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'What is the true theory of the Atonement? is the question in Dr. Miley's book. In answering it there must be no preconceived opinions, no favorite hypotheses. There must be pure love of truth. Lord Brougham says, "There is nothing so plain to which the influence of a preconceived opinion, or the desire of furthering a favorite hypothesis, will not blind men; their blindness in such cases bears even a proportion to their learning and ingenuity."
A priori, we cannot conclude as to the fact of the Atonement or what the Atonement is; for we can have no a priori knowledge of God. God is known only so far as he chooses to reveal himself. His works are known only so far as revelation, either natural or supernatural, makes them knowable. In the simplest of all God's works there are impenetrable adyta. No philosopher has a plummet long enough to sound the depths of mystery in an atom. A man must be very bold in presumptive arrogance when he ventures beyond revelation in his theorizing concerning confessedly the greatest of all the works of God. Creation, a priori, is unknown; it is known only so far as it is revealed in the things that are made: and creation cost God only a word; for " he spake and it was done; he commanded and it stood fast." The mysteries of Redemption are as much greater, we would argue, as its cost is greater, for in redemption God had to become incarnate, suffer, and in his human nature bleed and die.
Frederick Robertson insisted that truth should be put constructively, by stating it without polemics with the opposing error. Robertson thought the establishment of truth was per se the destruction of error. The ushering of light is the dismissal of darkness. In the main, this is the proper method, if we can judge from the example of the Great Teacher.
In a work where such valuable service has been rendered the cause of truth, we should be very modest in venturing a criticism at so vital a point of methodology; but Dr. Miley's argument, which is apparently unanswerable, would perhaps have been more satisfactorily, effectively, and logically put if Robertson's idea had been carried out by a clear enunciation of what he calls the Governmental Theory as the primary and staple part of this division of his discussion, leaving the confutation of the Moral Theory, which he calls no atonement at all, and of the Satisfactional Theory, to as natural result as the fading of darkness before the opening beams of day. For satisfactory reasons, doubtless, to his own mind, the author has concluded that the confutation of error was the proper prelude to the establishment of truth; and he has evidently kept in thought " the influence of preconceived opinions and the desire of furthering favorite hypotheses," of which Brougham speaks; and felt the importance of preparing the way for a true literature on this central point in theology, where the vast bulk was on the wrong side.
Arminianism is not only good to preach, as Dr. Patton has ingenuously confessed; it is good to write and print and publish. Illogically so far as the creed is concerned, but logically so far as the oracles of truth are, Satisfactionists have, both in review and volume, come over to the true Governmental idea.
Albert Barnes, identified with the New School dissent from hyper-Calvinism, and the chief mover in that organization, but who came over to the unified Church in which the old theology was reaffirmed, has written some of the strongest words in the Arminian line of thought.
Dr. Enoch Pond, in "Bibliotheca Sacra," 1856, says all that Dr. Miley or Dr. Raymond claim:—
He (Christ) endured, not the proper penalty of the law, but a complete governmental substitute for the penalty. His sufferings and death in our room and stead as fully sustain the authority of law, as fully meet the demands of justice, as fully answer all the purposes of the divine government, as would the infliction of the penalty itself; and consequently are a complete substitute for the penalty; or, in other words, a complete atonement.
It is commonly and justly understood among evangelical Christians, that Christ's death was vicarious, or that he died as a substitute. But a substitute how? and for what? Not that he endured the proper penalty of the law for us, but that he endured an adequate substitute for that penalty; so that the penalty itself may now be safely and consistently remitted. Were the penalty all borne, there would be nothing to be remitted. But as it has not been borne, but only a substitute for it—as it has not been removed, but only a way opened by which it may be—there is as much need of forgiveness as though the Saviour had not died.
This is not the monergism of Calvinism, in which redemption has been achieved by contract between the Father and the Son for a definite number, who are the elect, no more and no less; but it is the synergism of Arminianism, in which the result of redemption "may be," if we comply with the requisite conditions.
Dr. Symington, as quoted by Dr. Miley, defines Atonement, "Such act or acts as shall accomplish all the moral purposes which, to the infinite wisdom of God, appear fit and necessary under a system of rectoral holiness, and which must otherwise have been accomplished by the exercise of retributive justice upon transgressors in their own persons." This definition Dr. Miley willingly admits.
The definition of Atonement given by the author is more succinct, but full: "The vicarious sufferings of Christ are an atonement for sin as a conditional substitute for penalty, fulfilling, on the forgiveness of sin, the obligation of justice and the office of penalty in the moral government."
