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DOCTRINE OF ATONEMENT.
The doctrines which relate to the character and offices of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, are undoubtedly of very great importance in the system of Christianity; and their connexion with our religious conduct is so intimate, that it is impossible we should be right in the latter, if we err considerably with respect to the former. The acknowledgment of the divinity of Christ, for instance, calls for such affections and behaviour towards him, as they who look upon him as a mere man cannot maintain. Our practical regard must likewise be much affected by our belief or disbelief of the doctrine of atonement for sin by his death. If this doctrine is without foundation in Scripture, it must be a high affront to the Divine Majesty, to place any hope of pardon on the cruel treatment which a mere man like ourselves met with in the world. But if our Lord Jesus Christ made a sacrifice for sin by his death, and we are commanded to come unto God through such a mediator, then their condition is dangerous indeed, who despise that sacrifice, and reject that method of approaching God, which is appointed in the gospel for guilty sinners.
The doctrine of atonement has been treated with much contempt by some late writers, who have thought fit to speak (as one of them expresses it) “ with great indignation” against it; and to represent it, not only as contrary to the Scriptures, but likewise as so absurd in itself, that it would render the Bible indefensible, if it contained such a doctrine. I have examined, with some attention, the arguments on which this representation is founded ; and as they appear to me to be inconclusive, I have ventured to point out wherein I think them faulty, and to give a short defence of what I believe to be a fundamental doctrine of Christianity.
The doctrine of the Socinians respecting
atonement, is this,
That God requires no consideration or condition of pardon, but the repentance of the offender; and that, consequently, the death of Christ was no real sacrifice for sin, but is called so in the Scriptures merely in a figurative sense, by way of allusion to the Jewish sin-offerings ; as our praises and other good works are called sacrifices, because they are something offered up to God.” On the contrary, the doctrine which I mean to defend, is, “ That God has thought fit to require a consideration of par-. don, distinct from the repentance of the sinner; and that this consideration is the death of Christ, which was a real sacrifice for sin, and stood related to the Jewish sacrifices as the antitype to the type.”
I. It is evident, that the inspired writers do speak of the death of Christ as a sacrifice for sin. “ Christ appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." Heb. ix. 26. “ Christ hath given himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.” Ephesians v. 2. “ Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many." Hebrews ix. 28. “ He is the propitiation for our sins.” 1 John ï. 2. “ After he had offered one sacrifice for sin, he for ever sat
down at the right hand of God.” Hebrews x. 12. By one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified." Hebrews x. 14, &c. The question then is, Whether this language, which abounds in the New Testament, is proper, and to be understood literally; or merely figurative, and used by way of allusion to the Jewish sacrifices.
It is an allowed rule of interpreting the Scriptures, that every doctrine contained therein must be understood in its most plain and obvious sense, considered in connexion with its context, unless this sense is clearly absurd in itself, or contrary to other parts of Scripture. Now it is self-evidently right, that God should appoint such a way of extending mercy to penitent sinners, as his infinite wisdom saw the fittest to display his hatred of sin, and to maintain the honour of his righteous laws, and just government of the universe. And no good reason can be given, why God, as Governor of the world, might not appoint a sacrifice to be the means of forgiveness for transgressions against his general laws, as he did for offences against those particular laws, which he instituted as Governor of one nation.
Let us then examine whether other parts
of Scripture require us to restrain the sacrifical language, used concerning our Lord, to a merely figurative sense, or whether we are led by them to understand it in its most proper and obvious signification.
The most striking circumstance of the Jewish economy was the appointment of sacrifice as the means of obtaining pardon for offences committed against that constitution, which the Jews were under as a peculiar people. Sacrifice was undoubtedly a consideration distinct from the the moral character of the offender, yet was the standing means of obtaining forgiveness, under the Mosaic dispensation, to those who conformed to the conditions required by the ceremonial law.
Now, if this dispensation was designed to represent that of the gospel, then is pardon granted under the gospel also, to those who comply with the conditions required therein, by virtue of a consideration distinct from the moral character of the offender, in the same manner as it was under the law of Moses.
That the Jewish propitiatory sacrifices were a necessary consideration of forgiveness, and the means of obtaining it, appears both from their institution, and the view which is given