In this lecture I shall show:
FIRST. What is intended by the Atonement.
SECOND. That an Atonement was necessary.
First. What is intended by the Atonement.
The English word Atonement is synonymous with the Hebrew word Cofer. This is a noun from the verb cofer, to cover. The cofer or cover, was the name of the lid or cover of the ark of the covenant, and constituted what was called the mercy seat. The Greek word rendered Atonement is katallage. This means reconciliation, to favor; from kallasso, to change, or exchange. The term properly means substitution. An examination of these original words, in the connection in which they stand, will show that the Atonement is the substitution of the sufferings of Christ in the place of the sufferings of sinners. It is a covering of their sins, by his sufferings.
Second. Its necessity.
1. All nations have felt the necessity of expiatory sacrifices. This is evident from the fact that all nations have offered them. Hence antipsucha, or ransom for their souls, have been offered by nearly every nation under heaven. (See Buck's Theo. Dic. p. 539.)
2. The wisest heathen philosophers, who saw the intrinsic inefficacy of animal sacrifices, held that God could not forgive sin. This proves to a demonstration, that they felt the necessity of an atonement or expiatory sacrifice. And having too just views of God and his government, to suppose that either animal, or merely human sacrifices, could be efficacious under the government of God, they were unable to understand upon what principles sin could be forgiven.
3. The whole Jewish scriptures, especially the whole ceremonial dispensation of the Jews attest, most unequivocally, the necessity of an Atonement.
4. The New Testament is just as unequivocal in its testimony to the same point. The Apostle expressly asserts, that "without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin."
5. The necessity of an Atonement is fully implied in the fact, that an Atonement has been made.
6. The fact that the execution of the law of God on rebel angels had not and could not arrest the progress of rebellion in the universe, proves that something more needed to be done, in support of the authority of law, than the execution of its penalty upon rebels could do. While the execution of law may have a strong tendency to prevent the beginning of rebellion, and to awe and restrain rebellion, among the rebels themselves; yet penal inflictions, do not as a matter of fact, subdue the heart, under any government, whether human or divine.
7. As a matter of fact, the law, without Atonement, was only exasperating rebels, without confirming holy beings. Paul affirmed that the action of the law upon his own mind, while in impenitence, was, to beget in him all manner of concupiscence. One grand reason for giving the law was, to develop the nature of sin, and to show that the carnal mind is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. The law was, therefore, given that the offense might abound, that thereby it might be demonstrated, that without an Atonement there could be no salvation for rebels under the government of God.
8. The nature, degree, and execution of the penalty of the law, made the holiness and justice of God so prominent, as to absorb too much of public attention to be safe. Those features of his character were so fully revealed, by the execution of his law upon the rebel angels, that to have pursued the same course with the inhabitants of this world, without the offer of mercy, might have had, and doubtless would have had an injurious influence upon the universe, by creating more of fear than of love to God and his government.
9. Hence, a fuller revelation of the love and compassion of God was necessary, to guard against the influence of slavish fear.
10. Public justice required either that an Atonement should be made, or that the law should be executed upon every offender. By public justice is intended, that due administration of law, that shall secure in the highest manner the nature of the case admits, private and public interests, and establish the order and well-being of the universe. In establishing the government of the universe, God had given the pledge, both impliedly and expressly, that he would regard the public interests and by a due administration of the law, secure and promote, as far as possible, public and individual happiness.
11. Public justice could strictly require only the execution of law; for God had neither expressly or impliedly given a pledge to do anything more for the promotion of virtue and happiness, than to administer due rewards to both the righteous and the wicked. Yet an Atonement, as we shall see, would more fully meet the necessities of the government, and act as a more efficient preventive of sin, and a more powerful persuasive to holiness, than the infliction of the penalty of his law would do.
12. An Atonement was needed, to contradict the slander of Satan. He had seduced our first parents, by the insinuation that God was selfish, in prohibiting their eating the fruit of a certain tree. Now the execution of the penalty of his law would not so thoroughly refute this abominable slander as would the great self-denial of God exhibited in the Atonement.
13. An Atonement was needed, for the removal of obstacles to the free exercise of benevolence towards our race. Without an Atonement, the race of man after the fall, sustained to the government of God the relation of rebels and outlaws. And before God, as the great executive magistrate of the universe, could suffer his benevolence to flow toward them, an Atonement must be decided upon and made known, as the reason upon which his favorable treatment of them was founded.
14. An Atonement was needed, to promote the glory and influence of God in the universe. But more of this hereafter.
15. An Atonement was needed, to present overpowering motives to repentance.
16. An Atonement was needed, that the offer of pardon might not seem like connivance at sin.
17. An Atonement was needed, to manifest the sincerity of God, in his legal enactments.
18. An Atonement was needed, to make it safe, to present the offer and promise of pardon.
19. An Atonement was needed, to inspire confidence in the offers and promises of pardon, and in all the promises of God to man.
20. An Atonement was needed, as the only means of reclaiming rebels.
21. An Atonement was needed, as the great and only means of sanctifying sinners:
Rom. 8:3, 4. 'For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.'
22. An Atonement was needed, not to render God merciful, but to reconcile pardon with a due administration of justice:
Rom. 3:23-26. 'For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time, his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.'