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explanations and provisoes, however well meant, and whatever difficulties they have seemed for the moment to evade, are soon found to do no more than simply to introduce some new, and still more baffling, element of disturbance. Either they necessitate a change in some other important doctrine, or in some way they break the harmony and integrity of the scheme of salvation which God has revealed, and whose harmony and integrity are essential to the greatest power of Divine truth over the conscience and the heart of man. Is it not the safest and most reverent course, to limit ourselves to a fair and natural interpretation of what God has written, without attempting to vindicate the Divine justice and goodness by any additions or explanations of our own; which additions or explanations may in the end prove the greatest possible obscuration of the Divine justice and goodness?
A profitable lesson may be learned from a slight survey of the many attempted explanations of the existence of sin and misery under the government of One who is Almighty, and of perfect wisdom and goodness. It has been assumed that men are competent to explain why God did not prevent all sin. Some have supposed that he was unable to do so without departing from a proper moral government. Some have maintained that he chooses that men should sin, as the necessary means of the greatest good. Most of the attempted solutions have assumed a defect either in the Divine power or in the Divine goodness.
Epicurus reasoned thus: "God either wills to prevent evil, and cannot; or he can, and will not; or he neither can nor will; or he both can and will.
"If he would, but cannot, he is imbecile; which is no property of Deity. If he can and will not, he is malevolent; which is equally abhorrent to Deity. If he neither can nor will, he is both malevolent and imbecile; and, therefore, not God. If he both can and will, then whence are evils? or why does he not take them away?" Epicurus concludes, therefore, that there is no God.
Leibnitz supposed that the world would have been less perfect, if sin were wanting in it; and that, hence, there was a "necessity of God's bringing about the origin of sin.”
Against such a view others supposed the problem solved by showing that sin is wholly of the creature, and no part of the Divine method or strategy. But even so, does it solve the problem? may it not be asked, further, did not God care to prevent it? or was he not able?
Others supposed that sin is necessarily incidental to any— at least to the best-moral system: and asked, "Who can prove that sin will not be, when for aught that appears, it may be?"
This did not affirm directly that God is unable, by any proper method, to prevent sin in a moral system; though it had no validity as an argument save on the assumption of such promises.
This necessary contingency, and so a possibility of sin beyond the power of God to prevent it in a moral system, has been by others stiffened out into an absolute certainty. Thus (Bibliotheca Sacra, Jan., 1856), it is insisted that we must solve this problem, but may not waive the solution by saying, "Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight," for till the problem is solved we cannot know that we have a Father in heaven; nor "that what seems good in his sight is at all worthy of him, or kind to his children;" nor, till we solve this problem, can we conclude as against the atheist, "that coming light will vindicate the witness of sin and misery against the superstition of an assumed deity." The affirmation is then made without further reasons than as a matter of pure rational insight, that there will be sin so long as God deals with his creatures" according to what is due to himself: in other words, If God always deals with finite spirits, according to the principles of honor and right, there will be sin." But how can man know that, in all possible worlds, and among all possible creatures, God is unable to prevent sin without violating the principles of honor and right? Or, admitting that he cannot (which we can by no means admit), how can we certainly know that among all finite spirits there will certainly be sin, as long as God deals with them according to what is due to himself: or, according to the principles of honor and right? There is no rational insight of man competent to see this.
Another attempts to solve the problem, both for men and
angels, by assuming that God never intended or deemed it possible that his commands should be obeyed, till sin and consequent suffering should have supplied the motives indispensable to obedience. He therefore supposes that the holy angels are such as have sinned; and that having learned obedience by the things they have suffered, they have been restored.
What is punishment? What is justice, under such a scheme? What can they be save shifts and pretences, rendered necessary as matters of policy, through some defect n the original constitution of man, or in the law which demands obedience? The scheme, accordingly, discards every thing like punitive justice, making sin only in itself a law of bad causation, demanding no further penalty, and requiring for the sinner no propitiation or redemption; but only that he be influenced to repent, and to restore himself to righteousness.
All these theories, from the Epicurean downward, seem to be based on the assumption that the existence of moral evil admits only one alternative, viz., that God is either unable, or else unwilling to prevent sin in a moral system.
