Before directing attention to the subject of this treatise, a few preliminary remarks seem to be required. In the greater part of the works extant on sacred subjects, the doctrine of the Atonement is more or less dwelt on; and this is so of necessity, because the subject is interwoven with the whole fabric of the truth relating to the salvation of sinners; and, besides, there are also not a few treatises written specially on the subject. These facts may be considered as a sufficient reason why the writer, unless he can pretend to give some quite original information on the subject, should be content to be quiet, or to exercise himself in other directions. But what has been well said on another matter may be repeated here: “A publication is not rendered improper or needless, because works of a similar nature have preceded it.”

It might be urged, if not in justification of the act, yet in mitigation of an objection, that if several treatises on the same subject are extant, another may have some valuable quality peculiarly its own. If it were not a presumption to compare things so insignificant with things so supremely important, the question might be asked, who complains that we have four Gospels? Besides, erroneous publications, or what at least we deem such, are ever teeming from the press; and although the errors they contain may have been repeatedly refuted, it ought not to be regarded as killing the dead to refute them again. It may also be urged that some who receive the doctrine of the atonement seem to be “neither cold nor hot” in the interest they take in it. Others again are confessedly confused in their judgments about some of its qualities, such for, instance, as its extent and efficacy, with their grounds. Some again, it may be hoped, are beginning to make earnest enquiries about the atonement. We therefore venture to advance our opinion. If hereby some may obtain a more correct view of the matter, if the interest of others is quickened, and if some who are at present personally unconcerned about the matter shall come to ask, “Wherewith shall I make the atonement?” and shall find a satisfactory answer to their enquiry in the precious truth of the atonement made, the publication will be justified, and the writer will feel abundantly rewarded.

Strange as the fact may appear as seen from one point of view, it is certainly impossible for a man to state his opinions on hardly any single part of divine truth without contradicting some other men’s, and so, by consequence, without entering into controversy. But whatever opinions of other men may be incidentally or purposely contradicted in the statement of our own on this subject, controversy, be it understood, is not the object sought, but edification. Some of the questions which have arisen in connection with this subject, and which have been vigorously debated, will be taken for granted. For instance, the necessity of an atonement, the proper divinity of Christ, the vicariousness of his sufferings, and the sacrificial and expiatory character of his death. Whoever may be in doubt on these points, and may require proof of them, must be referred to the labours of those who have wrought so nobly and successfully in refuting arguments which, for their subtlety and perniciousness might justly, without offence, be regarded as prompted by him who unites in himself at once the character of a deceiver and a destroyer.

In entering upon the consideration of this subject, it seems particularly necessary that we should clearly define, and that it should be clearly understood, what we mean by the word atonement. For a definite meaning, as it seems to us, is not always given to the word, and sometimes when a definite meaning is attached to the word, it is not a correct one. As to the etymology of the word we are not much concerned. We do not care to controvert the commonly received notion that to the word one a termination, indicating an action of the mind, was added, and that so an absolute verbal noun onement was formed; and that afterward the preposition at was prefixed to make at-one-ment. But if this is taken to mean no more than the reunion and intercourse of parties, effected in any manner, who have been, from some cause, at variance, such meaning is, it is most certain, very inadequate to express what is, or what ought to be, understood by the word in religious discourse, when speaking of the atonement of Christ. If this alone were intended, reconciliation, not atonement, would be the proper word.

What we mean by the word atonement is a particular mode, namely, his obedience unto death, by which the Lord Jesus accomplished a just and certain reconciliation between God, as the Representative and the Guardian of Justice, and some persons who, having transgressed the commanded will of the holy, just, and good Lawgiver, had become liable to the declared penalty of the law. Hence, therefore, it will be observed, that reconciliation and atonement are clearly distinguished from, but closely related to, each other; just, indeed, as are effect and cause. In the New Testament the word atonement occurs but once, and in that instance, as written in the margin, only in the sense of reconciliation. But in the Old Testament, in connection with those expressive sacrificial types of the great Sacrifice, the word frequently occurs, and in its exact sense.

Having made these few remarks, we proceed to consider, as we may be enabled, the atonement of Christ in its connection with the Sovereignty of God, with his Justice, and with his Mercy.


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