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Some light may perhaps be obtained from God's language to Jeremiah : “ At what time I shall speak concerning a nation or a kingdom, to pluck up or to pull down and to destroy; if that nation against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.” Jer. xviii. On this merciful principle God spared the Ninevites who repented at the preaching of Jonah. · That this principle is applicable to individuals as well as to nations, may be inferred from the ancient institution of sacrificial atonements—from the calls of God to individual repentance, and his promises of pardon to the penitent. But does not God say to Ezekiel, “ The soul that sinneth, it shall die ?”How then can he pardon without substituted punishment ? .
If we look at the words just quoted, regardless of their connexion, they would seem to exclude pardon on any ground whatever'; for surely nothing is said or intimated in them relating to vicarious sacrifice. But when we examine the words with their connexion in view, they are found to be a declaration, thắt one shall not die for the sin of another, but every one for his own sin, except he repent. I shall quote the passage as it stands in the Bible :
“The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father ; neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him. But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die.” Ezek. xviii. 20, 21.
What can be more obvious than that this passage clearly contradicts the doctrine of vicarious punishment, or that of one's dying as a substitute for another ! and I do not see that it is possible for words more clearly to express the doctrine of pardon or condition of repentance. The passage also clearly teaches that the principle of divine government, which was teclared to Jeremiah respecting divine threatening to nations, is also applicable to individuals ; that in both cases the threatenings are so conditional, that if those against whom they are pronounced shall repent, the threatening will not be executed—that in this case God will turn from the evil that he had thought to do unto them, or had threatened. This being a revealed principle of divine government, it precludes all ground for impeaching the divine veracity.
The different Senses in which One Person is said to die or
suffer for Another.
The Scriptures exhibit various senses in which one person may die or suffer for another, as will appear from the following passages and remarks.
“Because I said, Lest 1 die for her." Gen. xxvi. 9. This was Isaac's answer to Abiinelech, who questioned him why he called his wife his sister. The meaning obviously is, that he did so through fear that some one would kill him to obtain Rebekah if he called her his wife.
Abraham had adopted the same policy, as he said, “Lest they slay me for my wife's sake ;” that is, for the sake of obtaining her.
“Would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!” 2 Sam. xviii. 33. Thus David expressed his regret that he had not died instead of his wicked son. .“ Nor consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.” John xi. 50. These are the words of Caiaphas, respecting our Savior. In the next verse he prophesied that “ Jesus should die for that nation.” It is not supposed that Caiaphas had any idea that Christ would die for that nation, in either of the senses supposed by different sects of Christians. He probably encouraged the puiting of Christ to death, thinking, or pretending to think, that if he was suffered to go on making disciples, an insurrection would occur, and bring on the Jews the vengeance of the Roman government.
In 2 Chron. xxv. 3, 4, we are told, that when Amaziah became king, “he slew his servants who had killed his father. But he slew not their children, but did as it is written in the law of Moses, -The fathers shall not die for the children ; neither shall the children die for the fathers, but every man shall die for his own sin.” The law referred to is Deut. xxiv. 16. The same principle is repeated Ezekiel xviii. 20.
It is obvious that in these passages the meaning is, that one person shall not be killed or punished for the sin of another. For one to die for another in this sense is a very different thing from what was intended in any of the preceding cases. Let it then be remembered that it was an established principle in the divine law, that one should not be punished for the sin of another. .
- Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend.” John xv. 13. This was the language of Christ to his disciples.
“ For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. Scarcely for a righteous man will one die ; yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God coinmendeth his love to us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Rom. v. 6, 7, 8.
On this passage I may remark,
1. There is such a thing as one's dying " for a good man ;” that is, probably, to save the life of a good man, or good persons. In this sense we may suppose that Peter said to our Lord, " I will lay down my life for thy sake.”
Though he failed in the hour of trial, yet in what he said, he doubtless meant to express the strength of his affection for Christ. In the same sense, Paul says of Priscilla and Aquila—" who for my life laid down their own necks.” Rom. xvi. 4. - 2. In the passage under consideration it is not intimated
that the sufferings of Christ were any greater, or of a different nature, than if he had suffered the death of the cross for good men. Nothing is mentioned as evincing the greatness of Divine love in that event, but the unworthiness of the objects for whom Christ died, and his own worthiness or dignity :-“While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." . .
3. We should observe that it was the greatness of God's love towards sinners—not the greatness of his anger, that was commended to us in the death of his Son.
A similar view of the sufferings of Christ is given by him Matt. xx. 27, 28 ; 6 Whosoever will be chief among
you, let him be your minister, even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” By a “minister ” is here meant a servant ; and Christ would have his Apostles display the same mind that was in himself, and be ready to do or to suffer any thing by which the good of others might be promoted.
In John Tenth, Jesus éxhibited a contrast between the hireling and the true shepherd. The hireling was one who would flee when he saw the wolf coming, but the good shepherd would expose or lay down his life for the . sheep. In verse 15, he said plainly, “I lay down my life for the sheep.”.
As Christ laid down his life for us, John infers,—“We ought also to lay down our lives for the brethren.” On this principle, the Apostles and early Christians exposed
themselves to persecution, suffering, and death, to promote .. the cause for which Christ came into the world and sac
rificed his life. He suffered as the Captain of our Salvation, and was made persect through suffering. Several important purposes were answered by his death, which were not to be effected by the sufferings of his Apostles. Still the ultimate purpose was the same in both cases-the salvation of sinners.
The Apostles, who, like their Lord, were obedient unto death, are represented as dying for their brethren, as suffering for Christ, and even as being killed for God's sake. That the sufferings of the Apostles were of a nature similar to those of Christ, may appear from what was said by Christ, by Paul, and by Peter.
When the sons of Zebedee presented to our Lord their ambitious request, to sit one on his right hand and the