolent nature and bearings of his purposes. The atonement is a measure of pure benevolence, “set forth" as a vindication of the pure benevolence of the purposes and decrees of God, and of their being guiltless of the origin and of the
of sin. Secondly. The atonement vindicates the divine purposes from the suspicions of throwing an air of insincerity on the invitations of the gospel.
The invitations of the gospel are open, universal, and obligatory; but men constantly abuse them, or neglect them, by undefinable guesses at the nature and the order of the divine decrees. Their sophism generally runs in this way: God has predetermined to whom he will impart gracious influences to bring them to accept his offers; and since he has not predestinated to do this for all, he cannot siocerely will that all should comply with his invitations.
This sophism is grounded upon two suppositions, which are unsound and shallow. It supposes that a disposition to obey is indispensably necessary to the accountableness of a sinner, and essential to his power of obeying. As if a governor could not justly make any laws which some of the subjects had not the disposition to obey: or, as if no king could make any laws against smuggling, but such as sinugglers felt disposed to obey. This view of the case is subversive of all government, as it insinuates that it would be a sufficient apology for disobeying the law or command, if the smuggler said, he could not obey it, for be felt no inclination or disposition to submit to it, and therefore it is unjust to make bim accountable for it. The above sophism has another glaring error. It supposes that the rule of the subject's homage is not the published enactment of the government, but the private mind, and secret purposes of the king, which, by the bye, is supposed to be at variance with his published and avowed declaration. This stultifies all legislation and all accountableness. Whatever purposes and counsels are unrevealed, they are not among the moral means to be employed by us, and as far as they are unpublished, they are never the rule of human conduct. The decrees published to us in the gospel are not the rule of conduct to the heathen, until they are published to them; but the moment they are published, a great and eternal change is made in the measure of their accountableness, and in the rule of their conduct.
In all the concerns of life and business, men never pose themselves about the decrees of eternity. They never consult the eternal decrees to know what trade to pursue, in what town to set up, what physician to call in, what medicine to take, &c. In all such transactions men reason and calculate on the general character,