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Following the arrangement adopted by Dr. Woods, the next subject to which I am to call your attention is that of the Atonement. It is a doctrine on which
. great stress is laid by orthodox writers generally. The author of the Letters addressed to Unitarians says, “ If there is any one doctrine of Revelation which the Orthodox distinguish in point of importance from all others, it is the 'doctrine of Atonement.” It must accordingly be thought, that the importance of having clear conceptions and just views on the subject will bear some proportion to the importance of the subject itself. After such an introduction, therefore, to a letter devoted expressly to the diseussion of that subject, it was certainly reasonable to expect a distinct statement of the orthodox explanation of the texts of scripture, in which it is supposed to be taught, and a defence of the interpretation by which those texts are understood to express the meaning that is assigned to them. More especially was this to be expected of one, who complains that the opinions of the Orthodox are misrepresented, and who, in their name, disclaims the opinions, which are attributed to them. But in this expectation I am disappointed. There is much complaint of misrepresentation, but I find no distinct statement in what the alleged misrepresentation consists, nor what are the precise opinions maintained by the Orthodox on this subject. I am able to collect but a very imperfect and indistinct idea, what the scheme, which claims to be Orthodox on this subject, is. It is asserted, that the language used by orthodox writers on this subject, like that used by the sacred writers, is highly figurative, (p. 86, &c.) that it is not to be understood literally, that it does not mean, what it seems to express. It would have greatly assisted us, and possibly put a period to all controversy on the subject, had the writer seen fit to explain the figures, and give the true interpretation of the metaphors, which it is complained have been so misunderstood, and have thus laid the foundation for misrepresentation.
The first charge of misrepresentation is, that the author of the Sermon makes it a part of the orthodox system," that God took upon him human nature, that he might pay to his own justice the debt of punishment incurred by men, and might enable himself to exercise mercy”_" that he might appease his own anger toward men, or make an infinite satisfaction to his own justice." The unfairness alleged in this representation is, that it does not recognize the distinction of persons in the Deity, which is maintained by the Orthodox, and it is implied, that if no such distinction do exist, the representation would not be liable to objection, for no objection is made to it on any other ground. It was incumbent then on Dr. Woods, not merely to assert this distinction as an article of the orthodox faith, but to explain what it is, and to show its foundation in the language of scripture. The former he has declined, as not being within the scope of our limited minds, (p. 84) the latter, as not falling within his purpose (p. 85) in the discussion of the subject. But until both are done, I can see no ground for complaining of the absurdity charged upon the doctrine. It is a legitimate and necessary consequence of the orthodox faith, that Jesus Christ, whom the Father sent into the world, is the same being with the Father who sent him ; that Christ, who interposed and made an atonement for sinners, is the same being with that God, who, it is alleged, (p. 65) “would never have saved them without such an interposition." It was the same God, the same being, who sent, and was sent, who made the atonement, and whose anger was appeased by the atonement, who made satisfaction to offended justice, and whose justice was satisfied. It is not enough to assert, (p. 64) that “ the Father and the Son are two as really as Moses and Aaron, though not in the same sense, nor in any sense inconsistent with their being one.” It belongs to him, who asserts this, to state intelligibly, what is the nature and import of the distinction here intended ; to explain in what sense two, and in what sense one. No man knows better than Dr. Woods, that until he has done this, he has done nothing to the purpose.
He uses words without meaning, and merely casts a mist, where he is bound to shed light.
The next imputation on the orthodox faith, which Dr. Woods endeavours to remove is, that it conveys to common minds the idea, that “ Christ's death has an influence in making God placable, or merciful, in quenching his wrath, and awakening his kindness towards men.” Now to vindicate the system, and those who support it, from this charge, it was necessary to show, that the language in which the doctrine is expressed and enforced by the Orthodox, is not calculated to produce this impression. But has this been done ? By no means. The contrary is frankly admitted. It is conceded that the literal sense of the orthodox writings amounts to this. It is asserted indeed, that the doctrine of the Orthodox is the very reverse of this, “ that the mercy of God, not the interposition of Christ, was the origin and moving cause of the work of redemption ;” (p. 68) “ that the mercy or placability of God could neither be produced nor increased by the atonement of Christ."
These are noble, correct, scriptural views. We are delighted to find on this point an opinion so highly important, in exact coincidence with that of Unitarians, and one to which they attach a very high degree of importance. We are glad too to find a strong sensibility expressed to the honour of the divine character, and horror at the thought of an opinion, so derogatory to it, as that which is attributed to the influence of the language they use on the subject. But why then does he go on to defend the use of that language, instead of correcting it ? Since it is admitted not to be the language of scripture, and that understood literally it does convey the ideas objected to; that it does make the impression at which so much horror is expressed, does express a doctrine acknowledged to be false and unfounded ;
why is it not given up? Especially as it would, on this point, put an end to all controversy. And why complain that the opinions of the Orthodox are misrepresented, when it is acknowledged that the opinions attributed to them are the literal and obvious meaning of the language they employ?
It is to little purpose to say, that the figurative language used on this subject, though not the same, resembles that employed by the sacred writers in reference to the same subject. Dr. Woods admits that the language of the sacred writers is highly figurative. He admits too that such boldness of metaphor is peculiar to the Eastern, and particularly to the Hebrew idiom ; (p. 88) and that it is not so consentaneous to 'our language. (p. 99) Why, then, will
. orthodox writers use it without explanation, when it serves to mislead readers and hearers who are not aware of this character of the Eastern languages; and lead them into so great an error ? And if orthodox writers, instead of explaining the metaphors, so that their true meaning may be understood, “ for the purpose of strong impression,” use them as if they were to be understood literally; and not only so, but further sanction that interpretation by the use of other similar language of the same literal import ; especially if they charge Unitarians with denying or explaining away the doctrine for the very reason, that they explain the language in question as figurative; can he be surprized that the Orthodox should be supposed to hold the opinions, which the language literally expresses ?