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ART. IX. THE ATONEMENT.-No. 2.
Nothing is more common among the advocates of popular religious systems, than to adopt a scriptural term as the designation of some essential doctrine, to which they annex their own constructions as the true and exclusive sense of the terms; so that the one being identified with the other, it follows, that those persons who reject these constructions as unscriptural, are charged with a denial or rejection of scripture. Whereas it is not the teachings of scripture when ascertained to be such that are called in question, but the constructions that are put upon the language or terms of scripture, the inferences which are drawn from those constructions, which are altogether human, uninspired-and which are fairly disputable and must rest upon their own proper evidence. No one man, uninspired, has any more right or authority than another, to assume any points as the sense of scripture and to make those assumptions the basis of a series of reasonings; for however correctly we may reason, yet if our premises are mere assumptions, our conclusions are likely to be erroneous, and are certainly unwarran table.
It is thus with the word "Atonement." No, we do not deny the atonement, in what we believe to be the scriptural sense of that term; on the contrary, we reverentially and gratefully rejoice in it as the distinguishing doctrine of the gospel; the
most striking manifestation of the love and mercy of God to sinful men, and needful to accomplish the gracious purposes for which the Saviour laid down his life.
But we are told that it includes "Christ's bearing the punishment due to the sins of men, in their stead, and as their surety, and satisfying the claims of divine justice, without which there could be no pardon; that thus "he shed his blood to make atonement for sin &c."
When these doctrines are rejected as being unscriptural, we are told, in the language of strong assertion, that none can understand or embrace these doctrines, unless the spirit of God illuminate the mind in an especial manner to enable it to perceive their truth, and also give them a new nature to be willing to receive them; that the human mind and heart are naturally dark, depraved, corrupted, averse and incapacitated to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, and at enmity with God; and therefore, must dislike and reject every thing that comes from him.
It would seem in vain therefore, that any attempts are made to point out the want of scriptural authority for these doctrines, their inconsistency with previously acknowledged truth, or, in fact, their gross absurdity. Every objector is charged with a natural incapacity of judging--of having any just concep tion of the merits of the case; and farther, with an inherent and fatal hatred to the doctrines themselves and to their Christ. And these bold assertions are advanced with so much confidence, as to stifle completely the inquiries of thousands of the generality of people and to render them callous to those reflections that would tend to undeceive them.
But where is the proof of this natural enmity? We need not now examine the language of the Apostle, when speaking of "the carnal mind being at enmity with God"-which is by no means the same with the mind in a state of nature, but a depraved, corrupted, degenerate state-as has been sufficiently shown elsewhere. As also the expression of the same, Apostle, that "the natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God &c"-which, if taken in its connection and with reference to the same term in corresponding cases, evidently alludes to mere animal and sensual conceptions and developments in contrast with such as are spiritual and pure.
Is it because presumptuous men dare to identify their crude, unhallowed conceptions with the character, government and dispensations of the Divine Being, and thus exhibit them to the view of reflecting beings as objects of dislike and aversion, so that the whole soul revolts at such a representation-that therefore, it is either a fair or a just inference that the human mind
is naturally at enmity with God? Were it proved that such an exhibition of the divine character was a correct one, then indeed it might be urged with plausibility, but as it is, it rather proves, antecedent to inquiry, that, as such views are revolting to the natural sentiments of the human heart, it is more than probable, if not certain, that they are not true descriptions of the most glorious, the wisest, and most excellent of beings. And this probability will be realized into satisfactory proof, if we examine fairly the scripture representations of the divine character; for it will be found to agree with and to illustrate that which all nature and the whole series of His dispensations, public and private, proclaim Him to be-the kind, indulgent, and merciful Father, whose character requires only to be known, to be beloved, honored, revered, and obeyed, without reserve or limitation, by all his intelligent and rational creatures.
It is ignorance or misconception only, that is the cause of an estrangement of feeling on the part of human beings towards God, in a state of simple nature; for it belongs to our nature to love what gives us pleasure, and the immediate objects of pleasure soon become associated with the persons who procure them for us. It is perfectly natural for the child to love its parents; and that child would without hesitation, be accounted an unnatural child who did not. Now it is but transfering the character of a parent to that of the Divine Being, to whom it belongs with the strictest justice and in the most comprehensive and endearing sense, and the confidence and ardor of filial affection, will be transferred with it to Him in the mind of the child.
It is altogether inapplicable to speak of the love or hatred of mankind towards a Being of whose moral character they are ignorant.
If then that which may be known of God is either misconceived or misrepresented, from whatever cause, his character, under this distorted view, may become the object of dislike and aversion. That this dislike and aversion may be increased by the indulgence of sinful passions until it settles in rooted enmity, is but too awfully realized;-but the true test of the natural state of mind, must be sought in the earliest periods of childhood.
