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OF THE PARTICULAR SYSTEM OF CHRISTIANITY—THE APPOINTMENT OF A MEDIATOR, AND THE REDEMPTION OF THE WORLD BY HIM.
I. Proceeding to answer other Particular Objections.—Analogy shows that there can be no objection against the general notion of a Mediator.
II. This analogy appears more fully upon the supposition of future punishments following in the way of natural consequences.
III. The Analogy of Nature shows that there is no probability that behaving well for the future, or any thing that we could do, would alone, and of itself, prevent the consequences of vice.
IV. The Scripture view of Redemption explained, and two Objections against the Atonement answered, viz., “That we can not see the efficacy of it, and that it represents the innocent as suffering for the guilty.”
I. THE whole analogy of nature removes all imagined presumption against the general notion of a Mediator between God and man; for we find all living creatures are brought into the world, and their life, in infancy, is preserved by the instrumentality 154 of others; and every satisfaction of it is bestowed by the like means. Is not then the supposition that His invisible government is, in part, at least, carried on by the like means as credible as the contrary? The light of nature, therefore, furnishes no presumption against the general notion of a mediator5050The instances of Codrus, the last Athenian king, exposing himself to inevitable death; and Marcus Curtius, a noble Roman, leaping into the gulf, have been both considered, from the certainty of the offering, and the feelings of their respective nations, as proofs of a disposition in mankind to think that the voluntary and certain death of a person reputed noble and innocent (Pliny says of Curtius, “virtute ac pietate ac morte præclara expleverat”), may prevent impending and Divinely threatened calamities. Vide the Epistle to the Romans, v., 7, 8. “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” (and it is against this that the objection is urged, not against mediation in that high, eminent, and peculiar sense in which Christ is our Mediator), since we find by experience that God does appoint mediators to be the instruments of good and evil to us—the instruments of His justice and His mercy.
II. The moral government of the world (which must be supposed before we can consider the revealed doctrine of its redemption by Christ) implies that the consequence of vice shall be misery in some future state, by the righteous judgment of God; but since we are altogether unacquainted 155 how future punishment is to follow wickedness, there is no absurdity in supposing that it may follow of course, or in the way of natural consequence, from God’s original constitution of the world (in the same way as many miseries follow particular courses of action at present)—from the nature He has given us, and from the condition in which He places us; or in like manner, as a person rashly trifling upon a precipice falls down, breaks his limbs, and without help perishes—all in the way of natural consequence.
OBJECTION. Is not this taking the execution of justice out of the hands of God, and giving it to nature?
ANSWER. When things come to pass according to the course of nature, this does not prevent them from being His doing, who is the God of nature; and Scripture ascribes those punishments to Divine justice, which are known to be natural. Yet, after all, this supposition is of no consequence, but a mere illustration of our argument; for, as it must be admitted that future punishment is not a matter of arbitrary appointment, but of reason, equity, and justice, so it amounts to perhaps the same thing, whether they follow by a natural consequence or in any other way. Without this supposition, we have a sufficient analogy, but with it, we have a full analogy in the course of nature for a provision made for preventing the future consequences of 156 vice from following inevitably, and in all cases. For there is at present a provision made, that all the bad natural consequences of men’s actions should not always actually follow, but should in certain degrees be prevented. As the Author of nature permits evil, so He has provided reliefs, and in many cases, perfect remedies for it—reliefs and remedies even for that evil which is the fruit of our own misconduct, and which otherwise would have ended in our destruction. And this is an instance both of severity and of indulgence in the constitution of nature. Thus all the bad consequences, now mentioned, of a man’s trifling upon a precipice might be prevented; or some, at least, by the assistance of others, in obedience to the suggestion of their nature, and by this assistance being accepted. Now, suppose the constitution of nature were other wise; that the natural bad consequences of actions, foreseen to have such consequences, could not, in any instance, be prevented, after the actions were committed, no one can say whether such a more severe constitution of things might not have been really