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seven men of the sons of Saul should be given up to them to be hanged at Gibeah. David complied; and thus the atonement was made to the Gibeonites. 2 Sam. xxi. 1-9.
It was a law in Israel that the son should not die for the sin of the father; we may therefore suppose that the persons who were thus delivered up, had been accessaries in the wrongs done to the Gibeonites; and this may be intimated by the words—“Saul and his bloody house." This
may then be a second case, in which an atonement was made by destroying the guilty.
We have now in view various forms of making an atonement, and different senses in which the word was used. In the second Chapter of this work the general meaning of the word was explained to be at-one-ment, or reconciliation. It was also observed that atonement means cleansing or purification. That it does so when it was made for inanimate objects, the sanctuary, the tabernacle, perhaps no one will doubt; and this was doubtless the meaning when it is said in the Epistle to the Hebrews, “ almost all things are purged”—that is, cleansed" by blood." The idea of cleansing or purification was also implied in the annual atonements for the congregation. For the priest was expressly required “to make atonement for them, to cleanse them, that they may be clean before the Lord.”
The atonements made “ for the soul,” or the life, by paying the half shekel when the people were numbered, and when the men of war brought their offerings of gold, were, it seems to me, symbolical and grateful acknowledgments of dependence on God, as the Author and Preserver of life. However, when properly offered, they tende
ed to purify the heart, and to bring men near to God; and these are the legitimate purposes of atonements.
The atonements made on the induction of men to the priestly office, were adapted to impress them with just sentiments of their unworthiness, their need of cleansing and reconciliation, and their obligations to God for calling them to such an important work.
The four instances of atonements, made under special indications of God's displeasure, were of an extraordinary nature. One of them was made by the confession and prayer of Moses, who was the Mediator of the Old Covenant. The second by Aaron's placing himself between the dead and the living, and there burning incense, which was doubtless accompanied with his own prayers, the prayers of Moses, and other good men. In the other two cases, the atonements were made by destroying the guilty.
No one, it is presumed, will venture to say that the destruction of Zimri and the seven sons of Saul, were so much as shadows of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Yet these were the only atonements that have been brought to view from the Old Testament, in which the anger of God was displayed in the manner of making the sacrifice.
The annual atonements for the whole congregation, and the occasional atonements for individual offences, were, in my opinion, so far from being displays of God's anger, that they were merciful institutions, adapted to the purpose of impressing the minds of people with a deep sense of their guilt and ill desert, and of the long-suffering and forgiving love of God. It is very true that animals were slain for these sacrifices; they are also slain for food for sinners; and I see no more display of God's anger in the former case than in the latter. The ceremony of laying the hands on the head of the devoted animals, and confessing sins over them, were affecting ceremonies to the spectators, but they occasioned no pain to the victims, whether destined to be slain, or to be sent as scape-goats into the wilderness. They, however, indicated how ready God was to cancel the transgressions of those who suitably humbled themselves for their offences.
As the typical atonements were designed to effect reconciliation and cleansing, so was the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Of those who obey the gospel it may truly be said, they have been “reconciled to God by the death of his Son;” and the same persons may say,
6. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin.” But reconciliation and cleansing are moral or spiritual, not physical, effects.
It may be proper also to remark, that the Mosaic sacrifices were symbolical acts and instituted forms of worship; and, like other external forms, their acceptableness with God depended on the disposition or temper of the worshippers. If they presented their sin-offerings with a broken heart or contrite spirit, it was truly acceptable to God. But however abundant their sin-offerings or symbolical confessions of sin might be, if offered with an impenitent mind, or hands “full of blood,” their conduct was odious in the sight of him who looketh on the heart. It hence appears to me impossible that the typical atonements could be of the nature of substitutes for punishment. They were doubtless merciful institutions to prevent punishment by effecting reconciliation.
The days of annual atonement among the Israelites, in respect to their design, may perhaps be properly com
pared with the days of annual fasting in New England. They were days in which the people were called on to unite in humbling themselves before God for their offences, confessing their sins, and imploring the forgiveness of God. Their sin-offerings were symbolical acts by which they confessed their sins and their desert of divine displeasure ; and by which also they expressed their hope of pardon.
The Passover appears to have had all the characteristics of an atonement, except the name; and in what is said of the death of the Messiah, in the New Testament, there is perhaps more frequent allusions to the paschal sacrifice than to any other of the Mosaic institutions. The Passover then may afford light on the great subject of inquiry.
When God was about to smite all the first born of Egypt, he made a merciful provision for the Israelites, that all their families might be exempted from so great à calamity, by a compliance with very easy conditions. They were forewarned of the time when the first-born of Egypt were to be slain, and what to do for their own safety. The calamity was to commence at midnight. In the evening, each family of the Israelites was to sacrifice a lamb, unless the family was too small. In that case, two families were to unite and slay one lamb for both.
They were to take of the blood of the lamb and strike it on the two side-posts and on the upper door-post of their houses, and eat the flesh in that night roasted with fire. Respecting the blood, the Lord said to them" The blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you, to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt." Exod. xii. 13.
As a memorial of such mercy to them, the Israelites were required to observe the Passover, as a national anniversary in all succeeding ages. In reference to posterity the following directions were given to the parents :
“ It shall come to pass when your children shall say unto you, What mean ye by this service, that ye shall say, It is the sacrifice of the Lord's Passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when he smote the Egyptians and delivered our houses.” Exod. xii. 26, 27.
The Passover was obviously instituted as a saving sacrifice, and well adapted to make good impressions on the minds of the Israelites. But what do we see in it of divine anger, or substituted punishment ? There was indeed preventive sufferings. The lamb suffered death to prevent the Israelites from being involved in calamity. But the sufferings of the lamb were not a substitute for the sufferings which might justly have been inflicted on the people of Israel. They were only appointed means for preventing evil. The whole affair appears to me an expression of mercy to a sinful people, and designed to lead them to reflect on their guilt and ill desert, and to place their hope in a forgiving God.
I am not aware of any thing in the Old Testament more clearly typical of the death of the Messiah, than the pas