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I. Concerning the nature of divine justice.
This is a formidable attribute; in it, God appears clothed in terrible majesty, making himself known in the judgment which he executeth. But it breathes the same spirit with benevolence, and has the same moral excellence. One individual principle actuates the divine mind. God is love. This affection, in its different modifications, gains the name of the several moral attributes. Justice may be considered, that attribute which fixes the sanctions of the moral law, and looks to the well ordering of the divine government.
One of these sanctions consists in death, or endless suffering, as the wages of sin. This penalty is of great extent, and involves the offender in remediless ruin. According to the tenor of the law, sin is an evil of infinite magnitude, and exposes to interminable misery, as the just consequence. This penalty, however, does not originate in a vindictive, revengeful spirit. And justice would lay aside its claims, if there were no other end to be answered, but the gratification which arises from the misery of the offender, The infliction of penal evil, must have something to justify it besides the satisfaction which the misery of the creature can give to the divine lawgiver. It will not do to vindicate the penalty of the law, by saying, “ It is no more than the vile transgressor highly deserves.” There must be some further reason why such treatment of the sinner is just, or which constitutes his ill-desert. And if no reason, of a public nature, can be found for inflicting the penalty of the law, it ought in justice to be laid aside ; for in such a condition as this, to exact punishment, would rather be the injustice and unfeelingness of a tyrant, than the tenderness of a wise and good sovereign. Hence wa may inquire,
II. Why justice required satisfaction.
And here we may bring into view the public and general good, as the great object which renders such a satisfaction necessary. It was not surely required for the sake of rendering God abundant in goodness, and ready to forgive. His moral nature is immutable, and can admit of no alteration. There is no want of compassion in him. Had nothing required the sufferings of Christ in the atonement, but a want of pity in the divine mind, they might have been spared. We must take heed, that we do not conceive of God as being unpropitious, malevolent, and revengeful. We must not find the ground of the atonement to lie in any such spirit of animosity.
But, it seems, that the best good of the intellectual and moral world, requires that God should appear to be a terror to evil doers. And this is to be seen, by his requiring the expiatory sufferings of Christ. The wise moral Governor, that he may be just, has an immense system of creation to watch over and protect He has to guard and defend the rights and privileges of his moral government. This benevolent justice, which looks over creation with a watchful eye, is that kind of justice which rendered the atonement necessary. To maintain the interests of this kingdom it is requisite, that the divine law should be seen in its dignity, loveliness, and spirituality. And to this purpose, it must be supported; which is done by the atoning sufferings of Christ. Thus the law is magnified and made honourable. The divine authority of this law, is made to be respected through the holy part of creation.
Likewise, it is needful that there be an expression of the evil of sin. The good of the whole requires
this manifestation. For thereby, holy beings are deterred from transgression, and preserved in a state of rectitude. Also, a discovery of the turpitude of sin enhances the value of holiness, and renders it a greater good. In the satisfaction which is made by Christ, sin appears to be sin. The matchless sufferings of the divine Saviour, show that sin is an evil of infinite extent, and tends directly to mar the moral beauty of creation, and introduce confusion, and every evil work. Thus by this view of sin, holiness becomes more desirable, more lovely, and the happiness of the intellectual system is advanced.
We must further add, that God may appear amiable, and infinitely the best good, it must be seen that. lie has a detestation and abhorrence of sin. It is from the display of himself that his creatures are made happy. And that he may make the fullest discovery of himself, he must manifest his feelings with regard to the extreme vileness of sin. This is done in the atonement. These are some of the important truths. which the satisfaction of Christ has served to elucidate, and confirm ; and for which it became requisite.
III. The satisfaction rendered in the atonement, is. not to be viewed strictly as the payment of a debt.
Salvation is, indeed, blood-bought. The blood of Christ is represented as the price, which was laid down for redemption. But this must be viewed as a metaphorical expression, meaning that Christ's sufferings, and obedience, have made it consistent to forgive the sinner.
Placing the atonement precisely upon the footing of a pecuniary transaction, it is conceived, alters the nature of justice. In the payment of a debt, one equivalent good is rendered for another. And thus the dan age is repaired, and entire satisfaction made.
But suffering can be no good, upon any principle. It can, in itself, be no gratification or benefit to the pure and perfect justice of God. He hath no pleasure in the death of him that dieth. He is a tender, compassionate God. And misery can be no adequate compensation for his goods which sinners have received and wasted.
The atonement, then, is not to be viewed as the payment of a debt, after our manner of negociation, but is rather to be considered as an expedient which infinite wisdom has devised, rendering it consistent to forgive transgressors. The mere sufferings of Christ could have had no avail, to save, were it not for the great and extensive ends which they brought to pass. And, as far as these ends can be secured in a consiste ency with the salvation of guilty men, God will ex. tend mercy. He will save to the uttermost ; for his mercy endureth forever.
We will now add a few reflections.
Christ hath made full satisfaction to divine justice. The atonement is of infinite value. There is no de. ficiency in the merit of the Redeemer. He hath taken upon himself the penalty of the law, and submitted to its condemning sentence. His amazing sufferings have displayed its purity, justice and holi. ness, not less, and even far more, than the creature's sufferings could have done. When God spares not his own Son, but freely gives him up to the agonies of the cross, then sin appears to be sin; the law appears holy, just and good ; the divine authority is clothed with dignity, and God is exhibited in his transcendent purity, viewing sin as odious, and delighting in holiness. These truths are not less clear in the atonement, than they would have been in the final destruction of the human race. Indeed, they are set forth in a vastly stronger light, on account of the matchless dignity of the divine Saviour.
So that we are not to suppose, that God's compassions can fail, by reason of any limitation in the atonement which Christ has made.
2. The sufficiency of the atonement does not imply that all are to be saved.
The satisfaction which Christ has rendered, is not such as to release the obligation of the sinner, and ex. tinguish the claims of justice upon him. His character remains the same as before. His ill-desert is not dininished ; and he is entitled to nothing but the wages of sin. The satisfaction is not so set to his account, as necessarily to discharge him from the condemning power of the righteous law. Christ has not so cancelled the debt of justice, as that the guilty offender must be set free. He is not substituted in the place of the sinner, in such manner, that his sufferings must, in equity, be taken in exchange for those which are the sinner's due.
The atonement does not necessarily terminate in the salvation of all men, any more than in the recovery of apostate angels, who kept not their first'estate. God may have mercy on whom he will have mercy. He is still left free to dispense his mercies, as he pleases. If he sees wise ends to be answered, by leaving a portion of the human race to perish in unbelief, he has a right so to do. Notwithstanding the rich atonement, the renovation of the creature still rests as an independent favour, to be bestowed according to his wise and sovereign pleasure. And we may be assured that God will save to the extent of his goodness. He will confer grace and glory upon lost sinners, as far as he