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presses it in the SOth verse, ^^ witnessed by the laiv^ Di-
vest these rights of their typical import, and they become
utterly unworthy of the wisdom by which they were ap-
pointed. Worthless in themselves, their sole value arose
from their being " figures of that which was to come."
And from their nature, as described in the law, they could
not, if they Avere types at all, be typical of any thing else
than of a tme and proper sacrifice for sin. The animal
sacrifices which, from the sacred history, we know to have
been offered before the law, even from the earliest times,
Jiad the same typical meaning and design. They were
only embodied, and, perhaps, at the same time, multiplied
and varied, in the Mosaic ritual ; that law of which the
leading object is expressed by Paul, when he denominates
it, " a schoolmaster (to direct) to Christ."

If we admit the hypothesis, that the redemption of a
lost world by the propitiatory sacrifice of the Son of God.



196 ON THE DOCTRIXK

was, from the bei^innin2;. the Divine intention, wc arc fur-
nished \vitli a ready and satisfactory explanation of what
otherwise remains, notwithstanding all tlie ingenious at-
tempts of philosophical men to account for it, involved in
inexplicable mystery — 1 mean, the oi^igin of animal sucri-
ficCy and the universal traditionary pre\alence of it among
mankind. On the supposition in question, nothing can be
simi)lcr or more natural : on any other, the subject is full
of difficulty and perplexity.

No sooner had Adam fallen, than the remedy was re-
vealed, in the forni of promise, for the ruin which he had
brought upon himself, and entailed on his future race. By
the institution of such sacrifices, the particular nature of
the intended remedy was intimated. For, in this singular
rite, the pious worshipper was reminded, on the one hand,
for his humiliation, of the forfeiture of his own life, of the
death \\ hich he deserved on account of sin ; and, on the
other, for his consolation, and peace, and joy, of the pro-
mised substitution of another in his stead, to bear his sin,
to atone for its guilt, and to save him from its punishment.
This institution, having been continned through the ante-
diluvian and patriarchal ages, formed afterwards, as we
liave seen, a very prominent j)art of the Mosaic ritual. Its
object was still the same. The law, by its sentence of
condemnation, against which it provided, in itself, no ade-
quate remedy, ^^ shut up" those who were under it ^' to
the faith which was afterwards to be revealed;" while by
its various rites it shadowed forth that faith to the mind of
the attentive and devout inquirer ; — showing it obscurely,
as if through a veil ; discovering, yet concealing ; " the
shadow of good things to come, not the very image of the
things." On this hypothesis, there is a liarmony between
the Old dispensation and the New, and a unity of design
throughout the whole history of the Divine procedure to-
wards mankind^ which we seek for in vain on any other
principle.



OF ATONEMENT. i^*^

When we speak of the sacrificial language, (if I may
so express myself) of the New Testament, in reference to
the death of Christ, it is usual to resolve it all into figure
and allusion. This, however, is at once to deprive the
language of its meaning, and the rites alluded to of
theirs. It is, besides, to charge the writers with singular
folly. No idea could well be simpler, or more easily ex-
pressed, than that of a prophet's dying to confirm his tes-
timony^ or rather to prove his sincerity in delivering it,
(for his submitting to sufferings and death could prove no
more than this,) or even to afford, in his own rising from
the grave, the evidence and the pledge of a future resur-
rection. Why such language as that which has been
quoted sliould be so constantly used to express such ideas
as these, if these were indeed the ideas intended to be
conveyed, is a question which can hardly be answered, on
any principle consistent with the inspiration, or even witli
the common sense of the writers. If the death of Clirist
was not an atonement for sin, — the law and the Prophets,
Jesus himself, his forerunner, and his apostles, all spoke
a language which is to me utterly unintelligible ; and
which could not have more effectually deceived, had it
been framed for the express purpose of deception.

So much for our first proposition, that it is in consider-
ation of the sacrifice of Christ, that God is propitious to
sinners.

II. I now proceed to show, in the second jilace, tliat in

PARDONING THE GUILTY ON THIS GROUND, GoD DISPLAYS
HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS.

This is obviously the very spirit of the text : — ^' to de-
clare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are
past through the forbearance of God ; to declare at this time
his righteousness, that he might be just, and the justifier
of him who believeth in Jesus."

