It is shewn that upon the principles of Christ’s meritorious obedience, God is just, when he justifies a sinner. Sundry objections answered.
It is impossible for God to do wrong, because he is just, and holy. But how can he be just, when he justifies a wicked person? The correct answer cannot be given, without keeping in view the atonement of Jesus Christ.
There may be sundry laws enacted to suit the peculiar circumstances of nations. But as the circumstances to which they are adapted, frequently vary ; hence they may be altered, amended, or repealed. Such laws, though they may not be repugnant to ; yet, are they not the law of nature. Hence all nations have not the same laws. Laws of this description, ‘were even imposed upon the Israelites by divine authority. Such were their civil and ceremonial laws.
But the moral, or as it is sometimes called the law of nature, is different in this respect. Its moral precepts are unchangeable : for their theme is love ; and hence, rest upon God’s moral perfections of justice, goodness, and holiness. They are adapted to all men, in every clime, in all ages, and under all circumstances. This law being a perfect rule of moral rectitude, can neither be altered. amended, nor repealed. For it is out of the question, that God should ever release man from the obligation of love, or grant him liberty to do wrong.
Whereas the civil laws of nations are changeable, it sometimes may be necessary to release some of the citizens from all obligations to them ; and under some peculiar circumstances, even to pardon transgressors of the same. This also applies to the ceremonial laws, which God had imposed upon the Israelites. As for instance: God commanded that all the male-children should be circumcised on the eighth day, and declaring in the meanwhile, in the case of non-observance, that such should be cut off from this people. Gen. 17, 12-14. This law was mutable, and served a temporary purposed otherwise it would always have been imposed upon all men neither could it ever have been abrogated under the New Testament dispensation. The children of Israel that were born in the wilderness by the way, as their fathers came forth out of Egypt, were not circumcised; notwithstanding, they were not cut off from God’s people. Josh. 5, 5, 7. Hence as circumcision was a mutable law, God could as the circumstances might render it expedient, either punish, or release the transgressor of the same, without violating the truth, or justice.
But as the moral law is unchangeable with respect to its moral precepts, no man can be released from being under obligation to fulfil it. A law that obligates no one to fulfil it, can not be moral, and unchangeable. But if men might transgress this all with impunity, they then would be released from all obligations of obedience. But as it is impossible for any person to be released from the obligations to this law, it is evident, that the transgressor must fulfil the law by suffering a penalty. If he were not subject to a penalty, it would be the same, as if he had not at all been under obligations to obey it. Neither can a transgressor be realised by an arbitrary act of pardon: for that would release him from the obligation to the law, and thus he would neither have fulfilled it by his obedience, nor by suffering the penalty, which would make it void, and of no effect. Hence no transgressor against an unchangeable law can be pardoned, without doing injustice.
The scriptures denounce this penalty — ‘Cursed is every one that continuity not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them.’ Gal. 3. 10. Deut. 27, 26. If every man that does not comply with the law be cursed, how then can he be pardoned? Should he be pardoned, then this divine denunciation would be falsified. But this cannot be. The mere repentance of the culprit cannot obtain a pardon: for that cannot obliterate his former crimes, nor remove the scandal, which he thereby brought upon divine government. If this repentance could remove the curse pronounced by the law, then the culprit would be blessed and thus he would be both blessed and cursed under the same law. I repeat it, if the transgressor, this is cursed by the law should upon his mere repentance be pardoned, then would he be both blessed, and cursed under the same law. In the first instance, he would be cursed as a transgressor, and in the next, he would be blessed by being pardoned. Thus a curse would not be a curse, and God would have threatened it, when he did not intend to execute it. This all would be inconsistent, and highly derogatory to divine veracity. In the denunciation of this penalty no exception is made, that upon the culprit’s repentance it is to be void, but it is absolute — ‘cursed is every one that continuity not in all things that are written in the book of the law. &c’ According to this, there is not the least prospect for a transgressor to be pardoned upon his mere repentance.
