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Suppose a good father has a profligate son. He becomes alienated from his father, and wanders from his house. Some kind friend brings him home and tries to make a reconciliation or atone. ment between them. The father, in his great tenderness, forgives all that the son has done amiss. But the son is not sorry for what he has done. He has not reformed, but is as bad as ever. He is the same miserable, degraded, dissolute being as before. He is just as unhappy, and just as much the cause of unhappiness to his father. Of what use then is it to reconcile the father to him? Of no use whatever. The son must be reconciled to the father by repentance and reformation in order to have their reconciliation of any avail. The father was always ready to be reconciled whenever he saw a true and real amendment in the son. The mutual friend, in order to have his interposition of any avail, must persuade the son to reform; then he will be in deed and in truth the minister of reconciliation. Here then we see from the very nature of things, that Christ did not die to reconcile God to men, but to reconcile men to God, and his interposition is available only so far and to so many as he brings to repentance.
But it is said, God could not and would not pardon men, even when they had repented and reformed, without inflicting their proper penalty and punishment on a substitute, or a third person. We answer, this is a mere assertion without a shadow of proof. He who says that might as well make any
other assertion whatever. It is a libel on the character of God. What human parent was ever so inexorable and hardhearted as never to forgive one of his children when he asked his pardon with penitence and tears, until he had inflicted the full punishment on another of his children?
Besides, it is expressly contradicted by innumerable declarations of Scripture. “When he was a great way off, his Father saw him, and had compassion and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.” “And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both.” If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will forgive you.” “If thy brother sin against thee, and turn again and say, I repent, thou shalt forgive him.” “How often,” asks one of his disciples, "until seven times?” He answers, “Until seventy times seven.” And shall God, who commands us to imitate him in his clemency and kindness, command us to forgive our brother until seventy times seven, on mere repentance and asking forgiveness, and shall he not forgive us once? “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and unto our God for he will abundantly pardon.” “Thou art a God,” said Nehemiah, "ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness.” Are these the representations of a Being whose mercy must be purchased by the sufferings of an innocent person, or of one whose nature is all love
and benevolence? And as to how far sacrifices
propitiate his favour, hear the Psalmist. "For thou desirest not sacrifice, else would I give it. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart thou wilt not despise.” Do not say then that the mercy of such a Being must be purchased by what my soul abhors to name, a human sacrifice.
But it may be urged that Christ is said to have given himself a ransom for sinners. We believe it in the only sense which the assertion will bear. A literal ransom is given by one person to another for something received. In a literal ransom things change owners. But here there is no such transaction, no such parties. Christ was not given up to, and retained by any being or party in whose hands sinners were, and who then gave them up. It was not then a literal ransom. He was a ransom in the figurative sense of a deliverance, by laying down his life to redeem men from all iniquity. So God in Scripture is said to have ransomed the Israelites from Egypt, meaning not that he paid a price for them, but merely delivered them. So when he brought them back from the Babylonish captivity, Jeremiah declares, that “the Lord had redeemed Jacob and ransomed Israel."
The same observations are applicable to the phrase, "ye are bought with a price.” There was no being whose property they were who could receive the price. The meaning is evidently the same as when it is elsewhere said that Christians
“were redeemed from their vain conversation by the precious blood of Christ,” that is, his death was a means of bringing them to repentance.
I have now finished the discussion, and I leave it with the candid judgments of all who hear me to say which of these views of the atonement is most agreeable to the nature of things, the eternal laws of personal responsibility, and the representations of the Scriptures, that which makes it to consist in reconciling God to men, in purchasing his favour, or that which makes it to consist in reconciling man to God by bringing him to repentance and reformation, and thus making him a fit subject for the divine clemency. As to the doctrine of imputed righteousness, and the common form of praying to be accepted through the merits of Christ, I merely ask you to examine your Bibles, and see if there be such a prayer or such a sentiment in them. And when you are satisfied that it is a human invention, I would have you turn to what is there. “He that hath done good shall rise to the resurrection of life, and he that hath done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.”
I have merely to add, that the doctrine of atonement or reconciliation is a practical doctrine, and one of immense importance to every one who hears me this night. It is not so much a matter of speculation as it is of feeling, of individual experience. You all know, every man may know, whether he is reconciled to God or not, whether he has sincerely repented and reformed, whether he
has peace with God and à conscience cleansed by true contrition, whether he is living a life of obedience or of recklessness and sin. If he is, he is in a state of atonement, he is at one with God. But if not, be assured there is no speculation, there is no imputed righteousness that will save you or give you rest. We then, as the ambassadors for Christ, as though God did through us beseech you, we entreat you, be ye reconciled to God.