Roswell D. (Roswell Dwight) Hitchcock.

Eternal atonement online

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Late President and Washburn Professor of Church History in
the Union Theological Seminary








A few years since, Dr. Hitchcock destroyed the
greater portion of his manuscripts. Of his sermons he
preserved only about thirty, from which the following
are selected as showing the truths on which he loved to
dwell, and which were the foundation of his own re-
ligious life. He was not bound by any rigid sys-
tem which cramped and fettered his mind. His intel-
lect was so original and powerful that it could not be
confined; and the store of knowledge which it ab-
sorbed, instead of being so much dead learning, only
fed and stimulated its activity. He was always making
new acquisitions. But the effect was not to weaken
his faith. On the contrary, as his mental horizon en-
larged, and he could see farther, his convictions grew
stronger. Especially was this the result of his studies
in Church history. In his philosophy Christ was the
Centre round which all history revolved, from which
he took the bearing of every point in the mighty orbit
of religious truth. With a mind like his, knowledge

was the parent of wisdom and of strength. Amid the




fluctuations of modern opinion lie was tranquil and
composed, because he had found one Divine Life run-
ning through the ages, and knew that He who had al-
ways been with His Church, would abide with it unto
the end of the world. This faith so serene, resting on a
conviction so profound, may be traced distinctly through
these sermons, which thus arrange themselves in a nat-
ural order, that it did not seem wise to disturb by the
insertion of others equally strong, but not so directly in
this line of thought.

Dr. Hitchcock published little in his life-time. His
mind was so active, and he was so constantly giving out
fresh thoughts to stimulate others, that he left himself
little space to revise and elaborate for the press. Be-
sides, his power was in himself quite as much as in
his words. His own personality was so marked, that
his presence in the pulpit or the lecture-room, at once
commanded attention, and gave emphasis to what he
uttered. That personal magnetism cannot be recalled :
though it remains to all who knew him a most vivid
and precious memory. But now that he is gone, we
can only read these silent pages, supplying, as best we
may, the flashing eye and the thrilling voice.



I.— Eternal Atonement, 3

II.— Who can forgive Sins ? 17

III.— Religion, the doing op God's "Will, . . 31

IV.— The Secret Things op God, .... 55

V.— From Blindness to Vision, .... 77

VI.— The Distinguishing Features op Christianity, 91

VII.— The Law op Service, 103

VIII.— Life through Death, 121

IX.— The Law op Use, 139

X. — The Cost op Service, 153

XI.— The Staff of Life, 169

XII.— The Witness of History to Christianity, . 193

XIII.— The Rock en the Desert, ..... 209

XIV.— Receiving and Giving, 225

XV.— Peter, 239

XVI. — Charge to an Evangelist, .... 261

XVII.— Charge to a Pastor, 271

XVIII.— Salvation Preached, 279

XIX.— Untroubled Faith, 295




"And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship Him, whose names
are not written in the book of life of tlie Lamb slain from the founda-
tion of the world." — Revelation xiii. 8 ; Psalm lxxii.

My subject is the Lamb slain from the foundation of
the world. My text is Eev. xiii. 8, the precise import
of which is disputed ; and I will therefore give you the
rival renderings. As we have been used to it in the
Authorized Version, it reads : " Written in the book
of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the
world." The Anglican Revisers, following the lead of
Alford, make no essential change : " Written in the
book of life of the Lamb that hath been slain from the
foundation of the world." The American Revisers,
following the lead of Rengel, De Wette, and many
others, would have it : " Written from the foundation
of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that hath
been slain." The American rendering makes the elec-
tion eternal. The Anglican rendering makes the atone-
ment eternal.

