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The Circumstances of the Crucifixion incompatible with the
prevailing Views of the Atonement.
It has long been a prevalent belief, that it was the purpose of God in the sufferings of his Son, to make a striking exhibition of his just displeasure against sin,—of his regard to his holy law, and his inflexible purpose that sin shall not pass unpunished,—and that this was done by inflicting on his Son the penal evils due to the sins of men, or such awful sufferings as were equivalent to the miseries due to our sinful race. It may perhaps be better that I should state the hypothesis in the language of Dr. Murdock. In his “ Discourse on the Atonement,” may be seen the following statements.
“ The Atonement, to be a proper substitute for the execution of the law, ought to be a public exhibition, and such an exhibition as would impress all the creatures of God with a deep and awful sense of the majesty and sanctity of his law, of the criminality of disobedience to it, and of the holy, unbending rectitude of God, as a moral Governor. And such, according to the text,* the atonement really was.
“ But how, it may be asked, are these expressed or represented ? The answer is, Symbolically." p. 24. “ But I venture to say that this symbol has a natural fitness for its object. Its primary object was not so much to enlighten the understanding, as to impress the feelings of creatures. And the impression to be made was to be universal and deep and lasting as eternity.” p. 26.7
* Rom. iii. 25, 26.
+ These passages have not been quoted from any unfriendly feeling towards their author, nor for the purpose of criticism'; but merely that I might express the hypothesis to be considered, in the language of one
The “public exhibition” is supposed to have been made nearly 1800 years ago, and principally at the crucifixion of the Messiah. But to me it appears that the circumstances of the crucifixion were totally incompatible with the purpose
of such an exhibition. Had it been the purpose
of God to make an exhibition of such a kind as has been supposed, would he not by some means have called the attention of spectators to that object, that it might be observed and understood ? Had the Messiah understood that such an exhibition was to be made in his sufferings, would he not at least have intimated the fact to his Apostles in his private interview with them, the evening before the crucifixion, while he was so disposed to comfort them and to prepare their minds for the trial that was approaching ? Could God have selected a time for the exhibition when all the existing circumstances were adapted to lead the spectators to impute the sufferings of his Son to other causes than a display of divine justice, or displeasure against sin? The Jews, by clamor and menace, had extorted from Pilate the sentence of crucifixion against the Messiah, and as a malefactor, he was led to the cross and executed. The Jews and the Romans who attended, were well aware that the sufferings of the cross were infamous and excruciating ; but it does not appear that they were apprized of any thing unusual in the sufferings of Jesus, either in their nature or their extent, to dis
who must be supposed to understand the prevailing views of the atonement. The discourse was delivered in 1823, in the chapel of the Theological Institution at Andover, while Dr. Murdock was a Professor ; and it was "published by the Students of the Institution.” These facts, it is hoped, will preclude all suspicion of intended unfairness in giving the statements of this author as expressive of the popular views of the gospel sacrifice.
tinguish them from the distresses which others endured on the cross—or in the least to indicate, that he was enduring, as a substitute for sinners, miseries equivalent to the sufferings of hell.
To whom then was made the public exhibition of God's avenging justice? The Apostles appear to have been as totally ignorant and unapprized of any such purpose, as were the Roman soldiers or the persecuting Jews. To say, that the exhibition was made to beings of the invisible world, affords me no satisfaction. For whatever may have been the nature or the purposes of the exhibition, it was " for us,” “ for sinners,” that the Messiah laid down his life. Men were the beings most deeply interested the beings to be influenced and reconciled to God by the death of his Son. Angels and other spiritual beings might be witnesses of the tragical scene. But if they were, they have not informed us that they perceived displays of God's anger in the sufferings of his Son; and until they do give us such information, we can have no satisfactory proof that so much as one spectator of the crucifixion had even a suspicion that Christ was suffering as a substitute for a world of sinners. Yet we are told, that “the impression to be made was to be universal !
There is still another circumstance which demands serious attention. The time supposed to have been chosen by God for “the public exhibition of his justice," was a time when his Son was actually suffering a cruel death by 56 wicked hands." Shall we then cherish à belief that the Holy One was disposed to conceal necessary displays of punitive justice, under a cloud so horribly black as that of Jewish malignity against the Messiah? or that God would $0 mingle the displays of his justice with the effects of
persecuting malice, as to render it impossible for the witnesses to distinguish the one from the other?
66 God is love ”—and does such an exhibition comport with the purity and benevolence of his character? If the design of the gospel atonement was a display of divine justice, equivalent to the miseries due to the wicked, does it not appear
that the circumstances of the exhibition were completely adapted to defeat the whole purpose ?
God regards men as rational beings, capable of reasoning on the nature of his conduct. He thus addressed the Israelites Come now and let us reason together.”. “Are not my ways equal? Are not your ways unequal ?” He would not have made such appeals to men, had not his conduct been such as their consciences must approve. But for men to perceive the wisdom or the equity of God's conduct in a particular case, it must be of such a nature that wisdom, or equity can be perceived by the faculties with which he has endued them. It must not be repugnant to the dictates of that reason by which he has made them accountable beings. To reason and conscience I may then appeal respecting the propriety of what I have said in the preceding paragraphs, on the supposed
public exhibition.". But that the subject may be brought down still more to a level with the human understanding, a simile may be proposed; and as our Savior deemed it proper to make use of things pertaining to earthly governments to illustrate truths relating to the kingdom of God, I hope it will not be deemed profane in me to imitate his example.
Let it then be supposed, that a king, renowned for wisdom and benevolence, deems it incumbent on him to make a display of his justice by inflicting on his Son a se
vere suffering, on account of misconduct on the part of the Son, or on the part of subjects in whose behalf the Son has become interested. For this purpose there must be a “public exhibition,” that his justice may be witnessed, -and a deep impression made on all his subjects throughout his dominions. How may it be expected that this wise king will proceed to accomplish a purpose so important? Will he take an opportunity to do it while his son is really suffering excruciating tortures from the hands of wicked men, who are enemies to himself as well as to his son? Will he do it under circumstances which will render it certain, that all the sufferings of his son will be imputed to wicked hands, and that the effects of the father's justice will be unperceived and unsuspected ? However reasonable it might be that the son should suffer from his father's justice or displeasure, it is a clear case that there could be no display or manifestation of this justice under such circumstances. I may further ask, would not the father's conduct in thus secretly combining his own operations with those of persecutors, expose him to just reproach, should the fact ever be published ? As nothing would be seen or known of the father's justice during the exhibition, should it afterwards be affirmed that the son did on that occasion greatly suffer the effects of his father's displeasure ; would it not be said, either that the report is incredible, or that the display of justice was a mere farce, unworthy of the character of a wise king ?
Shall we not, then, hesitate to impute to Jehovah an exhibition or a policy, which would certainly be degrading to an earthly sovereign ?. It has been supposed that there was as clear and as strong a display of God's justice, and of his displeasure against sin, in the sufferings of the Son,