By Aaron Hills
NECESSITY FOR ATONEMENT
People often ask why it was necessary for Christ to be offered up for our salvation. Socinian theologians have made the objection that it was cruel in God to require such a sacrifice from His Son to appease His wrath against sinners. The objection is irrelevant and involves a total misconception of the Atonement. The great scheme of salvation was not an outgrowth of wrath and revenge, forced upon Jesus by his angry Father. The Father and the Son were blessedly united in the whole transaction. "God so loved the world that He gave His only Begotten Son" (John 3: 16.) And we might add, in completes harmony with all Scripture-"The Son of God so loved the world that He consented to be given." He willingly emptied Himself of His supernal glory to become "the man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." He exchanged the adoration of angles for the contemptuous cruelty of sinners, the crown of heaven for the crown of thorns, the throne for the cross. "The infinite sacrifice of this concurring love of Father and Son affirms the deepest necessity for an atonement as the ground of forgiveness" (Miley, V. II, p. 89).
Some of the reasons for the Atonement we may conjecture in harmony with reason, and others are plainly revealed in the Word. In the previous chapter we showed in a general way that the Atonement was grounded in the necessities of moral law and moral government. At the hazard of repeating, in a measure, what has already been said we observe:
1. God is an Infinite Moral being, having in his own nature the principles of moral law which cannot be abrogated, altered or set aside. He has created a race of moral beings in his own image with this immutable moral law written in all their hearts.
2. Moral beings involve the necessity of a moral government with moral laws braced by the sanctions of rewards and penalties. Laws with no sanctions of rewards for obedience, and penalties for disobedience, would not be laws at all, but only advice, which the subjects could accept or reject as they liked.
3. Such a moral government, with moral subjects, and moral laws, implies a moral governor. God, the only all-wise and omnipotent and eternal being in the Universe must of necessity be that Governor. He cannot dispense with the sanctions of those immutable laws that are eternal in Himself, and will be forever in His creatures. The repeal of the sanctions would be a virtual repeal of the laws themselves. It would mean to ignore all distinctions between right and wrong, and permit vice and crime to be rampant throughout the entire universe. God cannot, therefore, set aside the execution of the penalty, when the precept has been violated, without something else being done, that shall meet the demands of the true spirit of the unrepealed law.
4. But we are a race of sinners. An awful necessity, therefore, confronted God. Either,
a. He must inflict retributive, punitive justice upon all, which would mean to send us all to an eternal doom. "For," as Finney observed, "when law is once violated the sinner can make no satisfaction. He can never cease to be guilty, or to deserve punishment, and no possible amount of suffering renders him the less guilty, or the less deserving of punishment; therefore to satisfy retributive justice is impossible." Or,
b. God can give expression to His pitying love and offer pardon on proper conditions. But public justice that dwells in the heart of God and all his creatures forbids the exercise of such love, unless a substitute can be found for the penalty that will answer the ends of government as well and be as helpful to moral beings.
5. This substitute must come from the Ruler himself. The sacrifice of no man would suffice for all men have sinned and alike need to be atoned for. The voluntary self-sacrifice of no angel would be sufficient for the redemption of countless billions of immortal beings from eternal death is a work too vast and too costly for any finite being to achieve. Besides, if the Supreme Executive elects to set aside the penalty he must himself provide the substitute for it. The suffering could not be imposed upon any one else. If the Head of the Government, for any purpose of his own, dispenses with the execution of penalties, public justice requires that He himself shall provide a substitute that shall as effectually secure the influence of law, as the execution of the penalty would do. God, therefore, could not be just to His own intelligence, just to His character as a holy moral Ruler, just to the interests of all His subjects in his vast moral realm in setting aside the penalty of divine law, except upon the condition of providing, at His own expense, a substitute of such a nature as to reveal as fully, and impress as deeply, the lessons that would be taught by the penalty, as the execution of the penalty would do.
