by Jonathan Edwards
IN WHOM WE HAVE REDEMPTION THROUGH HIS BLOOD, THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS, ACCORDING TO THE RICHES OF MS GRACE.--Ephesians 1:7.
HAVING, in the preceding discourse, given an answer to the two inquiries proposed concerning the necessity, and the ground of the necessity of the atonement of Christ, I proceed to the third, which is,
III. Are we, notwithstanding the redemption of Christ, forgiven freely by grace? That we should be forgiven wholly through the redemption of Christ, and yet by free grace, hath, as I observed, appeared to many a grand inconsistency, or a perplexing difficulty. In discoursing on this question, I shall,
1. Mention several modes in which attempts have been made to solve this difficulty. 2. 1 shall suggest some considerations which may. possibly lead to the true solution.
First. I am to mention several modes, in which attempts have been made to solve this difficulty.
1. Some allow that there is no exercise of grace in the bare pardon or justification of the sinner: that all the grace of the gospel consists in the gift of Christ; in providing an atonement; in the undertaking of Christ to make atonement, and in the actual making it. And as the pardon of the sinner is founded on those gracious actions; so that in a more lax sense is also said to be an act of grace. As to this account of the matter, I have to observe, that it is rather yielding to the objection, than answering it. It is allowed, in this state of the matter, that the pardon of the sinner is properly no act of grace. But this seems not to be reconcilable with the plain declarations of Scripture; as in our text: "In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace. Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ." Rom. 3: 24. These and such Eke passages seem plainly to import, that pardon itself is an act of grace, and not merely that it is founded on other acts, which are acts of grace. Besides the very idea of pardon or forgiveness implies grace. So far only is any crime pardoned, as it is pardoned graciously. To pardon a crime on the footing of justice, in the proper sense of the word justice, is a direct contradiction.
Again; it is not proper to say, that the pardon of the sinner is an act of grace, merely because it is founded on the gracious gift of Christ, and his gracious act in making atonement. It is not proper to say, that any act is an act of grace, merely because it is founded on another act, which is really an act of grace. As well we may say, that if a creditor, by a third person, furnish his debtor with money sufficient to discharge his debt, when the debtor has paid, in this way, the full debt, it is an act of grace in the creditor to give up the obligation. Whereas, who does not see that the furnishing of the money, and the giving up of the obligation, are two distinct acts; and however the former is indeed an act of grace, yet the latter is no more an act of grace, than if the money had been paid to some other creditor, and he had given up an obligation for the same sum. If it be an act of grace in the creditor to deliver up an obligation, for which he hath received the fall sum, because the money paid was originally furnished by himself, then it would be consistent with justice in the creditor to retain the obligation,--after he has received the full sum for which it was given; or to reject the money, and cast the debtor into prison, though he tenders payment. But neither of these, I presume, will be pretended to be just.
2. Some have attempted to relieve the difficulty now under consideration in this manner: they say, the pardon of the sinner is no act of grace to Christ, because he has paid the debt for the sinner; but that it is an act of grace to the sinner, because the debt was paid, not by the sinner himself, but by Christ. Nor was Christ so much as delegated by the sinner to pay his debt. Concerning this I observe, in the first place, that if the atonement of Christ be considered as the payment of a debt, the release of the sinner seems not to be an act of grace, although the payment be made by Christ, and not by the sinner personally. Suppose any one of you, my auditors, owes a certain sum; he goes and pays the full sum himself personally. Doubtless all will agree, that the creditor, in this case, when he gives up the obligation, performs a mere act of justice, in which there is no grace at all. But in what respect would there have been more grace in giving up the obligation, if the money had been sent by a servant, by a friend, or by a third person? Here I am sensible an objection will arise to this effect: but we did not send the payment of our debt to God, by the hand of Christ as our friend; we did not delegate him to make atonement for us; he was graciously appointed and given by God. To this I answer, that this objection places the whole grace of the gospel in providing the Saviour, not in the pardon of sin. Besides, if by delegating Christ, he meant such a sincere consent and earnest desire, that Christ should make atonement for us, as a man may have that his friend should discharge a debt in his behalf; without doubt every true Christian, in this sense, delegates Christ to make atonement for his sins. Did not Abraham and all the saints who lived before the incarnation of Christ, and who were informed that atonement was to be made for them by Christ, sincerely consent to it, and earnestly desire it? and though now Christ has actually made atonement, yet every one who walks in the steps of the faith of Abraham, is the subject of the like sincere consent to the office and work of Christ, and the like earnest desire, that by his atonement, a reconciliation may be effected between God and himself. So that if Christ have, in the proper sense of the words, paid the debt for his people, his people do as truly send him to make this payment, as a man ever sends his friend to make payment to his creditor.
