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and abridged, in accommodation to that depravity of our
nature, which, by the mistaken advocates of such systems,
is misnamed human frailty : the same spirit that relaxes
the strictness of the law, with mournful consistency j)aliat-
ing the corruption that is opposed to it. We have been
told, accordingly, that for God to punish every transgres-
sion of his law, committed by " the frail and erring chil-

S234j On the pkactical influence

dren of men,''^ would be to act the part of a ^* merciless ty-

Now, let mc ask, arc such views as these fitted to in-
spire becoming veneration cither for the law, or for the
lawgiver? Does the admission of such suppositions, or
the use of such language, indicate a mind under the pre-
dominant influence of such veneration ? Has the infinite-
ly wise God, then^ given a law to his creatures, by which
he cannot abide, without incurring the charge of injustice
and merciless cruelty ? Has that law — (summed up in
the two great precepts before mentioned) — which was ori-
ginally " holy, and just, and good," ceased to be so, in
consequence of the indisposition of men to obey it ? I say
their indisposition : — for siichj in truth, is the frailty of
which these writers speak ; — such alone the nature of tbat
inability, which they Avould plead as an apology for diso-

A law which admits of the violation of itself, is no law.
It is a contradiction in terms ; — a burlesque on legislation.
Are we to conceive of the supreme Lawgiver, after he has
laid before us his commandments, as addressing us thus :
— ^' Such, O ye children of men, are my laws ; — but 1 do
not, by any means, require perfect obedience to them.
And although I do not specify the particular instances in
which you may transgress with impunity, — although I do
not say how far you may go in the violation of them, and
yet escape : — yet I will .not, you may rest assured, * my
frail and erring creatures,' be such a ' merciless tyrant' as
to call you to a strict account for every ofl'ence !''

This leads me immediately to another question, appli-
cable to every view that can be taken, of a relaxed and
mitigated law : — AV^hat is the extent of this relaxation ?
How far is the law mitigated ? — If this question cannot
be distinctly answered, tlien are we left in total ignorance
what the law is at all, by which our conduct is to be tried.


There is no fixed standard. All is thrown loose. The
inclination of each individual will, in every instance, with
all the deceitful self-partiality which is natural to man, he
its own interpreter of the law : — and as this inclination is,
in every individual, in one direction or another, an incli-
nation to sin, we can be at no loss to know to what side
it will invariably lean.

It is very true, that there are cases, in which the threat-
enings of punishment annexed to human laws cannot, with
propriety, be executed ; — cases in which it is right that
the penalty should be remitted. But this, it is o])vious, is
not an excellence in such laws. It arises from their im-
perfection ; that imperfection which necessarily attaches
to every thing human ; — it being impossible for the laws
of men to provide, with precision, for every supposable
case. But to imagine any portion of such imperfection to
exist in the laws of God, would be utterly inconsistent with
any just views of his omniscience and infinite v/isdom.

In opposition to all such views, — unworthy views as I
conceive them to be, — of the law of God ; but viev. s, which,
I repeat, are, in a greater or smaller degree, inseparable
from every scheme of doctrine, that rejects the atonement,
and places salvation on the ground of personal obedience :
— in opposition to all such views as these, consider now the
light in which the law of God is presented by the doctrine
which I have been endeavouring to defend.

To me it has ever appeared one of the leading excel-
lencies and glories of the gospel, that, while it provides sal-
vation for the guilty, it does this without the sliglitest in-
fringement of the immutable perfection of that law which
they have violated. It stands in all its original extent and
purity : — unaltered, unalterable. The doctrine of salva-
tion by grace, " through the redemption that is in Christ
Jesus," jn'oceeds ujmn the express assumption, of the ab-
solute and unchangeable perfection of the law. This i-^


the very ,2;roniid on which we plead for the necessity of
that doctrine ; llie very foundation on which we consider
it as resting. It proceeds on the assumption, that the law
can, in no instance, be violated with impunity ; — that the
awful sentence which it has pronounced, " Cursed is every
one, that continueth not in all things which are written in
the book of the law, to do them," is as righteous as it is
awful ; — that instead of God's acting the part of a " mer-
ciless tyrant*' in condemning and punishing every trans-
gression, " he and liis throne would have been guiltless,"
and the sinner would have had no just cause to complain
of undue severity, had he inflicted this curse, in its full
extent. In this way, all is as it ought to be. God holds
his proper place, and man his. The law condemns the
sinner, and not the sinner the law. The transgressor is
saved from death ; — and yet the law which he has trans,
gressed is " magnified and made honourable :" — and the
righteousness of the sentence by which he has beea con-
demned, is, even in the very act of forgiveness, recognised,
illustrated, and ratified !