Fortunately for our discussion, this is no far-fetched theory of human invention. God himself has set his seal of approval upon this argument. In Rom. 3: 24-26, He has stated the truth Himself: "Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to show His righteousness because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime in the forbearance of God; for the showing (I say) of His righteousness at this present season; that He might himself be just and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus." Three things are affirmed in this remarkable passage which Martin Luther called "the article of a standing or falling church." (1) That God's own righteousness was at stake in this matter of pardoning sin-His righteousness as a moral ruler. If He pardons at all, it must be done righteously. (2) The sense of public justice that is abroad in the universe cannot be ignored or offended. If the penalty of broken law is set aside, justice sternly demands that God shall furnish a substitute for the penalty that shall answer the ends of government as well. God's justice is at stake in the matter. (3) God had to SHOW that in the matter of forgiving sin He was, and ever would be, just and righteous. So it would not have sufficed for God to have gone off to some unknown world and suffered for a time in secret to make atonement. No, as the Ruler of the Universe, He is a public character, and the eyes of all His subjects are upon Him continually. If He does any thing so surprising and startling as to offer to forgive the sins of a race of countless moral beings, He must "SHOW" to all concerned that He does it in righteousness and justice by way of Atonement. So Jesus died-God's Only Son, His other self. One with himself-not in secret, but on Calvary, in sight of some millions of people. Earth and heaven and hell were gathered there to witness, while God was "showing" His "righteousness and justice." And it was a "SHOW" that will never be forgotten.
6. The love of God made the atonement necessary. The only measure of love is sacrifice. Dr. Joseph Parker of London said: "If love were represented by a straight line, sacrifice would be the last point in the line." The loving heart of God went out in pity and compassion toward sinners. But the fallen race of man sustained to the government of God the relation of rebels and outlaws. And before God, as the great Executive Magistrate of the universe, could manifest his benevolence toward them, an atonement must be decided upon, and made known, as the ground upon which His loving favor was conditioned. It was manifest to all how difficult and dangerous was to offer mercy to the guilty while in the very state of rebellion against God, without satisfaction being made to public justice.
Now the benevolence of God would not allow Him on the one hand to pardon sin at the expense of the public good, nor on the other, to execute the penalty of the law and send all sinners to hell, if it could be wisely and consistently avoided. It might have been expected that a God of love would devise and execute some expedient that would both protect the interests of the government and at the same time render the forgiveness of sin possible.
Love wills the good even of the undeserving, and seeks to prevent the suffering and woe of others when it wisely can. "The suffering of Christ in the place of the eternal damnation of sinners would result in preventing an infinite amount of suffering. The relation of Christ to the universe, and His infinite dignity was such that it rendered His sufferings so infinitely valuable and influential, as an expression of God's abhorrence of sin on the one hand, and His great love to His subjects, on the other, that an infinitely less amount of suffering in Him than must have been inflicted on sinners, would be equally, and no doubt vastly more, influential in supporting the government of God, than the execution of the law upon them would have been. Be it borne in mind that Christ was the lawgiver, and His suffering in behalf of sinners is to be regarded as the lawgiver and executive magistrate suffering in the behalf and stead of a rebellious province of His Empire. As a governmental expedient it is easy to see the great value of such a substitute; that on the one hand it fully evinced the determination of the Ruler not to yield the authority of His law, and on the other, to evince His great and disinterested love for His rebellious subjects" (Finney's Theology, p. 272).
7. The atonement was needed to promote the highest influence and glory of God in the universe. Moral beings might have known God's spotless holiness, and His inflexible justice and His burning hatred of sin without it. But what save the atonement could have fully manifested His love? The sin of man gave God the fullest opportunity to reveal Himself. After the atonement had been made, divine mercy could be shown in all Her ineffable sweetness and gentleness. The patience and forbearance of God could shine forth in all their graciousness. His tender compassion and infinite pity for His weak and erring and suffering children could be manifested in a way to show to all moral beings the many-sided character of God. It was eminently appropriate that God should improve the opportunity which sin afforded to make Himself known to the whole moral universe in all the manifold richness of His moral nature. But the atonement was necessary to do it.