Nor is any thing wanting to make any man, or all men, in this sense delegate Christ to make atonement for them, but the gift of repentance or a new heart. And if God had not prevented them by previously appointing Christ to the work of redemption, all mankind being brought to repentance, and being informed that Christ, on their consent and delegation, would make atonement for their sins, would freely have given their consent, and delegated him to the work.
But what if the people of Christ did not, in any sense, delegate him to this work? would this cause the payment of their debt by Christ, to be at all more consistent with free grace in their discharge? Suppose a man without any delegation, consent, or knowledge of his friend, pays the full demand of his creditor, it is manifest, that the creditor is obliged in justice to discharge the debtor, equally as if the agent had acted by delegation from the debtor. Or if we had in every sense delegated and commissioned Christ, still our pardon would be an act of grace, as still we should be treated more favorably than our personal characters deserve.
Now to apply the whole of this to the subject before us. If Christ have, in the proper sense of the words, paid the debt which we owed to God, whether by a delegation from us or not; there can be no more grace in our discharge, than if we had paid it ourselves.
But the fact is, that Christ has not, in the literal and proper sense, paid the debt for us. It is indeed true, that our deliverance is called a redemption, which refers to the deliverance of a prisoner out of captivity, commonly effected by paying a certain sum as the price of his liberty. In the same strain, Christ is said to give himself a ransom for many, and Christians are said to be bought with a price, &c. All which Scripture expressions bring into view the payment of money, or the discharge of a debt. But it is to be remembered, that these are metaphorical expressions, therefore not literally and exactly, true. We had not deprived God of his property; we had not robbed the treasury of heaven. God was possessed of as much property after the fall as before; the universe and the fulness thereof still remained to be his. Therefore when Christ made satisfaction for us, he refunded no property. As none had been taken away, none needed to be refunded. But we had rebelled against God, we had practically despised his law and authority, and it was necessary, that his authority should be supported, and that it should be made to appear, that sin shall not go without proper tokens of divine displeasure and abhorrence; that God will maintain his law; that his authority and government shall not be suffered to fall into contempt; and that God is a friend to virtue and holiness, and an irreconcilable enemy to transgression, sin, and vice. These things were necessary to be made manifest, and the clear manifestation of these things, if we will use the term, was the debt which was due to God. This manifestation was made in the sufferings and death of Christ. But Christ did not, in the literal sense, pay the debt we owed to God; if he had paid it, all grace would have been excluded from the pardon of the sinner. Therefore,
3. Others seeing clearly that these solutions of the difficulty are not satisfactory, have said, that the atonement of Christ consisted, not in the payment of a debt, but in the vindication of the divine law and character; that Christ made this vindication, by practically declaring the justice of the law, in his active obedience, and by submitting to the penalty of it, in his death; that as what Christ did and suffered in the flesh, was a declaration of the rectitude of the divine law and character, so it was a decla. ration of the evil of sin; and the greater the evil of sin appears to be, the greater the grace of pardon appears to be. Therefore the atonement of Christ is so far from diminishing the grace of pardon, that it magnifies it. The sum of this is, that since the atonement consists not in the payment of a debt, but in the vindication of the divine law and character; therefore it is not at all opposed to free grace in pardon.
Concerning this stating of the matter, I beg leave to observe; that if by a vindication of the divine law and character be meant, proof given that the law of God is just, and that the divine character is good and irreproachable; I can by no means suppose, that the atonement consisted in a vindication of the law and character of God. The law is no more proved to be just, and the character of God is no more proved to be good, by the perfect obedience and death of Christ, than the same things are proved by the perfect obedience of the angels, and by the torments of the damned. But I shall have occasion to enlarge on this point by and by.