It is impossible to reconcile the justification of a sinner to the divine justice; unless we consider the sufferings, and death of Jesus as an atonement for the guilty. Christ was crucified. Nevertheless, he is and was holy, and immaculate. Why was such an august personage crucified? Although, the couraged Jews conspired for that purpose ; yet could they never have performed the same, without his voluntary submission. For he might easily have escaped their snares, or, else hurled them into destruction. Hence he says, ‘Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again No man taketh it front me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again’ John 10, 17, 18 The scriptures also declare that ‘it pleased the Lord to bruise him; to put him to grief, and make his soul an offering for sin.’ Isa. 53, 10. But how could God, according to the principles of justice, deliver Christ as an innocent being to suffer this ignominious, and painful death? The answer is not sufficient, that he suffered as a martyr to confirm the truth. There is no doubt, but what he was also put to death by the Jews, because he would not abandon his confession of the truth. A martyr indeed may be persecuted by wicked men, but can never be cursed of God for vindicating the truth. As it is evident that the Lord bruised him, and put him to grief, it must have been for a different purpose, than merely to establish the truth. Christ was circumcised, and every man that is circumcised is a debtor to do the whole law.’ Gal. 5, 3. comp. Rom. 15, 8. ‘God sent forth his son, made (born) of a woman, made (put) under the law, to redeem them that were under the law.’ Rom 4, 4. ‘For he (God) hath made him (Christ) to be sin for us, who knew no sin.’ 2 Cor 5, 21. ‘Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.’ Gal. 3, 13. These texts plainly shew that Christ was put under the law, that he was made sin for us; and hence that he was cursed. Now since Christ was made sin for us; hence upon this ground it was just, that he should be cursed, and suffer the death of the cross. He that condescended to be ‘the lamb of God to take away the sin of the world’; also became liable to suffer the penalty due to sin. A man who by his own consent becomes a surety for another, makes himself liable to discharge his debts. Although, Christ perfectly innocent in himself; yet because he voluntarily assumed the guilt of mankind, it was compatible with justice that he should suffer. In so far as Christ assumed the guilt of all men, he may be considered the greatest malefactor in the world ; and as such the curse that was laid upon him was unparalleled ; and his sufferings without a precedent, or a model. As he was made a curse for us, all our sins were punished in-him . ‘For the love of Christ constraineth us ; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then all were dead.’ 2 Cor. 5, 14. Thus it Christ died for all, it is viewed the same, as if all had died themselves.
Whether the crimes be punished in the persons of the guilty, or, in that of their substitute, the law receives its demands. When the substitute tor the guilty has been punished, it is not repugnant to justice to justify the sinner.
Although, the scriptures plainly teach that the death of Christ is an atonement for the guilty ; yet there are sundry who profess Christianity, that deny it, and allege some apparent perplexing objections. I shall here state some of the principal objections, with my answers.
Objection 1 God is love ; hence there can be no wrath in him. Should he have wrath, then there would be both, wrath, and love in him, which are contrary principles ; and thus God would be against himself, which would be highly absurd. Upon this ground it would also be absurd to suppose, that his only begotten Son should suffer, and die, to appease his wrath.
Answer. The wrath of God is not like that of man. The wrath of man frequently arises from his disordered passions, which cannot be said of God. God indeed is Love. But Love itself, cannot love that which is not worthy to be loved. It is impossible for God to love that which is evil: for if he did, he must hate that which is good: because good, and evil are more opposite to each other, than light and darkness. Evil is injurious to God’s works, and as he loves that which he has made, and as he is a consistent character, be cannot love both good, and evil ; hence he must necessarily hate the latter. If he loved both good, and evil, then indeed in him there would be two contrary principles. Now since an evil being cannot enjoy the good emanating from Love, the same becomes extremely miserable, and this is called wrath. As little as the sun is darkness, and light ; because the night bird cannot bear his beams, whilst the eagle, high mounted, basks in his lustre ; so little can it be said, that there are two contrary principles in God; because evil creatures are disqualified to enjoy the emanations of his Love, whilst the innocent walk in its beatitude. Hence love, and wrath are not two contrary principles in God ; but only two different relations, towards two different objects. Sin is an evil; God cannot love it; therefore, the creature that is infected with it, cannot enjoy the blessings of Love, until it be morally obliterated. God indeed loves man, in so far as he is his creature; but as he is involved in sin, all the avenues are obstructed, that love can have no access to him, to make him happy. Sin cannot be removed, and naturally made, as if it never had been committed; yet it may morally be blotted out by the atonement of Christ. When the sinner is viewed in connexion with the atonement, then only can God cause him to participate the beatifick flow of his love.
