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Lord's supper, the affecting memorial of his death, has often been prostituted by the professed ministers of the gospel, to the dreadful purpose of encouraging and preparing officers and soldiers for the work of military murder! and that the symbol of the cross, for the same horrid purpose, has been a common military standard in the wars of Christian nations !
It would doubtless be unjust to impute the wars of Christian nations, wholly to the prevalence of the common hypothesis relating to the atonement; or to insinuate, that all who have possessed such views, have been promoters of war; or to represent that all who have dissented from such views of the sacrifice have been saved from the delusions of war. Too inany of the latter class have, doubtless, been carried along by the current of popular opinion ; and I am happy in the belief, that not a few of the former have been, in spirit and in practice, the friends of peace. But as it is a clear case, that the atoning sacrifice was designed as a means to reconcile men to one another, as well as unto God, a means for hastening the period when wars shall cease to the ends of the earth ; and as it is equally clear, that the popular views of the atonement have long prevailed, and yet have done little, if any thing, to prevent war, or promote peace; it may be both reasonable and important to inquire, whether in fact such views are more adapted to promote forbearance and peace than revenge
The popular doctrine of substituted punishment involves the following suppositions,—that God could not consistently forgive the penitent sinner, on any other ground, than that of inflicting such displays of avenging justice on an innocent substitute, as were equivalent to the evils due to
sinful men; and that such displays of justice were actually made in the sufferings of his Son.
It may then be asked, what do we perceive in this theory, which is adapted to melt the heart, or to impress the mind with the loveliness of a forbearing and forgiving temper in a sovereign? What do we here see, which has a tendency to excite, or to cherish a benignant spirit in men, towards such as have injured them? If God himself could not forgive, without first making an awful display of avenging justice, why should an earthly sovereign, or any other being? If God might wisely display his wrath against offenders, by inflicting evil on the innocent as their substitute, why may not the rulers of a state adopt the same policy? On the whole, what do we see in the conduct or disposition of God, as represented in this theory, which bears any resemblance to the forbearing and forgiving spirit, which was exemplified by his Son, and which is required by Christ of all his disciples? And is not this view of the atonement more adapted to cherish in men the spirit of resentment and war, than that of forbearance and peace?.
The doctrine, that a display of avenging justice was necessary to " vindicate the honor of the law,” or “the honor of God,” in the pardon of the penitent, bears such a resemblance to the principle of "honor,” among warriors and duellists, that I cannot but suspect, that it owes its origin more to the spirit and policy of the world, than to any thing which is contained in the gospel. Besides, there is, what'appears to me, a shocking resemblance between the reasonings in favor of the common theory of the atonement, and the reasonings in favor of the war policy. How often do we hear the advocates of war, justify retaliatory and vindictive measures, as necessary to vindicate the honor of a government, a state, or an individual, calling them measures of defence, to prevent further injuries from the same party, or examples of redressing wrongs, to deter others, or as manifestations of a patriotic and heroic spirit, from which all may learn, that injuries will not pass unpunished ? How often, too, is it said, that a forbearing spirit under injuries, only invites further aggres sions ?
Let, then, a candid inquiry be made. Is not the reasoning in favor of the war policy, the same in principle, as that in favor of the popular theory of the atonement ? How uniformly do the advocates for this theory reason on the hypothesis, that "the honor of the divine law," and “ the honor of God,” required a display of avenging justice, in order to the pardon of the humbled sinner? that this was also necessary for deterring intelligent beings from transgression, by the assurance it gave, that no sin would pass unpunished ! How often too is it said, in this case as well as the other, that if offenders had been pardoned without such a display of justice or anger, men would have been encouraged to sin with the hope of impunity!
If there be a fallacy in supposing that the reasonings in the two cases are of similar import, and on the same general principles, I freely admit, that I have not yet possessed discernment enough to detect it. But if I am correct in supposing that the reasonings are so similar, can it be wonderful, that such views of the atonement have had no mfluence to render war unpopular in Christendom? Would it not, rather, be wonderful, if they had not had much influence to cherish the vindictive spirit of war, and to render it popular among men ?
That the predictions of the ancient prophets respecting the peace of the world under the reign of the Messiah, have not been fulfilled, during the period of eighteen hundred years since he made his appearance on earth, has doubtless been a matter of wonder to millions of Christians, as well as matter of exultation to unbelievers. But probably a great majority of these wondering Christians have themselves been, in one form or another, promoters of war; and if each of them would impartially examine, he might find, in his own bosom, a miniature of the very thing which has obstructed or delayed the fulfilment of the divine predictions. It was not foretold, that wars should cease by the influence of the gospel, while Christians themselves should continue to cherish the principles and the spirit of war; and to expect that wars will cease while such is the policy of Christians, is as unreasonable, as it would be to hope, that Temperate Societies will put an end to the practice of intemperance, if even a majority of their own members should be known to be habitual drunkards. It has long been a common thing for Christians to pray, that the predicted reign of peace on earth may commence; but until there shall be a greater consistency between their prayers and their practice, it is in vain to expect that wars will cease. When Christians shall cease to be promoters of war, war will cease to spread its ravages among them; but while they nourish the monster, by praising his exploits, and cherishing his spirit in their own bosoms, they may expect to share in his desolating enterprises.
I may also say, that I have little hope that Christians in general will renounce the principles or the practice of war, so long as it shall remain the popular belief, that God
himself could not forgive his penitent children, but on the ground of having inflicted on his innocent Son such penal evils, as were equivalent to all the miseries which they have deserved. As long as Christians shall believe, that they have the example of God to justify vindictive feelings and measures against such as have injured them, the opposite example of the Son of God will not be likely to have its due influence on their minds. I say opposite example of the Son of God, for at the very moment when the Father is supposed to have been pouring out the vials of his wrath on his immaculate Son, as our substitute, this very Son was employing his dying breath in fervent prayer that his murderers might be forgiven! What a contrast ! the Father punishing the innocent, and the Son praying for the guilty! The Father inflicting penal evils on an obedient Son, who loved him with all the heart; and the Son praying that favor might be shown to his persecuting foes, who were insulting him while in the agonies of death!
The Atoning Sacrifice a Means for the Pacification of the
“ HEREIN is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.