Page images

cipation in Christ and His righteousness, give me the conviction that Luther was indeed contemplating spiritual realities which had a place in the work of redemption, when using language as to the nearness of the relation to us, and to our sin, into which Christ came, which has, and not without cause, given so much offence. In Luther's apprehension, Christ's bearing of our sins was not a mere imputation in the mind of another; it was a deep and painful reality in His own mind; and the victory of righteousness in Him was not such in respect of the award to righteousness by another, but a victory obtained by righteousness itself as a living divine might in Him. A legal fiction would be no explanation. The assumption of a delusive consciousness Luther would reject. What the truth of the case has been, (and which, as having taken place in humanity, may be expected to be utterable to men,) Luther's words, as he has written, do not make us to know; whatever spiritual truth these words have had in his own mind:—for interpreted according to their plain grammatical meaning, the words by which he expresses Christ's relation to our sins cannot be true. His use of them is, therefore, not to be defended. Yet shall we suffer loss if we allow ourselves to suppose that as used by a man of so much spiritual insight as Luther they had not a meaning at once true and important. Indeed, if there be not a true sense in

which Christ did bear on His spirit the weight of our ✓ sins, and all our evils, and did deal with the law of

God as so bearing them, seeking redemption for us,— and did triumph in so doing by the might of righteousness, Luther's marvellous teaching of justification by faith alone is left a superstructure without a foundation.




TF the great Reformer's teaching had obtained and I kept possession of the faith of the reformed Church, and that I could calculate on the presence in the minds of my readers of his preaching of Christ, I might now proceed to consider the nature of the atonement, without further preface or preparation. But I need not say how far the fact is otherwise. And as I am anxious to carry along with me the minds of those who not only believe in the atonement, but give it that very prominent place which it has in the teaching usually designated “evangelical,”—though my appeal is not to what is specially distinctive of any, but is to the consciences of all, I shall now detain my readers for a little with the teaching on the subject of the atonement associated with the name of Calvin.

Calvinism, as now living in our generation of men, presents to our attention two very distinctly marked forms:—the one, that which I believe those who hold it would recognise as best expounded by Dr. Owen and President Edwards; to whom I may add Dr. Chalmers ; (whose recognition of Edwards as his theological teacher is known, and is abundantly manifest in his Institutes of Theology:) the other is that recent modification of Calvinism which is presented to us in the writings of Dr. Pye Smith, Dr. Payne, and Dr. Jenkyn, in England; and i Dr. Wardlaw, in Scotland. I name these writers only

While I am aware that there are others, because my knowledge of the system is derived from them.


Two centuries separate us from Dr. Owen, and one from President Edwards; but their theology, which is one, still lives in the present generation-of the Presbyterian section at least—of the Church in Scotland; and, I presume, has much hold on men's minds also in England and in America. No man can accord with these two men in their faith without rejoicing in them as bulwarks of that faith. Owen's clear intellect, and Edwards's no less unquestionable power of distinct and discriminating thought, combined with a calmer, and more weighty, and more solemn tone of spirit;-the former writing as a man whose life was much one of theological controversy, the latter more as living among religious awakenings of which he was at once a subject and the instrument;—justify our regarding them as having set forth the modification of the doctrine of the atonement which they teach to the greatest advantage of which it is capable;-while, wherein any may think it dark and repulsive, they hide nothing, gloss over nothing, soften nothing: for they were true men, and not ashamed of the Christ in whom they believed.

Luther's anxiety to warn men “to abstain from the curious searching of God's majesty," has been noticed above. Not by such searching, but by becoming acquainted with Jesus Christ, would he teach us to expect the true knowledge of God: and this counsel is altogether in the spirit of the words, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” How sound Luther's judgment was in sending us to Jesus, that in Him we might see and embrace God manifested in the flesh; and how much was thus to be learned which systematic theology cannot teach, and yet which we must learn if our systematic thought is to be safe, may well be suggested to us by the history of the preparation for their high calling which the disciples received. Only after their Lord's resurrection were their minds opened to understand that "it behoved Christ to suffer, and afterwards to enter into His glory." Yet were they, in that ignorance. already far advanced in the true knowledge of God, because in the true knowledge of Christ-not of His work, and of its bearing, but of Himself. Luther in telling us “ to go straight to the manger, and embrace v the Virgin's little babe in our arms,” expresses a sense of God's approachableness, as divested of all terrors and revealed in the simple confiding attraction of love, which we feel full of instruction. We can conceive the long self-tortured monk, who had sought God earnestly but ignorantly, thinking, as he tells us, of Christ as an exactor and judge, as now, in the light of love, contemplating the infant Jesus, and saying to himself, “This is God, thus does God come among men;"—and, while the whole life in the flesh of which that is the dawn, passes before him in thought, and he traces the Lord's path from the manger to the cross, and then on to glory, we can conceive of him as repeating to himself“This is my God, in this God am I to put my trust;" and we can understand how, while contrasting what he is thus consciously learning of the true God and eternal life” with all the results of men's “curious searching of God's majesty," with which he was not unacquainted, he would treasure up his own conscious experience,-to minister it to others for warning and guidance.

Now, what, in passing from the record of Luther's thoughts on the atonement to that of the thinking of Owen and Edwards, has come vividly home to my mind, is, that it would be well that they had proceeded more in harmony with the spirit of Luther's warning now

referred to. Not that I would presume to speak of their solemn weighing of the question "what is divine justice? and to what conclusions does it lead on the subject of the atonement ?" as "curious searching;" but that it seems to me that it would have been well that they had used the life of Christ more as their light.

That I say not this self-confidently, or on slight grounds, will, I trust, be made clear to my readers as we proceed. I do not make little account of philosophy, nor would I be contented to see it sharing in the Apostle's condemnation of “philosophy falsely so called.” I believe that a true philosophy has often done much service to religion ;-neither can I understand how a philosophical mind can, without submitting to fetters which I believe are not of God, be contented to hold a religion which is not to it also a philosophy, and the highest philosophy. But no one will doubt that the beloved disciple John, who attained to such high apprehensions of God, and to whom we listen, telling us that “God is love," as to one speaking himself in the light of the eternal love, had his high-and the only adequate-training for this divine philosophy when following the footsteps of Jesus, listening to His words, seeing His deeds, and, from time to time, favoured to lean upon His breast. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.”—1 John i. 1-3

« PreviousContinue »