Again; if by vindication of the divine law and character be meant, proof given that God is determined to support the authority of his law, and that he will not suffer it to fall into contempt; that he will also support his own dignity, will act a consistent part in legislation and in the execution of his law, and will not be disobeyed with impunity, or without proper satisfaction; I grant, that by Christ the divine law and character are vindicated, so that God can now consistently with his own honor and the authority of his law forgive the sinner. But how does this make it appear that there is any grace in the pardon of the sinner, when Christ, as his substitute, hath made full atonement for him, by vindicating the law and character of God? what if the sinner himself, instead of Christ, had, by obedience and suffering, vindicated the law and character of God, and in consequence had been released from further punishment? Would his release, in this case, have been by grace, or by justice? Doubtless by the latter and not by the former; for "to him that worketh, is the reward reckoned, not of grace, but of debt." Rom. 4: 4. Therefore, why is it not equally an act of justice to release the sinner, in consequence of the same vindication made by Christ? Payment of debt equally precludes grace, when made by a third person, as when made by the debtor himself. And since the vindication of the divine law and character, made by the sinner himself, precludes grace from the release of the sinner; why does not the same vindication as effectually preclude it, when made by a third person?
Those authors who give us this solution of the difficulty under consideration, seem to suppose that it is a sufficient solution to say that the atonement consists, not in the payment of debt, but in the vindication of the divine law and character; and what they say, seems to imply, that however or by whomsoever that vindication be made, whether by the sinner himself, or any other person, it is not at all opposed to the exercise of grace in the release of the sinner. Whereas it appears by the text just now quoted, and by many others, that if that vindication were made by the sinner himself, it would shut out all grace from his release. And I presume this will be granted by those authors themselves, on a little reflection. To say otherwise, is to say, that though a sinner should endure the curse of the law, yet there would be grace in his subsequent rerelease. It seems, then, that the grace of pardon depends, not barely on, this, that the atonement consists in a vindication of the law and character of God; but upon this particular circumstance attending the vindication, that it be made by a third person. And if this circumstance will leave room for grace in the release of the sinner, why is there not as much grace in the release of the sinner, though the atonement of Christ be a payment of the sinner's debt; since the payment is attended with the same important and decisive circumstance, that it is made by a third person?
Objection. But we could not vindicate the law and character of God; therefore it is absurd to make the supposition, and to draw consequences from the supposition, that we had made such a vindication. Answer. It is no more absurd to make this supposition, than it is to make the supposition, that we had paid the debt to divine justice; for we could no more do this than we could make the vindication in question. And if it follows, from this circumstance, that we neither have vindicated nor could vindicate the divine character, that our release from condemnation is an act of grace; why does it not also follow from the circumstance, that we neither have paid nor could pay the debt to divine justice, that our release is an act of grace, even on the supposition that Christ has, in the literal sense, paid the debt for us?
Thus, not any of these modes of solving this grand difficulty appears to be satisfactory. Even this last, which seemed to bid the fairest to af-ford satisfaction, fails. Therefore,
Secondly. I shall suggest some considerations which may possibly lead to the true solution. The question before us is, whether pardon through the atonement of Christ be an act of justice or of grace. In order to a proper answer to this question, it is of primary importance that we have clear and determinate ideas affixed to the words justice and grace.
I find the word justice to be used in three distinct senses; sometimes it means commutative justice, sometimes distributive justice, and sometimes what may be called general or public justice.
Commutative justice respects property and matters of commerce solely, and secures to every man his own property. To treat a man justly in this sense, is not to deprive him of his property, and whenever it falls into our hands, to restore it duly, or to make due payment of debts. In one word, commutative justice is to violate no man's property.
Distributive justice consists in properly rewarding virtue or good conduct, and punishing crimes or vicious conduct; and it has respect to a man's personal moral character or conduct. To treat a man justly in this sense, is to treat him according to his personal character or conduct. Commutative justice, in the recovering of debts, has no respect at all to the character or conduct of the debtor, but merely to the property of the creditor. Distributive justice, in the punishment of crimes, has no respect at all to the property of the criminal, but merely to his personal conduct; unless his property may, in some instances, enhance his crimes.