But I am forgetting, you will think, my promise of brev-
ity. — Surely I need not now put the question to any can-
did and humble mind—" which of these views is most
fitted to inspire our minds with respect and reverence for
the Divine L(iw ?'^ whicli is, consequently, most fitted to
fill us with the dread of violating its holy requirements ;
and witli self-condemnation, shame, and penitential sor-
row, when we have transgressed ? And which, therefore,
bears, in these respects, the most favourable aspect on the
great questions of moral obligation, and accountableness
to God ?

II. I must now proceed to the second particular, which
is very closely connected with the first — namely, the view
given, by the atonement, of the evil of sin.

I have said that this particular is closely connected with


the former. For " sin is the transgression of the latv ;*'
and our impressions of the evil of sin will necessarily be
proportioned to our conviction of the immutable " holiness,
justice, and goodness" of the law. This might, of itself,
so far settle the point as to this second particular. There
are various other lights, however, still more clear, impres-
sive, and convincing, in which the subject may be contem-

It is a common and favourite sentiment with our oppo-
nents, that the chief end of God, in creation and provi-
dence, — in the whole of his administration, — is, not, as we
allege, his own glory, but the diffusion ofhafppiness among
his creatures. Were this sentiment just, it would seem
to follow, that the former of these two objects is of inferior
consequence to the latter ; and that on the siipjwsHion of
their coming, in any case, into competition, the glory of
God should give way, and be sacrificed to tlie happiness
of his creatures. But surely no man of sober, well-con-
stituted mind, will seriously and deliberately affirm, that
there can be any thing to whicli the glory of the Most
High should be subordinate and subservient ; — any tiling
to wliich it ought to yield. And if so, then that which is
highest in importance (as every thing must be that has im-
mediate reference to the great Supreme) must, of necessi-
ty, be first in contemplation, in every part of the Divine

The connexion of these remarks with our present sub^
ject is this. The sentiment, that tlie happiness of tlie
creature is the chief and ultimate end of the Divine ad-
ministration, naturally leads to anotlier ; — that the princi-
j)al evil of sin arises from its effect in destroying that hap-
pinesSf or from its tendency to the production of tliis ef-
fect. But this, you will at once perceive, is low ground to
take on such a subject. We consider the evil of sin, as aris-
ing chiefly from the manner in whicli it affects the honour


of the Supreme Jehovah. Sin is lebellion agaiust Uic
liigheet autliority, opposition to infinite purity, ungrateful
disregard of unbounded and unmerited goodness. It is
the highest, the most contemptuous aftront to the Majesty
of heaven. Its tendency, were it .illowed its full opera-
tion, is, to overturn the throne of the Eternal. It aims at
the annihilation of his government, of his glory, and of his
very existence. It is in such views of it as these, that we
are accustomed to speak of it as an infinite evil ; a phrase,
by which we do not mean to assert that, in any strict phi-
losophical sense, the actions of a creature can possess the
property of infinitude ; but simply that sin, as committed
against an infinite Being, is an evil of incalculable demerit,
and deserving of an endless punishment.

Let us now see, whether these views of the enormity of
sin be not confirmed and sanctioned by God himeelf, in
all their extent, by that method which he has 1)een pleas-
ed to adopt, to render the forgiveness of it consistent with
the glory of his gi'cat name, and of his righteous govern-
ment; — that is, by the atonement of Jesus Christ.