good. But the contrary being the case, this may be called mercy or compassion, in the original constitution of the world—compassion, as distinguished from goodness in general. Therefore, the whole known constitution and course of things affording us instances of such compassion, it would be according to the analogy of nature to hope that 157 however ruinous the natural consequences of vice might be, from the general laws of God’s government over the universe; yet provision might be made, possibly might have been originally made, for preventing these ruinous consequences from inevitably following, at least from following universally and in all cases. Some will, perhaps, wonder at finding it spoken of as at all doubtful, that the ruinous consequences of vice might be prevented, having scarcely any apprehension or thought at all concerning the matter. But, judging from the present scene, we find the effects of even rashness and neglect are often extreme misery, irretrievable ruin, and even death. Now, it is natural to apprehend that the bad consequences of irregularity will be greater in proportion as the irregularity is so. And there is no comparison between these irregularities and the greater instances of vice, whereby mankind have presumptuously introduced confusion and misery into the kingdom of God. So that, as no one can say in what degree fatal the unprevented consequences of vice may be, according to the general rule of Divine government, so it is, by no means, intuitively certain, how far these consequences could possibly be prevented, consistently with the eternal rule of right, or with what is, in fact, the moral constitution of nature. However, there would be large ground to hope, that the universal government was not so severely strict, but 158 that there was room for pardon, or for having those penal consequences prevented. Yet,
There seems no probability that any thing we could do would alone,
and of itself, prevent them; for we do not know all the reasons
which render future punishments necessary, nor all the natural
consequences of vice, nor in what manner they would follow if unprevented, and, therefore, we can not say whether we could
thing which would be sufficient to prevent them. Farther, that
repentance and reformation alone, and by itself, is wholly
insufficient to prevent the future consequences of vice,5151 The case of penitence is
clearly different from that of innocence—it implies a mixture of
guilt precontracted, and punishment proportionably deserved; it is
consequently in consistent with rectitude that both should be
treated alike by God. The present conduct of the penitent will
receive God’s approbation; but the reformation of the sinner can not
have a retrospective effect; the agent may be changed, but his
former sins can not be thereby canceled. The convert and the sinner
are the same individual person, and the agent must be answerable for
his whole conduct.—Balguy’s Essay on Redemption.
Cicero goes no farther on this head than to assert—Quem pœnitet peccasse, pene est innocens.—Dr. Shuckford. or to put us in the condition in which we should have been had we preserved our innocence, appears plainly credible from analogy; for we see it does not avail in a much lower capacity. In their temporal capacity, men ruin their fortunes, and bring on diseases, by extravagance and excess. Will sorrow for these follies 159past, and behaving well for the future, alone and of itself, prevent the natural consequences of them? On the contrary, their natural abilities of helping themselves are often impaired; or, if not, yet they are absolutely forced to seek assistance from others for retrieving their affairs.
2d. It is contrary to all our notions of govern ment, that reformation alone would prevent all the judicial bad consequences of having done evil:5252If it be said that this would not be proper in human governments, because they may easily be deceived by false shows of repentance; I answer, that, supposing human governors could certainly distinguish a true repentance from a false one, the inconvenience of such a constitution to the public would still be the same; for it would encourage persons to commit crimes, in hopes of doing it with impunity, since every criminal would think that, in order to escape punishment, he had nothing more to do but to repent, and that this alone would satisfy the law; and he would be apt to flatter himself that this was at any time in his power.—Leland against Tindal. and though it might prevent them in some cases, yet we could not determine in what degree and in what cases it would do so.
It is also contrary to the general sense of mankind, as appears from
the general prevalence of propitiatory sacrifices over the heathen world.5353 That
the heathen supposed their animal sacrifices to be not only of
an expiatory, but of a vicarious nature, might be shown from a
variety of passages. The following from the Book of Ovid’s Fasti is
full to the point:
“Cor pro corde, precor, pro fibris, sumite fibras
Hanc animam vobis pro meliore damus.”