General or public justice comprehends all moral goodness; and though the word is often used in this sense, it is really an improper use of it. In this sense, whatever is right, is said to he just, or an act of justice; and whatever is wrong or improper to be done, is said to be unjust, or an act of injustice. To practise justice in this sense, is to practise agreeably to the dictates of general benevolence, or to seek the glory of God and the good of the universe. And whenever the glory of God is neglected, it may be said that God is injured or deprived of his right. Whenever the general good is neglected or impeded, the universe may be said to suffer an injury. For instance; if Paul were now to be cast down from heaven, to suffer the pains of hell, it would be wrong, as it would be inconsistent with God's covenant faithfulness, with the designed exhibition of his glorious grace, and with the good of the universe. In this sense, it would not be just. Yet in the sense of distributive justice, such a treatment of Paul would be perfectly just, as it would be no more than correspondent to his personal demerits.
The term grace, comes now to be explained. Grace is ever so opposed to justice, that they mutually limit each other. Wherever grace begins, justice ends; and wherever justice begins, grace ends. Grace, as opposed to commutative justice, is gratuitously to relinquish your property, or to forgive a man his debt. And commutative injustice is to demand more of a man than your own property. Grace, as opposed to justice in the distributive sense, is to treat a man more favorably or mildly than is correspondent to his personal character or conduct. To treat him unjustly is to use him with greater severity than is correspondent to his personal character. It is to be remembered, that, in personal character, I include punishment endured, as well as actions performed. When a man has broken any law, and has afterwards suffered the penalty of that law; as he has, by the transgression, treated the law with contempt, so by suffering the penalty, he has supported the authority of it; and the latter makes a part of his personal character as he stands related to that law, as really as the former.
With regard to the third kind of justice, as this is improperly called justice, and as it comprehends all moral goodness, it is not at all opposed to grace; but comprehends that, as well as every other virtue, as truth, faithfulness, meekness, forgiveness, patience, prudence, temperance, fortitude, &c. All these are right and fit, and the contrary tempers or practices are wrong, and injurious to God and the system; and therefore, in this sense of justice, are unjust. And even grace itself, which is favor to the ill-deserving, so far as it is wise and proper to be exercised, makes but a part of this kind of justice.
We proceed now to apply these explanations to the solution of the difficulty under consideration. The question is this. Is the pardon of the sinner, through the atonement of Christ, an act of justice or of grace? To which I answer, That with respect to commutative justice, it is neither an act of justice nor of grace. Because commutative justice is not concerned in the affair. We neither owed money to the Deity, nor did Christ pay any on our behalf. His atonement is not a payment of our debt. If it had been, our discharge would have been an act of mere justice, and not of grace. To make the sinner also pay the debt, which had been already paid by Christ, would be manifestly injurious, oppressive, and beyond the bounds of commutative justice, the rule of which is, that every man retain and recover his own property, and that only. But a debt being paid, by whomsoever it be paid, the creditor has recovered his property, and therefore has a right to nothing further. If he extort, or attempt to extort, any thing further, he proceeds beyond his right and is guilty of injustice. So that if Christ had paid the debt for the believer, he would be discharged, not on the footing of grace, but of strict justice.
With respect to distributive justice, the discharge of the sinner is wholly an act of grace. This kind of justice has respect solely to the personal character and conduct of its object. And then is a man treated justly, when he is treated according to his personal moral character? If he be treated more favorably than is correspondent to his personal character, he is the object of grace. I say personal character; for distributive justice has no respect to the character of a third person, or to any thing which may be done or suffered by another person, than by him, who is the object of this justice, or who is on trial, to be rewarded or punished. And with regard to the case now before us, what if Christ has made an atonement for sin? This atonement constitutes no part of the personal character of the sinner; but his personal character is essentially the same, as it would have been, if Christ had made no atonement. And as the sinner, in pardon, is treated not only more favorably, but infinitely more favorably, than is correspondent to his personal character, his pardon is wholly an act of infinite grace. If it were, in the sense of distributive justice, an act of justice; he would be injured, if a pardon were refused him. But as the case is, be would not be injured, though a pardon were refused him; because he would not be treated more unfavorably than is correspondent to his personal character.
Therefore, though it be true that if a third person pay a debt, there would be no grace exercised by the creditor in discharging the debtor; yet when a third person atones for a crime, by suffering in the stead of a criminal, there is entire grace in the discharge of the criminal, and distributive justice still allows him to be punished in his own person. The reason is, what I have mentioned already, that justice in punishing crimes, respects the personal character only of the criminal; but in the payment of debts, it respects the recovery of property only. In the former case, it admits of any treatment which is according to his personal character; in the latter, it admits of nothing beyond the recovery of property.