The proper idea of propitiation is, rendering the J)i-



198 ON THE DOCTRINE

vine Beivg propitious^ or favourable. "VVe must beware,
however, of understanding l>y this, any thing like the pro-
duction of a change in the Divine character ; as if the
blessed God required a motive to pity, an inducement to
be merciful, a price for love and grace. Far be such a
thought from our minds ! We ought to conceive of Jeho-
vah as eternally, infinitely, and immutabl}'^, compassionate
and merciful. That any transition is produced in his na-
ture, by the mediation of Christ, from previous vindictive
cruelty to benevolence and pity, (as the adversaries of the
doctrine of atonement are, either through ignorance or
from a worse principle, accustomed to speak) is a suppo-
sition full of blasphemous impiety. God has been from
eternity, and to eternity must continue, the same ; /'with-
out variableness or shadow of turning." Being absolutely
perfect, he cannot change to the better ; for perfection
cannot be improved. The slightest alteration, therefore,
of what he is, would deduct from that infinite excel-
lence, without which, he could not be God. But while
God is infinitely and immutably good, he is, at the same
time, infinitely and immutably holy, and just, and true.
We ought never, indeed, to speak of him as acting at one
time according to justice, and at another according to mer-
cy ; if by this mode of expression it be meant, that in any
part of his procedure, in the smallest possible degree, the
claims either of mercy or of justice are ever suspended, or
left out of view. He never acts in opposition to the one,
or to the other, but always agreeably to both. He is never
just without being merciful, nor merciful without being
just.

Tlie character of God is, perfect excellence — infinite
goodness : — not a hemisphere of separate stars, but one
glorious Sun of pure and holy light. The attributes which
constitute this character, although we may speak of them,
and reason about them;, distinctly, are completely insepa-



OF ATONEMENT. 199

rable in their exercise ; — united in the conduct of the Al-
mighty Agent, by the same necessity Avhich unites them in
his nature. That nature being one and immutable, with
no part of it can any step of his procedure ever be incon-
sistent ; but all should be considered as the result, not of
one attribute, or of another, but of that glorious combina-
tion of all excellencies, which constitutes infinite jperfec-
iion. The light of the sun we can divide, by a prism, into
its various colored rays ; and each of these rays we can
make the object of distinct attention : — but it is the com-
bination of all the seven that constitutes light — of which
its colorless purity is the prime excellence. Thus may
we make the various perfections of the Divine nature the
subjects, one by one, of separate consideration : — but it is
the union of them all, in inseparable existence and exer-
cise, that forms the character of that infinite Being, of
whom it is said, '^God is light ; and in him is no darkness
at ali:^

What then is the light in which the doctrine of atone-
ment places the Divine Being ? In reply to this question,
I observe : — that, as a rigliteous Lawgiver and Ruler,
Jeliovah must be considered as displeased with his guilty
creatures, on account of their violation of his authority ; —
while, at the same time, from the infinite benignity of his
nature, he.is inclined to forgiveness. But, if his govern-
ment be righteous, its claims, in their full extent, must, of
necessity, be preserved inviolate. Any change in these
must be a change from right to wrong ; and must affect
both the immutable holiness of the Divine character, and
the general good of the universe. The principles of the
Divine administration, the commands and the sanctions of
God's law, if admitted to have been originally right, can
never undergo alteration ; for alteration of any kind, even
in the way of mitigation or reduction, implies the ac-
knowledsjment of error in the fir«t enactments.



200 0\ THE DOCTRINE

The great question, then, on this momentous silhject,
comes to be: — "1\ aviiat maxneii miuj forgiveness he
extended to the s^nilt?/, so as to satlsfj/ the claims of in-
finite justice, and thus to maintain in their full digniti/,
free from every charade of imperfection or of mntahHitij.
the character of the Governor, the rectitude of his admin-
istration , and the sanction of his law .^"

The rentleiing of the Divine Being propitious, in this
view, refers, it is o])vioiis. (and the distinction is one of
great importance on this subject) not to the production of
love in his character, or in the particular state of his mind
towards fallen men, but simply to the mode of its expres-
sion. The inquiry is. How may the blessed God express
his love, so as effectually to express, at tiic same time, his
infinite and immutable abliorrcnce of sin ; and thus, in
** making known the riches of his mercy,*' to display, in
connexion with it, the inflexibility of his justice, and the
unsullied perfection of his holiness ?

When Ave say that God is displeased with any of his
creatures, we, speak of tluMu not as creatures, but as sin-
tiers. He hath sworn 1)y himself, that ^* he hath no plea-
sure in the death of the \vickan in the other.

