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If we may infer abhorrence of sin from the infliction of penal evils on the innocent, why may we not reverse the rule, and infer abhorrence of virtue from punishment inflicted on the wicked ?
How does punishing the innocent prove that in God's view the wicked deserve to be punished? Can a parent prove to the guilty members of his family, that, in his view, wicked children deserve to be punished, by inflicting their deserts upon one who is known to them all as the unoffending and dutiful son? And what parent would ever think of adopting this method to prove to his children, that the disobedient and impenitent will certainly be punished? Should an earthly parent, or a king, adopt such a method for the display of such “moral truths,” would he not be either suspected of insanity, or accused of abominable injustice ? An affirmative answer must be given to the last question by every enlightened, mind; and yet this very policy is ascribed to God!
Before we suffer ourselves to ascribe to God a principle of conduct so manifestly unjust when adopted by men, we ought, it seems to me, to inquire very seriously, whether the passages of Scripture on which the doctrine is said to be founded, are not capable of a fair interpretation more consistent with the common ideas of moral justice which God has impressed on the human mind. To this inquiry I shall proceed, with a cheering hope of being able to show, that the doctrine of substituted punishment is destitute of any support from the oracles of God. In pursuing these inquiries I shall perhaps expose myself to the charge of being prolix, minute, and in some instances repetitional; but I hope my readers will bear in mind the infinite importance of the question to be decided, the multiplicity
and strength of the prepossessions in favor of the popular hypothesis, and the consequent importance of a varied and thorough examination of the subject. I shall be more solicitous to leave “no stone unturned,” the turning of which may be necessary to the removal of false impressions relating to the government and the character of God, than to acquire reputation for the conciseness of my statements and illustrations.
The Ransom paid for Sinners.
“ Even as the Son of Man came to give his life a ransom for many.'
Matt. xx. 28. “Who gave himself a ransom for all.” 1 Tim. ii. 6.
As the word ransom, in its primary sense, meant the price paid for the redemption of a slave,—and as it is said, that Christ came to give his life a ransom for many ;
it has been inferred with wonderful confidence, that his sufferings were a substitute or equivalent for the miseries due to the wicked.
I have no occasion to deny that the word originally meant what has been asserted ; but as a ransom primarily meant the price given for the freedom of a slave, any means by which liberty was procured would soon be called a ransom. Then as a further variation from the original meaning, the word would be applied to any means by which deliverance was effected from any species of thraldom, oppression, or calamity. By a little reflection it may be found that the word is used with all this latitude of
meaning, in common discourse and modern writings, and also in the Bible.
The words ransomed, redeemed, purchased, bought, are of similar import, when used in reference to procuring freedom for a slave ; and they are all metaphorically used to denote deliverance, or the means of deliverance, from any evil, whether natural or moral; or the means of procuring any privileges, temporal or spiritual.
The Rev. Legh Richmond, of England, in his Missionary Sermon, furnishes an example directly to the purpose. In urging the Protestants of that country to liberal exertions for sending the gospel to the heathen, he brought to view what a "host of martyrs ” had formerly done and suffered to furnish them with the gospel in its purity. He then said to his audience-"Show that you value the blessings which the first Protestants purchased for you with their very lives."
In the same metaphorical sense, the Israelites, in the Old Testament, are called a “purchased congregation,” “ the ransomed of the Lord.” So in the New Testament, Christians are represented as a "purchased inheritance" -a purchased or“ peculiar people”-a people whom the Lord "purchased with his blood.”.
In a Result of an Ecclesiastical Council held at Groton, in speaking of the rights of the New England churches, the Council say—“rights repeatedly bought with blood." This doubtless refers to the blood shed in the wars of our country. With equal propriety they might have said, rights purchased with blood—or ransomed with blood. Such language has been much used by our countrymen in reference to the privileges supposed to be procured by the revolutionary war. In all countries, similar language
may have been common, and probably was so in the time of the Apostles. There is, therefore, no occasion to suppose that they departed from the customary use of language in speaking of sinners as bought, ransomed, purchased, or redeemed by the blood of Christ-meaning that he sacrificed his life for the good of mankind, and that God meant and overruled his sufferings for our deliverance from sin and misery. One thing, however, is to be carefully observed : Christ did not lose his life in attempts to destroy others. His glory did not consist in fighting with carnal weapons till he fell in battle; but in the display of a meek and forgiving temper towards insulting and cruel foesseeking their good with his dying breath!
It may now be further remarked, that when the word ransom is used in its primary sense, it always implies a party to whom the price is paid, as well as a redeemer. Those, therefore, who insist on the primary sense when the word is used in reference to Christ, should be prepared to tell us to whom the ransom was paid. Sinners are represented as being in servitude to Satan and also to sin ; but it is hoped that no Christian of this age will pretend that it was to either of these that Christ paid a ransom for sinners. Will it then help the matter, to say, that the ransom was paid to God? Not unless we are prepared to impute to God the character of the slave-holder, by whom sinners had been kept in bondage. Dr. Murdock has informed us in the Appendix to his Discouse, that there was a time when eminent ministers of the church maintained that the ransom was paid to the devil,*
*. Thus Justin, Irenæus, Clemens Alex , Tertullian, Origen, 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,
but afterwards the opinion prevailed that it was paid to God. Each of these hypotheses appears to me absurd, if nothing worse; and both may be avoided by only supposing that the Apostles used such language in its common and figurative sense, to express the means by which men have been delivered from existing or impending evils—or by which they obtained important privileges.
The Israelites were once in bondage to Pharaoh, and were ransomed by Jehovah. Now what ransom did God give for the redemption of this multitude of slaves ? At what price were they "purchased” or “ bought.” The fact is, God gave
Pharaoh and many of his people as a ransom for the Israelites. "I gave Egypt for thy ransom," said God to his chosen people. Isaiah xliii. 3. In this sense of the word any means by which deliverance from evil is effected, may be called a ransom. By great sufferings brought on Egypt, God ransomed Israel from slavery. In these sufferings there was indeed a display of divine displeasure: but they were not a substitute for the punishment due to the Israelites. Hence the word, as used in reference to our Lord, affords no proof that his sufferings were a substitute for the punishment due to those for
Athanasius, and Ambrose, held that the ransom was paid to God: a sentiment which was generally held by the schoolmen.” App. p. 41.
It is not easy to decide which of these hypotheses is the more absurd, or the more pernicious. The latter, however, might lead to the idea that the atonement was designed to appease the anger of God: and when the progress of light rendered this idea shocking to reflecting men, a modification would naturally be sought. This might be supposed to be found in the hypothesis, that the justice of God stood in the way of pardon, and rendered substituted suffering necessary. But whether this obviates more difficulties than it involves, is a question not easy to decide.