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THE DOCTRINE OF ATONEMENT.
The most available charge now brought against Unitarians, and the one which is therefore most confidently urged is this, that they deny the atonement and trust to their own works for salvation. Tired as we are of confuting and denying, and often as the charge has been denied, we must still reiterate the same things. We do not reject the atonement, we do not rely upon our own merits. We believe that salvation, like every thing which we enjoy or hope for, is the free, undeserved gift of God. We believe also, that the life, the sufferings, and the death of Christ were indispensable and necessary for our salvation, and are the means through which alone we are saved. We have access to the Father through him, just as through the “ door” we enter the temple.
Our own works we regard not as meritorious in any sense, but only as the conditions on which salvation is freely given, without which, however, it will not and can not be given. The only kind of works which can have even this efficacy, are those which spring from that spiritual and humble state of mind, by which we are impelled to commit ourselves entirely to God's disposal, and which in the scripture is called Faith.
Thus it is, therefore, that our belief stands: We are saved by that Faith which produces good works, through the atonement made by Jesus Christ. The word atonement means reconciliation, (see Rom. v, ii.) and the doctrine of the atonement is that doctrine which relates to the means of reconciliation between God and man. The reconciliation to be effected may be considered mutual, because, although the alienation is created only by man's offences, and is removed as soon as he is renewed in heart, yet, so long as he continues sinful, God cannot regard him with the same kind of love that he has for those who are obedient and good. God's holiness and hatred of sin alienate him from the impenitent, and therefore it may be said, in one sense, that he needs to be reconciled to the sinful; but this form of expression is never used in the New Testament. There man is spoken of as needing the reconciliation ; God, as always ready to receive him. The only barrier between man and God consists in man's wickedness.
There are many forms in which the doctrine of the atonement appears, several of which are unscriptural, and therefore more or less dishonorable to God, but against one of them only
do we contend with earnestness; and that, because it represents God in a light that makes it impossible for us to love him, depriving him of his paternal character, and of the attributes of mercy and goodness. The form to which we allude is properly called the Calvinistic atonement, for it is Calvin's, not Christ's. It sets forth that God must be satisfied by the
payment of an equivalent before he is able to remit the punishment due to the sins, committed previously to repentance and conversion; and that the atonement of Christ consists in this, that he bore in himself the punishment which man deserves, so that the justice of God is satisfied, and he is able to receive us without exacting any further penalty. This doctrine we reject, with horror. For its confutation, we appeal to all the principles of justice and goodness that we are capable of comprehending, against which it is a palpable and gross outrage. We appeal also to every passage in scripture which represents God as a Father; to all those which speak of him as kind and forbearing and ready to forgive; to all which represent salvation as a free gift and as a proof of God's love for us; to the whole New Testament, which represents the atonement as the result of God's love for us, not as the exaction of his justice; and to such parables as that of the prodigal son; (Luke xv, 11); that which immediately precedes it, in the same chapter; and that found in Matt. xviii, 21-35, where God is contrasted with the person who said, “pay me that thou owest.” We feel that in opposing that doctrine, therefore, we are laboring to vindicate God's glory, to convert men to his love, to draw him near to us, and, in a word, to establish the truth as it is in Jesus.
W. G. E.
“THE LIGHT SHINING."
Holding the faith and cherishing the feelings expressed in the last article, we rejoice with a joy unspeakable to see how generally Christians are beginning to adopt them, and how many of all denominations unite with us in rejecting the Calvinistic atonement. This change is the beginning of a glorious day for the cause of Christ. In proof that our joy is not vain, we refer to two authorities, both of them of a character and standing that cannot be questioned. One of them is not very recent, that is to say, is three or four years old. We refer to the "Corner Stone,” by Jacob Abbott, a book which is famil
iarly known to persons of almost all sects, and which is strongly approved of by the majority, except perhaps, of those who are professed theologians. He explains and illustrates a theory of atonement which entirely excludes the idea contended against above, and which is consistent with God's goodness and with the scripture.
Let the following extracts be carefully read:
“We have now accomplished the plan which we had marked out for this chapter, which was the exhibition of some of the principles upon which the pardon of sin can safely be bestowed. These principles are in substance as follows. The design of God in connecting such severe and lasting sufferings with sin, is not resentment against the sinner, but a calm and benevolent interest in the general good. He wishes no one to suffer, and has accordingly provided a way by which he can accomplish more perfectly what would have been accomplished by the inflexible execution of the law. By this means, the way is open for our forgiveness, if we are penitent for our sins.”
Again, he speaks thus: “Christ came, in other words, not only to teach us duty and to set an example of its performance, but to suffer for us, and to make, by that suffering, a moral impression on the great community of intelligent beings, which should go instead of our punishment, and render it safe that we should be forgiven."
Observe that there is not a word about "satisfaction rendered" and the like. Christ suffered and died in order that the same moral impression might be produced as by the actual punishment of the offender, that is, the strong impression of God's hatred of sin and of the necessity of holiness. Against such a statement we have not the least objection.