The righteous God has given to his creatures a right-
eous law, accompanied with the threatening of a righteous
penalty. If tl^e law and the penalty were both originally
righteous, they must remain immutably so. If the law,
when given, required no more than what is right, how
can it, without bringing a reflection on the perfect wisdom
and unchanging rectitude of the Divine character, ever
require less ? If the penalty, by the threatening of which
obedience was originally enforced, contained in it no more
than what is strictly just, how can this penalty, without
giving rise to the very same kind of reflection, be remitted,
or even mitigated ?

The two great ends of public justice arc, the glory of
God, and, in connexion with it, the general good of his
^ creatures. It is essentially necessary to the attainment of
these ends, that the authority of the government of God
should be supported, in all its extent, as inviolably sacred :
— that one jot or one tittle should in no wise pass from
the law ; — that no sin, of any kind, or in any degree,
should aj>pear as venial ; — that if any sinner is pardoned,
it should be in such a way as, while it displays the Divine



OF ATONEMENT. 203

mercy, shall at the same time testify the Divine abhorrence
of his sins. All this is gloriously effected, in the gospel, by
means of atonement ; — by the substitution of a voluntary
surety, even of him whose name is Immauuel, to bear the
curse of the law, in the room of the guilty. In his substi-
tution, we see displayed, in a manner unutterably affect-
ing and awful^ the lioly purity of the Divine nature ; for
no testimony can be conceived more impressive, of infinite
abhorrence of sin, than the sufferings and death of the Sou
of God. Here, too, we behold the immutable justice of
the Divine government, inflicting the righteous penalty of
a violated law. It is to be considered as a fixed principle
of the Divine government, that sin must be pumshed ;
that, if the sinner is pardoned, it must be in a way that
marks and publishes the evil of his offence^ l^his is ef-
fected by substitution ; and, as far as we can judge, could
not be effected in any other way. In inflicting the sen-
tence against transgression on the voluntary and all-suffi-
cient surety, Jehovah, while he clears the sinner, does
not clear his sins ; — although clothed with the thunders of
vindictive justice against transgression, he wears to the
transgressor the smile of reconciliation and peace ; — he
dispenses the blessings of mercy from the throne of his
holiness ; — and, while exercising grace to the guilty, he
appears in the character — equally lovely and venerable —
of

the sinner's friend,

And sin's eternal foe I

In this way, then, all the ends oi public justice are fully
answered. The law retains its complete, unmitigated per-
fection ; is ^^ magnified and made honourable :" — the dig-
nity and authority of the government are maintained, and
even elevated : — all the perfections of Deity are gloriously
illustrated, and exhibited in sublime harmony : — while



S04 ON THE DOCTRINE

the. riches of mercy arc displayed, for the encourage rnent
ofsinuers to return to God, the solemn lesson is at the
same time taught, by a most convincing example, that re-
bellion cannot be persisted in with impunity ; and motives
are thus addressed to the fear of evil as well as to the de-
sire of good : — such a view of the Divine Being is present-
ed in the cross, as is precisely calculated to inspire and to
maintain (to maintain, too, with a power which will in-
crease in influence the more closely and seriously the view
is contemplated) the two great principles of a holy life —
the LOVE, and the fear of God ; — filial attachment, free-
dom, and confidence, coml)ined with humble reverence
and holy dread.

While it appears a most important scriptural truth, that
something equivalent, in the eye of Divine Justice, to the
punishment of the sinner, was, in the view and for the
reasons which have been stated, absolutely necessary in
order to his escape, I do not think there is any thing in
the word of God, that warrants the representation, which
has been given, by some of the friends of this doctrine, as
if the sufferings of Christ formed what they call an exact
equivalent — neither less nor more — for the sins of all who
shall be saved by his atonement. This sentiment seems
derogatory to the infinite dignity of the Sufferer, and the
consequent infinite value of his sacrifice. The sufferings
of the Son of God ought not to be brought into comparison,
as a display of the Divine righteousness, with even the
eternal sufferings of millions of his creatures. The idea
of exact equivalent proceeds on tiie supposition, that the
sufferings of Christ possessed just as much virtue, as is
sufficient for the salvation of all who shall be saved ;
whose precise proportion of punishment he is conceived
to have borne, according to the guilt even of each particu-
lar sin. I know not how you may feel, my brethren : —
but mi/ mind, I own, revolts from this sort of minutely



OF ATONEMENT. gOS"

calculating process on such a subject ; weighing out the
precise quantum of suffering due to each sin of each indi-
vidual, who obtains forgiveness ; and there, of course,
limiting the sufficiency of the surety's mediation. Such
views have always appeared to me utterly inconsistent
with the grandeur and majesty of this wonderful part of
the Divine administration.

