« AnteriorContinuar »
ation. I have now finished what I proposed; but I cannot conclude without expressing my surprise, that a doctrine should be supposed to be clearly taught in Scripture, and the belief of it made necessary to our salvation, when it appears, that it is not once mentioned in the New Testament, the proper word for atonement not being to be found there, although it so often recurs in the law of Moses ; a stronger presumption we could hardly possess, that this is no doctrine of the Gospel. I grant indeed, that the death of Christ is often spoken of under the idea of a sacrifice and offering, but it may be easily shown (which will be the business of the next discourse) that these are mere allusions to the ceremonies of the Mosaic law, or nothing more than figurative expressions.
THE FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE APPLIED TO THE DEATH
OF CHRIST IN THE NEW TESTAMENT EXPLAINED,
HEB. ix, 26.
But now once in the End of the World hath he appeared
to put away Sin by the Sacrifice of himself. The design, which I proposed to myself in these discourses, is to prove, that the opinion, which supposes that Christ by his death made a satisfaction to divine justice for the sins of Christians, so that, in consideration of what he did and suffered on that occasion, God is inclined to pardon them, and to accept of the persons of sinners, has no foundation in the Scriptures. With this view I have shown, that the great end of the death of Christ was to exemplify the doctrine of a future life, by preparing the way
for his resurrection from the dead ; that the uniform language both of the Old and New Testament is, that God is placable, and disposed to forgive sin upon repentance and reformation; and that the various atonements of the Mosaic law had no relation to moral guilt, but were intended to remove certain ceremonial impurities, which rendered those persons or things, that laboured under them, unfit.
for the worship or service of God. Accordingly we have seen, that atonements were required for the tabernacle, the altar, and the vessels used in performing the rites of religion, all things which were not capable of virtue or vice; and that the only two instances for which atonements were appointed, that had an appearance of transgressions of the moral law, were the cases of a fraud practised by one man upon another, and that of a man committing lewdness with a bondwoman betrothed to a husband. But with respect to the former of these cases it was observed, that no atonement was admitted, until the offender had given proper proof of repentance, by testoring the whole of what he had fraudulently taken away, and added besides one fifth part to the principal, and that the only effect of the atonement was to gain him admittance again to the public worship of God in the tabernacle: and with regard to the latter it appeared, that in an age and country, where the bondwoman was a slave and the property of her master, this offence would be deemed of a very trivial nature, and that the law, which permitted a trespass offering in this case, might be given for the same reason as another, which admitted of divorce, namely, on account of the hardness of their hearts.
Hence it follows, that the doctrine of atonement, which supposes the guilt of sinners to be expiated by the death of Christ, derives no countenance from the atonements of the law of Moscs, since it ap.
pears that they were appointed for a different purpose-to maintain a regular intercourse between God and his people, by removing certain incapacities of a ceremonial nature, Indeed it appeared, that the word atonement occurs but once in the whole of the New Testament, and that in that instance it has been mistranslated. It may still, however, be said, that many expressions are used respecting the death of Christ, which show that, if the word atonement be not used, the idea is sufficiently countenanced by the sacred writers. We shall now, therefore, proceed to consider those figurative representations of the death of Christ, with which the Scriptures abound, and by which so many are misled. |- It is well known to persons conversant with the writings of the people of the East, that their style in speaking or writing is more figurative than ours, and that similes and allegories are much more common with them than with us. This indeed is sufficiently evident from the books of Scripture alone, and it is no less apparent in the New Testament than in the Old.
A great part of our Saviour's most serious discourses are delivered in parables, which are comparisons or allegories drawn out to a considerable length; and his manner of expressing himself is often much more strongly metaphorical, than we are used to in this part of the world; as when he says to his disciples, I am the vine, ye are the branches; my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed; this is my body, which is broken
for you, &c. Expressiorfs like these must infallibly mislead those, who do not bring to the reading of the Scriptures a portion of common sense, sufficient to enable them to distinguish their true and proper meaning through that close covering of figure; for, at the same time that the metaphor is exceedingly strong, the turn of the sentence gives no intimation of it. The evangelists, the apostle Paul, and all the other apostles, write in the same manner. In short this bold metaphorical style, calculated to strike and surprise, was always affected in the East, and there it imposes upon no one.
When such is the taste and manner of writing used by the sacred writers, can it be wondered at, that they use figures in speaking of the death of their lord and master, an event so interesting to them, and of such consequence in the religion they taught, an event, which had once greatly astonished and disappointed themselves, and which was the great obstacle to the reception of the Gospel both among Jews and Gentiles ? Accordingly we find, that their imaginations were proportionally struck with it, and that they not only describe the manner, the cause, and the operation of it in plain language, but likewise have recourse to a variety of comparisons and strong metaphors, such as were naturally prompted by their own strong feelings, and were calculated to impress the minds of those, to whom they addressed themselves, in a suitable manner.
It is also to be remembered, that the writers of