8. The atonement was needed to greatly augment the happiness of the universe. Through its influence, eternal happiness instead of eternal misery becomes the experience of all that are reclaimed from sin. Moreover the sympathetic angels, who never have sinned, have unspeakable joy over the success of the atonement in redeeming men.
9. The atonement was needed to furnish the strongest motives to repentance and faith. The cross draws far more than fear of doom drives to flee from the wrath to come. Hearts that are impervious to every other influence, and dead to every other appeal, are melted and subdued by the story of atoning love. This is the one truth that prompts a hopeless, helpless, hell-deserving sinner to venture on God for mercy and grace.
10. The atonement was necessary to supplement the influence of punitive justice in preventing sin. The history of the moral universe proves that fear of punishment was not adequate to deter moral beings from the commission of sin. Sin spread in heaven till it was despoiled of a third of its inhabitants. Sin has spread in the earth despite every signal judgment of God. The execution of penalty, however severe, has been powerless to stop it. Even the annihilation of the wicked would not cause the holy purposes of God to be realized. A full revelation of mercy through atoning love was needed to blend with justice, in the administration of divine government. Finney says: "While the execution of law may have a strong tendency to prevent the beginning of rebellion among loyal subjects, and to restrain rebels themselves; yet penal inflictions do not, in fact, subdue the heart, under any government, whether human or divine" (p. 273).
11. The atonement was necessary to confirm holy beings in their holiness. Nothing is so calculated to bind them to the throne of God in absolute loyalty and devotion, and confirm their confidence and love, as His disinterested manifestation of love in the atonement. And so it becomes a matter of universal interest. As the law of gravitation holds all worlds in its embrace, so moral law, in its deeper principles, is one over man and angels and all intelligences. Thus the atonement in Christ becomes of universal interest, because He has universal lordship, and what He has done in any world is deeply interesting to all worlds.
"The atonement affords the greatest moral manifestation of God the universe will ever know: (1) In His holiness and justice and love; (2) In His invincible hostility to sin; (3) In His immutable purpose to maintain His own honor and authority; (4) In His determination to sacredly guard the rights and interests of His subjects. The atonement takes its place in the universal moral system, and with all the power of practical truth, addresses itself to all minds. . . .
When therefore we assert a necessity for the atonement and set forth its benefits, we must, for any adequate conception, take an infinitely broader view than the present sphere of humanity, or even the eternal destiny of the race. Because the one law of gravitation is universal, the disorder of one world, might, if uncorrected, become a far extended evil; while its correction might be a good, extending far beyond itself, and reaching to all worlds--except to any wandering star lost in the blackness of darkness forever. So the evil of sin in this world might, with the license of impunity, become a far extended evil; while its treatment under the atonement may become a far extended good, reaching to all intelligences-except the incorrigible or finally lost, fitly compared to a wandering and forever lost star. And such treatment of sin, with forgiveness on a true faith in Christ, may be, and no doubt is, an infinitely higher moral good to other intelligences than its unconditional doom under the penalty of justice would be.
Thus all minds receive the great lesson of the atonement with its power of moral truth and pathos of love. And all intelligences, faithful or fallen, must bow the knee at the name of Jesus. In the lesson of His cross, all must learn the profoundest truth of the divine holiness and love; of the evil and hopeless doom of unatoned or unrepented sin; of the obligation and blessedness of obedience and love. All holy intelligences, bound in deeper love and loyalty to the divine throne, by the moral power of the atonement, will forever stand the firmer in their obedience and bliss. And the cross, once the stigma of most heinous crime, and the sign of the deepest abasement of Christ, shall hence-forth symbolize to all intelligences the sublimest moral truth in the universe" (Miley, Vol. II, pp. 215-216).