Objection 2. If Christ be our surety, and has fully atoned for our sins, how then can it be grace in God to forgive us? We are taught to pray, ‘Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.’ Matth. 6, 12. Now if God does not forgive us, until our debts are paid, and as he is our example, we cannot forgive our debtors, until they have satisfied us. If our surety discharged our debts, though we be free from our creditor; yet then would we be in debt to our surety, who also cannot forgive us ; because he only must forgive as God forgives, i. e. not until we have repaid him. On this principle there can be no forgiveness in the universe.
Answer. If the sinner had procured the surety himself, it might with some propriety be said, that there would be no grace in God to forgive. But the sinner contributed nothing towards procuring this surety, but he was sent by the Father— ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.’ John 3, 16. Now since God himself procured this surety, who made the atonement, is it not strange that it should not be grace in him, when he pardons the culprit? It is an unparalleled grace, when the offended party, who have it in their power to render the offender miserable ; and yet condescend to furnish a surety, by whose mediation they may forgive upon the principles of justice. We must forgive those that trespass against us. But this does not prove that therefore, our debtors must render us a particular payment. We must forgive as God forgives. But how does he forgive? He forgives for the sake of Christ’s atonement; and this is the ground, which justly obligates us to forgive those that trespass against us: as the apostle says, ‘forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.’ Eph. 4, 32.
Christians live in the kingdom of Christ ; hence in that of grace, and forgiveness. It is therefore necessary, that among all the subjects thereof, there should be a reciprocal forgiveness. The man that will not forgive, cannot be a subject in this kingdom where there is forgiveness; because he wishes none to trespass against him, without making them suffer for it; hence he must be associated to such an assembly, among whom every one receives what he merits; and as he himself continually sins, and upon his own principles, which are, not to forgive, he must necessarily lay himself liable to eternal damnation.
Since Jesus Christ has redeemed us, it is evident that we are indebted to him ; and it is also admitted, that it would be unjust, if for all his agonies, and death, he should not be rewarded. This consideration has led some to assert, that the redeemed must perform so many good works, until they have repaid Christ. But this is out of the question. For if the redeemed by all their good works, could remunerate Christ for his sufferings, they would cease to be under any obligations to him as a mediator : for the man who has repaid his surety, cannot be considered the surety’s property; but he thereby acquires his independence. We must ever remain Christ’s own; for ‘the heathens were given to him for his inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession.’ Ps. 2, 8. To Christ simply considered as Jehovah, no inheritance could be given, as he is the sovereign of all creation ; but in so far as he was made man, and is constituted a mediator, he acquired a peculiar dominion over all men. ‘For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord ; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.’ Rom. 14: 7, 9. comp. John 5, 22-27. Thus to Christ, as a Godman the world of mankind was given, and whether dead, or alive they are his own. This is also a reward for his sufferings, and it will afford him unspeakable joy, one day to behold his spiritual seed, numerous like the sand upon the sea-shore, inhabiting the regions of heaven ; and in each of them the trophies of his sufferings, and the beams of his love: for ‘he shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied.’ Isa, 53, 11. Thus Jesus as a surety has a reward, and as his atonement satisfied justice, it is not absurd, when he pardons sinners for the sake of the same.
Objection 3. If God loved sinners, so as to provide a surety for them, why could he not have forgiven them at first? What does it signify, when the creditor himself gives the debtor the money to pay the debt ?—is it not the same as if he received no payment?
