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On the Necessity of the Atonement. THE Priesthood of Christ, according to the apostle Paul, and the exhibition made of it, in the Jewish ritual may, bc divided into two parts, the atonement which he made to divine justice, and his intercession in heaven, 1. Joh. ii. 2. Heb. ix. 12. The necessity of such an atonement, which is the foundation of all practical piety, and all Christian hopes must be firmly established, and defended against the fiery darts of Satan, with which it is attacked by innumerable adversaries.
Respecting the necessity of the atonement, the opinions of divines may be classed under three heads. 1. That of the Socinians, who not only deny that an atonement was made, but affirm that it was not at all necessary, and maintain that God could pardon sin, without any satisfaction made to his justice. 2. That of those who distinguish between an absolute and a hypothetical necessity; and in opposition to the Socinians maintain the latter kind of necessity, while they deny the former. By a hypothetical necessity they mean that which flows from the divide decree.God has decreed
that an atonement is to be made, therefore it is necessary. To this they also add a necessity of fitness; as the commands of God have been transgressed it is fit that satisfaction should be made, that the transgressor may not pass with impunity. Yet they deny that it was absolutely necessary, as God they say, might have devised some other way of pardon than through the medium of an atonement. This is the ground taken by Augustine in his book on the trinity. Some of the reformers who have written against the Socinians adopt the opinions of that father. 3. That of those who maintain the doctrine of absolute necessity; affirming that God, neither has willed, nor could have willed to forgive sins, without a reparation of the breach of his law, by a satisfaction made to his justice. This is the common opinion of the orthodox. It is our opinion.
Various errors are maintained on this point, by those who deny the doctrine of the atonement. The removal of the grounds upon which they rest will throw light upon the whole of this important subject. They err in their views of the nature of sin, for which a satisfaction is required; of the satisfaction itself; of the character of God to whom it is to be rendered; and of Christ by whom it is rendered.
1. Of sin, which renders us guilty, and binds us over to punishment, as hated of God. It may be viewed as a debt which we are bound to pay to divine justice, in which sense the law is called “ a hand writing," Col. ii. 14.-As a principle of enmity, whereby we hate God, and he becomes our enemy-as a crime against the Government of the uni. verse by which, before God, the supreme governor, and judge, we become deserving of everlasting death and malediction. Whence, sinners are expressly called “ debtors," (Matt. vi. 12.), “enemies to God,” both actively and passively, (Col. i. 21.) " and guilty before God.” (Rom. iii. 19.) We, therefore, infer that three things were necessary in order to our redemption—the payment of the debt contracted by sin-the appeasing of the divine wrath, and the expiation of guilt.
2. From the preceding remarks, the nature of the satisfac
tion, which was to be made for sin, may be easily perceived: That which we are chiefly to attend to in sin is its criminality. Satisfaction has relation to the penalty, which has been enacted against it by the Supreme Judge.
But here we must attend to a two-fold payment, which is noticed by jurists. One which, by the very deed of payment, sets at liberty the debtor, and annuls the obligation, whether the payment is made by the debtor in his own person, or by a surety in his name. Another in which the bare fact of payment is not sufficient to liberate the debtor, which takes place when the payment is not precisely that which is demanded in the obligation, but an equivalent. In this case, though the creditor has a right to refuse the acceptance of such payment, yet he admits it and esteems it a payment, which is entitled a satisfaction. The former of these takes place in a pecuniary, the latter in a penal debt. In a pecuniary transaction, the fact of the payment of the sum due, frees the debtor, by whomsoever the payment is made. Respect here is not had to the person paying, but to the payment only. Whence, the creditor, having been paid the full amount due, is not said to have treated with indulgence the debtor, or to have forgiven the debt. But in penal debt, the case is different. The debt does not regard things but persons. Here we regard not the thing paid, so much as the person who pays; i. e. that the transgressor may be punished. For as the law demands individual personal obedience, so it demands individual and personal suffering. In order that the guilty person may be released in consequence of an atonement being made by another in his stead, the
governor or judge must pass a decree to that effect. That decree or act of the judge is, in relation to the law, called relaxation, and in relation to the debtor, or guilty person, pardon, or remission; for his personal suffering is dispensed with, and in its place a vicarious suffering accepted. But because, in the subject under discussion, sin has not a relation to debt only, but also to punishment, satisfaction is not of that kind, which by the act itself, frees the debtor. To effect this there must be an act of pardon passed by the
Supreme Judge, because that is not precisely paid, i. e. a personal enduring of the penalty, which the law demands, but a vicarious suffering only. Hence we discover how perfectly accordant remission and satisfaction are with each other, notwithstanding the outcry made by the enemy respecting their supposed discrepancy. Christ made the satisfaction in his life, and at his death; and God, by accepting this satisfaction paves the way for remission. The satisfaction respects Christ from whom God demands a punishment not numerically but specifically the same which we owed. Pardon respects believers, who are freed from punishment, in their own persons, while a vicarious suffering is accepted. Hence we see how admirably mercy is attempered with justice. Justice is exercised against sin, and mercy towards the sinner-an atonement is made to the divine justice, by a surety and God mercifully pardons us.
3. This reasoning is greatly fortified from a consideration of the relations in which God stands to the sinner. He may be viewed in a threefold relation as the creditor; as the Lord and party offended; and as the judge and ruler. But though both the former relations must be attended to in this matter, yet the third is to be chiefly considered. God here is not merely a creditor, who may at pleasure remit what is his due, nor merely the party offended who may do as he will with his own claims without injury to any one; but he is also a judge and rectoral governor, to whom alone pertains the infliction of punishment upon offenders, and the power of exempting offenders from the penal sanction of the law. This all jurists know belongs to the chief magistrate alone. The creditor may demand his debt, and the party offended reparation for the offence, or indemnity for his loss; but the judge alone has the power to compel payment, or exact punishment. Here, lies the capital error of our adversaries, who maintain that God is to be considered merely in the light of a creditor, and that he is at liberty to exact or remit the punishment at pleasure. It is however certain, that God sustains the character of judge and sovereign of the world, and has the rights of sovereignty to maintain, and