O what a view, my brethren, what an aflecting, what
an overwhelming view, is here given, of the demerit of
sin, in the estimate of a just and holy God ! — Has He
considered sin as standing in need of such an expiation !
— not the mediation of a creature, even of the highest or-
der, but the incarnation of a Divine person — the suftcrings
and death of " the man aaIio was his fellow :'' even of him
whose name is ^^Immanuel, God with us V Can we con-
ceive a declaration more impressive than this, that sin is
'' that abominable thing which he hates ?'' — no light, no
trivial, no venial evil — but indeed ^-exceeding sinful?'' —
In proportion as sin is lightly thought of, it will be readily
committed. But oh ! who, with Gethsemane and Calvary
before his eyes, can ever think lightly of sin ? Who that
^'ontcmplates, not the bodily tortures merely ; not the scorn.


and reproach, and " cruel niockings" only ; not all the
sufferings, of every description, which it was in the power
of men alone to inflict ; — but those deep, mysterious, in-
ward agonies, which must have oppressed the soul of " the
man Christ Jesus," when it was " exceeding sorrowful,
even unto death ;" — when " his sweat was like great drops
of blood falling down to the ground ;" and when, on the
cross, he cried with a loud voice, " Eli, Eli, lama sabaeh-
thani ?" — ^^ My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken
me ?^' — who, I say, that contemplates this amazing scene,
in the full remembrance of what he was, who thus suffer-
ed, can ever think lightly of sin — of sin, the accursed
cause of all ; — of sin, that infused into his cup of suffering
all its bitter ingredients ; — of sin, that sharpened, and
barbed, and dipped, those " arrows of the Almighty,'' the
"poison whereof drank up his spirit!"

Where there are low thoughts of sin, there will, of
course, be low thoughts of its punishment : — doubts, pos-
sibly, whether, in some instances at least, it will be pun-
ished at all ; and, at any rate, slight impressions of the
nature and extent of tlie punishment which it shall incur.

I am not going to enter into any general proof of the in-
evitable certainty, and of the fearful nature, of future pun-
isliment. But look at the cross. Here is evidence enough.
Who can contemplate Calvary, in the light in which ice
view it, and retain a doubt, for a single moment, in his
mind, whether it be the Divine determination to punish
sin ? That it cannot pass with impunity under his holy
government, was written of old, on every altar, in the blood
of every expiatory victim ; and it is now written on the cross,
in the blood of the Son of God. And while the atoning death
of the Redeemer decides, the certainty of future punish-
ment ; the same event is enough, surely, to make the heart
of every one to " meditate terror," wlio goes on in his
frespasses, and neglects the great salvation. It couM not


be to deliver from any slight or temporary punishment,
that all this scene of wonders was acted ; — that God ap-
peared on earth '^^ in the likeness of sinful flesh/' and, in
the nature, which he had assumed, into personal union
witli his own, " humbled himself, and became obedient
unto death, even the death of the cross." There would,
on this supposition, be no reasonable proportion between
the end and the means of its attainment ; — between the
evil, from w hich deliverance was to be effected, and the
price, at which this deliverance has been obtained. It is
a remarkable fact, that the strongest language in tiie Bible
respecting future punish\neut, is the language used by the
gentle and compassionate Saviour. He speaks of " weep-
ing and wailing, and gtiashiug of teeth ;"' of '^ outer dark-
ness;'' of " the Avorm that dieth not, and the iire that never
shall be quenched.*' From this fearful doom, thus ex-
pressed by himself, he came to save the guilty children
of men ; and the wonderful means by which he effected
this salvation, harmonize with, and solemnly confirm, the
energy of his expressions. In this respect, as well as in
many others, it is indeed, *• a great salvation J'

I again leave it with yourselves to judge, whether the
views now given of the atonement of Christ, or the views
of those who, affirming the sufficiency of the mere repent-
ance of the sinner, apart from any other consideration, to
obtain his forgiveness, deny that any atonement was re-
quisite, and that any has been made ; — whether the one
or the other of these opposite views be most calculated to
impress the mind with a proper sense of the demerit of
sin, and, as a practical consequence, to deter and restrain
fi'om the commission of it.