Answer. God ought not simply to he viewed as an individual, private character; but as the creator, judge, and governor of the universe. He created all things good, Gen. 1, 31; hence were calculated to produce good effects; so that good might proceed to good; light to light; virtue to virtue; order to order; harmony to harmony. But sin does not only injure the creature that commits it; but also reverses this goodly, harmonious chain: for when one important part thereof is disordered, it must be felt by the whole; hence evil effects are produced; divine government is scandalized, and holy, intelligent beings offended. If God forgave sinners without an atonement, his conduct would be partial, as he would bestow favours upon the guilty, as well as upon innocent, and holy beings. Thus the guilty would enjoy life and salvation, as well as the innocent. Would not this be partiality, and injustice, when a civil government equally protected an infamous villain, with an honest, valiant patriot? It would be ranking the base with the honest, and virtue and vice would be treated alike. What justice would there be in God, if he granted life, and salvation to the guilty, the same as to those that never had sinned? — would he not thereby place the guilty, and innocent upon the same ground? — and make no distinction between vice, and virtue? If guilty man was the only intelligent creature in the universe, God would not equalize him with the innocent: provided, he pardoned him without an atonement. Yet in this case, it would not be just in itself. But is man the only intelligent creature? No. There are innumerable myriads of holy, and happy beings in celestial regions; and who knows, but what the theory of some of the philosophers may not he correct, that many of the stars are worlds superior in magnitude to our earth; and inhabited by rational beings? All holy, and happy beings might justly consider their rights aggrieved, at beholding the guilty favoured. When judgement is to be executed upon mystick Babylon, it is said, ‘Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her.’ Rev. 18, 20 When heaven is rejoiced, what can otherwise be implied, but that the holy, and rational inhabitants thereof rejoice, at beholding the impartial distribution of justice? If the judgment, executed upon mystick Babylon, is to rejoice heaven, it is equally consistent, that when God punished the guilty world in the person of Jesus Christ, all holy beings should also rejoice, at the manifestation of his Justice, in the restoration of the guilty. They saw, that although, he would pardon the guilty; yet that he thereby did not equalize them with the guilty; because he manifested his hatred against sin by the death of Christ. Had the atonement not been made, and yet God pardoned the guilty, the rights of holy beings would have been slighted; and vice, and virtue made equal. To slight the rights of holy beings, and to confound vice with virtue; in order to shew a favour to the guilty, would be unjust, and abominable, which conduct may not without blasphemy be ascribed to God.
St. Paul saith, ‘And having made peace through the blood of his [Christ’s] cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.’ Col 1, 20. Why does the apostle say, that Christ by his blood reconciles all things unto himself: whether in earth or in heaven? It is easily understood that the things on earth are guilty men, who also have been redeemed. But the things in heaven are holy angels; nevertheless, they could not like guilty men have been redeemed, as they were not under the sentence of condemnation. Neither can it be supposed, that things in heaven ever had been at enmity with Christ, that he on that account needed to reconcile them unto himself. But as the apostle says, all things in heaven are reconciled unto him, the conclusion must be that when he reconciles sinners unto himself, holy angels, who before must have abhorred them, in consequence of their guilt, become reconciled to them; so that when he pardons the sinner, they are so far from being dissatisfied with him for doing it, that they are reconciled to him, and rejoice when sinners are saved by virtue of his atonement: for ‘there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repents’ Luke 15, 10. Or Christ is the great object, in whom every aggrieved right is restored, to whom every holy being is united, by whom sinners are reconciled; and union, and harmony restored among these that were at variance. This interpretation is correct, because it is confirmed by the apostle himself — Eph. 1, 9, 10 — ‘having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure, which he hath purposed in himself: that in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth: even in him.’ If Christ shall gather together in one, all things in heaven, and on earth, what will he otherwise do than unite men to men, and angels to men? Through the atonement of Jesus, God beholds the odious stain, which sin introduced into the world morally obliterated, and the obstacles removed; so that the emanations of his love may visit the guilty, and cement earth and heaven. When God is viewed as a judge, and governor of the universe, who treats all rational creatures agreeable to the relation they sustain towards one another; hence with justice, and impartiality, the above objection vanishes. For it supposes God as a private character, who like an angry man, that is insulted by another one, seeks for revenge to cool his passion: or like a merchant, that has an account of a few dollars against one of his customers sues for the payment. But no such groveling views, are entertained by any rational advocate for the doctrine of the atonement.
