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Opinions and Concessions of Theological Professors.
Professor Stuart has expressed the following opinions :“God is just ; therefore he will punish sin ;
and if we read only the book of nature, must we not say too with Seneca—Therefore he cannot forgive it? But revelation discloses his attribute of mercy; and mercy consists essentially in remitting the strict claims of justice, either in whole or in part.- In the agonies of Christ, a personage of such transcendent dignity and glory, we see the terrors of divine justice displayed in the most affecting manner, and are impressively taught what evil is due to sin. In the pardon purchased by his death, we contemplate the riches of divine mercy.” p. 25.
I shall not remark on the account here given of the “ book of nature,” except so far as to express my belief, that a due consideration of the long-suffering of God and his innumerable favors to sinners, might naturally excite a hope, that with him there is forgiveness for the penitent, and that this hope might derive some strength from observing how far vice is connected with misery, and reformation with happiness, in the course of natural providence. But I may seriously ask, Who can see “riches of divine mercy” in pardon conferred on the penitent only on the ground that it was "purchased” by the sufferings of an innocent substitute ? If such representations were just, would they not evince rather the poverty, than “ the riches of divine mercy ?”
The Professor admits that “mercy consists essentially in remitting the claims of strict justice, in whole or in
part.' Hence the mercy displayed in pardon must be in proportion as “the elaims of strict justice” are remitted. I may then ask, how much is there of mercy in a pardon “purchased” by a substitute, who suffers an equivalent to all the demands of the law ? In respect to the sinner, the whole of the claims of justice may be remitted ; but this does not decide the question as to the degree of mercy displayed by the sovereign; for all that is remitted to the sinner, is supposed to have been required of the substitute, and suffered by him.
But what are "the claims of strict justice ?” Does strict justice claim a right to inflict penal evils on the innocent, as a substitute for the punishment due to the guilty ?
If not, how can the claims of justice be answered by such infliction, “either in whole or in part ?”
It will be said, that the Son of God consented to suffer as our substitute. But where is the record of such a consent? I know not.
Supposing, however, that it could be found, would such a consent make it right to inflict the evil on him? Could à father thus derive a right to punish the innocent instead of the guilty son ? Or could a king thus derive a right to punish an innocent subject? The answers to these questions must be in the negative. It is an object in every just penal law to distinguish the innocent from the transgressor, by exposing the latter only to be punished. When just and necessary sufferings are inflicted on the transgressor, these sufferings may be said to answer the demands of the law, or the claims of justice; but as neither the law nor justice has any such demands on the innocent, I cannot see how the claims of strict justice” can be answered, “ in whole or in part,” by the penal sufferings of an innocent substitute.
Dr. Murdock's Concessions. Dr. Murdock has made one concession relating to this subject which surprised me. Speaking of the divine law,
“When once a creature becomes a transgressor of its commands or probibitions, it never is satisfied and never can be, with any thing short of the full execution of the threatened penalty on the transgressor himself. And the same is true of criminal law under human governments. No judge can admit an innocent person to suffer an infamous or capital punishment in place of the person found guilty. If a few rare instances of such a procedure can be gleaned from ancient history, they must be ascribed to the ignorance of the times; for neither distributive justice nor the sound maxims of criminal law will vindicate them.' Discourse on the Atonement. pp. 32, 33.
He then mentions the case of Zeleucus, the Locrian lawgiver, whose son, by adultery, had become exposed to the loss of both eyes; and the father wishing to honor the law, and at the same time to favor his son, caused one of his own eyes to be plucked out instead of one of his son's. On this strong case Dr. Murdock remarks-" The father's loss of an eye was not what the law demanded, nor any part of it.” In applying the anecdote, he observes—" And thus, also, the bloody sacrifice of the Mediator was not what the law of God demanded, or could accept, as a legal satisfaction for our sins. All it could do, was to display the feelings of God in regard to his law; and to secure, by the impression it made, the public objects which would be gained by the execution of the law.”.
Who could have expected, that a writer possessing such clear views of the barbarity of substituted sufferings under human governments, would have appeared as a public advocate for such sufferings under the government of God! If the “ few rare instances” of such sufferings among men are to be “ ascribed to the ignorance of the times” when they happened, can it be doing honor to Jehovah to impute to him such a policy?
Besides, if the “bloody sacrifice of the Mediator was not what the law required or could accept,” what were “the feelings of God in regard to his law," which were displayed by the supposed substituted sufferings ? Was it possible for God to show respect for his law, by doing what the law did not require, and could not accept? To honor a law, respect must be shown to its principles as well as to its precepts. If the sovereign himself violates the most important principles of his law, he does it more dishonor than a subject can do by violating its commands. If a. law makes no provision for substituted sufferings,—does not require them, and cannot accept them, how can it be honored by such substitution ? May we not then suspect that the doctrine of substituted sufferings, like “ the few rare instances” of their occurrence, should be “ ascribed to the ignorance of the times” in which it had its origin?
Any being, who has a right to make a penal law, must be supposed to have a right to remit its penalty, in whole part,
whenever he sees reason for so doing, and on such conditions as in his opinion will have the most salutary influence. But whether any being in the universe can properly be said to have a right to transfer a just punishment from the guilty to the innocent, is at least very questionable; for no being can have a right to do wrong. Considered as an expedient for honoring a law, or for vindicating the honor of a sovereign, what can be less adapted to such purposes than substituted sufferings ? Conduct which
violates the principles of every just law, cannot be made equitable by the authority of a sovereign, nor by the consent of an innocent sufferer. If God were now standing on the ground of substituted suffering, would it be possible for him to repeat his appeal to the consciences of men—" Are not my ways equal ?
Dr. Murdock has another concession which I shall quote, in the hope that it will excite more candor than is now generally prevalent. Prior to the statement of his own views of the atonement, he observes,
“For the attainment of salvation, it may be sufficient that we know, and believe - firmly the simple fact, that there is forgiveness with God for the penitent believer, on account of something which Christ has done or suffered. Not much beyond this have the knowledge and faith of the great body of Christians in every age extended." pp. 6, 7.
It is doubtless desirable to obtain more definite views of the subject than is here supposed to have been possessed by “the great body of Christians." But it is very questionable whether more light than darkness has been thrown on the doctrine by metaphysical reasoners, who have not been contented with the simple manner in which the doctrine is stated in the New Testament.
add-if " for the attainment of salvation is not necessary than is supposed by Dr. Murdock, how melancholy is the fact, that this affecting subject has been the occasion of so many bitter controversies, and antichristian censures one of another, among men who have professed to be followers of the Lamb! The defect of temper thus evinced, is, in my view, more dangerous than any defect of mere opinion.