IV. In this darkness, or this light of nature, call 160 in which you please, Revelation comes in—confirms every doubting fear which could enter into the heart of man concerning the future unprevented consequence of wickedness—supposes the world to be in a state of ruin (a supposition which seems the very groundwork of the Christian dispensation, and which, if not provable by reason, yet is in no wise contrary to it)—teaches us too, that the rules of. Divine government are such as not to admit of pardon immediately and directly upon repentance, or by the sole efficacy of it; but then teaches, at the same time, what nature might justly have hoped, that the moral government of the universe was not so rigid but that there was room for an interposition; and that God hath mercifully provided this interposition to prevent the destruction of the human kind. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him (i. e., in a practical sense) should not perish.” He gave his Son in the same way of goodness to the world as He affords particular persons the friendly assistance of their fellow-creatures; when without it, their temporal ruin would be the certain consequence of their follies—in the same way of goodness, I say, though in a transcendent and infinitely higher degree. And the Son of God loved us, and gave himself for us, with a love which he himself compares to that of human friendship; though, in this case, all comparisons must fall infinitely short 161 of the thing intended to be illustrated by them. He interposed in such a manner as to prevent the appointed or natural punishment that would otherwise have been executed upon them.5454It can not, I suppose, be imagined, that it is affirmed or implied, in any thing said in this chapter, that none can have the benefit of the general redemption but such as have the advantage of being made acquainted with it in the present life. But it may be needful to mention, that several questions, which have been brought into the subject before us, and determined, are not in the least entered into here—questions which have been, I fear, rashly determined, and, perhaps, with equal rashness contrary ways. For instance, “Whether God could have saved the world by other means than the death of Christ, consistently with the general laws of his government?” And “Had not Christ come into the world, what would have been the future condition of the better sort of men—those just persons over the face of the earth, for whom Manasses, in his prayer, asserts repentance was not appointed?” The meaning of the first of these questions is greatly ambiguous; and neither of them can properly be answered without going upon that infinitely absurd supposition that we know the whole of the case. And, perhaps, the very inquiry, What would have followed, if God had not done as he has? may have in it some very great impropriety, and ought not to be carried on any farther than is necessary to help our partial conceptions of things.—Butler. Nor is there any thing here inconsistent with Divine goodness; for were we to suppose the constitution of things to be such that the whole creation must have perished, but for something appointed by God to prevent it, even this supposition would not be inconsistent, in any degree, with the most absolutely perfect goodness.162
OBJECTION. But Christianity supposes mankind to be naturally in a very strange state of degradation.
ANSWER. This is true, but it is not Christianity which has put us into this state, and there will be little reason to object against the Scripture account, if we consider the miseries and wickedness of the world; the wrongness which the best experience within themselves; and that the natural appearances of human degradation were so strong, that the heathen moralists inferred it from them, and that the earth, our habitation, has the appearances of being a ruin. It was, according to Scripture, the crime of our first parents that placed us in this state, and this account of the occasion of our being placed in a more disadvantageous condition is particularly analogous to what we see in the daily course of natural Providence, as the recovery of the world by Christ has been shown to be so in general.
But let us consider the Scripture account of the particular manner in which Christ interposed in the redemption of the world, or his office of mediator, in the largest sense between God and man. He is the light of the world5555John, i., and viii., 12.—the revealer of the will of God in the most eminent sense. He is a propitiatory sacrifice5656Rom., iii., 25, and v., 11; Cor., v., 7; Eph., v., 2; 1 John, ii., 2; Mat., xxvi., 28.—the Lamb of God5757John, i., 29, 3C6 and throughout the Book of Revelation.—our High 163Priest5858Throughout the Epistle to the Hebrews.—and, what seems of peculiar weight, he is described beforehand, in the Old Testament, under the same characters of a Priest and an expiatory victim.5959Is., liii.; Dan., ix., 24; Ps., cx., 4.
OBJECTION. Christ’s atonement is merely by way of allusion to the sacrifices of the Mosaic law.