Objection 4. The penalty threatened to sinners is eternal; hence if Christ suffered for them as a substitute, the punishment which he received must also have been eternal; and thus he would yet be suffering, and hereafter to all eternity. But we know that his sufferings have ended long ago, and that he is entered into glory .
Answer. If Christ were a mere man, this objection would be valid. Although Christ be a real man; yet is he also, the supreme Filial Godhead. [See 1 John 5, 20 ] This Godhead was made flesh, John 1, 14; hence in this flesh, or human nature ‘all the fulness of the God head dwells bodily.’ Col. 2, 9. Thus the God-head not only being united to ; but also being made man ; this man not simply as such, but in this wonderful state, must have all divine perfections, though not physically; yet really assimilated to him. For if the divine perfections be separated from the human nature, then God is also a separate person from the same; because God would not be God, unless he possessed all supreme perfections. But the scriptures plainly teach, that the Word was made flesh. Christ thus viewed, is an infinite, eternal, omnipotent person. With a mere creature, eternity consists in a duration; but with God it is a perpetual present, an infinite magnitude; hence no past, nor future. Christ being God-man, his sufferings, though apparently transitory; yet were eternal in magnitude; because they proceeded from an infinite person; and thus were superior to the sufferings, which all sinners would have had to endure in an eternal duration. The above objection can only be brought against those, who advocate the doctrine of the atonement; and yet deny that the supreme divine perfections, by the incarnation of the Filial God-head have been assimilated to the human nature ; so that it was capable of suffering infinitely in a short time. It is only too true, that many of those who step forth as champions for the doctrine of the atonement, roundly deny that the humanity of Jesus Christ is so inseparably one with Jehovah, that it is thereby dignified with the divine perfections of infinity, omnipotence, omnipresence, &c. and thus must necessarily conclude, that his sufferings were only those of a mere man; and thus the objection of the Socinians acquires a great validity. It is in vain to say, that although the sufferings of Christ were not infinite; hence not equivalent to the penalty against the sins of all sinners; yet God has put an arbitrary value upon them; so that they are to be counted for infinitely more, than they are in themselves. For it is impossible, that God should account that a real infinite atonement, which was not so in itself; because he would have to count the spurious for the genuine; it would be a mere sham, and a mockery to justice. If the sufferings of Christ are not infinitely valuable in themselves, but only to be counted so, because God had a social connexion with him, and upheld him in his sufferings; why was it necessary for God to be incarnate, since he has a social connexion with every saint, and upholds all things in the universe? Again — If the sufferings of Christ were not infinite; but only to be counted so, then the death of the animals under the Levitical priesthood might have been a sufficient atonement for the sins of the world ; because God might have put an arbitrary value upon the same, and account it infinite, without being so itself. Why could the blood of animals under the law, not be a sufficient atonement for sin? Because it had no intrinsick value, and God could not consistent with his veracity, count that infinitely valuable, which was not so in itself. This blood of sacrificial animals was a type of the blood of Jesus; hence of God’s own blood, Acts 20, 28 ; hence possessing in itself an infinite value to atone for all crimes ; and virtue to cleanse from all iniquity. The inspired writer concludes—’If the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh; how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.’ Heb. 9, 13, 14.
