Lastly, Divine sovereignty is exemplified in the appointment of the beneficiaries of the atonement of Christ. It was for God alone of his sovereign will to admit of an atonement, and thereby, in effect, to say, “I will have mercy.” And it was for God only, of his sovereign will, to determine the extent of the admitted atonement, and to say, in effect, likewise, ”I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.” But nowhere more than here may it be said, “With God is terrible majesty.” Nowhere more than here does the Lord of all gather about him clouds and darkness, nor anywhere say with more lofty magisterialness, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Here God’s thoughts are different from man’s thoughts, and they are not less contrary than different. In nothing more than in rendering a reason for this unrevealed part of the mystery of God’s will could men exemplify the saying of the apostle, “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.” Nowhere is submission required more than here, and nowhere is submission more difficult. Full acquiescence is impossible. To talk of acquiescence in full, while knowing only in part, is the ranting of folly, or the raving of fanaticism, or the sanctimonious mumbling and suppressed raging of a ratified malignity. O for grace to say, with submission, “The will of the Lord be done!”

All unsubmission, and all contradiction notwithstanding, a particular extent is an attribute of the atonement of Christ. And if the reason of nothing may be more difficult to understand,—yea, the reason of this is utterly confounding to the human understanding,—the truth of nothing can be plainer, according to the Scriptures, than that the atonement of Christ, in its relation to persons, is ruled by sovereignty, and is limited. What it is in itself in fact as to extent, and what it is in effect, are after considerations. Here we speak only of its extent in design as to persons, and we say in this respect it is limited, and as definite as it is limited. If a few remarks will not be sufficient to represent this truth, a folio volume of elaborate argument would not be enough.

It is presumed that no man in his senses can imagine God not to have purposed the atonement, or that he can imagine God to have formed and entertained an indefinite purpose. Foreknowledge, and predestination, and calling, and justification, and glorification, it is certain, are predicated of the self-same persons; can it be imagined that the atonement has a more extended reference than these? And if so, would not the purpose of God in the death of his Son be, so far, made void? When will men cease daring to say that, in any sense, or in respect of any persons, “Christ is dead in vain?”

The typical representations of the atonement in the Levitical sacrifices had all of them a limited and definite reference. The burnt offering presented by an individual was “to make an atonement for him,” and that offered for the people was “to make an atonement for them.” And the same applies to the sin-offering and to the trespass offering. Can any man imagine that the atonement made by these offerings extended beyond those for whom they were offered? If these were but shadowy representations of Christ, they were, nevertheless, truthful.

When the angel of the lord commanded Joseph to call the name of Mary’s son Jesus, he gave this reason: “For he shall save his people from their sins.” He saved his people from their sins by an atonement for them. He certainly did no less than this; on what grounds can it be said that, in any sense, he did more than this? Did he save any people, in any sense, whom he will fail to save in every sense? Does he emptily bear this name in any respect relative to any people? They will not, who cannot, see limitation here.

The Lord Jesus speaks of himself as the Good Shepherd, who possesses a flock of sheep. “I know my sheep,” he says; and he says, “I lay down my life for the sheep.” For them also for whom he died he prayed; and we are informed, with a very solemn distinctness, that he prays for no others. “I pray for them,” he says, “I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me.” If a man misses the mind of God here, it cannot be from want of perspicuity in the teaching; is it from perverseness in the will?

In every age of the world there have been peoples who never so much as heard of the atonement of Christ. If God spared not his own Son to make an atonement for these, would he not have sent to them some of his servants to whom he had committed the word of reconciliation, that the good news might be heard, and the benefit be appropriated? If he had redeemed these persons by a price so costly, would he not, as the Scripture speaks, “hiss for them and gather them?”

It is said, and we repeat the saying with some consciousness of its awful solemnity, “The wicked is driven away in his wickedness.” We are also taught that, in the day of judgment, Jesus will say to them who are separated to his left hand, “Depart, ye cursed.” Did the Lord Jesus make an atonement for these? If he did, who is advantaged? Is there any glory arising to him, or any benefit to those who are banished, or to any others? Does it not appear congruous that if God spared not his own Son to make an atonement for them, he would not spare anything requisite to accomplish their reconciliation? Is not the atonement of Christ a cause? Will not reconciliation, the effect of atonement, be commensurate with its cause? And if not, seeing both are of the Lord, why not?

Just a concluding word on this part of the subject. We read of obeying the gospel. Obedience to the gospel, in many things, is exceedingly difficult. But, perhaps, there is no doctrine of truth which exacts a greater submission of the judgment, than that of the existent occasion for making an atonement, or a greater sacrifice of feeling, than that of the limitation of the atonement made. What, however, we know not now we shall know hereafter. Yet now even we know that if God sways an authority over the destinies of men, irresponsible as that of the potter over his clay, he is ever controlled of himself. And until the sight of his ways in the light above is granted, adored be his name for faith enough to believe that, “Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful.”


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