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NECESSITY OF THE ATONEMENT.
TEAt he might be just, and the justifer of him which believeth in Jesus.
ROMANS, iii. 26.
The atonement of Christ lies at the foundation of the gospel, which we cannot understand, without understanding the nature and necessity of the atonement which he made on the cross. But there are various opinions maintained upon this important subject, by those who profess to believe the gospel. It becomes us, therefore, to examine this subject seriously and critically, that we may discover wherein his atonement consists, and for what purpose it was made. The apostle, having proved in the preceding verses that all mankind are by nature in a state of guilt and condemnation, proceeds to show how believers are forgiven, or justified, through the redemption, or atonement, of Christ. Speaking of himself and other believers, he says, “ Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins — that he might be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus.” According to this representation, it was absolutely necessary for Christ to make atonement for sin by his blood, on the cross, in order that God might be just, in forgiving or justifying penitent believers. Though it was not necessary that God should forgive the transgressors of his law, yet it was necessary that an atonement should be made to show ihat he was just to himself, as well as merciful to them, if he did grant them the remission of sins. So that we may safely conclude,
That the atonement of Christ was necessary entirely on God's account.
It is proposed to show that this was so, and why it was so.
I. It is to be shown that the atonement of Christ was necessary entirely on God's account.
If the atonement of Christ were not necessary on the account of sinners, then, if it were necessary at all, it must have been necessary on God's account. But it is easy to see that it could not be necessary on the account of sinners. When Adam had sinned, and involved himself and his posterity in guilt and ruin, God might have destroyed him and them, as he destroyed the fallen angels, according to the rules of strict justice. By treating them in such a manner, he would have done honor to his character, to his law and to his government, in the eyes of all his intelligent creatures, without doing the least injury to them. As sinners, they deserved to suffer the penalty of the law which they had broken; and God might have inflicted upon them that eternal death which is the proper wages of sin. On the other hand, he might have saved them in a sovereign manner, without doing injustice to them, or to any other of his creatures. If God had chosen to save all mankind without an atonement, he would have treated them better than they deserved, which could have been no injury to them; nor could it have been any injury to the fallen angels, to have treated fallen men better than he treated them. As he treated them as well as they deserved, they could have no ground to complain, if he treated mankind better than they deserved. There was, therefore, no necessity for the atonement of Christ on the account of sinners. If no atonement had been made, God might have treated them according to their deserts, or better than their deserts, without doing them, or any other creature, the least injury. When Adam fled from the presence of God in despair, it was not because he feared that his Creator and Lawgiver would injure him. He knew that God would not injure him, if he destroyed him, and much less, if he saved him. All sinners now know the same.
When they reflect upon their sinful, perishing state, they are sensible that they deserve to die, and that eternal death is not a punishment greater than their guilt. They see nothing, on their own account, why God may not exercise his justice or his grace towards them, without an atonement. They know that he would not injure them, if he should exercise either his justice or his grace towards them. Consequently, they see no need of an atonement on their own account. If no atonement had been made, God might have determined to destroy all the human race, or to have saved all the human race, without doing any injury to them, or to any other created beings. It hence appears that there was no necessity for the atonement of
Christ, on account of sinners themselves. But the apostle assures us in the text, that an atonement was necessary on God's account, that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
II. I proceed to show why the atonement of Christ was necessary on God's account, in order to render it consistent with his amiable and glorious character to extend pardoning mercy to this fallen, guilty, perishing world.
If we can only discover why Adam, after he had eaten the forbidden fruit and incurred the penalty of the divine law, despaired of pardoning mercy, we can easily see why an atonement for sin was absolutely necessary, in order to render it consistent for God to exercise pardoning grace to sinners. Adam knew that God was perfectly good, and that his perfect goodness would necessarily dispose him to do good, not only to the innocent, but to the guilty. Why then did he despair of mercy? The only reason was, that he knew that God was just, as well as good; and that it was morally impossible that he should exercise his goodness inconsistently with his justice. This banished from his mind every gleam of hope. The more he realized the goodness of God, the more he realized the justice of God; and the more he realized the justice of God, the more he despaired of pardoning mercy. For he could not see how it was possible that God should be just to himself and to his law, and yet pardon his transgression; nor was there an angel in heaven who could see how this could be brought about. A servant who has disobeyed a good master, is more afraid of being punished than a servant who has disobeyed a bad master. A child who has disobeyed a good parent, is more afraid of being punished than a child who has disobeyed a bad parent. The reason is the same in both cases. The servant and the child know that goodness implies justice; and justice is a disposition to punish. Adam knew that the perfect goodness of God implied his perfect justice; and that his perfect justice implied an inflexible disposition to punish the guilty. It is not probable that Adam thought of an atonement; and if he did, he could not see how an atonement could be made ; and therefore he utterly despaired of pardon and salvation. As Adam could not see how God could consistently forgive him without an atonement, so none of his posterity can see how God can consistently forgive them without an atonement. He was a true representative of all who should be and now are in his state of guilt and condemnation. As God could not have been just to himself in forgiving Adam without an atonement, so he cannot be just to himself in forgiving any of his guilty posterity without an atonement. And as God did determine to show mercy to sinners, so it was absolutely necessary that Christ should make an atonement for their sins. The atonement of Christ was necessary entirely on God's account. The necessity of Christ's atonement, in case God determined to save sinners, originated entirely in his immutable justice. He must be just to himself; that is, he must display his essential and amiable attribute of retributive justice, in pardoning or justifying those who deserve to be punished. There was nothing in men that required an atonement, and there was nothing in God that required an atonement, but his justice. All the moral perfections of the Deity are comprised in the pure love of benevolence. God is love. Before the foundation of the world, there was no ground for considering love as divided into various and distinct at. tributes. But after the creation, new relations arose; and in consequence of new relations, more obligations were formed, both on the side of the Creator and on that of his creatures. Before created beings existed, God's love was exercised wholly towards himself. But after moral beings were brought into existence, it was right in the nature of things that he should exercise right affections towards them, according to their moral characters. Hence the goodness, the justice, and mercy of God are founded in the nature of things. That is, so long as God remains the Creator, and men remain his creatures, he is morally obliged to exercise these different and distinct feelings towards them. He must be disposed to do good to the innocent, to punish the guilty, and at the same time, to forgive them. Now there never was any difficulty in the way of God's doing good to the innocent, nor in the way of his punishing the guilty; but there was a difficulty in sparing and forgiving the wicked. God's goodness is a disposition to do good to the innocent; his justice is a disposition to punish the guilty; and his mercy is a disposition to pardon and save the guilty. The great difficulty, therefore, in the way of man's salvation, was, 10 reconcile God's disposition to punish with his disposition to forgive; or in other words, to reconcile his justice with his mercy. This was a difficulty in the divine character, and a still greater difficulty in the divine government. For God had revealed his justice in his moral government. He had given a law to man, and in that law had clearly exhibited his justice. In the penalty of the law he had declared that the transgressor deserved eternal punishment; that he had a right to inflict eternal punishinent; that he had power to inflict eternal punishment; and that he had a disposition to inflict eternal punishment. There was a clear and full exhibition of retributive justice, in the first law given to man. “ In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” This law, clothed with all the