That not only the mere flesh of Christ, or his human nature; but the whole person was a partaker of sufferings, is illustrated by the following text:—’For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened in the spirit.’ 1 Pet. 3,18. This text shewing that Christ was put to death, the question may be asked, who is Christ? Is he mere flesh, or man? If he were but flesh i.e. man, it would be absurd to say that he was put to death in the flesh: for who would not know that if a man be put to death, that he would be put to death as a man? Hence he must have another nature, which is that of God. He did not suffer, and die as a mere man; because he was put to death in the flesh. Now if the mere humanity of Christ, which is understood by the term flesh, (See John 1. 14. 1 Tim. 2, 5. Rom 9, 5.) had only been put to death, what need would there have been to say, he was put to death in the flesh? What sense would there be in saying, the flesh was put to death in the flesh? Since this text declares that Christ was put to death in the flesh, it must be concluded that this death, is the death of the whole person of the God man; or that the God man died according to the flesh. God as God could not have died; otherwise it would not have been necessary to have assumed human nature. Whereas God was made flesh, it follows that whatever happens to the flesh, the God-head partakes of it; hence it may properly be said, when the human nature died, God died; because that nature died, which he assumed; and thus also, it is said ‘the Lord of glory was crucified.’ 1 Cor. 2, 8. Let this not be deemed absurd. For even if one of the limbs of a man be wounded, it is accurately said the man is wounded; because the limb is a part of himself. Although, the limb be a part of the man; yet it cannot be said, that the man was made the limb, the same as the scriptures declare, that the Word, or Filial Deity was made flesh, John 1, 14; which shews that the limb of a man has not so close a connexion with himself, as God has with his flesh, i.e. with the humanity he assumed. Now if even the wound that has been inflicted upon the man’s limb may be said, to have been inflicted upon the man himself, because of his connexion with his limb; with how much more propriety may it not be said, that God died according to his flesh, when he is not merely connected with it, as the man is with his limb; but himself was made flesh.
The subject thus viewed, there was a real, and perfect atonement made for all sin, without involving Christ to suffer eternally in duration; hence the above objection vanishes.
Objection 5. Temporal death was also a penalty of the law; hence if Christ made an atonement for all sin, why is this penalty not removed? Death reigns over all.
Answer. That this death was included in the penalty is admitted. But through the atonement of Christ it is converted into a blessing; because by it we get delivered of sundry evils which are peculiar to the body in its fallen state. This objection would be formidable: provided, our bodies should eternally remain the victims of the grave. But Christ shall raise up the dead, and death be swallowed up in victory. 1 Cor. 15, 54. Thus the glorious resurrection of the body, does more than remove this part of the penalty.
All afflictions are not to be considered punishments. There is a difference between a punishment, and a chastisement. As for instance: a man be convicted of a crime, and sentenced to receive a few stripes : this would be a punishment, not simply because of the transient pain; but rather because of the judicial sentence, which attaches a disgrace to the culprit. Whereas a surgeon through tender compassion to his patient, might amputate one of his morbid limbs, to preserve his system from putrefaction. Notwithstanding, this operation would be more painful than the few stripes the culprit is adjudged to bear; yet it could not properly be called a penalty; because it is not performed in consequence of a judicial sentence; but it is intended to result in a blessing. A divine chastisement proceeds from fatherly love, but a punishment from a judicial sentence. Hence sicknesses, all other afflictions, together with death, because of the atonement of Christ, become so many blessings to the believer. Or, as the apostle expresses it ‘We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.’ Rom. 8, 28.
Obj. 6. The scriptures declare that the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall never be forgiven, if the death off Christ atoned for all sins, why is this sin unpardonable?
Answer. The sins of all men in the universe, cannot be equal to the atonement of Jesus Christ; hence even exceeds that which is commonly called the sin against the Holy Ghost. ‘Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.’ Rom. 5, 20. If grace abounds more than sin, it is evident that it cannot be exceeded by the sin against the Holy Ghost.