The views of sin, of human nature, and of the state and
prospects of man, which are exhibited so impressively by
the doctrine of atonement, are, it is true, deeply humbling.
\nd there is reason to believe, that their mortifying ten-


dency is one great cause of their rejection ; I do not mean
by Unitarians only, but by multitudes besides. It is a
part, and no small part, of " the oifence of the cross.''—
And yet, to enlightened reason, their humbling nature
ought to be one of their chief recommendations. It is
riglit, surely, that every creature should be humble before
God : and it is peculiarly reasonable that a sinful and
guilty creature should be thus humble. There is no pride,
indeed, to be found in the universe, except in the breasts
of fallen creatures ; that is, where of all places it ought
least to be found. There is pride on earth. There is pride
in hell. There is no pride in heaven. It was pride, in the
form of ambition, that originally seduced man from his
allegiance to God. Pride w as thus the first principle of
transgression : and it is pride, in all its variety of kinds,
that still maintains and cherishes the spirit of rebellion.
Surely then it can never be deemed right, that the means,
by which man is restored to the favour of God, and bless-
ed with pardon and life, should be of such a nature as to
gratify and foster the very principle that seduced him, and
that keeps him astray ! No. This pride must be subdued.
This spirit of elation, of self-dependence, and self-suffi-
ciency, must be broken. " The lofty looks of man must
be humbled, and tlie haughtiness of man must be bowed
down, and the Lord alone must be exalted." The mind
that does not instantly perceive, and feel, the propriety of
this, must be, to a melancholy degree, under the pervert-
ing influence of the very principle in question ; — a princi-
ple, whose dominion in the soul it is the first effect of the
gospel to overthrow. In the New Testament, accordingly,
humility is represented as one of the first and most essential
qualities in the character of the true disciple of Jesus : and
experience has universally taught, that every other Chris-
tian virtue will flourish in the same proportion in which.


it prevails. The, graces of tlie Christian life cannot thrive
in the same soil with pride. It is one of those weeds, of
rank luxuriance, which '^ choke the word, and render it
unfruitful. " And while humility in general is thus essen-
tial, the first sentiment, 1 would observe, of 2;enuine Chris-
tian humility, is, an abasing sense of guilt and of uttev
nnirorthiuess in the sight of God ,* — the sentiment of the
publican, when, " standing afar oflP, he would not so much
as lift up his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breasL
saying, God be merciful to me, a sinner !" — This senti-
ment is learned, this feeling inspired, at the foot of the
cross. It is here that the sinner first knows himself; —
liere that his heart is broken ; — here that he is emptied of
highminded self-complacency ; — here that his whole char-
acter receives the impression of the lowliness and meek-
ness of Christ. P'or the humility which here takes posses-
sion of his soul, is not so properly a separate and inde-
pendent virtue, as a general state of heart, that diffuses
its benign influence through all the character ; — not a
distinct feature of the countenance, but that which imparts
to all the features their combined expression of loveliness ;
not a particular ol)ject in the landscape, but the mild and
mellow evening- light, which pervades, and softens, and
beautifies the whole.

III. I must now proceed, in the third place, to consider
the practical influence of those views, which arc presented
by the atonement, of the character of God.

I had occasion to observe, in last discourse, that " such
a view of the J)ivine Being is presented in the Cross, as
is precisely calculated to iuspire ajid to maintain (to main-
tain, too,. with a power, which will increase in influence,
the more closely and seriously the view is contemplated)
the two great principles of a holy life, the love and the
/pa/' of God ; filial attachment, freedom, and confidence,
combined with humble reverence, and holy dread." T


shall, at present, illustrate a little further this general

These two sacred principles are to be considered as
mutually partaking of each other : — affectionate fear —
reverential love. This happy union is produced by a
believing view of the combined perfections of God ; — just
such a view as is exhibited in the atonement, where, as we
have seen, " mercy and truth meet together, righteousness
and peace embrace each other ;" — where God appears in
all the majesty of offended holiness and inflexible justice,
and, at the same time, " delighting in mercy." The two
characters, " God is Light,^' and " God is Love,^^ are
alike illustrated by the atonement of Jesus : — the latter
inspiring us with joyful confidence, and the former with
holy awe ; the latter encouraging us to draw nigh, while
the former makes us still to feel our infinite distance ; —
so that while we approach with boldness to the throne of
grace, we are not allowed to forget that it is the throne of

