The next installment, ending part one, chapter three.
57. Experience of evil as sin necessary to God’s plan. The proposition against which the first objection stands answers the objection in all its parts. It was in the system of divine wisdom that man should experience a consciousness of sin and guilt, without which, the subject of my inquiry could never have existed. If sin and guilt had never been introduced into our system, the plan of grace by atonement could never have been exhibited. Sin and guilt could never have existed providing there had been no prohibition communicated to the intelligent mind; and, on the other hand, if the mind possessed as much liberty to go contrary to inducements as it does inclination to follow them, inducements would have no possible effect; exhortations, admonitions, and warnings would be of no possible service.
58. The means thereto in God’s hands also. If God purposed that man should come to the knowledge of his own infirmities in the way that he does, he must have intended all the means whereby the purpose might be accomplished. And if he designed that any degree of moral holiness should be found on earth such inducements must influence the minds of men as would necessarily produce it. That God does, in a strict sense of speaking, require more of any of his creatures than they are able to perform, is inconsistent with the dictates of good reason and destitute of scripture authority; and has no better foundation for its support than an idea that darkness originates in the sun, or light in an opaque body. But does not God require perfect holiness of man? Does he not command strict obedience to every jot and title of his law?
I have before urged that the spirit of God’s law in its infinite fulness was above the capacity of man in a finite state in which he was made subject to vanity; and that it was the shadow of the law only that was introduced to the creature’s understanding, and that for the purpose that the offence might abound. Then, says my opponent, if you are correct in this statement, does it not prove that the requirement is more than the abilities of the creature to perform? And how can the difficulty be removed?
59. The Moral law in force in this present life. The proper answer to this question is derived from a due recurrence to the original constitution of man. If we believe that man, as a moral being, was constituted to occupy this mortal state only, and that his whole existence is limited to this state, then we must conclude that in this mortal state, when we find health and sickness, pleasure and pain, virtue and vice, happiness and misery, the law of moral rectitude, being obeyed so far as to correspond with the law of physical organization, which is productive of the natural health of the body, it answers the full extent of its purposes, and is as fully obeyed as the Creator designed it ever should be. It is evident that the designs of the Creator in the laws of corporeal or animal nature, embrace not only all the health and pleasure which corporeal beings enjoy; but also all the sickness and pain they endure. So likewise, in this constitution of man, as a moral being, the law of moral rectitude was designed to administer not only those moral enjoyments, which are far the sweetest felicities with which we are blessed, but also those pungent compunctions of conscience which are our bitterest sufferings. If therefore we extend our views no father than man’s earthly state, we view it perfectly philosophical to conclude that it was no more the design of the Creator that man should here enjoy perfect righteousness free from the alloys of guilt, that it was that he should here enjoy uninterrupted health and ease of body.
But in agreement with my view before expressed, concerning man’s original constitution, as a moral being, in which he was made subject to vanity by reason of him who subjected him in hope, I embrace the doctrine of future, immortal life; in which state man will be as free from sin and condemnation, as that immortal state will be free from sickness, corruption and death.
I, according to these views, look for present obedience to the divine law in that glorious constitution manifested in Christ, who hath abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, and who is said, to be, the Lord our righteousness.
60. The variableness attributed to God exists only in man’s changing attitude to him. I come to take notice of the second objection. There are many passages of scripture which represent the Almighty as possessing irritable passions like his creatures. We are told that it repented him that he had made man on the earth, and that it grieved him at the heart. These expressions are as strong in their indications of the changeability as any that might be chosen. An apostle exhorts not to grieve the Holy Spirit; and it is not unfrequent that God is provoked to anger or jealousy according to scripture. My opponent will not argue that we ought to understand those scriptures as strictly and literally true; no man in his senses can believe then so and yet believe the Almighty unchangeable. Supposing my opponent should give his own opinion of this question; I have no doubt but he would remove the objection to all intents. I understand those scriptures, as many others do, to be spoken according to the dark understanding of man who is ignorant of the real character of God; and according to the representations made by the law to the unreconciled min. To admit, in a strict sense of speaking, that God was ever grieved tot he hard for what he did himself, or for what his creatures do, is more than I can do and believe in the perfections of a Supreme Being. St. James says, â€œWith God there is not variableness nor shadow of turning.â€ This expression is as strong an indication of the unchangeabilility of the Almighty as any that might be chosen. St. Paul informs us that God works all things after the counsel of his own will. Our being led by a carnal and fleshly mind is undoubtedly what the apostle meant by grieving the Holy Spirit; as the motions or vibrations of the carnal man are opposed to those of the heavenly; but it is that the eternal Spirit of God ever felt grief, is more than we can rationally admit, as that would reduce the Almighty to a state of suffering. It is very evident that the scriptures represent the Almighty in extremely different characters; and I confess I cannot reconcile them in any other way than by the two covenants, or what is the same, flesh and spirit. Our ideas of God, while under the legal dispensation, walking in fleshly minds, are consonant to that character which the scripture represents our Creator in, as wrathful, filled with indignation towards us for our sins, and every day angry. Those ideas which the mind entertains of the Father of all mercies, when enlightened by the spirit of the new man, and while walking in the spirit of life in Christ Jesus, which maketh free from the law of sin, are altogether consonant to that endearing character given in scripture of our Father who is in heaven, who causeth his sun to shine on the evil and on the good; and sendeth rain upon the just and the unjust; who loved us while we were yet enemies, and sent his Son to die in attestation of his love to his creatures; who is good unto all, and whose tender mercies are over all the works of his hands; who is of one mind, and changeth not.
Says my opponent, if the Almighty govern all the affairs of mankind according to his own appointment; if he were never disappointed; suffers no violation of will; but does, in all things, and by all things maintain and support his own eternal system of divine goodness, what room do we find for the necessity of atonement, whereby peace is made by the blood of the cross?
By this question I come to my second general subject, viz: Atonement for Sin.