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In preceding lectures, we have endeavored to show the general and deep apostacy of the human race. That we
possess a readiness to sin, an indisposition to duty; and, unless excited by divine influence, do never perform actions, which are holy, or strictly speaking, virtuous. If this doctrine has been proved, or is susceptible of proof, you can not doubt for a moment, that it is at once melancholy and interesting. That inattention and levity, with which this subject is often treated, is wholly without excuse. Even if the doctrine were not capable of being fully proved; even if the objections against it appeared somewhat stronger, than the evidence, on which it rests, so important are its connexions, if true, that no sober man would mention it with ridicule, or indifference. We pay attention, with good reason, even to possibilities, when the event, considered possible, is acknowledged to be of high moment. But the doctrine of buman depravity cannot be known not to rest on plenary evidence, without more attention, than many, who reject it, are pleased to bestow on the subject.
Though I have endeavored to show, that in the character of man previously to regeneration, there is an entire absence of holiness, or moral rectitude, the importance of the doctrine, now to be investigated, viz. that of atonement does by
uo means depend on the success of this attempt. Whether men are entirely depraved, or not, that they are depraved in a greater or less degree, is far from admitting dispute. If there is in the universe a rule of moral rectitude, to which intelligent beings are bound to conform, it is undeniable, that mankind are sinners. If so, they are in need of pardon. In the christian religion, pardon is offered. Our present object is to ascertain, on what ground this offer is made; in other words, whether atonement has been made for sin.
In relation to this subject, it may be said, in the first place, that nothing is more common under the divine government, than for one person to be the medium of communicating benefits to another. So far as we know, there is not an insulated object in the universe; nothing which is not dependent on other things, and which does not influence them in its turn. Most of the enjoyments, which we receive, are conveyed through the channel, either of friends, or of those, whose own interest is promoted by advancing ours. And as it is so common, for Deity to bestow favors on us through the instrumentality of men, his doing it by the intervention of angels, or of his own Son, would be eviilently analogous to the general methods of his providence.
Through the instrumentality of good men, the sovereign of the universe bestows on the wicked two kinds of benefits; viz. such as are calculated to bring them to a better mind; and others, which relate to present enjoyments.
Prophets, apostles, and all good men, who have zealously and faithfully exhibited moral truth, or those excellent effects on the life, which it is calculated to produce, have been the channels, through which divine mercy has been convey. ed to the world. In this way, the profligate have been restrained, the thoughtless have been led to reflection, and, in thousands, permanent change of character has been the re. sult.
But men often find themselves, by their indiscretions or vices, reduced to a state, from which repentance and reformation will not recover them. They are then in need of other
assistance, than that of instruction or moral suasion. If a man should dissipate his substance by prodigality, you might indeed do him a great kindness by moral discourse on the unreasonableness and criminality of his past life. But how. ever successful these laudable endeavors may be, in producing conviction, and even a change of character, he is not thereby restored to his former condition. His means of subsistence bave vanished; and without gratuitous supplies, he must perish. Repentance, however sincere, does not effect his restoration. If a person, by a course of intemperance and debauchery, destroy his health, the most profound penitence will not restore it. A speedy, and perhaps an entire recovery is impossible. But if not, it cannot be effected without medical application, and the assistance of others. If a man, whether through inattention or design, throw himself into the ocean, it is not repentance, but the efforts of his friends, which must save him from drowning. Men are indeed continually bringing difficulties on themselves, from which no efforts of their own will give relief. Nor is it at all uncommon for them to involve themselves in evils, from which they cannot be extricated, even by the greatest exertions of others. If a man is proved to have committed murder, bis own repentance and intercession of his friends, are equally unavailing to save him from punishment.
It hence follows, that if, by their apostacy from God, men are placed in a condition, from which even repentance and reformation alone, cannot, afford them relief, it is perfecily analogous to events, which we constantly witness under the divine government. And should it be found, that either in this life or another, the consequences of sin, i. e. punishment, are absolutely unavoidable, it would be perfectly similar to numerous and well known facts.
Among all, who believe christianity to be a divine religion, it is agreed, that benefits are bestowed on mankind, through the intervention of Jesus Christ. Those, who deny, that atonement has been made, for the sins of the world, cannot however, hesitate to acknowledge, that the human race in
general, having broken the law of God, are sinners, and that Christ came to save them. Human salvation is, therefore, procured through intervention of Christ. There is indeed diversity of opinion as to the kind of assistance, which the condition of men required. All are agreed, that they needed instruction and moral suasion; and all are agreed, that this want has been supplied by the Redeemer. Ignorance and vice, it will not be denied, were obstacles to the salvation of men : these obstacles, Christ came to remove.
Now if there were, in addition to these, other impediments, it will hardly be denied, that their removal was likewise the object of his coming. Those, therefore, who oppose the doctrine of atonement, must do it chiefly on this ground, that nothing of the kind, was necessary: and this is in fact the ground, on which the doctrine is opposed. By this consideration, its opponents are led to put a construction on many passages of scripture, which their first appearance, to say the least, would not suggest. Jf, therefore, it should be found, not only that the impenitence of sinners is an obstacle to their salvation ; but even that the pardoning of them, when penitent, is a matter of real difficulty, the principal argument against the doctrine of atonement will be destroyed; and no reason will exist for seeking a figurative or farfetched meaning to those passages, which seem to support it.
But though I shall endeavor to show, that there were important obstacles to the pardoning of sin merely on repentance, it is to be considered, that the nonexistence of such obstacles could by no means be inferred from our inability to perceive them. Were it true, that no necessity for the atonement of Christ could be discerned by us, it would still be rashness to conclude against the doctrine, so long, as the language of scripture is strongly in its favor. For, as there is relation and dependence among all parts of the divine gov. ernment, any particular measure may have innumerable unknown bearings and consequences.' If we could see no reason, why pardon should not be extended to the penitent, solely on the ground of his penitence, the infinitely wise Governor of the universe, whose attention is not confined to any one object, nor to any part of his vast empire, who intuitively and constantly beholds all parts, and their relation, to the whole, might discern, that great disorders, vice, and misery, would result from such a measure. Therefore, should it be found, that the language of scripture is much in favor of the doctrine of atonement, they, who would destroy the argument, bence arising, must show, not only that we can discern no necessity for an atonement, but that such necessity cannot be discerned by the Almighty.
The books of nature and revelation conspire in teaching us, that God maintains a government over the universe, and that this government, like those among men, is maintained by rewards and punishments. Nor indeed is it possible for us to conceive, that government should be supported in a different manner.
Let it be supposed, that a wise code of laws are adopted by a particular community. In this code, punishment will of course be denounced against certain crimes. If these laws are never executed, they will be nearly or entirely useless. The utility of laws consists in their influence in deterring from crimes; and they effect this, by exciting fears of punishment; hut if punishments are observed never to follow crimes, all fears of them vanish; the good have as little to hope, and the bad as little to fear, as if no laws had ever hren enacted. Nor did any wise government ever consider, that penitence in the criminal sufficiently atones for violations of law.
Let us inquire for a moment, what would be the result of a government, instituted on such a plan. Laws are enacted, let it be supposed, against dishonesty, arson, and murder, threatening death to all, who are guilty of these offences. Some individual, impelled hy revenge or malice, enters his neighbor's house, burns his property, and murders his children. The culprit is apprehended and repents of the outrage. On the manifestation of which repentance, he is immediately set at liberty. Similar crimes, whenever committed in the same manner, escape punishment. Under such