To talk of a rational mind being in a state of enmity with a being of whose character it has not formed even a conception, is to use words without regard to their meaning; for enmity is a moral feeling and must have a corresponding moral character in its object to excite it, or we divest enmity of its moral quality and it is no longer enmity.
If therefore, to the first dawnings of a rational mind, the
character of the Divine Being-the Creator, Supreme Governor and Disposer of all beings, the universal Father-be presented as it really is in itself and as it is revealed in the scriptures— an object worthy its supreme regard and affection-there would be no more enmity, hatred, or dislike excited in that mind towards it, than there would be towards its beloved, kind, and indulgent earthly parent; on the contrary, it would view the Author of its existence and of all its powers and enjoyments, as the object of its confiding love, and of its reverential and cheerful obedience.
Waving then these assumed disqualifications and appealing "to the Law and to the Testimony" assured that if any "speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them," I now proceed to inquire into the sense in which the words Atonement, Reconciliation, Sacrifice &c. are used in the Old Testament; that by their application to subjects under the New, we may the better ascertain their full and true import.
The book of Leviticus contains a particular enumeration of the various kinds of sacrifices and offerings, and the specific purposes to which they were appropriated; but their application was to ceremonial--not to moral impurities. Moral crimes were not removed by sacrifice; much less is there any idea held out of compensation or satisfaction being made to Divine Justice by any of those sacrifices for moral guilt.
The first two chapters of the above book, contain an account of free-will offerings, which are called sacrifices. The third, of peace offerings. The fourth, of sins of ignorance. The fifth, treats of sins of inadvertence, as being witness to the hearing of swearing under several circumstances, and also, in touching a dead body, or any thing deemed unclean,—also in trespassing in holy things through ignorance and the like. The sixth chapter treats of sins and trespasses committed wilfullybreaches of good faith, theft and deceit, which are particularly specified; in each of which reparation was first to be made, it was to be "restored in the principal, and the fifth part to be added to him to whom it appertained," and then the offender was to bring his trespass offering unto the Lord, and the Priest was to make atonement for him, and it was to be forgiven him. This trespass offering then was no substitute for the injury done by the trespass, for as it respected man, restitution was to be made, and as it respected the sin against God, it was graciously promised that it should be forgiven. The remainder of the chapter as well as the following to the thirteenth, are chiefly occupied in details respecting the manner in which burnt of
ferings and trespass offerings were to be conducted by the Priests, both for their consecration, as well as offerings for the people, for leprosy and other things of a ceremonial nature.
The sixteenth chapter is occupied in giving a full account of the great yearly sin offering. On this occasion the tabernacle of the congregation,-the holy place itself, as well as the altar-the Priest was to make atonement for, by sprinkling the blood of the victim upon them "to cleanse them," it is said and they were thus to be "reconciled." Now it is observable that the very same ceremonies and at the same time, were performed and the same victims offered for these inanimate things, as for the Priests and people, indeed they are all included, and when this part of the service was ended, and reconciliation or atonement was made, (see v. 20.) then and not before, the living Goat was to be brought forward, over which the Priest was to make confession of "the iniquities of the children of Israel in all their sins," "putting them" it is said "upon the head of the Goat," and the Goat was then to be "sent away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness," and the Goat was "to bear upon him all their iniquities into a land not inhabited;" i. e. he was to bear them away-for the fit man was to "let go the Goat into the wilderness." Thus the Goat over the head of which confession of sins was made, and which was to bear them away, was not offered up in sacrifice at all; and of the Bullock and the Goat which was made an offering for an atonement and reconciliation, the completion of which atonement appears to have been made by the Scape-Goat, it is said in conclusion, "On that day the Priest shall make an atonement for you to cleanse you that ye may be clean from all your sins before the Lord." And in v. 33. "and he shall make an atonement for the Holy Sanctuary, and he shall make an atonement for the Tabernacle of the congregation, and for the Altar, and he shall make an atonement for the Priests and for the people of the Congregation." In the 20 v. of this chapter the word reconciling is used in the same sense with that of atonement, compared with v. 16. and also with Exodus 29: 36-to the end; where in the directions respecting the daily sacrifice-morning and evening-we find that the Altar was to be previously cleansed and sanctified by an atonement being made for it during seven days, and it was then to be most holy.
It appears evident that the leading idea in all these sacrifices, offerings &c. was purification or cleansing and that they were altogether of a ceremonial nature; for is it at all probable that if the Sanctuary, the Tabernacle, and the Altar, were only ceremonially cleansed, while the Priest and People were mor