Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

Son, for the sins of men then unborn, anticipating by hun. dreds and even thousands of years, the existence of the beings whose offences are supposed to have been thus atoned. Can it be possible that God should have thought of commending his love to us, by an act or a policy so completely at variance with the principles of justice and mercy, with which he has otherwise imbued the minds of men ?

Should human governments attempt to imitate this part of the supposed wise policy of God, whát must be the consequences ? Must there not be either a general sentiment of horror and reprobation excited in the minds of people of every land, or a sevenfold increase of depravity and crime?

CHAPTER XXVIII.

The Conditions of Pardon not Affected by Vicarious Sacrifice.

It is a clear case, that since the death of Christ, pardon has been freely offered to sinners on condition of repentance. This, it is presumed, will not be denied by any denomination of Christians in New England. But many writers suppose that it was the suffering of Christ as our substitute, which rendered it safe and consistent to offer pardon on terms so gracious and condescending; and that on this ground the offer is made, and pardon is granted. The question then occurs,—Does the sacrifice of Christ make any difference as to the ease with which sinners can avoid the penalty of the law by repentance; Or does the

sacrifice operate to deter men from more open insurrection against the government of God ?

As in discussing the subject of atonement, frequent allusions have been made to human governments; with reference to these, I shall examine the present question. Further reflection has convinced me, that the principle of substituted suffering might be adopted in human governments, without any additional sacrifice of the innocent as substitutes for the guilty. For all real crimes, against a state, are sins against God; and as it is supposed that Christ suffered the “punishment due to us all,” why should not this be deemed a sufficient atonement, in the popular sense of the word, for sins against human government, as well as for sins against the divine government ? Why should it require more vicarious suffering to satisfy men than to satisfy God? or more of such suffering to secure the honor of human laws than the-honor of divine laws ? What, then, can be more easy, than for human legislators to make the sufferings of Christ the ground on which pardon shall be offered to transgressors, on condition of repentance ? Let it be supposed, that two neighboring states have recently revised their constitutions of government, to make provision for the pardon of offenders on condition of reformation.

For this purpose, New Hampshire has adopted the following article :

"As Jesus Christ bore “the punishment due to us all,”—and as, on this ground, God now offers pardon to all, on condition of repentance; so, on the same ground, it shall be the duty of the governor and council to pardon offences against the state,--provided, that satisfactory evidence of repentance shall be exhibited by the offend

ers.'

For the same purpose, Massachusetts has adopted an article of the following form :

"As our heavenly Father has shown his love to mankind, by a gracious offer of pardon to all, on condition of repentance, and as he has, by his Son, taught us to forgive one another as he forgives us; it shall be the duty of the governor and council to pardon offences against the state,-provided, that satisfactory evidence of repentance shall be exhibited by the offenders.'

I am under a mistake, if these two articles do not fairly exhibit the difference of opinion which now exists in New England, as to the mode in which God offers pardon, on condition of repentance. On both theories, repentance is the condition of pardon. But on one of them, the offer of pardon is supposed to be made on the ground, that Christ bore the punishment due to the sins of men. On the other, the offer is supposed to flow directly from the love of God as its source, and through Jesus Christ as the medium of God's merciful manifestations to a sinful world.

In view of the policy of the two states, it may be asked,-In what respect are the rights and the honor of government better secured in New Hampshire, than they are in Massachusetts ? Is it more easy in Massachusetts than in New Hampshire, for transgressors to avoid the penalty of the law ? Are not the two states on equal ground as to liability to the charge of encouraging crime by the clemency of its offers of pardon ? Does the circumstance in New Hampshire, that the offer is made on the ground of a supposed vicarious punishment, the greatest that was ever endured, have any tendency to deter men from abusing the clemency of the government by multiplied and more aggravated transgressions? Can either the virtuous or the vicious be deterred from sin, by being told, that all the punishment that will ever be due for their sins was endured by their substitute eighteen hundred years ago? If such information would not deter from crimes against the state, why should it deter from sin against God?

If the doctrine of substituted suffering be true, and of a practical character, it would seem that its advantages must be both seen and felt, should its principle be thus adopted in human governments. I am not acquainted with any practical purpose to which it could be more properly applied, than the one which has been suggested. If the doctrine be of a nature to make men good, or even to deter them from sin, it would in the supposed case, have opportunity to exert its genuine influence and energy, for the honor of just laws, for the support of good government, for the prevention of crime, and for the reformation of morals. But who is able to see a single advantage which either the government or the people of New Hampshire would be likely to derive from such a public and practical recognition of the supposed vicarious sacrifice ? In the two states different reasons are assigned for the offer of pardon ; but the conditions in both cases are precisely the same. How, then, can the “legislationin the former case, be the “ consummation ” of wisdom, and in the latter, " the consummation of folly and mischief?”

The inquiry may be pursued one step further. Let it then be adınitted, that the article in each of the supposed constitutions, is expressive of the real views of the clergy in the state which adopted it; and that it was adopted by their influence; would it be prudent or just, on such

ground, for the clergy of either state, to reproach the clergy of the other as having renounced Christianity,–become infidels in respect to the gospel,—unworthy of the name of Christians, and as having adopted a principle which must " fill the earth with anarchy, and turn it into a hell ?” Could such reproaches be expressive of the benign, meek, and forbearing spirit of Him who loved us, and suffered for us, leaving us an example that we might follow his steps? Would such a spirit of reproach become his ministers while speaking on the affecting sacrifice which he made, to reconcile sinners unto God and to one another ? Could such conduct be reconciled with the requisitions of the “new commandment,” uttered by the Savior to his disciples, but a few hours prior to his crucifixion ? “ This,” said he, " is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you.Should the time ever arrive when such reproaches shall be common between the ministers of the two states, will there not be occasion for “great searchings of heart," and for a serious investigation respecting the cause of such flagrant violations of the law of love? If, on inquiry, it should be found that the evil had resulted from the indulgence of party passions, how solemn will be the admonition to all, to stand aloof from that moral pestilence! Or should it be found, that the evil originated from habitually looking up to God as a being so resentful, that he cannot forgive even a penitent child, without inflicting a vicarious punishment, how strong will be the proof, that such views of God are injurious in their moral effects on the mind, cherishing in men unkind and unforbearing feelings one towards another, instead of the meek and quiet spirit, “which is the glory of the

« AnteriorContinua »