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A DISCOURSE, Designed to explain the Doctrine of Atonea

ment : in Two Parts.-Delivered in the Chapel of Rhode Island College, on the 11th and 25th of November, 1796.




HEBREWS ii. 10. For it became him for whom are all things, and by whom

are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.


HE sufferings of Christ were essential to his character as a Saviour. Without them the pardon of sin would have subverted the authority of the divine law, and have prostrated the dignity of the divine gove erninent. For, if God should not execute the penal. ty incurred by the transgressor, if he should not mani. fest in his moral government the same abhorrence of sin that he does in the declarations of his law, his word and his conduct would be repugnant to each other, and he would afford no convincing evidence, that his law was a transcript of his will ; that it ought to be considered as sacred, and respected as an universal inva.

riable standard of obedience for all rational creatures. One great and chief design of the atonement made by the sufferings of Christ, was to impress a thorough conviction of God's displeasure against sin, though he should pardon the sinner. It was essential to a consistent exercise of pardon, that in some visible ex. pression, God's reai disposition towards sin should be manifested as clearly, fully and unequivocally, as it would be in the execution of the penalty of the law on the transgressor. This disposition, when brought into view in some sensible manifestation, vindicates God's character from all suspicion, and fully discovers his attachment to the dignity of his government, to the rights of his justice, and the truth of his law. The sufferings of Christ appear to have been available to the procurement of salvation, so far as they portrayed God's displeasure against sin, and evinced the infinite value he set upon his own character and law. Hence it is, that the scriptures so frequently bring into view a suffering, crucified Christ, as the only hope of salya. tion. His sufferings support the dignity of God, as the moral governor, while he extends mercy, to the guilty; they present him in a glorious point of light, as the universal sovereign and proprietor, as the great source from which all things have proceeded, and in which all shall finally terminate. It is therefore with great reason and propriety that the text declares, that

it became him for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.”

These words, by bringing into view the passion of Christ, as essential to a display of the divine character in the pardon of sin, present the doctrine of atonement in a light truly interesting and important. For surely no

thing can be calculated more effectually to awaken the solicitude, and raise the desponding hopes of the guilty, than a prospect of forgiveness. Why God should require sufferings and the effusion of blood as a pre-requisite to the remission of sin, has been a subject of much inquiry, and to many a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence.” They have supposed, that if God would not pass by sin without an atonement, without full satisfation to his justice, he must be naturally implacable ; that he has no mercy, because he punishes the innocent for the guilty, and bestows no good without an adequate compensation. Sufferings, it is true, can add nothing to the love of God to his creatures : but they may be, and it is hoped can be, proved to be necessary to a consistent exercise and display of that love. Atonement does not imply a purchase of God's mercy; it does not imply satisfaction to justice, as a cancellation of debt; nor does it infer any obligation on justice for the liberation of sins ners; for if it do, then sinners are not saved by forgiveness, since it is impossible for mercy to pardon, where justice cannot punish. Atonement implies the necessity of sufferings, merely as a medium through which God's real disposition towards sin should be seen in such a way, that an exercise of pardon should not interfere with the dignity of government, and the authority of law.

The sufferings of Christ for sin characterise the gospel scheme, and distinguish it from all others. The atonement made by them, adds to the christian religion its chief superiority, and lays the only foundation of hope for all who have just views of the divine law, and the moral state of man. All the doctrines of the gospel will derive their peculiar complexion from


the manner in which the doctrine of atonement is explained. A mistake here will be peculiarly injurious, and will infallibly lead into error in every part of divinity. Atonement is the great sun in the centre of the system. Blot it out, and you are lost forever. Not a ray from any other quarter will dart through the gloomy prison of sin, to cheer its disconsolate inhabitants, to disenthral them from their chains, and enlighten their path to freedom and glory.

The design of revelation is to unfold the true God to men, acting according to the principles of his nature. This God is just and merciful. He is disposed to punish and to pardon. How then shall his justice and his mercy be displayed towards the transgressor, without infringing or destroying each other? God threatens punishment to sin. Sin is committed. God, instead of punishing, pardons. Where is his justice? Where is his truth? Where is the regard due to his law, his character and government? If he punish, where is his mercy? These difficulties will be obviated by a right understanding of the atonement which Christ made for sin. To exhaust this important subject, to comprehend all its connections and conse: quences, perhaps at present exceeds all human capaci

ty. Enough of it, however, can be known and under. :- stood, to enable us to perceive its excellency, and to

secure our present and future felicity. As the design of atonement was to save men from the curse of the law, in consistency with the perfections and designs of God, the atonement had immediate respect to the law of God, to the moral state of men, and to the ultimate and chief end of God in creation. Without a just and proper view of these three points, all inquiries respecting atonement will be extremely defective, if not totally erroneous. They will leave us, like an unpiloted ship, driven by the winds over the pathless ocean.

In the subsequent discourse, therefore, I shall

I. First explain the nature of the divine law, the moral state of man, and the design of God in creation:

II. Secondly, the matter, the necessity, and the nature of atonement.

A few inferences will then close the subject.
I. I shall begin the first division of this discourse, by
First-Explaining the nature of the divine law,

Under this denomination we are not to include all the laws given to the people of Israel. For though these may be termed divine with respect to their author, yet they are not all of a moral nature, and consequently not obligatory on all mankind. For this reason all the positive laws appertaining to the former dispensation, are not included in the phrases, “divine law,” and “ the law of God.” Tliese are used by way of eminence, to denote the moral law, as it is promulged and epitomized in the decalogue.

* The laws given unto the Israelites were of three kinds, moral, ceremonial and forensic. The first re

举 *

Leges autem iis latæ non unius generis fuerunt. Tres omnino-theologis recensentur. Moralis sive decalogica, ceremonialis, et politica, sive forensis. Scilicet tripliciter considerari Israeliticus populus potuit. 1. Ut creturæ rationales, . a Deo, uti suprema ratione tam moraliter, quam naturaliter dependentes. Et sic data fuit ipsi lex decalogica, quæ quoad substantiam, cum lege naturæ, homines qua tales obligante,una eademque est. 2. Ut ecclesia veteris testamenti ; expectans Messiam promissum, et lætiora per ejus consummationem tempora. Atque eo respectu acceperunt legem ceremonialem, quæ ostendit quidem, nondum venisse Messiam, et satisfactione sua, omnia consummasse, fore tamen, ut veniat et omnia fa. ciat nova. 3. Ut populus peculiaris, rempublicam, genio ac indoli suæ convenientem, habens in terra Canaan.-Witsii de Oecon. Fæd. lib. iv. cap. iv. p. 609.

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