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Scriptures say of its efficacy, as amounting to any more than this.
Is this so? Then was Stephen, and James, and Peter, and Paul, and every other martyr to the cause of truth, who has sealed his testimony to it by his own blood, our Redeemer too.. Shall we then bow the knee to them for this testimony, and ascribe our salvation, at least in part, to them? And the redeemed in heaven-do they ascribe salvation to martyrs, when they cast their crowns at the feet of the LAMB, and sing, Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by the blood ?
OBJ. 5. Christ was our Redeemer, in that he has by his example set before us an acceptable way of worship, and taught us, by personal obedience both active and passive, how we may please God.
The force of his example to inculcate virtue and piety, we ought most gratefully to acknowledge. But the redeeming efficacy of it, I cannot by any means admit. A most conclusive reason against such a view of it, is found in the fact, that while his example could, of course, have an influence only during his life and on times after those in which he lived, his atonement is represented as reaching back to the very origin of our race. Thus Paul ; “ If the blood of bulls and goats ...... sanctifies to the purifying of the flesh ; how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works, to serve the living God. And for this cause [i. e. because his expiatory sacrifice possesses a spiritual or moral efficacy of such a na
ture,] he is the Mediator of the new covenant, so that, his death having taken place to make expiation (εις απολυτρωσιν) for sins committed under the former covenant, they who are called may receive the promised blessings of the heavenly inheritance." Heb. ix. 13—15. That his death is here plainly considered by the apostle, as having a retrospective view and influence, is clear from what follows. After observing that the Jewish sacrifices needed to be often repeated, he goes on to say: “The death of Christ once only was sufficient; if this were not so,” he adds, then “he must often have suffered since the foundation of the world.”. That is, the object which his death has now accomplished, the expiatory sacrifice which he has now made, must be adequate for men in all ages ; for the past, as well as for the future; otherwise Christ must have often suffered, since the foundation of the world. Heb. ix. 25, 26.
Exactly to the same purpose is the sentiment in the third chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. After asserting that God had set forth Christ as a propitiatory sacrifice, Paul adds: “ To declare or manifest his gratuitous method of justification by the forgiveness of sins in past times, [or, so that the sins of former times might be remitted,] through the divine lenity ; and to declare his gratuitous method of justification, at the present time;" Rom. ill. 25, 26. The opposition of present time here, to the past in the preceding clause, shews beyond all reasonable doubt, as it seems to me, that the object of the apostle is to assert not only the influence of
Christ's propitiatory sacrifice, but its extension to past times as well as to present; and of course, the sentiment is the same with that which is disclosed in the Epistle to the Hebrews.
Here then we may take a stand in defence of vicarious sacrifice, secure against being moved by suggestions that example is the great point in the Redeemer's work. Here, at all events, is vicarious influence, if there be influence on ages that have passed by. And that the apostle means to assert this, appears to me as clear as any other sentiment deducible from his writings..
OBJ. 6. The last objection which I shall notice, is, that to represent the innocent as suffering for the guilty, is a virtual impeachment of divine equity, and of those principles of moral government which the ruler of the universe has established.
To him who acknowledges the Scriptures as a divine revelation, I reply simply in their language. “ He hath made him to be a sin-offering, who knew no sin," i. e. the innocent has suffered for the guilty: 2 Cor. v. 21. “ But Christ hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God;" 1 Pet. 111. 18. Such is the fact; and I merely ask: Is God unjust ? and do the Scriptures represent him to be so, because of this ?.
Even to those who do not acknowledge the authority of the Scriptures, to the sober rationalist or theist, I might present a greater difficulty still. Children suffer on account of the crimes of their parents; nations, on account of the vices of their rulers ; and that without the consent of the sufferers : yet, by their own acknowledgment, divine justice and the principles of moral government are not impeachable on this account. Are they so then, if Christ voluntarily, and out of pity and love, suffer. ed the just for the unjust ?
But I must leave the examination of objections. I dismiss them all with this single remark. When it shall be shewn that the language of the Scriptures must not, according to rules of interpretation which are fundamental and capable of demonstration, be construed as conveying, and as designed to convey, the idea of a vicarious or expiatory offering by the death of Christ; when it shall be shewn that there is even a possibility, that the Jews could have understood it in a different way; then we may consider the doctrine of substitution as doubtful : but never till then, unless our own conjectural reasonings are to usurp the place of the sacred writers, in deciding upon this matter.
Having canvassed the topics proposed for consideration at the commencement of my discourses, I shall close with a few reflections on the subject which has been discussed.
1. The doctrine of the atonement is a fundamental doctrine in the Christian system; and that which distinguishes it, in a peculiar manner, from all other systems of religion.
It is fundamental; because often as belief in a Saviour is urged in the New Testament, and urged as the indispensable condition of salvation ; equally often is belief in that Saviour as our atoning sacrifice urged; and equally conspicuous is this point in
the whole system of the Christian religion. It is not merely or principally in Jesus as our teacher, our example, or as having sealed the truth of his testimony by his own blood, that we are called to believe; but principally in him, in that very character in which he was “to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness, while unto: them who are saved, he is wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” What says Paul to the Corinthians ? “ I am determined not to know any thing among you save Jesus Christ, and him CRUCIFIED;" 1 Cor. 11. 2. Why Christ CRUCIFIED ? Why not Christ as a teacher, an example, a martyr, a prophet? Plainly because, whatever was done by Christ in all these characters, it would have utterly failed to accomplish the design of saving men, unless his expiatory death had also taken place. Christ crucified, then, is the very point on which ultimately hang all the hopes of our sinful race. So Paul viewed it, when he said; “ God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of Christ;" Gal. vi. 14. So we too ought to view it. Other systems of religion teach the existence, attributes, and moral government of God. This does Judaism in its modern form ; this does Theism; this does even Mohammedism. Other systems inculcate our social and relative duties. The religion of Hindoostan exhibits the Deity in a state of incarnation; so that even this is not in all respects peculiar to Christianity. But no religion save the Christian, exhibits the incarnate WORD, suffering, bleeding, dying for sinners ; a Lamb of God to take away