So that though Christ has made complete atonement for the sins of all his disciples, and they are justified wholly through his redemption; yet they are justified wholly by grace. Because they personally have not made atonement for their sins, or suffered the curse of the law. Therefore they have no claim to a discharge on account of their own personal conduct and suffering. And if it is objected, that neither is a debtor discharged on account of any thing which he hath done personally, when he is discharged on the payment of his debt by a third person; yet justice does not admit that the creditor recover the debt again from the debtor himself: why then does it admit that a magistrate inflict the punishment of a crime on the criminal himself, when atonement has been made by a substitute? The answer is, that justice in these two cases is very different, and respects very different objects. In criminal causes, it respects the personal conduct or character of the criminal, and admits of any treatment which is correspondent to that conduct. In civil causes, or matters of debt, it respects the restitution of property only, and this being made, it admits of no further demand.
In the third sense of justice before explained, according to which any thing is just, which is right and best to be done; the pardon of the sinner is entirely an act of justice. It is undoubtedly most conducive to the divine glory, and general good of the created system, that every believer should be pardoned; and therefore, in the present sense of the word, it is an act of justice. The pardon of the sinner is equally an act of justice, if, as some suppose, he be pardoned not on account of the death of Christ, considered as an equivalent to the curse of the law denounced against the sinner; but merely on account of the positive obedience of Christ. If this be the mode and the condition of pardon established by God, doubtless pardon granted in this mode and on this condition, is most conducive to the divine glory and the general good. Therefore it is, in the sense of justice now under consideration, an act of justice; insomuch that if pardon were not granted in this mode, the divine glory would be tarnished, and the general good diminished, or the universe would suffer an injury. The same would be true, if God had in fact granted pardon, without any atonement, whether by suffering or obedience. We might have argued from that fact, that infinite wisdom saw it to be most conducive to the divine glory and the general good, to pardon without an atonement; and of course that if pardon had not been granted in this way, both the divine glory and general good would have been diminished, and injustice would have been done to the universe. In the same sense the gift of Christ to be our Saviour, his undertaking to save us, and every other gift of God to his creatures, are acts of justice. But it must be remembered, that this is an improper sense of the word justice, and is not at all opposed to grace, but implies it. For all those divine acts and gifts just mentioned, though in this sense they are acts of justice, yet are, at the same time, acts of pure grace.
In this sense of justice the word seems to be used by the apostle Paul, Rom. 3:26; "To declare his righteousness, (or justice) that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.' That God might be just to himself and to the universe. Again, in Psalm 85:10; "Mercy and truth are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other." Righteousness, in the distributive sense, hath not kissed peace with respect to the sinner; but so far as it speaks any thing, calls for his punishment. But the public good, and the divine glory admit of peace with the sinner. In the same sense the word occurs in the version of the Psalms in common use among us, where it is said, "justice is pleased, and peace is given." Again, in the catechism of the assembly of divines, where they say, "Christ offered up himself a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice."
Thus it appears that the pardon of the sinner, in reference to distributive justice, which is the only proper sense of the word, with respect to this matter, is entirely an act of grace, and that although he is pardoned wholly through the redemption of Jesus Christ.
It is in the same sense an act of grace, as the gift of Christ, or any other most gracious act of God. Though the sinner is pardoned wholly through the redemption of Christ, yet his pardon is an act of pure grace, because in it he is treated inconceivably more favorably than is correspondent to his personal character.