Once more, see the same sentiments more fully expressed:
“Let me explain precisely what I mean by this. Your conscience is uneasy, being burdened by the load of your past sins. Perhaps you do not distinctly fear punishment, but it is the sense of responsibility for sin, and an undefined dread of something that is yet to come, which really destroys your rest. Now why have you any thing to fear? Why should God ever call you to account for those sins? It must be either from personal resentment against you, or else because the welfare of his government requires the execution of his law upon you. There cannot be any thing like the former, you know. It must be the latter, if either. Now the balm for your wounded spirit is this, that the moral impression in respect to the nature and tendencies of sin, which is the only possible rea
son God can have, for leaving you to suffer its penalties, is accomplished far better by the life and death of his Son; and if you are ready to abandon sin for the future, there is no reason whatever remaining, why you should be punished for the past. God never could have wished to punish you for the sake of doing ‘evil,' and all the 'good' which he could have accomplished by it, is already effected in another and a better way. Now believe this cordially. Give it full control in your heart. Come to God and ask forgiveness on this ground. Trust to it fully. If you do, you will feel that the account for the past. is closed and settled forever. You are free from all responsibility in regard to it. Ransomed by your Redeemer, the chains of doubt and fear and sin fall off, and you stand, free, and safe, and happy, a new creature, in Jesus Christ,redeemed by his precious blood, and henceforth safe under his mighty protection."
All this varies little, indeed not at all, from the statements that we make from our own pulpit. How different is it from the atonement as set forth by strict Calvinists! Now it is remarkable and indicates the happy change among those called Orthodox, that the common people hear Mr. Abbott gladly.They “who sit on the seat of Moses” have indeed discovered the heretical tendency of the book, but the most practical and pious among the mass of believers are fully satisfied. This indicates improvement. “Can ye not discern the signs of the times?"
The other authority to which I refer as proving a change among Trinitarians, which amounts to an abandonment of the Calvinistic doctrine of the atonement, is “a charge," recently delivered by Bishop Onderdonk to the clergy of his diocese, in Pennsylvania, a commendatory notice of which we find in the New York Churchman. In this charge we find an elaborate and very strong argument against "an equivalent atonement." We will let it speak for itself:
THE ATONEMENT OFFERED TO THE HOLINESS AND NOT TO THE
JUSTICE OF GOD.
“ So far then as analogy may determine, it cannot be held that the sufferings of an innocent Savior in place of guilty men, were accepted as the payment of their debt. They were exacted by the sovereign power of the Majesty on high. And the motive which my argument suggests for requiring this atonement, was, that the divine holiness should be vindicated when the divine mercy grants pardon to the sinner; it was, that mercy and truth might meet together, that righteousness and peace might embrace each other; there is mercy in God, but there are truth also, and righteousness, which
are another name for holiness. And while mercy pleads that the penitent sinner be not given to perdition, truth expostulates that the Holy One ought to maintain his moral perfection, for his own sake; and also, for the sake of others, not relax his discountenance of sin. To pardon any being in whom the least sin remains, on the ground of his being good enough, would be to yield so far God's moral perfection, and relax his discountenance of evil. Hence the penitent is forgiven, not in any degree on account of his imperfect goodness, but because the sufferings of CHRIST the Victim attest that God's moral perfection yields not, and that his discountenance of sin is not relaxed : so that those sufferings become the sole procuring cause of the penitent's pardon. Thus it is that mercy can act without contradicting truth, without infringing on holiness. And though we do not fully understand why God inflicts his abhorrence of evil on the person of a different being from those who have sinned, the doctrine, besides resembling in part certain providences of the innocent suffering for others, is not contrary to reason, as that doctrine is which compares sin to a pecuniary debt, and would thus make the Redeemer to have paid our moral debt. Expiation and payment are radically different: if they were not, one might pay beforehand for the privilege of offending. In the sacrifice of Christ, the divine purity and rectitude shows its infinite indignation against evil. On him who, having no sin of his own, agreed to represent our sins for this purpose, and who consented that for this great object the Lord should lay on him the iniquity of us all,-on Him is exercised the pure and awful indignation of a holiness perfect and repulsive of every stain. Strictly speaking, Christ does not undergo a penalty or punishment, for that is remitted; he suffers to attest that God is truly angry with sin, the anger being that of principle, not of passion: and this holy anger, we may remark, has no relation to placability ; for placability in a matter of principle, if the word has meaning with such a reference, is so much surrender of principle. This holy anger having had its course, the cross may be appealed to, as the proof that God has surrendered nothing of his moral perfection, in granting pardon to the sinner, when he repents, though in a degree he is a sinner still.
THE DOCTRINE OF AN EQUIVALENT ATONEMENT LEADS EITHER TO
ABSOLUTE ELECTION OR UNIVERSAL SALVATION.
“On the principle that the same offence ought not to be twice punished, or the same debt twice paid, justice having no demand after being once satisfied, those for whom Christ bore the legal sentence cannot themselves be punished. If so, and if Christ “died for all,” and bore the sentence for “the whole world,” then all must escape punishment hereafter, and be saved. Or else, the elect only being saved, Christ was sentenced and made payment for none but them; and then, of course, he did not "taste death for every man;"