The mediation of Christ, I am disposed to view as a
grand, general manifestation of " the righteousness of
God," by which the claims of justice are, in the spirit
of them, fully satisfied, and the glory of this attribute
thus maintained, in the exercise of mercy : — a general
remedy, admitting, according to the Divine pleasure and
purpose, of a particular application. There is an ob-
vious and important difference between the sufficiency
of any remedy, and its efficiency. The former arises
from the nature of the remedy itself; — the latter de-
pends on its being applied. The former, therefore, may
even be infinite, while the latter is purposely limited.
The blood of Christ may be infinite in its atoning value,
and yet limited in its atoning efficacy ; sufficient for the
salvation of all, and yet effectual to the salvation of com-
paratively feiv.

It is in this way, then, that God appears, in the gospel
testimony, in that view of his character, which is to us the
most deeply interesting of all the lights in which he has
been pleaseil to make himself known — as " the just God,
and a Saviour.'' It is in the cross of Christ, in the
work, which he finished, when he "bowed his head and
gave up the ghost," that " mercy and truth meet together
— that righteousness and peace embrace each other." —
To the sinner, it is, from first to last, a free salvation.
God's instituting any means at all for securing the honour
of his righteousness in bestowing pardon on the guilty,
when his character, as the just God, would have re*



ON THE DOCTRINE

mained unimpeachable, had he consigned all transgres-
sors to the doom which they merited, was itself an act
of free, unsolicited grace. And even now, when these
means have been revealed, the claim of right is rather
to be considered as on the part of the surety, for the
salvation of such as were given to him, than on the
part of the sinner, who receives the blessing. Although
we have " boldness, and access to God w ith confidence,
through the faith of Jesus," yet even w^hen we come in
the name of the Mediator, we are taught to approach as
suppliants, rather than as claimaiits ; not demanding a
debt, but entreating for a favour ; pleading, with all the
deep self-abasement of the publican, ^' God be merciful to
me a sinner !" While, in forgiving sin, in justifying the
ungodly, God acts in perfect consistency with justice as
well as with mercy, to the sinner himself it is entirely a
matter of pare, unconditional mercy. He is "justified
freely, hy God^s grace, through the redemption that is in
Christ Jesus."

It has been asserted by some, that the doctrine of
utonement is incompatible with ihsit of free forgiveness.
Let these words of the apostle, contained in the verse
immediately preceding the text, silence, as they ought to
do, every such objection. He here distinctly affirms, that
the justification of the sinner is free — that is, without any
cause in him ; that it is, by grace — that is, as an act of
sovereign unmerited favour — and yet that ii is, through
the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. — In other places
also, he uses language of exactly the same import : —
*^ In whom we have redemption by his blood, the for-
giveness of sins, according to the riches of his graceJ^*
It is evident, from such passages, that Paul perceived not
the inconsistency, w hich the refinement of modern objec-
tors presumes it has discovered. And I think mc may
» Eph. i. r.



OP ATONEMENT. S07

be perfectly satisfied, to be in the same mistake with an
inspired apostle.

It has likewise been seriously objected to the doc-
trine in question, that it never can be reconciled with
the justice of God, to permit the innocent, to suffer for
the guilty.

Perhaps it should be enough to remind those, who urge
this objection, not only that the substitution and sufferings
of Christ were entirely voluntary ; but that, according to
the view which we take of his person, they could not
possibly have been othericise ; inasmuch as, previously
to his assuming the form of a servant, he had no su-
perior that could lay him under any obligation, nor would
he, therefore, have violated any obligation, had he never
acted the part he did. His oWn will alone could bind
him. His "becoming flesh" was an act of sovereign
condescension ; and in all that he endured, in the na-
ture, which he had voluntarily assumed, he was a willing
sufferer.

But let me take up the objection in another light. Ac-
cording to the terms in which it is expressed, it proceeds
on the supposition of the innocence of the sufferer. Is this^
then, admitted ? One hardly can tell whether our oppo-
nents admit it or not. They certainly can " find no fault
in this man," Yet one presumes to speak of him as "/a?-
lible and peccable ;" — another says, we have no sufficient
data by which to determine whether during his private as
ivell as his public life he was free from sin or not ; and
that it is to us a matter of no material consequence .'*—
But " What saith the Scripture ?"— " Such an high priest
became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from
mnners, and made higher than the heavens : who needeth
nM daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first

* Priestley and Belshaw.



208 OV THE DOCTRIM,

for his own sins, and then for the people's :" — ^* He did



Online LibraryRalph WardlawDiscourses on the principal points of the Socinian controversy → online text (page 17 of 36)