Our blessed Saviour having cast out a devil; whereupon some of the Pharisees said—’This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Belzebub ‘the prince of devils.’ From Christ’s own argument it appears, that the Pharisees had the most glaring evidence, that Satan would not cast out Satan. Matth. 12, 24,23. Although, Christ ejected devils by the agency 0f the Holy Spirit, and the Pharisees knowing it; yet they most maliciously represented this agency of the Holy Spirit, that of Belzebub the prince of devils. In this manner they committed this sin. This is the more evident from the description given by St. Mark, ch. 3, 28,30 — ‘Verily I say unto you, all sins shall he forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: but he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation: because they said, He hath an unclean Spirit.’ Observe: because the Pharisees said he had an unclean Spirit, and by whom he cast out devils, he calls this the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. Jesus in order to prove himself the Messiah, that the people might believe in him, he wrought miracles through the Holy Spirit. But as the Pharisees represented the office of the Holy Ghost, by which only they could be led to believe in Christ, that of Belzebub, they voluntarily placed themselves into such a situation that they could not be pardoned. Not that unbelief is this sin, for many, who once were unbelievers embraced the faith in Christ, and were eminent Christians. As this blasphemy consists in calling the operations of the Holy Spirit, those of the devil; hence such as have committed it, have rejected the only agency by which they could get to believe. The office of the spirit is to reveaL and glorify Christ — 1 Cor. 12, 3 — 2 Cor. 3, 6,8 — without which no man could ever get to believe and be saved. No marvel therefore, that such as have by so horrid a blasphemy rejected the Holy Ghost, cannot be pardoned. Men by committing other sins, do not so directly reject the agency of the Holy Spirit; hence he may effect repentance, a pardon, and salvation. Some indeed may get lost, who never committed this sin, in consequence of their impenitence; yet not because it was impossible for them to have been saved.
St. Matthew says, ‘And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.’ ch. 12, 32. What is to be understood by this world, and the world to come? Many may understand by this world, the present state, in which men now live, and by the world to come, eternity after the day of judgment. It is admitted that; in some texts, the world to come signifies eternity after the day of judgment. But it cannot signify this in the text, which I have quoted. The word αἰῶν signifies an age of a limited duration, as well as eternity after the day of judgment. As for instance in Matth. 28, 20, the word world evidently alludes to the age of the gospel dispensation. This world, and the world to come, was a Jewish phrase, and denoted the age before, and that after the Messiah. Now if we understand this world, and the world to come, to relate to the ages before, and after the Messiah, the conclusion must be, there is no pardon for this sin, neither under the old testament dispensation, which was then at its eye, nor under the new, which was near at hand.
Such as suppose that the phrase ‘the world to come,’ in this text alludes to the state after the final judgment, must also, and necessarily conclude that sins may then be forgiven; because the sin against the Holy Ghost is particularly excepted, as not to be forgiven. If no sin at all should be forgiven in the World to come, it would be useless to except this one sin as unpardonable. He that excepts one sin as unpardonable in the world to come, wishes to be understood that all other sins may be pardoned. But who can believe, that any sin shall be pardoned after the day of judgment? All who were not previously pardoned will be punished, and he that is punished for a crime, is not forgiven. St. Mark says, ‘But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation.’ ch. 3, 29. The word ἔνοχός, which is translated danger, also signifies to be subject to, or deserving of, or guilty of. Now he that is subject to, or deserves eternal damnation, is certainly in danger of it. If the blasphemer against the Holy Ghost shall have no forgiveness, neither in this world, nor in the world to come, but is in danger of eternal damnation; and if the world to come meant the state after the day of judgment, how could any one be in danger of eternal damnation? After the judgement no one will be in danger of, but all unbelievers then, will experience eternal damnation. To be in danger of meeting with a misfortune, and to experience it is not the same. Or to be subject to, and really to experience eternal damnation is not the same. A man may be in danger, and yet escape; and so may a culprit be subject to be executed, and yet, by some means escape.
There were sundry sins under the Mosaic dispensation, for which the offender could not be pardoned. See Num. 15, 30,31, ch. 35, 31. Lev. 20, 10. 1 Sam. 2, 25. But it appears there is only one sin under the gospel, that is unpardonable. As the unpardonable sins under the law, were only punished in the body of the offender, mercy might be extended to the soul. The unpardonable sin under the gospel dispensation must also subject the offender to a bodily punishment, which he cannot escape; notwithstanding his soul may be saved, because he is only in danger of eternal damnation. The text thus viewed the blasphemer against the Holy Ghost had no pardon under the Mosaic dispensation, nor under the gospel, but met with an awful bodily punishment, and withal was in danger of eternal damnation. The majority of the Jews rejected Jesus; notwithstanding the miracles he wrought; hence the undeniable testimonies of his Messiahship. But did they not meet with the most awful, temporal judgments? Let this be verified by the tragical scenes of the destruction of Jerusalem. St. Paul delivered Hymenius and Alexander unto Satan, that they might learn not to blaspheme. 1 Tim. 1, 20. See Heb. 10, 26-31. As the world to come in this text implies the dispensation of the gospel, it is evident the blasphemer against the Holy Ghost is punished already before the day of judgment; hence he must receive bodily punishments; and though he is in danger of eternal damnation; yet is he not beyond the reach of the atoning blood of Christ with respect to the eternal state, because one, who only is in danger, may yet escape. Nevertheless his escape may be difficult.