The prevalent opinion no doubt has been that the
atonement is simply an historic fact, dating back now
some nineteen hundred years ; and that only the pur-
pose of it is eternal. But Johann Wessel, the great
German theologian, who died only six years after Mar-



tin Luther was bora, got hold of the idea that not elec-
tion only, but atonement also, is an eternal act. And
this, it seems to me, is both rational and scriptural.
Eternal election, profoundly considered, requires eter-
nal atonement for its support. Both are eternal, as all
Divine realities are eternal. If the passage in Revela-
tion were given up, we should still have to deal with
1 Peter i. 19, 20, where the Lamb is spoken of as fore-
known before the foundation of the world, but man-
ifested at the end of the times ; eternal reality becom-
ing temporal fact. We should still have to deal with
John xvii. 24, which also carries back into eternity the
redeeming relationship between the Father and the
Son. Even on Calvary, as temporal actuality, the
Lamb slain is only a figure of speech, and, of course, it
can be no more than a figure of speech as eternal real-
ity in the bosom of God. But whether in time, or in
eternity — whether on Calvary or in the bosom of God,
the figure must stand for something. For us the meaning
is, and must be, that not election only, but atonement
also, is eternal. And so the relationship of God to moral
evil stands forth as an eternal relationship. Not that
evil is itself eternal ; but God always knew it and al-
ways felt it. It may help our thinking in this direc-
tion to remember that there is a sense in which creation
itself is eternal; not independently eternal, but, of
God's will, dependency eternal.

There must nothing be said, or thought, in mitiga-
tion of the ethical verdict against moral evil. The
hatefulness of it, no matter what its chronology may
be, is simply unspeakable. Violated law is monstrous.
Unmindfulness of God, who has always been so mind-


ful of us, is mean. Never to pray, either in one's closet
or in one's family, is against all the proprieties. Idol-
atry is childish and contemptible. Profaneness of
speech is scandalous. Neglect of holy time is robbery.
Disobedience to parents is shameful. Murder is hideous.
Unchastity murders the soul, is indeed both murder and
suicide. And so of all the rest. Theft, falsehood, and
even inordinate desire are abominable. Imagine a com-
munity, larger or smaller — a family, a township, a state,
or a nation, where the Ten Commandments are per-
sistently trampled under foot, and you will have im-
agined a community intolerable even to itself. And
if this be our human judgment, what must the Divine
judgment be ? The more pure and righteous a moral
being is, the more squarely he must antagonize, the
more intensely he must hate, the more surely he must
punish impurity and unrighteousness. Yolcanic fire
inside the globe, forked lightning outside of it, are faint
emblems of holy wrath. Wrong doing is the one thing
nowhere, and never, to be either condoned or endured.
Physical accident, bodily sickness, financial disaster,
social bereavement, may all be pitied. But when a
thoroughly bad man stands revealed, only lightning is
logical. He that sows the wind ought to reap the
whirlwind. It was a great philosopher who stood
amazed at the starry sky, and at the moral sense in
man. Well he might. There is no softness in the
midnight sky ; only cold blue marble, and a steady
blaze that never relents, and is never tired. You can-
not endure that blaze, you dare not risk yourself out
alone among those gleaming orbs with a guilty secret
in your bosom. The universe is instinct with law that


never abdicates. Remorse is not repentance; and
even repentance washes out no stain. Self-forgive-
ness is impossible. The trumpet is always sounding ;
every day is a judgment-day ; and every one of us
goes to the left. Gehenna is only the logical goal of

Nor should any attempt be made to get at the gen-
esis of moral evil. The beginning of it is simply in-
conceivable. The whole thing is a mystery, and must
be let alone. Moral evil is not eternal ; or there would
be two infinities. Nor is it a creature of God ; or God
would be divided against Himself. And yet it had the
Divine permission, whatever that may be imagined to
have been. With every attribute roused and alert — in-
finity of power, infinity of wisdom, infinity of holiness,
God stood by and let evil enter. Angels revolted first,
somewhere among the stars. Mankind revolted. Was
evil really unavoidable in a proper moral system ? If
so, immorality is not immoral. Evil that is really essen-
tial to good should not be considered evil. It would
be only the bitter bud of the fragrant blossom and the
luscious fruit. Or, putting it in another form, will you
say that God could not have prevented evil ? He cer-
tainly could have prevented it. In Heaven to-day, what
is the security of saints and angels, of your own dear
sainted mother, of Gabriel himself, but God's own
grace, constraining the will of every saint, constraining
the will of every seraph ? What is human sin but the
abuse of human appetites, of human passions, of human
faculties, in themselves all innocent ? Study the lesson
of our Lord's temptation in the desert. Certainly, He
was not tempted as we are, by inflamed appetites and


