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THE ATONEMENT

THE ATONEMENT. man; and something higher than an intellectual demand, though that is not to be slighted as if it were not of God also, is felt to call for light on the nature of the atonement, when previously received conceptions no longer satisfy conscience, developed, and spiritually enlightened. The internal evidence of Christianity all prize, and anything felt to be a real addition to it all must welcome, though the freedom with which men seek such increase in the internal light of the gospel, is various. Some, indeed, may give too much ground for the charge of intellectual arrogance, in the demand they make for internal evidence at every step; while others, while thankfully receiving such evidence, fall into the error of treating it as something over and above what was needed for faith. I believe the former little realise how much more they believe than they understand; and I believe the latter as little realise how much their reception of what they believe depends ultimately upon what of it they do understand, and spiritually discern to be to the glory of God. I am not now to write on the nature of the atonement as one whose first faith in the atonement rested on a clear understanding of its nature; and yet I do not look back on that first faith as unwarranted and unreal. Our first faith may have in it elements which are true and abiding, although mingled with much darkness, which, in the low undeveloped condition of conscience, causes us no pain or uneasiness. As the divine life is developed in us, these two things proceed happily together, viz. a growing capacity of judging what the conditions are of a peace with God in full harmony with his name and character; and the apprehension of these conditions as all present in the atonement. But it would be altogether in contradiction to the nature of that love, which, while we were yet sinners, gave Christ to die for us, to suppose that true yieldings to the drawings of that love, however dimly and imperfectly apprehended, ever deceive the heart; or that the hope towards God, which accompanies them, can ever disappoint. To come to see more of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ is not to come to see reason to conclude that my hope was vain while I saw less. Yet surely, on the other hand, that God acknowledged me while I saw least, yet seeing something truly, is no reason why I should not seek to see more,-yea as much as God may give me to see.

The kindness and love of God our Saviour towards man—the grace of God which hath appeared bringing salvation to all men—has a twofold aspect; the one retrospective, referring to the evil from which that grace brings deliverance; the other prospective, referring to the good which it bestows. Of that evil men have the varied and sad experience, as they have also feelings that may be interpreted as longings after that good; but that experience is unintelligent and these longings are vague, and the grace which brings salvation is itself the light which reveals both our need of salvation, and what the salvation is which we need; explaining to us the mystery of our dark experience, and directing our aimless longings to the unknown hope which was for us in God.

The light which reveals to us the evil of our condition as sinners, and the good of which God saw the capacity still to remain with us, reveals to us, at the same time, the greatness of the gulf which separated these two conditions of humanity; and the way in which the desire which arose in God, as the Father of spirits, to bridge over that gulf, has been accomplished. That way is the atonement; as to which it is certain that, if we were so far from seeing the evil

of our own evil state as God saw it, and, I may say, so much farther still from being conscious to the measure of our own capacity of good, the way in which God was to accomplish the desire of his love for us we could not have of ourselves anticipated, but God himself must make it known to us.

But we know that, though the gospel alone sheds clear and perfect light on the evil of man's condition as a sinner, conscience fully recognises the truth of that revelation of ourselves which the gospel makes to us. Were it otherwise, assuredly its light would be no light to us. So also as to the gift of eternal life. When that gift is revealed to our faith, its suitableness to us, and fitness to fill all our capacities of well-being as God's offspring, is discerned by us in proportion as we are awakened to true self-consciousness, and learn to separate between what God made us, and what we have become through sin. And, in like manner, I believe that the atonement, related as it must needs be, retrospectively to the condition of evil from which it is the purpose of God to save us, and prospectively to the condition of good to which it is his purpose to raise us, will commend itself to our faith by the inherent light of its divine adaptation to accomplish all which it has been intended to accomplish. Nor can I doubt that the high prerogative which belongs to us of discerning, and, in our measure, appreciating the divine wisdom, as well as the divine goodness, in other regions of God's acting, extends to this region also; which doubtless is the highest region of all, but which, while the highest, is also the region in which our human consciousness, and the teaching of the Spirit of God in conscience, should help our understandings most. When the apostle represents himself as by manifestation of the truth commending himself

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to every man's conscience in the sight of God, we are not to doubt that he so speaks with reference, no less to the atonement itself, than to the high ends which it contemplates.

In this view the internal evidence of the atonement ought to be the securest stronghold of Christianity: whereas we find many who profess to rest all their hope of acceptance with God upon the atonement, receiving it as a mystery which they do not feel it needful to understand; so that to them it is no part of the evidence of revelation, being commended to their faith only by the authority of a revelation itself received upon other grounds; while there are others to whom the presence of that doctrine in revelation is a strong objection to revelation itself. In this state of things it is natural to ask, “Can it be that conception of the atonement which the apostle expected would commend itself to every man's conscience in the sight of God which some thus treat as an argument against revelation, and which others, while receiving it, hold only as a mystery ?" and the latter part of the question is the more difficult: for a rebellious spirit may reject revelation for the very reason for which it has most claim to be received; while a meek, obedient spirit may be expected at once to receive and to understand. For the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he will shew them his covenant.

The lowest measure of internal evidence claimed for the doctrine of the atonement is, that conscience testifies to a need be for an atonement. It has been usual, in arguing with those who refuse to concede even this much, to urge the fact that in all nations, in every age, men have sought to atone for sin by sacrifice. Whether this practice be referable to the universal tradition of an original institution of sacrifice, or be regarded as a consentaneous utterance of humanity, expressing its thoughts independently at all successive periods, and in places the most remote from each other, it is unquestionably an arresting fact. But, not to found a sweeping rejection of all the elements of the worship of the heathen on the testimony that they sacrificed to devils and not to God, even in the highest view that can be taken, their worship was that of “the unknown God,” and, when brought by us to a higher light, must be judged by that higher light. If, in attempting so to judge, one man says,—“I see here sacrifices offered to propitiate the divine favour. They are offered in manifest ignorance, for some of them are monstrous and revolting, and the least objectionable are manifestly inadequate to the end contemplated; but still we must respect the feelings that suggested sacrifice ;” another may reply, “To me the feeling and its expression are alike referable to radical ignorance of God.” Clearly the determination of this controversy must be sought elsewhere than in the historical fact which is its subject.

As to the use that has been made of the recorded instances of heroic self-sacrifice connected with assumed divine requirements,-in reference to which it has been lately beautifully said that the love of Christ was “foreshadowed in these weaker acts of love” (Thomson, p. 35),-however much we must admire the self-devotion manifested, it is not very clear how far the moral element in the sacrifice, by which the person sacrificing himself was endeared to those for whose sakes he so devoted himself, was that which was supposed to give its value to the sacrifice in the eyes of the angry deities whom it was sought to propitiate. All that the demand implied was the high value of the offering to those from whom it was required, and the offended gods may

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