We have been often represented, when we speak of
God as requiring satisfaction to his justice in order to the
exercise of his mercy, as exhibiting him in the character
of a gloomy and vindictive tyrant. The views laid before
you, in the last Discourse, of the nature and proper design
of the atonement, may suffice to convince you of the entire
falsehood of such representations of our sentiments. I
have now, however, to add, as a circumstance peculiarly
worthy of notice, that, while our opponents reprobate the
doctrine of atonement, in terms of indignant severity, as
being an unworthy libel on the infinite goodness of the
Divine Nature, this very doctrine is held forth in the
Scriptures, as the most interesting and impressive mani-
festation of that goodness ; — as the grand evidence of that
most blessed truth, that " God is love.'^ " He that loveth
not know etli not God : for God is love. Herein was raani-


fested the love of God toward us, because that God sent
his only bei^otten Son into the world, that we might live
through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but
that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for
our sins :" — " God so loved the world, that he gave his
only begotten Son, tliat whosoever believeth in him might
not perish, but have eternal life :" — " For when we were
yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the un-
godly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die ;
yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to
die. But God commcndeth his love toward us, in that,
while we were yet sinners Christ died for us."*

This, I say, is a remarkable circumstance. We learn
the existence and the degree of God's love from what it
has done. The general goodness of the universal Parent,
is strikingly discernible in creation and providence : —
*^ his tender mercies are over all his works." These
displays of his goodness are far from being overlooked, in
the Scriptures, as reasons for the gratitude of his intelli-
gent creatures. But the gift of his Son, to die for sinners,
is still represented as his chief mercy; — his ^'unspeakable
gift ;" a display of his love by which all the other mani-
festations of it are thrown into eclipse. It has been elo-
quently and justly denominated, " the noon-tide of ever-
lasting love, the meridian splendour of eternal mercy."

Tliis display of the love of God, — of the freedom
and the riches of his mercy, is pressed upon the attention
of the disciple of Jesus, as furnishing the great motive to
practical godliness. The text feelingly appeals to it.
And the apostle takes his stand on the same ground, when
he says, ^* 1 beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mer-
cies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice,
jioly, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service ;

* 1 John iv. 8 — 10. John iii. IG. Rom. v. 6— a


— and be not conformed to this world, but be ye trans-
formed by the renewing of your minds, that ye may prove
what is the good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God :'*
— and so does the apostle Peter, in a passage of liis first
epistle formerly quoted, '^ — pass the time of your so-
journing here in fear : forasmuch as ye know, that ye
were not redeemed with corruptible things, such as silver
and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a
lamb without blemish and witliout spot."*

It is not the value of the blessings of salvation them-
selves only, (unspeakably precious though they be) that
constitutes the most affecting display of the love of God :
— it is the wonderful medium through which these bless-
ings are bestowed. It is not merely that " GoA hath giv-
en to us eternal life,'' but that " this life is in his Son : —
it is not " redemption'' only, but " redemption through his
blood," that manifests the " riches" of Divine " grace."
That such a mediator should be appointed ! — that such
an expiation should be made ! It is here, that we " be-
hold what manner of love the Father hatli bestowed upon
us." It is this, above every thing else, that binds and at-
taches the heart in grateful love. The motive comes home
to the bosom of every child of God, with melting and
mighty persuasion : —

" O what a scale of miracles is here !
Pardon for infinite offence ! and pardon
Through means, which speak its value infinite !
A pardon bought with blood ! with blood Divine !
With blood Divine of him 1 made my foe !
Persisted to provoke — though awed and wooed,
Blessed and chastised, a flagrant rebel still,
A rebel, 'midst the thunders of his throne !
Nor I alone : — a rebel universe !
My species up in arms ! not one exempt !
Yet for the foulest of the foul he dies l"

* Rom. xii. 1, 2. 1 Pet. i. 17, 18,



Online LibraryRalph WardlawDiscourses on the principal points of the Socinian controversy → online text (page 20 of 36)