passions, by impaired and disordered faculties. But
He possessed all these natural appetites, passions, and
faculties ; and they were put to a real and a tremendous
strain. That " great duel," as Milton calls it, was no
sham fight ; one or the other had to go down. Christ
was gnawed by hunger, but refused to eat. He saw
what might be done by a brilliant miracle towards in-
augurating His Jewish ministry, but refused to work
it. He saw the short, Satanic path to Messianic do-
minion, but chose Gethsemane and Calvary. Now the
first Adam was just as cool and just as innocent as the
second Adam. And, with more of grace to strengthen
him, he too might have stood. There was no real ne-
cessity for that first human disobedience. It was sheer,
wanton, gratuitous, inexplicable apostasy. Somewhat
more of Divine constraint, and the catastrophe would
certainly have been averted. Call it non-prevention,
call it permission, call it anything you please, somehow
sin entered in spite of God's hating it. It came knock-
ing for admission, and God's shoulder was not against
the gate. For some reason, or reasons, not revealed,
perhaps not revealable, God thought it best not to put
His shoulder against the gate. The hateful and hated
thing pushed through. Ormuzd let in Ahriman. I
thank the Persian for these two words. They embody
and emphasize the historic dualism of good and evil.
The historic dualism, you will observe I say ; there is
no other dualism. God is One ; and master of all. The
Divine permission of hateful and hated evil, when we
fairly apprehend it, is a tremendous statement, which
might well be challenged, were not the thing itself so
undeniably a fact. This is as far as we can go. Here


we halt, with our bruised and throbbing foreheads hard
up against the granite cliff.

Practically, historic sin finds relief in historic re-
demption. Apparently, there was little, if any, interval
between the two. Sin came, perhaps, with the noon-
tide rest. " In the cool of the day " — that same day,
most likely, the offended Lord came walking in the
garden. The colloquy had a sharp beginning, but a
mellow ending. The bitten heel would finally crush
the biting head. And the struggle at once began.
The Lord came down very close to His erring, guilty,
frightened children. And they clung very closely to
Him, We are in great danger of underrating that
primitive economy of grace. The record is very brief,
and the oriental genius of it seems strange to us. But
we see an altar there; and it can have had but one
meaning. Ages after, in all the nobler ethnic relig-
ions — Egyptian, Indian, Persian, and Pelasgic, we en-
counter echoes and survivals of that first vouchsafement
of revelation. In all the great religions, we find one
God ; in all of them, personal immortality, with retri-
bution ; in most of them, Divine Triads ; in two of
them at least, the resurrection of the body. If it be
true, as we may well believe, that Socrates is now in
Heaven, singing the new song, it is because he sacrificed ;
and he sacrificed, whether he fully understood it or
not, because of that colloquy in the garden. And if
that sufficed for him, the Providence of God is justi-
fied. Historic sin is fairly matched, and overmatched,
by historic redemption.

But the Lamb slain from the foundation of the
world, suggests a far sublimer theodicy. We are taken


back behind the human ages, behind all time, into aw-
ful infinite depths, into the very bosom of the Triune
God. Theological science recognizes two Trinities,
which it calls economic and essential. The former be-
gan with historic redemption, and kept pace with it.
Father, Son, and Spirit stood for law, redemption, and
regeneration. It was economic Trinity that suggested
essential Trinity. But for the historic process, the
question might not have seemed worth asking, whether
God is One only, or Three also, and the Three in One.
The Hebrew mind, as represented by Philo, was only
just beginning to be trinitarian, when Christ's life in
the flesh compelled the Hebrew mind, as represented
by Peter, Paul, and John, to a new theology. After
Pentecost, bald Unitarianism was anachronous. Chris-
tian experience logically required three Divine Persons,
of one and the same Divine Essence. Economic Trinity
required essential Trinity.

