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3. It is objected, that it is unjust to punish an innocent being instead of the guilty.
(1.) Yes, it would not only be unjust, but it is impossible with God to punish an innocent moral agent at all. Punishment implies guilt. An innocent being may suffer, but he cannot be punished. Christ voluntarily "suffered, the just for the unjust" (1 Peter 3:18). He had a right to exercise this self-denial; and as it was by His own voluntary consent, no injustice was done to any one.
(2.) If He had no right to make an atonement, He had no right to consult and promote His own happiness and the happiness of others; for it is said that "for the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame" (Heb. 12:2).
4. It is objected that the doctrine of atonement is utterly incredible. To this I have replied in a former lecture; but will here again state, that it would be utterly incredible upon any other supposition, than that God is love. But if God is love, as the Bible expressly affirms that He is, the work of atonement is just what might be expected of Him, under the circumstances; and the doctrine of atonement is then the most reasonable doctrine in the universe.
5. It is objected to the doctrine of atonement, that it is of a demoralizing tendency.
There is a broad distinction between the natural tendency of a thing, and such an abuse of a good thing as to make it the instrument of evil. The best things and doctrines may be, and often are, abused, and their natural tendency perverted. Although the doctrine of the atonement may be abused, yet its natural tendency is the direct opposite of demoralizing. Is the manifestation of infinitely disinterested love naturally calculated to beget enmity? Who does not know that the natural tendency of manifested love is to excite love in return? Those who have the most cordially believed in the atonement, have exhibited the purest morality that has ever been in this world; while the rejecters of the atonement, almost without exception, exhibit a loose morality. This is, as might be expected, from the very nature and moral influence of atonement.
(1.) It does indeed represent Christ as laying down His life for His sheep, and also for all mankind. "And He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2). "For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved" (John 3:17). "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that He, by the grace of God, should taste death for every man" (Heb. 2:9).
(2.) Those who object to the general atonement, take substantially the same course to evade this doctrine, that Unitarians do to set aside the doctrine of the Trinity and the Divinity of Christ. They quote those passages that prove the unity of God and the humanity of Christ, and then take it for granted that they have disproved the doctrine of the Trinity and Christ's Divinity. The asserters of limited atonement, in like manner, quote those passages that prove that Christ died for the elect and for His saints, and then take it for granted that He died for none else. To the Unitarian, we reply, we admit the unity of God and the humanity of Christ, and the full meaning of those passages of scripture which you quote in proof of these doctrines; but we insist that this is not the whole truth, but that there are still other passages which prove the doctrine of the Trinity, and the Divinity of Christ. Just so to the asserters of limited atonement, we reply, we believe that Christ laid down His life for His sheep, as well as you; but we also believe that "he tasted death for every man" (Heb. 2:9). "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).
7. To the doctrine of general atonement it is objected, that it would be folly in God to provide what He knew would be rejected; and that to suffer Christ to die for those who, He foresaw, would not repent, would be a useless expenditure of the blood and suffering of Christ.
(1.) This objection assumes that the atonement was a literal payment of a debt, which we have seen does not consist with the nature of the atonement.
(2.) If sinners do not accept it, in no view can the atonement be useless, as the great compassion of God, in providing an atonement and offering them mercy, will forever exalt His character, in the estimation of holy beings, greatly strengthen His government, and therefore benefit the whole universe.
8. To the general atonement it is objected, that it implies universal salvation.
It would indeed imply this, upon the supposition that the atonement is the literal payment of a debt. It was upon this view of the atonement, that Universalism first took its stand. Universalists taking it for granted, that Christ had paid the debt of those for whom He died, and finding it fully revealed in the Bible that He died for all mankind, naturally, and if this were correct, properly, inferred the doctrine of universal salvation. But we have seen, that this is not the nature of atonement. Therefore, this inference falls to the ground.
9. It is objected that, if the atonement was not a payment of the debt of sinners, but general in its nature, as we have maintained, it secures the salvation of no one. It is true, that the atonement, of itself, does not secure the salvation of any one; but the promise and oath of God, that Christ shall have a seed to serve Him, provide that security.