What dishonouring views many entertain with respect to the moral law of God! They imagine, if they do as much towards its fulfilment as their corrupted nature allows them, that God will forgive their former crimes. But as they view the law according to their sinful imagination, they conceive their supposed good endeavours are sufficient. This is the reason, why the atonement of Jesus is so little valued; why his amazing love in laying down his life for the guilty meets with so few returns of gratitude.
Many of those who deny that Christ made an atonement, consider sins, as natural actions, from which arise nothing but natural consequences. Hence imagine if the sinner only repents, and turns from his evil ways, the consequences will cease, and all be amended. They suppose that God treats the sinner like a physician his patient — the physician is not offended at his sickness, but gives him medicine, and prescriptions of his regimen; and if he use the medicine as prescribed he may recover; but otherwise he must die. Thus God is not offended at a man’s transgressions, but views him with tender compassion, and devises means to change his mind; and if he obeys he may become happy, but otherwise he must remain miserable.
This supposition is true in part, as it is evident that sin produces such natural effects as render the sinner miserable, even if no other punishment should be inflicted upon him; yet that no other consequence should follow sin, is erroneous.
Let us suppose that a man accidently threw a tile from a building, and by it killed another one. This action would only be attended by natural consequences, i.e. the death of the man, the widowhood of his wife, and the orphanage of his children. But suppose the tile to have been thrown with a malicious design to kill, the natural consequences would be the same, but would not also other consequences follow? The man that threw the tile with this design, would be viewed as a murderer; the consequence of this act would be of a moral nature; for he would be adjudged to suffer a legal penalty. As the law of God is a rule of moral rectitude, those that transgress it, must meet with moral consequences, i.e. such punishments as are to be inflicted by a legal sentence.
If sinners were not subject to suffer a penalty pronounced by a divine judgment, and if the natural consequences of sin were the only punishment, it would be useless for the penitent, when he prays for a new heart; also to pray for the forgiveness of his sins. A man who by his intemperance has diseased his body, does not beg the physician for pardon, but simply for his advice, that he might recover his health. Would it not be absurd to say, because the physician cured his patient, that therefore he had forgiven his sins? If God only treated the sinner, like a physician his patient, it could not with any propriety be said that he pardons crimes. David the king of Israel, did not merely beseech the Lord to create in him a clean heart; but also, to blot out all his iniquities. Ps. 51. 9-12. The latter he calls the forgiveness of transgression, the sin covered, and the iniquity not imputed. Ps. 32, 1, 2.
There are sundry words in the scriptures, which represent a punishment due to sin originating from a judicial sentence. In the old testament the word אשם, and אשמה signifies a trespass, which deserves God’s wrath and punishment. See Gen. 26, 10. 2 Chron, 28, 13. Hence this word is also applied to a sacrifice, by which guilt is removed. See 1 Sam 6. 3,4. Lev. 7, 1,2. In the new testament we have ενοχοϛ and υποδικοϛ. The former is used by St. James ch 2, 10— ‘For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet oftend in one point, he is guilty of all.’ This plainly indicates that the transgressor is under a legal sentence The latter occurs in R0m 3,19 — ‘that all the world may become guilty (υποδικοϛ) before God.’ Which the apostle ch. 5, 16, calls the judgment onto condemnation. Judgment and condemnation are forensick terms, and υποδικοϛ properly signifies one arraigned, or impleaded in judgment.
As all men are guilty, hence they are all under condemnation; and had not Christ become a sacrifice for their sins, they could never be acquitted. But what amazing love was manifested by Jesus Christ in this respect! O my soul! love him who first loved thee!