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The elements of atonement, which have now been considered in relation to the remission of sins, contemplated in their relation to the gift of eternal life, teach us how to conceive of that gift. The atonement having been accomplished by the natural working of the life of love in Christ, and having been the result of His doing the Father's will, and declaring the Father's name in humanity, we are prepared, as to the prospective aspect of the atonement, to find that the perfect righteousness of the Son of God in humanity is itself the gift of God to us in Christ-to be ours as Christ is ours,—to be partaken in as He is partaken in,-to be our life as He is our life, instead of its being, as has been held, ours by imputation ;-precious to us and our salvation, not in respect of what is inherent in it, but in respect of that to which it confers a legal title; or, according to the modification of this conception, -the transference of righteousness by imputation being rejected, our salvation in respect of effects of righteousness transferred for Christ's sake to those who believe in Him.
Abstractly considered, and viewed simply in itself, the divine righteousness that is in Christ must be recognised as a higher gift than any benefit it can be supposed to purchase. In the immediate contemplation of the life of Christ, seen as that on which the Father is fixing our attention when He says of Christ, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” it cannot be questioned, that the choice being offered, on the one hand, to partake in this divine righteousness, or, on the other, either to have it imputed to us, and on account of such imputation, to have a title to any supposed rewards of righteousness, or, to have these rewards without such imputation transferred to us, there could be no hesitation what choice to make. Apart altogether from the difficulties involved in the
conception of the imputation of righteousness, or the transference of its effects, it would manifestly be a dishonour done to the divine righteousness, to prefer to it any good of any kind external to it, and not inherent in itself, but separable from it, which might be conceived of as its reward.
I may be reminded, that the reward of righteousness, thus placed in contrast with the divine righteousness itself, and assumed to be a lower thing, includes spiritual benefits, includes sanctification, and that this in effect is a participation in the mind and life of Christ, and might be spoken of as substantially righteousness imparted,—the purchase of righteousness imputed, or, according to the modification of the doctrine, a part of God's gracious dealing with us on the ground of Christ's righteousness; and, however this is a complication altogether foreign to the simplicity that is in Christ, I thankfully recognise the degree to which the elements of righteousness,—all that God delights in,holiness, truth, love, may be the objects of spiritual desire, and be welcomed as a part of the unsearchable riches of Christ, even in connexion with this system, and when not seen simply as the elements of the eternal life given to us in Christ our life, and in respect of which He is “made of God unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption."
But, a righteousness imparted as that to which a right has been conferred by a righteousness imputed ;divine favour and acceptance first resting upon us, irrespective of our true spiritual state, and then a spiritual state in harmony with that favour, bestowed as an expression of that favour;-a right and title to heaven made sure, irrespective of a meetness for heaven, and then that meetness—the holiness necessary to the enjoyment of heaven-bestowed upon us as a part of
what we have thus become entitled to,—this is a complication which the testimony of God, that God has given to us eternal life, and that this life is in His Son, never could suggest. Its natural effect is to turn the mind away, in the first instance at all events, from the direct contemplation of eternal life as the salvation given in Christ. The elements of that life may come to be taken into account afterwards; but the evil effect of the first separation between the favour of God and the actual condition of the human spirit in its aspect towards God, never can be altogether remedied,—while this root error will always tend to develope itself in reducing the meaning of the words, “eternal life,” to the conception of an unproved future endless blessedness that awaits us as those who trust in Christ's merits, not a spiritual state into which we enter in receiving the knowledge of God in Christ. Thus confusion and perplexity are introduced into the whole subject of righteousness and eternal life, when, this life being admitted to be given, righteousness is not recognised as simply an element in that gift, or rather an aspect of it.
In tracing, in their prospective relation to the gift of eternal life, the elements of atonement now considered in relation to the remission of sins, we shall find the simplicity that is in Christ delivering us from all this perplexity, and confusing complication; while the immediate and direct occupation of our spirits with eternal life itself as salvation, will favour our intelligent apprehension of that gift, and strengthen us in the faith that God has given it, and also in the faith of the remission of our sins as seen in connexion with it,—the glory of God in the gift of eternal life in His Son, shedding back its light on the Father's acceptance of the Son when He made His soul an offering for sin.
I would recall here the illustration which I have offered above, of the conception which I have sought to convey of the atoning virtue of Christ's expiatory confession of man's sin, viz. the supposition that all the sin of man had been committed by one human spirit, and that that spirit, preserving its personal identity, and retaining the memory of what it had been, should become perfectly righteous. Had such a case been possible, how would the righteous God deal with such a spirit? In the language of Luther, sin and righteousness being thus met in one person, which would prevail ? Would the absolute repentance and sorrow for the past sin, which is necessarily implied in the present righteousness, be an atonement for that past sin, and leave the righteous God free to receive that present righteousness with the favour due to it, or would justice still call for vengeance? This would be a perplexing dilemma, on the assumption of the correctness of the theory of divine justice that represents that attribute of God as a necessity of the divine nature which necessitates the giving to every spirit that which is righteously due to it,
—which, in this case, would imply the necessity both to punish the past sin and reward the present righteousness, and this for ever—an impossible combination. The great advocate of that theory has, however, as we have seen, recognised a principle which would extricate him from this dilemma, when he recognises as alternatives an infinite punishment, or an adequate repentance; and he therefore would have consented to the answer assumed above to be clearly the right answer in the case supposed.
I go back on this illustration, because, while stating it formerly, I felt embarrassed, so far as the supposition was one of present righteousness as well as of past sin. In order to the completeness of the parallel between
the hypothetical case and the constitution of things in Christ which the Gospel reveals, Christ's confession of our sin must be seen in connexion with our relation to the righteousness of Christ, and the sin confessed, and the righteousness in which it is confessed, be seen as if they were in the same person-being both in humanity; though the sin really exists only in humanity as in us, and used in rebellion by us rebels, and the righteousness only in humanity as in Christ, “who through the Eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God.” But the glory of God in this constitution of things, is only seen when the gift of eternal life to man, in the Son of God, is understood;—and this gift we had not then before our minds.
I admitted, in representing Christ's confession of our sin as accounted of to us, that I might, on a superficial view, seem to be stating what was open to the same objections that I have recognised as valid against the doctrine of penal infliction endured by Christ as bearing our sin by imputation; and I offered, in reply, the broad distinction between a state of mind in Christ which implied no legal fiction, no relation to our sins but what was necessarily the result of His being in our nature in the life of love,-a mind which, call it an atoning confession of our sin, or not, was most certainly a confession of our sins which must have been present in His intercession for us,—the broad distinction between this and the infliction on Christ, by the Father, of penal suffering, because, by imputation, He was accounted guilty of our sins. This distinction, if clearly before the mind, is too palpable not to satisfy. But, still, that identifying of Christ with us, and that giving to us, so to speak, the benefit of what He was in humanity, which is implied in representing His confession of our sins as an element in the atonement, is not, as I have