Truth in a theory of Atonement must be the analogue of truth in any other theory. A true theory of astronomy must harmonize with the phenomena of the sidereal bodies. A true theory of electricity must harmonize with the phenomena of this subtle fluid. A true theory of Atonement must harmonize with the phenomena which twinkle like the fixed stars in the firmament of everlasting truth, revolve like the planets in the orbit of obedience to law, and shine like the sun, the center of light and gravitating power, and with the flashes and thunder of the storms of wrath which purify the air and precede the beauty of the bow of promise and of hope. What are these phenomena?
1. As the Atonement is for sin, it must meet the demands of the demerit, the guilt, the condemnation, the pollution, the enormity, the hideousness, the prevalence, the suffering, the death of sin. No theory meets the facts either in biblical record, or in the experience of life, which in any measure makes light of sin and dares not treat it with'the awful gravity which the facts of an accusing and punitive conscience and all the experiences of transgression attest. The doctrine of sin must be tremendously emphatic. "Sin by the commandment" is "exceedingly sinful." Its heinousness and malignity are mitigated only by apposition to the commandment. A theory which deals with sin as if it were curative by the influence of moral example is as philosophical as the proposed cure of consumption by a rubefacient, or of cancer by a smelling-bottle. Atonement, deep enough to eradicate the cancer of sin and to heal the tubercles of depravity, broad enough to cover the spiritual needs of human nature, must strike down deeper than sin; must be stronger than sin; must have more than the element of philanthropy; must be more than human. Perhaps an unhappy and sometimes misleading use has been made of the phrase "total depravity." The phrase is nowhere used in Scripture, though, rightly interpreted, the doctrine contained in it is fundamental in the Scripture. Man is not totally depraved in the sense that he is a hend; though he may grow to be such by the downward trend of transgression; nor is he as bad as he can be, and bad in all respects, though this is the tendency. Possibly "universal degeneracy" would be to some minds a phrase more expressive of biblical statement and human experience; but, call it what you will, there is an abounding in sin and a frightful power, which call for more than a lackadaisical sentimentalism. The influence of moral example is good as far as it goes, and we could not have atonement without it; but soteriology demands sterner things. in dealing with such a stern outlaw as sin—it calls for suffering, for blood, for death.
2. As the Atonement is for holiness, it must rise to a superabounding pre-eminence above the abounding amplitude and power of sin, and give adequate motive, sufficient help and ample resources for a clean heart and a holy life. This cannot be done by any mere humanitarian appeals. Still less can it be done by any alleged capriciousness and arbitrary discrimination on the part of God, doing all for some, nothing for others, and setting forth a rule of conduct calculated to make us partial and unlovely. If I believed Calvinism true and myself one of the elect, I might fear God, but I hardly see how I could love such an arbitrary being; and if I regarded myself as one of the reprobate, not included in the Satisfaction Theory in which Christ died for the elect, I should feel it a sort of virtue to hate a being guilty of such outrageous enormity. A true theory of atonement sets before both saint and sinner an example of Fatherhood, of Brotherhood, of rigid justice, of compassionate love, of infinite magnanimity, which appeal with constraining power to all that is manly, magnanimous, and responsive to truth in natures which, though wrecked, have enough salvage to keep on the voyage .of accountable probation. Holiness has its stern as well as gentle traits. Holiness is practical goodness; and goodness in its practical achievements, in a world of sin, whatever may be the case in a world where there is none, has rigid, stern, and severe attributes. The Atonement is to cultivate many-sided, symmetrical, manly character, tender, gentle, sweet, and pure—-feminine in the loveliness of embodied love, masculine in the strength of embodied justice and righteousness.
3. As the Atonement is the highest exhibition of the glory and symmetry of the Divine Nature, it must have nothing ignoble or calculated to challenge the criticism of generous minds, and it must have an affluence pre-eminently worthy of God. Moses never rose to a point of greater sublimity of conduct than when he declined the guidance of a mere angel and stood ready to resign his high office if God himself did not go with the people. Strangely in contrast with the spirit of Moses is that theology which insists that the leadership of a mere man is sufficient for us. If Jesus is a mere Man, redemption is not the chief exhibition of divine glory and power. Creation towers above it; for God created the heavens and the earth. But as that big little word " so" in the sixteenth of the third chapter of John, and all the logic of the entire tenor of Scripture, and the progressiveness of the works of God, render the Atonement superlatively exalted as a Divine Manifestation, a true theory must see in Jesus supreme and superlative Godhead in his highest and divinest functions. If angels have been baffled students of the redemptive plan for thousands of years, with all the helps to knowledge which they possess, it must certainly have more than a finite element in it; and if such noble and generous beings bend with such zest of inquiry, it must be more than a piece of bargain and sale of so much for so many.
i. Ab the Atonement is for man's sin, it is for the sin of every man; and as every man has sinned, it is for every man not in a public, ostensible, but insincere and ineffective sense, as if "the world," "every creature," "all men," were used in an exoteric sense for common consistency's sake; but the ex