The pardon of the sinner, on this plan of the redemption or the atonement of Christ, is as entirely an act of grace, as if it had been granted on an atonement made, not by the sufferings of Christ, but merely by his active obedience. For if we suppose, that the atonement of Christ consists wholly in the obedience of Christ, not in his sufferings, in what sense would the pardon of the sinner be an act of grace, in which it is not an. act of grace, on the hypothesis concerning the atonement which hath been now stated? Pardon is no more procured by the payment of the sinner's debt, in the one case, than in the other. If it be said that Christ's suffering the curse of the law is the payment of the debt; I answer, this is no more a payment of the debt, than the obedience of Christ. If it be said that Christ's obedience only honors and magnifies the law, I answer, no more is done by the sufferings of Christ. It is true, that if the sinner be pardoned on account of Christ's obedience, he is treated more favorably than is correspondent to his personal character. The same is true, if he be pardoned on account of Christ's sufferings. If it be said, that in the one case Christ suffers, as the substitute of the sinner; I answer, in the other case, he obeys as the substitute of the sinner. In the one case, Christ has by his sufferings made it consistent with the general good to pardon the sinner; in the other case, he hath made the same thing consistent with the general good, by his obedience. And if this circumstance, that the pardon of the sinner is consistent with the general good abolishes grace from his pardon in the one case, the same circumstance is productive of the same effect in the other. The truth is, that in both cases the whole grace of pardon consists in this, and this only, that the sinner is treated infinitely more favorably than is correspondent to his personal character.
Again; according to this scheme of the atonement, the pardon of the sinner is as wholly an act of grace, as if he had been pardoned without any atonement at all. If the sinner had been pardoned without any atonement, he would have been treated more favorably than is correspondent to his own character; so he is, when pardoned through the atonement of Christ. ]In the former case, he would be pardoned, without a payment of his debt; so he is in the latter. If the measures taken by God to secure the public good, those measures consisting neither in any personal doing or suffering of the sinner, nor in the payment of debt, be inconsistent with grace in the pardon of the sinner in the one case; doubtless whatever measures are taken by God to secure the public good in the other case, are equally inconsistent with grace in pardon. And no man will pretend, that if God do pardon the sinner without an atonement, he will pardon him in a way which is inconsistent with the public good. In this view of the objection, either the bare circumstance that the pardon of the sinner is consistent with the public good, is that which abolishes the grace of pardon; or it is the particular mode in which the consistence of pardon and the public good is brought about. If the bare circumstance of the consistence of pardon and the public good, be that which abolishes the grace of pardon, then it seems, that in order that any pardon may be gracious, it must be inconsistent with the public good; and therefore the pardon of the sinner without any atonement, being by the concession of the objector a gracious act, is inconsistent with the general good of the universe, and with the glory and perfections of God, and therefore can never be granted by God, as long as he is possessed of infinite perfection and goodness, whereby he is necessarily disposed to seek the good of the universal system, or of his own kingdom.
Or if it be said, that it is the particular mode in which the consistence between pardon and the public good is brought about, which abolishes the grace of pardon; in this case it is incumbent on the objector to point out what there is in the mode which is opposed to grace in pardon. He cannot pretend that in this mode the debt of the sinner is paid, or that in repentance the sinner's personal character is so altered that he now deserves no punishment. If this were the case, there would certainly be no grace in his pardon. It is no grace, and no pardon, not to punish a man who deserves no punishment. If the objector were to hold, that the personal character of the sinner is so altered by repentance that he no longer deserves punishment, he would at once confute his own scheme of gracious pardon.
Neither can it be pretended, by the advocates for pardon without atonement, that there is any grace in pardon, in any other view than this, that the sinner is treated more favorably than is correspondent to his personal character. And pardon, on such an atonement as Christ hath made, is, in the same view, an act of grace. So that if the true idea of grace, with respect to this subject be, a treatment of a sinner more favorably than is correspondent to his personal character, the pardon of the sinner through the atonement of Christ, is an act of pure grace. If this be not the true idea of grace, let a better be given, and I am willing to examine it; and presume that on the most thorough examination of the matter it will be found, that there is as much grace in the pardon of the sinner, through the atonement of Christ, as without any atonement at all. Surely it will not be pleaded, that it is no act of grace to treat a sinner more favorably than is correspondent to his, own personal character; if such treatment be not more favorable than is correspondent to the personal character of some other man, or some other being; and that it is no act of grace in a prince to pardon a criminal, from respect to the merits of the criminal's father; or, that if Capt. Asgill had been the murderer of Capt. Huddy, there would have been no grace exercised in the pardon of Asgill, from respect to the intercession of the court of France.
