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On the Substance of the Atonement.
CONCERNING the matter and parts of the satisfaction, various opinions have been embraced by divines. Some limit it to the sufferings and punishments which he endured for us. This opinion appears to have been first maintained by Cargius, a Lutheran minister, and after him to have been adopted by Piscator, a reformed professor at Herborne. Some of the divines, who have embraced this opinion, confine that righteousness by which we are justified to the death which he suffered; while others of them comprehend in it also all the sufferings of his life. This they call his passive righteousness. The obedience which he yielded to the precepts of the law, they term his active righteousness, which they suppose to have been necessary in the person of the Mediator to the performance of his mediatory functions. They maintain, however, that it forms no part of his atonement, or his merits, which are imputed to us.
The opinion, commonly received in our churches, is that the atonement made by Christ, which is imputed to us for righteousness before God, is not confined to the sufferings, which he endured either in his life or at his death, but that it extends to the obedience of his whole life, to all those just and holy actions, by which he perfectly obeyed the law in our stead. From these two parts—his sufferings and his obedience, they maintain that the full and perfect price of our redemption proceeds.
In order to ascertain precisely the state of the question,
we remark that the subject of controversy is not, whether Christ perfectly fulfilled both the general law, binding to worship God, and the special law commanding him to submit to death. Again, it is not whether the obedience of Christ's whole life was for promotion of our interests, and necessary to the procurement of our salvation. Both are granted by our opponents. They acknowledge that he fulfilled both laws, that the obedience of his life was necessary for him, in the performance of his mediatory duties, and in many respects profitable for us. We enquire whether this obedience forms a part of the satisfaction, which he made to God for us—whether it was yielded in our stead.
Again, the enquiry is not, whether the mere sufferings belong to the satisfaction. For those, whose opinion we controvert, acknowledge that no suffering can be of an atoning nature, unless it be of an active character, voluntarily endured. They also admit that, in order to its being acceptable to God, it must have included active obedience, and voluntary oblation, which should embrace the perfection of charity, together with the most perfect righteousness and immaculate holiness. They even say that the observance of the whole law was condensed into one action, that of Christ's death. We enquire whether the obedience which Christ through his life yielded to the law, is to be joined to the obedience which he yielded in his death and sufferings, in order to constitute our justifying righteousness before God. We must distinguish between what Christ did directly and immediately to make an atonement, and what only pertained, as previous conditions, to the making of the atonement. In this last we place the personal holiness of Christ.
Hence the question is reduced to this point; is the atonement which Christ made for us restricted to his death alone, or at least to all those sufferings, which were either antecedent to his death, or accompanied it? Or does it comprehend all which Christ did and suffered for us, from the beginning to the end of his life? The former is the opinion of
Cargius, Piscator, and their followers; the latter is our opinion and that of our churches generally.
In order to understand more clearly the doctrine for which we contend, we shall make the following remarks. I. That the atoning sufferings of Christ extend to all those which were inflicted upon him, not only in the garden of Gethsemane, but also to those which he bore during his whole life. We cannot approve of the hypothesis, which restricts the expiatory sufferings of our Redeemer to the pains he suffered during the three hours in which the sun was darkened, and he hung on the cross before his death; while it excludes all the other sufferings of his life, as, at most, only necessary to vindicate the truth of God, and to accomplish the typical representations of Christ under the law. We admit indeed, that the greatest agonies of Christ were those to which he was exposed during those hours of darkness. But it is abundantly evident, that all his other sufferings were expiatory:- 1. Because the scripture no where restricts his expiation to the three hours, in which the sun was darkened, but refers it, in general to his sufferings, without any limitation.* They even extend it to his whole humiliation. 2. Because the agonies which he endured in the garden, and which are expressed by the words grief, sorrow, agony, heaviness, amazement, and being exceeding sorrowful even unto death, on account of the tremendous weight of divine wrath and malediction, were the chief sufferings which Christ had to endure in his soul for us. 3. This opinion, which we oppose, wrests from many pious Christians one great means of consolation. In the sufferings of Christ's whole life, as expiatory, they find rest to their souls. This idle imagination of Cargius and Piscator, would snatch from Christians all this solace, and deprive them of innumerable evidences of the divine love.
The objection which is brought against this reasoning from Jer. iii. 9. “ I will remove the iniquity of that land in
* Isa. liii. 4,5. 1 Pet. ii. 21. & iii. 18. Matt. xvi. 21. Heb. v.7. & I. 8, 9. + Phil. ii. 6, 7.
one day,” is of no avail. That, from these words of the apostle, " We are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus once for all," is equally unsubstantial*. The inference to be drawn from these texts is not that the sufferings of Christ, antecedent to those on the cross, are not expiatory; but only that the atonement was consummated on the cross. In consequence of this consummation all the sins of all the elect were, in one day, blotted out. The reason why the apostle, by a figure common in all languages, refers the expiation of our sins to the one offering of Christ is, that his sufferings on the cross were the last and most piercing, without which all his antecedent sufferings would have been insufficient; as the payment of the last farthing completes the liquidation of the debt, and cancels the bond. Because he was inaugurated into his mediatory office, in the thirtieth year of his age, we may not thence infer, that previously to that time, he was neither a priest nor a victim; for by the same mode of reasoning, it would follow, that before thirty years of age he was not a Mediator. That Christ was in favour with God, that he was his well-beloved Son, nay, that he was sometimes in his life glorified, does not prove that he did not then bear the divine wrath. These two are not at all incompatible with each other. Christ, viewed in himself, never ceased to be most dearly beloved of his Father, not even in his excruciating tortures on the accursed tree, though, as our surety, he bore the load of the divine wrath, and was made a curse for us. It was not necessary that the punishments which Christ underwent should be so intense, that they could admit of no alleviations by which he might be animated to encounter gloriously that dreadful conflict, which was set before him.
II. We remark that in the actions and sufferings of Christ two things are to be considered their substance and their form. They are considered, in relation to their substance, when we examine their nature and intensity. The same actions and sufferings are considered formally when they are
• Heb. 2. 10.
examined as constituting a righteousness to be sustained before the tribunal of God. In the former light the actions and sufferings are many and various. In the second view of them they are to be considered under one form only, that of producing a whole, composed of all his actions and passions--a one and perfect righteousness: Whereas one action or passion alone cannot be said to effect a full atonement, because it is necessary that a perfect obedience should be connected with it. Hence, although various degrees and acts may be remarked in the obedience of Christ, which commenced at his birth, was continued through his life, and completed at his death, yet it is unique, as to the completion of the work of salvation, and the righteousness which it accomplishes.
III. We remark that there is in the obedionce of Christ a twofold efficacy. The one is expiatory, that by which we are freed from those punishments, to which we were liable on account of sin. The other is a meritorious efficacy, by which through the remission of our sins, a title to eternal life and salvation, has been acquired for us. For as sin has brought upon us two evils—the loss of life, and exposure to death; so redemption must procure two benefits-liberation from death, and a title to life: or, deliverance from hell and an introduction into heaven. To this purpose various passages of scripture are pertinent; which clearly express those two benefits.“ To make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in an everlasting righteousness."* " Christ hath redeemed us from the law being made a curse for us--that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles."| “God sent forth his Son to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” I “We were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more being reconciled we shall be saved by his life.”“ That they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified.”ll
• Dan. ix. 24. $ Rom. v. 10.
# Ibid. iv. 4.
| Gal. iii. 13, 14.