Page images

of salvation, because it implies a right temper and behaviour on the part of the person saved. It implies that he has enlightened and correct views of God, of Christ, of himself; and that he feels as one in his condition ought. It brings him upon his knees, as a suppliant before God. It causes him to humble himself, to acknowledge his guilt and ill desert, and to ask for parblessing of which he is utterly unworthy. It requires him publickly to honour the atonement, and so to do what he can to promote its salutary influence on the universe. It is such an act of entire submission, such a surrendry of himself and of all his interests into the hands of God, as at once removes all distance between him and his Maker, and lays a foundation for that cordial, affectionate intercourse in future between him and God, which it is the very object of redemption to produce.


Concise history of the doctrine of Atonement.

THE fathers did not sufficiently discriminate between the means of sanctification and the grounds of justification. They considered Jesus Christ as their only deliverer both from sin itself and from its punishment. To obtain salvation, they supposed, much was required of them. Without defining precisely what they must themselves do, and what Christ had done, or would do for them; they seem to have regarded salvation as a whole, and as such they frequently ascribed it to different causes. The blood of Christ, the ransom he paid, and their faith in him and obedience to him, as well as baptism, alms, fasting, penance, prayer, and martyrdom,-all were spoken of in much the same terms, and not unfrequently represented as, severally, the ground of their entire salvation.

It was, however, the current opinion, from the end of the second century down to the reformation, that on a person's embracing and professing the christian religion by baptism, all his past sins were cancelled; and that, for the sins he might afterwards commit, he must suffer penance, give alms, fast and pray, unless he could atone for them all by martyrdom.

Whether God could have saved us in any other way than that described in the gospel, was a question on which the fathers were by no means agreed. Basil, Ambrose, and others, (on the authority of Ps. xlix. 8.) denied, while Athanasius, both the Gregories, Theodoret, Augustine, &c. affirmed it.

The death of Christ, they often considered in the light of a sacrifice for sin; and often too, in that of a ransom paid for the redemption of captives. They considered all men as having resigned themselves up willing slaves of the god of this world; who therefore had over them the rights of a conqueror over captives. To rescue them from this captivity, Christ paid his own life a ransom. Thus Justin, Irenaeus, Clemens Alex. Tertullian, Origin, Basil, &c. who maintained that the ransom was paid to the devil. Indeed this was the general opinion in the earlier ages. But Gregory Naz. Augustine, Athanasius, and Ambrose, held that the ransom was paid to God;-a sentiment which was generally held among the schoolmen.

From the fourth century onward, both natures of the Saviour were supposed to be concerned in the atonement.

The schoolmen were the first to give system to many doctrines of the bible. Anselm, in the 11th century, is regarded as laying the foundation of that scheme of the atonement which was adopted by the reformers. Some traces of similar opinions are to be found at an earlier period; but his book, entitled, Cur Deus Homo? first gave them form and currency. He maintained, that to sin is to rob God of the honour due to him; and that every sinner thus becomes a debtor to God; and an insolvent debtor, because, if he reforms, he can never perform in any given period more than the service due for that period. Hence a redeemer was necessary; who must be God as well as man, that he might pay more honour to God than could be demanded of him.-Jesus Christ was such a saviour. Taking our debt on himself, he cancelled it, by suffering the penalty of the law. This theory soon became popular. Thomas Aquinas adopted it, and added, that the satisfaction made by Christ was superabundant, or more than was absolutely necessary; because, he being God, his sacrifice had infinite value, while men being finite their debt was so. The Dominicans and afterwards the Jesuits, embraced and defended this scheme. But Duns Scotus, Occam, the Nominalists and Franciscans, denied that Christ actually suffered the penalty of the law; and maintained that he endured only what God graciously accepted as equivalent to it.

Luther and the other reformers adopted this theory of Anselm, which they extended so as to make the atoning death of Christ a satisfaction to God for all sins, and not merely for sins committed before baptism. This modification was of vast moment, as it swept away all the schemes of personal merit which had been accumulating on the church for ages, and sent men to Jesus Christ alone for salvation.