ANSWER. The Apostle, on the contrary, asserts, that the “law was a shadow of good things to come;”6060Heb., x., 1. that the Levitical priesthood was a shadow or type of the priesthood of Christ (Heb., viii., 4, 5), in like manner, as the tabernacle made by Moses, was a copy of that shown him in the mount. Nor can any thing be more express than the following passage: “It is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sin. Wherefore, when he cometh into the world, he saith, sacrifice and offering (i. e., of bulls and goats) thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me. Lo! I come to do thy will, O God. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Heb., x., 4, 5, 7, 9, 10. Again, “Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many, and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time, without sin, unto salvation.” Heb., ix., 28. Without sin, i. e., without bearing sin—without being a sin-offering. 164 Moreover, Scripture declares that there is an efficacy in what Christ did and suffered for us, additional to and beyond mere instruction, example, and government. That Jesus should die for that nation (the Jews), and not for that nation only, but that also, plainly by the efficacy of his death, he should gather together in one the children that are scattered abroad;6161John, xi., 51, 52. that he suffered for sins, the just for the unjust;62621 Pet., iii., 18. that he gave his life—himself a ransom;6363Mat., xx., 29. Vide, also, Mark, x., 45; 1 Tim., ii., 6; 2 Pet., ii., 1; Rev., xiv., 4; 1 Cor., vi., 20; 1 Pet., i., 19; Rev., v., 9; Gal., iii., 13; Heb., vii., 25; 1 John, ii., 1, 2; Heb., ii., 10, and v., 9; 2 Cor., v., 19; Rom., v., 10; Eph., ii., 16; Heb., ii., 14. See also a remarkable passage in the Book of Job, xxxiii., 24; Phil., ii., 8, 9; John, iii., 35, and v., 22, 23; Rev., v., 12, 13. that he is our advocate, intercessor, and propitiation.
Let us now consider the nature of Christ’s office, according to the three heads under which it is usually treated of, namely Prophet, Priest, and Kin, reserving the second head for the last, in order to answer the objections against it. First. He was, by way of eminence, the Prophet—that Prophet that should come into the world6464John, vi., 14. to declare the Divine will. He taught authoritatively; Ile gave to the moral system of nature the additional evidence of testimony; He distinctly revealed the manner in which God would be worshipped, the efficacy of 165 repentance, and a future state of rewards and punishments; and He set us a perfect example, that we should follow his steps. Secondly. He is a King, as he has a kingdom which is not of this world. He founded a visible church, to be a standing memorial of religion, and invitation to it; over this He exercises an invisible government, “for the perfecting of the saints—for the edifying his body.”6565Eph., iv., 12. All persons who live in obedience to his laws are members of this church, and for these he is gone to prepare a place, and will come again to receive them to himself;6666John, xiv., 2; Rev., iii., 21, and xi., 15. and likewise to take vengeance on those that know not God, and obey not his Gospel.67672 Thes., i., 8.
Against these parts of Christ’s office there are no objections, but what are fully obviated in the beginning of this chapter.
Thirdly. As to the priesthood of Christ, he offered himself a propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of the world. Expiatory sacrifices were commanded the Jews, and obtained among other nations from traditions, the original of which was probably revelation. These were continually repeated. “But now, once in the end of the world, Christ appeared to put away sin, by the sacrifice of himself.”6868Heb., ix., 26. How the atonement has this efficacy, which the heathen sacrifices had not, and the Jewish had only in a 166 very limited degree, Scripture has not revealed to us. Some have gone beyond what the Scripture has authorized in explaining it; and others, because they could not explain it, have rejected it, and confine the office of Christ, as Redeemer of the world, to his instruction, example, and government of the church. Whereas the Gospel doctrine is, not only that He taught the efficacy of repentance, but that He made it of the efficacy which it is, by what He did and suffered for us; that he revealed to sinners that they were in a capacity of salvation, and how they might obtain it, and also put them in that capacity.
1st OBJECTION. We do not see the necessity or expediency of the sacrifice of Christ.
ANSWER. Our ignorance with regard to the means, manner, and occasion of future punishments, and with regard to the nature of future happiness, shows evidently that we are not judges, antecedently to revelation, whether a Mediator was or was not necessary. And for the very same reasons, upon supposition of the necessity of a Mediator, we are not judges, antecedently to revelation, of the whole nature of his office. And, therefore, no objection can be urged against any part of that office, until it can be shown positively not to be requisite to the ends proposed, or that it is in itself unreasonable. There seems to be something of this positive kind in this.167
2d OBJECTION. “The doctrine of Christ’s being appointed to suffer for the sins of the world, represents God as being indifferent whether he punished the innocent or the guilty.”
