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if there might be a mediator, an intercessor,—one at once sufficiently one with us, and yet sufficiently separated from our sin to feel in sinless humanity what our sinful humanity, could it in sinlessness look back on its sins, would feel of Godly condemnation of them and sorrow for them, so confessing them before God,- one coming sufficiently near to our need of mercy to be able to plead for mercy for us according to that need, and at the same time, so abiding in the bosom of the Father, and in the light of His love and secret of His heart, as, in interceding for us to take full and perfect advantage of all that is there that is on our side, and wills our salvation ;-if the Son of God has, in the power of love, come into the capacity of such mediation in taking our nature and becoming our brother, and in that same power of love has been contented to suffer all that such mediation, accomplished in suffering flesh, implied, -is not the suitableness and the acceptableness of the sacrifice of Christ, when His soul was made an offering for sin, what we can understand ? In truth, we cannot realise the life of Christ as He moved on this earth in the sight of men, and contemplate His witness-bearing against sin, and His forgiveness towards sinners, and hear the Father say of Him, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased," and yet doubt that that mind towards sin and sinners which He thus manifested, and the Father thus acknowledged, would be altogether acceptable, and a sacrifice to God of a sweetsmelling savour, in its atoning confession of sin and intercession for sinners.
I know that the adequacy of the atonement to be a foundation for the remission of sins cannot be fully apprehended, or the righteousness of God in accepting it as a sacrifice for sin be fully justified, apart from its prospective reference to the divine purpose of making us through Christ partakers in eternal life. Yet I will, even at this point, express the hope, that the purpose of God to extend mercy to sinners being realised, and the considerations connected with the name of God and the honour of His law, which had to be taken into account, being present to the mind, it will be felt, that the atonement, as now set forth, was the suitable preparation for that contemplated manifestation of mercy; and I venture to express this hope here, and thus early, because, I am not unwilling that the atonement as now represented, and while considered only in its retrospective reference, should be compared with the conception of the atonement as Christ's bearing, as our substitute, the punishment of our sins,—the rather, that that is a · retrospective conception exclusively. But, I repeat it,
I feel that it is placing the atonement, as now set forth, under a disadvantage as to its power to commend itself to the conscience, to look at its retrospective adequacy thus apart from its prospective reference: to the consideration of which I now proceed.
PROSPECTIVE ASPECT OF THE ATONEMENT.
I HAVE said above, that the atonement is to be I regarded as that by which God has bridged over the gulf which separated between what sin had made us, and what it was the desire of the divine love that we should become. Therefore its character must have been determined as much by the latter consideration as by the former; and, on this ground, I have complained of the extent to which the former consideration, rather than the latter, has been taken into account in men's recognition of a need be for an atonement.
Yet an atonement such as they contemplate, and consisting in substituted punishment, might allowably be so regarded, being like the paying of a pecuniary debt, at least as to the definite relation of the payment to the debt, the latter determining the former without direct reference to the ulterior results involved in the debt's being paid. But such an atonement as that which the Son of God has actually made, cannot be contemplated but as in its very nature pointing forward to the divine end in view.
Accordingly, I have not been able now to enter freely upon the subject of that intercession for transgressors, which the prophet mentions as an element in the atonement, because that intercession cannot be conceived of as limited to the remission of past sins, but must necessarily have had reference to what Christ, in His love to us, loving us as He did Himself, desired for us. So also the confession of our sin, in response to the divine condemnation of it, must, when offered to God on our behalf, have contemplated pro
spectively our own participation in that confession as an element in our actual redemption from sin. And even the witnessing of Christ for the Father in the sight of men, as connected with the righteousness of God in the extension of the divine mercy to us rebels, must have had its place in the atonement, not merely as a light condemning our darkness, but as the intended light of life for us.
All views of the work of Christ, of course, imply that its ultimate reference was prospective. Whether conceived of as securing, in virtue of a covenanted arrangement the salvation of an election from among men, or as furnishing, in reference to all men, a ground on which God may extend mercy to them, the work of Christ has equally been regarded as what would not have been but with a prospective reference. But on neither of these views is the justification of God's acceptance of the propitiation itself, bound up with the question of the results contemplated. On the one view, the penal infliction is complete in itself as a substituted punishment; the righteousness wrought out is complete in itself as conferring a title to eternal blessedness, irrespective of results to be accomplished in those in the covenant of grace. On the other view, a meritorious ground on which to rest justification by faith is furnished, which is complete in itself, irrespective of any effect which is anticipated from the faith of it. But, what I have now been representing as the true view of the atonement, is characterised by this, that it takes the results contemplated into account in considering God's acceptance of the atonement. Not that the moral and spiritual excellence of the work of Christ, could have been less than infinitely acceptable to God, viewed simply in itself;—but that its acceptableness in connexion with the remission of sins, is only to be truly
and fully seen in its relation to the result which it has contemplated, viz. our participation in eternal life;or, in other words, that the justification of God in “redeeming,” as He has done, “us who were under the law,” is only clearly apprehended in the light of the divine purpose, “that we should receive the adoption of sons.”
This direct reference to the end contemplated, which distinguishes the view of the atonement now taken, as compared with those other systems in which that reference is more remote, I lay much weight upon. It explains, as they cannot otherwise be explained, those expressions in Scripture in which the practical end of the atonement is connected so immediately with the making of the atonement, as when it is said, that “Christ gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity,”—that “we are redeemed from the vain conversation received by tradition from our Fathers, by the precious blood of Christ,”—that “Christ suffered for us, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God." Men have been reconciled by the seeming necessity of the case to the idea that such language is employed, because these are the ultimate and remote consequences of that shedding of Christ's blood, which, it is held, immediately contemplated delivering us from the punishment of sin by His enduring it for us. But I regard as a great scriptural argument in favour of the view now taken of the atonement, that it represents the connexion between these results and Christ's suffering for our sins as not remote, but immediate. While, as to the internal commendation of the doctrine itself, my conviction is, that the pardon of sin is seen in its true harmony with the glory of God, only when the work of Christ, through which we have “the remission of sins that are past,” is contemplated in its direct relation to“ the gift of eternal life.”