The Necessity of the Atonement
The Priesthood of Christ, according to the Apostle Paul and the types of the Jewish ritual, is divided into two parts: the ATONEMENT which he made to divine justice, and his INTERCESSION in heaven. The necessity of such an atonement, which is the foundation of all practical piety and all Christian hopes, must therefore be firmly established, and defended against the fiery darts of Satan, with which it is attacked by innumerable adversaries.
Upon this subject, the opinions of divines may be classed under three heads:
1. That of the Socinians, who not only deny that an atonement was made, but affirm that it was not at all necessary, since God both could and would pardon sin, without any satisfaction made to his justice.
2. That of those who distinguish between an absolute and a hypothetical necessity; and (in opposition to the Socinians) they maintain the latter while they deny the former. By a hypothetical necessity they mean that which flows from the divine decree: God has decreed that an atonement is to be made, therefore it is necessary. To this they also add a necessity of fitness: because the commands of God have been transgressed, it is fit that satisfaction should be made, so that the transgressor may not pass with impunity. Yet they deny that it was absolutely necessary, because God, they say, might have devised some other way of pardon than through the medium of an atonement. This is the ground taken by Augustine in his book on the Trinity. Some of the reformers who wrote before the time of Socinus, adopt the opinions of that father.
3. That opinion of those who maintain its absolute necessity; affirming that God has neither willed, nor could have willed to forgive sins, without a satisfaction made to his justice. This, which is the common opinion of the orthodox, is our opinion.
Various errors are maintained on this point, by our opponents. The removal of the grounds upon which they rest will throw light upon the whole subject. They err in their views of the nature, 1. of sin, for which a satisfaction is required; 2. of the satisfaction itself; 3. of the character of God to whom it is to be rendered; and 4. of Christ by whom it is rendered:
1. Of sin, which renders us guilty, and binds us over to punishment as hated by God. It may be viewed as a debt which we are bound to pay to divine justice, in which sense the law is called “a hand-writing,” Col 2:14; as a principle of enmity, whereby we hate God and he becomes our enemy; as a crime against the government of the universe, by which, before God the supreme governor and judge, we become deserving of everlasting death and malediction. This is why sinners are expressly called “debtors,” Mat 6:12; “enemies to God,” Col. 1:21, both actively and passively; “and guilty before God,” Rom 3:19. We therefore infer that three things were necessary in order for our redemption: the payment of the debt contracted by sin, the appeasing of the divine wrath, and the expiation of guilt.