Page images






THE fundamental place which the atonement occupies

1 in Christianity, gives importance to every aspect in which it can be contemplated. Of these aspects the chief are, its reference, its object, and its nature. For whom was it made? what was it intended to accomplish ? what has it been in itself ?

These are distinct questions, though the discussion of any one of them has generally more or less involved that of the other two. Certainly to be in possession of the true answer to any one of them must be a help in seeking the answers of the others; as also a misconception as to the answer of one must tend to mislead us in our consideration of the others. This is true, whichever aspect of the subject we may regard as the most important, or as having in it most light.

The question between the Reformers and the Church of Rome—the question of justification by faith alone was most closely connected with the second aspect of the atonement, viz. what it has accomplished. The discussions which subsequently divided the Reformers among themselves turned on the first; being as to whether the atonement had been made for all men, or for an election only. Much recent advocacy of the atonement has dealt freely with the third point, i. e. what the atonement is in itself, as to which there was


no question raised in the earlier discussions, but as to which it has been latterly felt, that the other questions could not be rightly taken up until this one was more closely considered ; and as to which the advocates of the universality of the atonement have begun to feel, that the received conceptions of its nature have given to the advocates of an atonement referring to an election only, an advantage in argument which a true apprehension of what the atonement has been would do away with.

It is this third aspect of the atonement-i. e. its nature—that I now propose to consider; which I propose to do with more immediate reference to the second aspect of the atonement, viz. what it has accomplished -i.e. its relation to the remission of sins, and the gift of eternal life. The first point, viz. the extent of the reference of the atonement, it is no part of my immediate purpose to discuss. I believe that the atonement has been an atonement for sin, having reference to all mankind; I believe this to be distinctly revealed ; I believe it to be also implied in what the atonement is in itself. But it is the illustration of the nature of the atonement which I have immediately in view ; for it is in the prevailing state of men's minds on this subject that I feel a call to write.

I have just noticed that the exigencies of controversy, and the natural desire to give a philosophical harmony to theological system, has recently led to a reconsideration of the subject of the nature of the atonement. I shall subsequently have occasion to notice particularly what the result has been ; and why. I am not satisfied with that result: which had I been, I should gladly have felt this volume superseded. But the intellectual exigencies of systems are, if real, closely connected with the spiritual exigencies of the living

« PreviousContinue »