Essential Trinity is anything but an arbitrary con-
ception of God. Wiclif taught it at Oxford as a
necessary doctrine of reason. Trinity is another name
for the self-consciousness, and self-communion, of God.
Father, Son, and Spirit are vastly more than the reve-
lation of God to man ; they are the revelation of God
to Himself, and the intercourse of God with Himself.
They suggest infinite fulness and richness of being. Our
scientific definitions of God do not amount to much. At
best, they formulate only very inadequate conceptions of
Him. It is assumed that these scientific definitions of
God take us farther than the Biblical descriptions of
God. We had better not feel too sure of that. At-
tributes in action may impart a better knowledge than


attributes abstractly defined. Pictures for children
may be better than creeds and catechisms. What we
need is to see God in the life both of nature, and of
man. This the Hebrew Prophets enable us to do by
their anthropomorphic and anthropopathic pictures of
God. If you say the pictures are childish, then I must
say that we are children, all of us, and had better be
children. It is no real scandal to science to be told,
that " the eyes of the Lord are in every place, behold-
ing the evil and the good"; 1 that "the eyes of the
Lord are upon the righteous, and His ears are open
unto their cry "; a that the Lord " smelled a sweet sa-
vour " 3 from Noah's altar ; while wicked men are con-
sumed by " the breath of His nostrils "; 4 that " the
voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars of Lebanon "; 6
and He " walketh upon the wings of the wind " ; 8 and
that at last, in the Messianic time, the Lord will make
" bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations." '
God is not a mere aggregate of attributes. He has a
personality as distinct and positive as yours and mine.
But the personality is infinite in all its outgoings.
God's being is a vast abyss which no plummet has ever
sounded. Imagine all you can of boundless power,
constantly at work; of boundless intelligence, con-
stantly at work; of boundless passion, constantly at
work: God is all that, and immeasurably more than
that. What right has any one to say that God is pas-
sionless? God Himself has never said it. He is not
passionless. Like the sun, He is all aflame ; He rejoices
in the truth ; He hates a lie. He is pleased with what is

'Prov. xv. 3. 8 Ps. xxxiv. 15. 3 Gen. viii. 21. 4 Job iv. 9.
6 Ps. xxix. 5. 6 Ps. civ. 3. 7 Is. lii. 10.


right, and displeased with what is wrong. Good men
are the apple of His eye ; bad men His abomination
and His scorn. Eendered literally, " God is a righteous
Judge, and a God who is angry every day." :

But God is love. So says John in that famous pas-
sage, over which the theologians are still disputing,
whether the meaning be that love is only one of the
Divine attributes, or is that very essence of God, into
which every other attribute may be resolved. Some of
the profoundest thinkers of our day accept these three
words of John, " God is love," 2 as the final definition
of God. Sunshine striking a tear-drop, may give us
the seven colors of the rainbow ; but the seven colors
are all one blessed light. God creates, governs, judges,
punishes, pities, redeems, and saves ; but love is the
root of all. It was love that created this wondrous
universe, to which science can set no bounds. It was
love that created angels, some of whom rebelled, and
were " delivered into chains of darkness." 3 It was love
that created this human brotherhood, all of whom have
rebelled and gone astray. This rebellion was per-
mitted ; but was rebellion all the same. God feels it ;
and has always felt it. Absalom has broken his fa-
ther's heart; and we are Absalom. The grand old
King goes up over Olivet weeping, with his head
covered, and his feet bare; and that King is God.
Only He is the King Eternal, and His agony over sin
is also eternal. This agony of God over human sin is
the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. God
Himself atones, to Himself atones ; and so atonement
is both eternal and divine.

1 Ps. vii. 11. * 1 John iv. 8, 16. 3 2 Pet. ii. 4.


In that matchless epitome of the Gospel — the par-
able of the Prodigal Son, reported only by Luke, not a
word is said, not a glimpse is given, of the father of
the Prodigal during all that interval between the de-
parture and the return. A veil is drawn over all those
bitter, weary years. So has God yearned and suffered
in the silent depths of His own eternity, waiting and
watching for the repentant Prodigal. This yearning,
grieved, and suffering God is the God and Father of
our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ ; Son of God, Son
of Mary. This sinless child should have had no griefs
of His own. His sorrows could have been only those
old eternal shadows of permitted sin. The cross on
which He died, flinging out its arms as if to embrace
the world, lifted up its head toward the Lamb slain
from the foundation of the world. Our hearts now go
back to Calvary ; and from Calvary they go up to God.