But may it not be that God is entirely able so to control a moral system as to prevent all sin, with no violation of the principles of honor or right, and with no infringement upon the freedom or responsibility of his creatures, whenever he shall see it best to do so; and that he is limited by no want of power or of goodness, but only by the holy counsel of his own righteous will? May it not also be, either from some peculiarity in the cases themselves, or from their relation to the universal scheme of his providence in all worlds, or for some other reason, that he may see it best, in some cases, and in some worlds, to interfere; and not best in others? May it not be that he is in no case so straitened as to be beholden to sin as the necessary means of the greatest good; and that he does not choose that men should sin, but only that they should be left to their freedom and responsibility? May it not be also that he is perfectly sincere in forbidding, lamenting, and punishing all transgressions? Why it is best thus to permit sin, i. e., not effectually to hinder it, we may not understand. We
do not solve the problem. Nor do we see any necessity of solving it. We have a Father in heaven, even though there are depths of Divine wisdom and knowledge which we are as yet unable to fathom.
So in the doctrine of Christ crucified, as a "propitiation through faith in his blood,"-" that God may be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus;" there are many still who see no satisfaction to the Divine Justice in this, but an utter overthrow and abandonment of every idea of righteousness and goodness. They deny the propitiation for sin. They deny the satisfaction rendered to the Divine Justice. They deny the need of any such propitiation or satisfaction. They make Christ a mere messenger of love and goodness; and his death the mere incident of such an errand; of no more significance or effect than as it moves the heart of man to tenderness and repentance. They do indeed remove "the offence of the cross." It is no longer odious to the modern rationalists, nor would it have been of old a stumbling-block to the Jew, or foolishness to the Greek. But in making the offence of the cross to cease, they have taken away the very elements of its power; they do indeed claim that they exalt its power over the human soul, by holding up pre-eminently Christ's tender sympathy, his holy example, and his bleeding love. But neither has the common doctrine of Christ crucified omitted these; nor exhibited them with less tenderness, nor insisted upon them as matters of less moment.
After all, there is no love exhibited in any mere sympathy and faithfulness, like that exhibited in Christ's dying to redeem us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us; and bearing our sins in his own body on the tree. The peculiar and efficient power of the Gospel to draw men to the Saviour, and to bring them to repentance, lies not alone in the mere sympathy, and love, and suffering, which it exhibits; but most of all, in the reason and significance of that death; as it declares God's awful holiness and justice; his utter condemnation of all sin; the deadly character and desert of sin; the utter impossibility that God should indulge his love and save the sinner without some way in which he may "BE JUST;" preserving in all its integrity the holiness, the sacredness, the
vindicatory power and authority of his law. It is this that alarms the conscience. It is this that crushes down the soul under a sense of sin, and guilt, and ruin. It is this that makes the law a schoolmaster to bring men to Christ. It is this alone that reveals the depths of the Saviour's sympathy and love. It is this alone that gives the deepest impression of the nature and need of holiness. It is this that magnifies the love of God in redemption, and that shows his salvation to be indeed a great salvation.
The other scheme, in taking away the offence of the cross, takes all this power away. It relieves the soul from the most painful impressions of the desert and punishment of sin, and of the awful and inflexible character of the divine law. It gives a low view of the righteousness which the law requires, when it sets the sinner to trust to his own. attempts to raise himself to a personal righteousness which shall constitute his justification before God.
What constitutes the offence of the cross to some is proved by experience to constitute the very element of its power. Nor does Paul admit that they are the truly wise, to whom it is a stumbling-block or foolishness. It is so indeed to some, but only to "them that perish;" while to "them that are saved, it is the wisdom of God." Howbeit," says Paul, "we speak wisdom to them that are perfect (Tões Teleios)." To men of adult understanding and spiritual comprehension, the doctrine is not foolishness but wisdom. Oh, how full of wisdom! How rich in its revelation of the eternal harmony and combined glory of the Divine attributes of holiness, justice, mercy, and love! And has not the Gospel long proved itself in these, to be indeed the wisdom of God, and the power of God unto salvation? Is there then any ground left, on which the rationalistic objections commonly urged against the doctrine of the Atonement, may fairly be considered to be of any moment?
Does any one suppose that, nevertheless, such difficulties ought to be considered and removed before we may unwaveringly receive the doctrine? Nay, what the difficulties are is not the question, but whether God has, on a fair interpretation, unequivocally revealed it? Can finite beings ever be set free