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NATURE, EXTENT, AND RESULTS
REV. WILLIAM SYMINGTON.
PRESBYTERIAN BOARD OF PUBLICATION.
Entered, according to the Act of Congress, in the year 1837, by
ALEXANDER W. MITCHELL, M. D.,
Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
MATTER OR SUBSTANCE
Here we are to inquire what it was by which Christ made atonement for sin. Christ did many things while on earth; he taught, he obeyed, he suffered, he died. Now, the thing to be ascertained, is, by which of these he gave that satisfaction to the law and justice of God in which we conceive the essence of atonement to consist. The truth, on this topic,
we are inclined to think, lies in the following statement: - That Christ made atonement by his sufferings alone; that all his sufferings were comprehended in the matter of his atonement; and that a peculiar importance attaches, in this connexion, to the sufferings of his soul, and of the concluding period of his life. Let us attend to the several branches of this position.
1. Christ made atonement by his sufferings alone.
This statement has been questioned by some of the older writers on the subject, and the opinion it involves has been deemed heretical. To this conclusion they have been led, by taking a more extensive view of the nature of atonement than respect to strict accuracy of definition seems to warrant. Indeed the whole controversy, on this point, depends on the extent of meaning which is attached to the word atonement. If understood to embrace the whole of the Saviour's work for the redemption of man, then more than his sufferings ought to be included in its substance. On the other hand, if by the atonement of Christ is meant only a particular department of the work performed by him for our salvation, correct thinking will require us to restrict our view of its matter to his sufferings alone.
To obviate all difficulty on this subject, it seems necessary only to advert to our definition of atonement. It is this That satisfaction given to the law and justice of God, by the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ, on behalf of elect sin
ners of mankind, on account of which they are deliveres from condemnation. From the terms of this definition, the atonement of Christ is understood to consist in giving satisfaction to the law of God, so as to procure escape from its curse; and, taking this as a correct view of the nature of atonement, it follows, as a thing of course, that its malter should be restricted to suffering.
This will appear in a clearer light if the following observations are attended to. The law of God is to be viewed in a twofold light-in its precept and in its penalty ; the one prescribing duty and demanding obedience, the other denouncing punishment on the guilty violater. Corresponding to these, there is a twofold view to be taken of man's relation to the law-consisting in an obligation to obey the precept, and an obnoxiousness to suffer the penalty in case of transgression. Man's subjection to the law, again, may be viewed in three lights-natural, federal, and penal. Natural subjection to the law arises necessarily out of man's circumstances as a moral creature, and cannot be increased, or diminished, or nullified, by any thing which is done either by himself or by another in his stead : it remains unalterably the same at all times, and abides through eternity: it belongs to man as a moral being, and continues during the period of his existence: it could not be obliterated, but by an entire change of nature, which is tantamount to an annihilation of his existence. Federal subjection springs from the covenant form of the law, in which the fulfilment of duties is enforced, not merely by a threatening of punishment, which seems to be essential to the very nature of a law, but by a promise of reward which the abstract view of law does not necessarily require. This belongs not to man as a creature, but as a party in a voluntary transaction or economical arrangement, the obligation of which is supposed to cease when the object for which it has been entered into has been accomplished; that is to say, when the condition of the covenant is fulfilled. Penal subjection consists in an obligation to suffer the punishment due to the breach of the law, and is incurred by a violation of its requirements. These different kinds of subjection are founded on different views of the divine character, and are alike indispensable, excepting on the principle that the claims of Deity are answered. The first is founded on the nature of God, and is necessarily immutable. The second is founded on the will of God, and can only be dispensed with by a fulfilment of the whole condition of the covenant. The
third is founded on the retributive justice of God, and can cease only when the penalty has been fully borne.
Fallen man is to be regarded as under subjection to the law of God in these three lights :-naturally, federally, penally. He is under natural subjection, as a creature. He is under federal subjection, as included in the covenant which God made with Adam in his character of legal representative of his posterity. He is under penal subjection, as involved in the guilt resulting from the violation of the original covenant engagement, and from his own actual transgression.
Now, man's need of salvation arises out of his inability to meet this threefold obligation of God's holy and righteous law. He is under subjection, but he cannot fulfil what that subjection supposes to be required of him. He is under natural subjection; but he cannot meet the requirements of the law, because morally depraved. He is under federal subjection; but he cannot yield the perfect obedience which is the condition of the covenant, because he is without strength. He is under penal subjection ; but he can never fully endure what the sanction of the law prescribes, because the punishment it denounces is everlasting.
The salvation of man must, therefore, include two things: -deliverance from the federal and penal obligation of the law, and qualification for the fulfilment of that natural obligation from which there can be no deliverance. To qualify man for complying with what his natural obligation to the law imposes, is the work of the Holy Spirit, in regeneration and sanctification. To deliver man from the federal and penal obligation of the law, is the work of Jesus Christ. But the work of Christ, it will thus be seen, must consist of two parts, or rather is to be viewed in two lights—as a satisfaction to the federal demands of the law, and as a compliance with its penal sanction. The former is necessary to give man a title to the life promised in the covenant, and is effected by positive obedience to the whole precepts of the law. The latter is necessary to free man from the death or curse denounced in the covenant on human disobedience, and is effected by suffering the whole amount of the penalty. Now, it is the last of these objects which is contemplated by the atonement, and hence the necessity of restricting its mat ter to suffering.
It is not to be understood, that, in making this distinction between the positive obedience and penal suffering of Christ, it is meant to be insinuated that these were ever actually sepas rated from one another. Is Christ divided? No, by no means