On every hypothesis concerning the mode or condition of pardon, it must be allowed, that God dispenses pardon from regard to some circumstance, or juncture of circumstances, which renders the pardon both consistent with the general good, and subservient to it: and whatever this be, whether the death of Christ, or any thing else, provided it be not the payment of money, and provided the personal character of the sinner be the same, it is equally consistent or inconsistent with grace in pardon.
In short, the whole strength of this objection, in which the Socinians have so much triumphed, that complete atonement is inconsistent with grace in the pardon of the sinner, depends on the supposition, that the atonement of Christ consists in the literal payment of a debt which we owed to God; and this groundless supposition being set aside, the objection itself appears equally groundless, and vanishes like dew before the sun.
Whatever hypothesis we adopt concerning the pardon of the sinner, whether we suppose it to be granted on account of the death of Christ; or on account of the obedience of Christ; or absolutely without any atonement; all will agree in this, that it is granted in such a way, or on such conditions only, as are consistent with the general good of the moral system; and from a regard to some event or circumstance, or juncture of circumstances, which causes pardon to be consistent with the general good. And that circumstance, or juncture of circumstances, may as well be called the price of pardon, the ransom of the sinner, &c., as the death of Christ. And whereas it is objected, that if God grant a pardon from respect to the atonement of Christ, we are under no obligation to God for the grace of pardon; I answer that whenever God grants a pardon, from respect to the circumstance or juncture of circumstances before mentioned, it may as well be pleaded, that the sinner so pardoned is under no obligations of gratitude to God on account of his pardon; for that it was granted from regard to the general good, or to that circumstance which rendered it consistent with the general good, and not from any gracious regard to him; or that if he be under any obligation to God, it is to him as the author of that circumstance or juncture of circumstances, which renders his pardon consistent with the general good, and not to him, as the dispenser of his pardon: as it is objected that if, on the scheme of pardon through the atonement of Christ, we be under any obligation to God at all, it is merely on account of the provision of the atonement, and not on account of pardon itself.
Perhaps some, loth to relinquish this objection, may, say, Though it be true, that the pardon of the sinner, on account of the atonement of Christ, be a real act of grace; would it not have been an act of greater grace, to pardon absolutely, without an atonement? This question is capable of a twofold construction. If the meaning be, whether there would not have been more grace manifested towards the sinner, if his pardon had been granted without any atonement? I answer, by no means; because to put the question in this sense, is the same as to ask, whether the favor of par. don granted without an atonement, would not be greater in comparison with the sinner's personal character, than it is when granted on account of the atonement of Christ? Or whether there would not have been a greater distance between the good of pardon, and the demerit of the sinner's personal character, if his pardon had been granted without an atonement, than if it be granted on account of the atonement of Christ? But the good, the safety, the indemnity of pardon, or of deliverance from condemnation, is the very same, in whatever way it be granted, whether through an atonement or not, whether in a way of grace or in a way of debt, whether from a regard to the merits of Christ, or the merits of the sinner himself. Again, the personal character of the sinner is also the same, whether he be pardoned through an atonement or not. If his pardon be granted without an atonement, it makes not the demerit of his personal character and conduct the greater; or if it be granted on account of the atonement of Christ, it makes not the demerit of his personal character the less. Therefore as the good of pardon is the same, in whatever way it be granted; and the personal character of the sinner pardoned is the same; the distance between the good of pardon, and the demerit of the sinner's character is also the same, whether he be pardoned on account of the atonement of Christ, or absolutely, without any atonement. Of course the pardon of the sinner is not an act of greater grace to him personally, if granted without regard to an atonement, than if granted from regard to the atonement of Christ.
But perhaps the meaning of the question stated above is, whether, if the sinner had been pardoned without an atonement, it would not have exhibited greater grace in the divine mind, or greater goodness in God; and whether in this mode of pardon, greater good would not have accrued to the universe. The answer to this question wholly depends on the necessity of an atonement, which I have endeavored briefly to show, in the preceding discourse. If an atonement be necessary to support the authority of the law and of the moral government of God, it is doubtless necessary to the public good of the moral system, or to the general good of the universe and to the divine glory. This being granted or established, the question just now stated comes to this simply; whether it exhibits greater grace and goodness in the divine mind, and secures greater good to the universe, to pardon sin in such a mode, as is consistent with the general good of the universe; or in such a mode as is inconsistent with that important object? a question which no man, from regard to his own reputation would choose to propose.