Still the scheme had its difficulties. It exhibited God the Father, as unforgiving; it supposed a real transfer of guilt and merit; and it seemed to exonerate believers from all obligation to obey the law of God. Among the many who endeavoured to defend or to modify it, Grotius stands conspicuous. He taught that Christ made satisfaction, not to God, but to the law; the honour of which must be supported for the sake of the public good. Our guilt also, he conceived not to be transferred to Christ; but God, as a sovereign and law

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

giver, relaxed the law, by allowing its penalty to be transferred to Christ. Thus the innocent suffered for the guilty; which, though contrary to distributive justice, was not wrong, since Christ consented to it, and the public good required it. This scheme with some modification, has extended over most protestant nations, and has nearly supplanted the theory of Anselm.

In this historical sketch, no notice is taken of the schemes which sink the atonement into a mere device for persuading and enabling men to repent, under the expectation that God will then forgive them. Some account of these schemes may be seen in Brettschneiders' Entwickelung, § 107. S. 612. and Handbuch d. Dogmatik. B. II. S. 323. also in Magee, on Atonement and Sacrifice.

I will here close this article with notices of the histories of this doctrine, which I have consulted, and from which the reader may obtain more full satisfaction.

1. Grotius, in his Defensio Fidei &c. in Op. tom. III. gives us ten folio pages of mere quotations from the Lat. and Gr. fathers and the schoolmen.

2. J. F. Cotta, Historia Doctrinae de Redemp. Eccles. in the 4th vol. of J. Gerhardi Loci Theol. p. 105-132. 4to. This history extends from the birth of Christ to the middle of the last century; but is rather superficial.

3. Joseph Priestly, D. D. History of the Corruptions of Christianity, vol. 1. pp. 88-161. ed. Boston 1797. "This work from the name of the author, has obtained more notice than, from its superficial contents and the every where visible ignorance of the sources of history, it deserves." Münscher, Dogmengesch, Einleitung, § 21.

4. W. C. L. Ziegler, Historia Dogmatis de Redemptione, Gotting. 1791, also in Commentt. Theol. vol. V. pp. 227-299. 8vo.-good.

5. W. Münscher, Handbuch der Christ. Dogmengeschichte, B. II. S. 204-262, and B. IV. S. 263-319, 8vo. Marpurg, 1809. This brings the history down to A. D. 600, in a very satisfactory manner.


Much of the obscurity and difficulty attending the doctrine of the atonement, arise, I conceive, from confounding the different meanings of the word justice. It will not then be unsuitable to give a distinct account of the authorized senses of this word, so far as they relate to the subject before us.

The holiness of God is his absolute moral perfection, or the sum

of his moral attributes viewed merely as attributes. His righteousness is nothing more than the display of his holiness or moral perfection, in his conduct towards his creatures. See Brettschneider's Handbuch der Dogm. I. S. 347, and Döderlein, Theol. Christ. § 93. obs. 5. vol. I. p. 333.--The word justice has several meanings. Sometimes it is synonymous with righteousness. In this acceptation it is called general justice; to distinguish it from the other acceptations, in which it is called particular or simple justice. General justice has respect to all the laws which ought to govern our conduct, and includes the whole list of moral virtues. Particular justice has respect only to the claims of others upon us, and consists in giving to every one his due.-The distinction has been explained by a recurrence to the doctrine of perfect and imperfect rights. A perfect right is that which persons have to things properly their own; and to give them possession of which is conferring on them no favour, but merely discharging a debt. It is a right which a man may challenge, and which the law does, or should, always help him to recover. Such are the rights of a man to his property, to protection from oppression and injury, to acquittal when proved innocent, to the fulfilment of all contracts and promises made to him. An imperfect right is that which a beggar has to charity, and which every man has to kind offices according to his necessities; a right however, which he can never challenge or enforce, and the recognition of which brings him under an obligation of gratitude to a benefactor. Now general justice regards all the rights of others, whether perfect or imperfect. It consists in allowing due influence to all the considerations which ought to govern our conduct. It involves the exercise of various virtues at the same time, or in the same act; and is on that account, sometimes called mixed justice. Particular or simple justice consists in violating no man's perfect rights, or in satisfying all his just claims upon us; Justitia in suo cuique tribuendo cernitur." Simple justice is commonly divided into distributive and commutative justice. The former is concerned in the distribution of honours and privileges or burdens and services, among the members of a society. It is peculiarly the virtue of a governour or public officer. It requires him to observe equality in the distribution of rewards and punishments, privileges and burdens, paying regard only to the condition and the merits of each individual. The latter, commutative justice, respects merely compacts and bargains about property and services. It requires equality in the things commuted, or


[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »