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“And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God.”—2 Cor. v. 18, 19, 20.
I am not unaware that the denomination to which we belong have been accused of denying the atonement. I am persuaded that this charge is founded on a misapprehension of our sentiments. We believe in the atonement. We believe in it precisely in the sense in which it is stated in that
of Scripture I have just read to you, and which passage I believe to be the fullest and most explicit statement of the doctrine to be found in the Scriptures. The word atonement, I scarcely need remind you, is found in the New Testament but once, and there is used for a word in the original, which is every where else translated reconciliation. Had it been translated reconciliation there, as it ought to have been, much useless and unchristian controversy might have been saved. We believe that there was an intimate connection between the death
of Christ and human salvation; we believe that he died for us, that he "gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” We believe, according to the text, that "God was in” or through “Christ reconciling the world to himself,” and that when Christ left the world, he committed the ministry of reconciliation to the apostles, and they to their successors, and that all faithful ministers are Christ's ambassadors, by all the means of persuasion beseeching men to be reconciled to God. Men, when in a state of sin, are at variance with God. And the death of Christ has had, and still has a powerful influence in bringing about an at-one-ment, making them at one or reconciled together.
We are wronged then, when it is said of us that we deny the atonement. We believe that the death of Christ has a powerful influence in bringing about a reconciliation between God and man. So do those who censure us. The only difference between us is as to the mode in which his death wrought this. effect. Those who censure us say, that the death of Christ has an effect on God to reconcile him to us. . We believe that the change must be wrought in us. We must repent, reform, and be conformed to his will, before we can be at one with him. We believe that the embassage of reconciliation came from God to man, offering terms of reconciliation, and that Christ was the ambassador. Conditions were offered through him to men,
declaring what change must take place in their character and conduct, before God would be on terms of peace with them. The embassage was not sent by men to God to change him, and make him favourable and ready to show mercy. He is as merciful as he can be by nature. There is no change needed in him. The Scriptures inform us of no impediment or hinderance to his mercy, except the impenitence and obduracy of mankind. Creeds and catechisms declare that Christ died to reconcile God to man. The Scriptures seem to us to teach that he died to reconcile man to God. So we are accused of denying the atonement, not because we do in fact deny it, but because we will not adopt the explanation which others, not more infallible than we, choose to put upon it. As well might we in our turn, accuse them of denying the atonement, because they will not adopt our explanation of it.
What then is the commonly received doctrine of the Atonement? It is thus stated in the thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England, “Christ, very God and very man, who truly suffered, was crucified dead and buried,to reconcile his Father to us.” “The offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, propitiation and satisfaction for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual.” The Westminster Confession thus expresses it, “The Lord Jesus, by his perfect obedience and sacrifice of himself, hath fully satisfied the justice of his Father, and purchased not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inhe
ritance in the kingdom of heaven for all those whom the Father hath given him.” Let us consider what is contained in these propositions.
In the first place, God was angry with men, and his anger was appeased by the sufferings and death of Christ. In the second place, that he suffered the full penalty for all the sins of all mankind; and thirdly, that he has purchased not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven for those whom God has given him. As a counterpart to this, his righteousness is imputed to us, as our guilt is to him; and his righteousness is the ground or reason of our acceptance with God, without respect to what we have done, either good or evil.
Now 'we say, that all these doctrines are essentially incredible, and we mean by incredible so entirely inconsistent with all we know of God, either from his works or his word, that we feel at once that such a system as this cannot make a part of his government. It does not agree with the facts of the case as stated in the Evangelical narrative. It does not agree with the general representations of the Scriptures.
In the first place, it does not agree with the facts of the case. Jesus came among the Jews in the character of their expected Messiah. He assumed the character of a divinely instructed teacher. He undertook to set up a new religion. His ministry is estimated to have continued about three years, most of which time he spent in instructing the
multitudes which came to hear him. He chose twelve disciples, whom he more carefully taught the principles of his religion. He commanded men to repent and reform, and promised them on condition they did so, that their sins should be blotted out and forgiven. He said not one word of any impediment on the part of God. He said nothing of any act of his own, making the Deity more propitious to men than he otherwise would have been. He added moreover, what contradicts one part of this hypothesis, "Bring forth fruits meet for repentance.” What is his whole sermon on the Mount, but one exhortation to practical righteousness? Now how utterly superfluous this was, if this righteousness was to be of no advantage to them, and the whole ground of their acceptance with God was to be his own righteousness imputed to them? And he concludes his first and most important discourse with these remarkable words, “Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man which built his house upon a rock.” And what is the rock which he builds upon? The imputed righteousness of Christ? That is passed over in silence the most profound. The fact, he says, that he has done these commandments of Christ is the rock which storms and floods cannot wash away.
But did his preaching produce general repentance and reformation? It did not. And what was the reason? Because they did not believe. Here then we see the necessity and agency of faith in pro.