ANSWER. 1. This is not an objection against Christianity merely; but concludes as much against the constitution of nature, since, in the daily course of natural providence, it is appointed that innocent persons should suffer for the guilty. The objection does not apply the more against the appointment in Christianity, because it is of infinitely greater importance, since notwithstanding, it may be, as it plainly is, an appointment of the same kind, but it would apply (if it had any force) more against the appointment in nature, where we are commanded, and even necessitated, to suffer for the faults of others; whereas the sufferings of Christ were voluntary. Yet, there is no objection to the former; for, upon the completion of the moral scheme every one shall receive according to his deserts. But during the progress of this scheme, vicarious punishments may be fit and absolutely necessary. 2d. This method of our redemption is unanswerably justified by its apparent natural tendency—its tendency to vindicate the authority of God’s laws, and to deter his creatures from sin.
This (though by no means an account of the whole of the case) would be a sufficient answer to objections of the foregoing kind, which are insisted 168 upon, either from ignorance of what are to be considered God’s appointments, or forgetfulness of the daily instances of this case in those appointments; and, from this ignorance or forgetfulness, together with their inability of seeing how the sufferings of Christ could contribute to the redemption of the world, unless by arbitrary and tyrannical will, they conclude that they could not contribute to it any other way. But to see the absurdity of such an objection against Christianity, or, as it really is, against the constitution of nature, let us consider what it amounts to—that a Divine appointment can not be necessary or expedient, because the objector does not discern it to be so, though he must own that the nature of the case is such as renders him incapable of judging whether it be so or not, or of seeing it to be necessary, though it were so! The presumption of this kind of objections to particular things revealed in Scripture, seems almost lost in the folly of them; and the folly of them is yet greater, when they are urged, as usually they are, against things in Christianity analogous or like to those natural dispensations of Providence which are matter of experience. And the absurdity is still farther heightened by the consideration that we are not actively concerned in the parts, the expediency of which can not be understood, for these relate to the Divine conduct, which is a very different subject from our duty, with respect to which 169 none need plead want of information. The constitution of the world, and God’s natural government over it, is all a mystery, as much as the Christian dispensation. Yet, under the first, He has given men all things pertaining to life (though it is but an infinitely small part of natural providence which experience teaches us), and, under the others, all things pertaining unto godliness. There is no obscurity in the common precepts of Christianity; though, if there were, a Divine command ought to impose the strongest obligation to obedience. But the reasons of all the Christian precepts are evident. Positive institutions are necessary to keep up and propagate religion. The internal and external worship which we owe to Christ arises out of what He has done and suffered for us—out of His authority, and the relation He (according to revelation) stands in to us.170
1. Show that there can be no objection from analogy against the general notion of a Mediator.
2. In reasoning upon the redemption of the world, what supposition may we, without absurdity, assume, respecting the way in which punishment may follow sin?
3. Answer the objection that, “supposing punishment to be the natural consequence of sin, is taking the execution of justice out of the hands of God.”
4. Give fully the argument illustrating the assertion that “with this supposition, we have a full analogy, in the course of nature, for a provision made for preventing the future consequences of vice from following inevitably and in all cases.”
5. How may we prove the unreasonableness of those who wonder at finding it spoken of as at all doubtful that the ruinous consequences of vice might have been prevented?
6. What considerations show the improbability that behaving well for the future, or any thing that we could do, would alone, and of itself, prevent the fatal consequences of vice?
7. What confirmation is given to the teaching of the light of nature by the Scriptural view of man’s redemption?171
8. Prove that there is no weight in the objection that “Christianity supposes mankind to be naturally in a very strange state of degradation.”
9. Explain at large, under three different heads, the particular manner in which Christ interposed in the redemption of the world.
10. Against what part of Christ’s office have most objections been urged, and how have men erred on contrary sides in their reasonings concerning it?
11. Answer the following objections: 1st. We do not see the necessity or expediency of the sacrifice of Christ.
12. 2d Objection. The doctrine of Christ’s being appointed to suffer for the sins of the world, represents God as being indifferent whether He punished the innocent or the guilty.
13. By what arguments does Butler expose the presumption and folly of these, and similar objections, to particular things revealed in Scripture?172
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