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50 Suppose again that this report originated with your de friends, that they circulated it in the belief that such con
duct on your part was great evidence of your wisdom and rectitude, and that such a disposition in you was the glory of your character ; would you not, nevertheless, be grieved that such an opinion had acquired belief? Would you not say that your friends had certainly formed mistaken views in regard to your feelings and your conduct towards your children? that although you had known them to transgress, and had been much grieved when they had gone astray, yet your loving kindness had never been withdrawn from them, and that they could still behold in their father a friend ? that you never had done such a thing as to inflict evil on an innocent son, as a substitute for the guilty, and that the thought of so doing was enough to fill your mind with horror ?
I will go one step further. Suppose that of the many friends who had believed 'the unfavorable report, one,
if not more, had become fully convinced, not only that the report was a misrepresentation of facts, but really injurious to your reputation ; would you not deem it incumbent on him, as your friend, to endeavor to convince his brethren? And should he plead that he could not do so without exposing himself to suspicion and reproach-that many would be likely to say, that while he prosesses to be your friend he is at heart your enemy; would this in your opinion be a sufficient excuse? If these questions should receive such answers from your conscience as I think they will, I may proceed with my appeal.
Is there then no danger that your views of the atonement are incorrect, while they impute to God a moral character which you would deem reproachful if imputed to yourself? I say a moral character, because God's mode of forgiveness must proceed from his own disposition, and not from any extraneous cause, or any defect of knowledge or power.
The effects which I wish to produce by this appeal are these-a conviction that the question to be discussed is of the most serious nature ; a question relating to the moral character of God, and consequently one which demands of the writer, and the reader, the spirit of candor and impartiality, with a sincere desire to know and understand what the Spirit has said to the churches on this important subject.
All who have duly attended to the history of our Savior's ministry, must have observed the sad effects which resulted to the unbelieving Jews, from their self-sufficiency and the confidence with which they adhered to traditionary opinions, relating to their expected Messiah. This self-sufficiency and this confidence prepared them to reject the clearest proofs of the divinity of our Lord's mission, and to impute to “the faithful and true witness” the character of an impostor and a blasphemer. The facts of this case were doubtless recorded as an admonition to succeeding generations of men, and particularly of Christians, lest they should reject discoveries of the truth, on the same ground that the Scribes and Pharisees rejected Him who is “the way, the truth, and the life."
We are required to be “ followers of God as dear children.” By which I understand that we should cultivate in our own hearts such love to one another, as God has manifested towards us all. If then it should be found that opinions have been adopted which impute to God a moral character which a good man cannot imitate, and would
deem reproachful if imputed to himself; should we not inquire with great candor and seriousness, whether those opinions did not result from misinterpretations of Scripture? The ambiguity of words and phrases is often an occasion of error. If I am correct in the opinion that erroneous views of the atonement have been extensively entertained, I think it will be found that the ambiguity of a few words and phrases has probably been in a great measure the occasion of those errors. When an hypothesis has become popular, respecting the purpose of God in an important event, the passages of Scripture which relate to that occurrence will of course be so explained as to favor the received hypothesis. The passages may be so ambiguous as to be obviously capable of two very different meanings; yet that meaning will be esteemed the most natural, which habit has rendered most familiar to the mind. Hence it may require much candor and reflection to dispose a person to relinquish a meaning which is really false, for the one intended by the inspired writer. Had the word atonement been used only in the sense which the writers of opposite opinions acknowledge to be its true meaning, and had there been but one sense in which a person may be said to die or suffer for another, or to bear the sins of many, the church of Christ might probably never have been agitated by controversies relating to his death. And even this discord of opinion, great as it really is, would not have produced bitterness and alienation, had Christians in general been duly aware of the liability of all men to err, and had each been disposed to exercise such candor towards others as he thinks others ought to exercise towards himself.
General Remarks and Explanations.
That the gospel atonement, rightly understood, is a subject of great importance, will be generally admitted by the several denominations of Christians. Yet perhaps there is not another subject on which there is so great a diversity of opinion. Not only do writers of different sects disagree, but there are perhaps no two writers of any sect whos perfectly harmonize in their views and explanations. This circumstance should excite candor, and not reproach and bitterness. It is not for me to doubt that all who have written on the subject have expressed such views as they deemed correct, and most honorable to God. It would be doing violence both to my faith and my feelings to impute the discordant opinions of my brethren to the wickedness of their hearts. “Judge not, that ye be not judged,” is a precept which I think is worthy of more regard than it has generally received from fallible Christians of different sects.
The words atone and atonement will frequently occur in this work. And as in my younger years I was led into error by misapprehending the meaning of the words; I shall here give an explanation which I think will be admitted by the learned and impartial of all denominations.
" Atonement-When the word is divided into syllables, its meaning will be evident to every reader-At-one-ment. Thus to atone is to make one or to reconcile parties at variance; and to make atonement is to bring about reconciliation and peace.” Brown's Dict. of the Bible.
These definitions were given by a learned Professor of Divinity and a minister of the Presbyterian church of Scotland. The same definitions have been given by seva erat writers of different sects in our country. That they are correct may appear probable from the fact, that the word atonement occurs but once in the common version of the New Testament, and in that case it is acknowledged to stand as a substitute for the word reconciliation.
There never perhaps was a sacrifice to which the word atonement was more properly applied than that made by the death of the Messiah. But it is proper to observe, that though atonement signifies reconciliation, yet the typical sacrifices to which it was applied were but means of reconciliation; and such is the fact in regard to the gospel sacrifice—the name of the end being applied to the appointed means. But this is a common figure of speech in the Bible. It is on the same principle that Christ is said to be “ made of God unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.”
Atonement, however, means not merely reconciliation, but purification or cleansing. This was probably its principal meaning when atonements were made for inanimate objects, the tabernacle, the sanctuary, the altar, and the house infected by the leprosy. This meaning was also implied in the annual atonements made for the people of Israel, as will be shown in the chapter on the Mosaic atonements. But this last meaning is not at all repugnant to the other. For moral impurity is what separates the sinner from God: let him be cleansed, and he is reconciled, at-one with God.
As I shall have occasion to speak of substituted sufferings, I wish it to be understood that I freely admit, that