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[Preached before the University of Cambridge.]
THE RENEWAL OF THE MIND IN CHRISTIANS,
ROMANS III. 25, 26.
Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through
faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time, his righteousness : that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
These words, in common with many other passages of Scripture, seem very obviously to affirm the vicarious nature, or the expiatory virtue, of the death of Christ. There are theologians, however, who reject this doctrine ; not absolutely or properly on the authority of the Scriptures, but on grounds independent of divine revelation. They deny the reasonableness or necessity of a satisfaction to divine justice, in order to procure the acquittal of the guilty; and judge it more consonant to our reason that the Almighty should absolve the sinner in the absence of a propitiatory
sacrifice-by a simple declaration of forgiveness. They accordingly regard the principal benefit of our Saviour's mediation, with respect to our justification before God, as consisting in his having taught us the efficacy of repentance to obtain the pardon of our sins, and the availableness of a sincere though defective obedience. They are content, moreover, to describe the death of Christ as merely an attestation to the truth of his pretensions; or as affording us a pre-eminent example of patience and resignation. But we deem this a very partial and inadequate view of our obligation to Jesus Christ, entitled as he is, the Saviour of the world; and in maintaining the more prevailing doctrine on the subject, we shall endeavour to establish the two following propositions :
First, There is no sufficient ground, on the authority of human reason, to pronounce upon the mode in which the Almighty exercises mercy, or absolves the guilty
Secondly, It is a doctrine of the Scriptures that the penitent are exempted from the punishment of their sins, not on account of any relaxation in the law which they have violated, but in virtue of the expiatory sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
In the first place, we propose to show that
there is no sufficient ground, on the authority of human reason, to pronounce upon, or to pre-conceive the mode in which the Almighty exercises mercy, or acquits the guilty.
There are some, it was remarked, who deny the reasonableness and necessity of a satisfaction to divine justice. They condemn the belief of it as injurious to the free agency, and the absolute sovereignty of God. In thus prejudging the conduct of the Deity, and the nature of his government, they are guided, you perceive, by the precedent or analogy which is furnished them in the administration of justice amongst mankind. Human rulers are invested with power to mitigate the rigour of established laws; to remit the exactions of justice at their pleasure; and to exercise a prerogative of mercy in behalf of the guilty and condemned. And can the mercy of the Almighty, it is sometimes asked, be subject to any condition or qualification? Can the Ruler of the Universe require the intervention of a sacrifice, or any other means of reconciliation, as a pre-requisite to the pardon and acceptance of the penitent transgressor? What more can be necessary, on the part of God, to the absolu. tion of the guilty, than a simple announcement of forgiveness?