One word more. This stupendous idea of eternal
atonement carries with it the idea of universal atone-
ment. Whatever it was, and is, it must needs have
been infinite. No magnitude of sin, no multitude of
sinners, can bankrupt its treasury of grace. " God so
loved the world" 1 is its everlasting refrain. " He that
will, let him take the water of life freely." a " Take "
is the word, my hearers. Let us remember this. There
is something for us to do. God Himself cannot pardon
an impenitent offender. If pardon were offered, it could
not be accepted. It is a law of our own being, that we
must repent. O Lamb of God, slain so long ago, save
us at last, when Thou comest in the clouds ; and save
us here to-day.

1 John iii. 16. ■ Rev. xxii. 17.


It is one of the revelations of Scripture that we are
to judge the angels ; sitting above them on the shining
heights. It may well be so. Those angels are the Im-
perial Guard, doing easy duty at home. We are the
Tenth Legion, marching in from the swamps and for-
ests of the far-off frontier ; scarred and battered, but
victorious over death and sin.

The following stanza from Dean Alford's grand hymn appears
upon the last page of this, the last sermon written by Dr. Hitch-
cock. By a singular coincidence it was the stanza especially se-
lected to be sung in the burial service at Dr. Hitchcock's funeral,
although in entire ignorance of its existence in the manuscript.

Ten thousand times ten thousand

In sparkling raiment bright,
The armies of the ransom'd saints

Throng up the steeps of light :
'Tis finish'd, all is finish'd,

Their fight with death and sin :
Fling open wide the golden gates,

And let the victors in.




"Who can forgive sins but God only? "—Mark ii. 7.

You remember the story of the paralytic, told by all
three of the Synoptists. It was near the beginning of
the Galilean ministry. The place was Capernaum, on
the Lake, under the hill, in the northeast corner of
the little Plain of Gennesaret. The house was of the
kind you can see in Syria to-day ; not large, of a single
story, some eight feet high, its roof generally of loose
timbers laid straight across from wall to wall, covered
with earth rolled hard. This particular house, where
the Galilean Prophet then was, appears to have had its
flat roof covered, in part at least, with tiles. A dense
crowd had gathered, filling the house, and filling the
yard. It was no mere running together of village
neighbors. Pharisees and Doctors of the Law were
there ; Luke says, from every part of Galilee, and also
from Judea and Jerusalem. 1

Jesus, who had spent a good part of the previous
year in Judea, and had been now not very long in Gal-
ilee, was speaking to this crowd. He stood, most
likely, in the doorway, or near it, so as to be heard all
around. Some one, palsy-stricken, wished to be set on
his feet again ; and knew who could do it for him, if

1 Luke v. 17.



He only would. Four men, 1 neighbors probably of the
paralytic, came along bringing him on a mat, holding
on one at each comer of it. The eager, selfish crowd
would not give way. Then the four men mounted the
roof, by an outside stairway probably, took up some of
the tiles, 2 and managed somehow to let the mat down,
with the paralyzed man upon it, right at the feet of Je-
sus. One look was enough, both ways. Jesus saw the
prayer that was in the poor man's heart, did not wait
for it to reach his lips, but answered before the asking :
" My child, thy sins have been forgiven thee." The
thing was done. You should have seen the faces of
those Scribes and Pharisees, I almost hear Mark say.
The Galilean Prophet read their hearts too, hearing the
questions that were not syllabled : " Why doth this man
thus speak blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but
God only ? "

This last unspoken question is our text to-day : " Who
can forgive sins but God only ? " Whether God Him-
self can, or cannot, we will consider by and by.

I. Whether God can forgive sins or not, it is certain
that no other being can.

This was taken for granted by the Scribes and Phar-
isees, who heard what was said, and saw what was done,
at Capernaum. It was taken for granted by Him whom
they charged in their hearts with blasphemy. It has
generally been taken for granted always and every-

It is, indeed, one of those axiomatic propositions
which gain nothing by being argued. And, for this

1 Mark ii. 3. 2 Luke v. 19.


very reason, it has been losing its sinewy gripe on the
average understanding and conscience of our time.

This is a scientific age no doubt. And we ought not
to be sorry for it, nor afraid of it, although the science
is inordinately physical instead of metaphysical, stag-
gers under its burden of facts, and is frequently mis-
taking its own unproved hypotheses for laws.

But this is also a very sentimental age. In English
fiction, for example, to say nothing of French and

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