By Albert Barnes| Chapter Three | Chapter Five |
The Objects to be Secured by an Atonement
IT is now a very material inquiry, What objects are contemplated by an atonement? What is to be secured by it? What is the purpose for which it is to be introduced into an administration of government?
It is clear, from the foregoing remarks, and from the nature of the case, that an atonement must relate to one or all of the following things: to the law itself, that its authority may be maintained; to the penalty of the law, that the object contemplated by the penalty may be secured; to the offenders in whose behalf it is made, or who are to receive the avails of it, that it may make their reformation and future good conduct certain; to the community, that it may have nothing to apprehend if the guilty are pardoned; and to the character of the lawgiver, that character may stand fair before the world, and be such as to inspire confidence, if the just penalty of the law is remitted.
These objects would manifestly comprise all that could be effected, or that it would be desirable to effect, in administering the law; and I propose now to show why such objects must be contemplated by an atonement, or why it is proper to demand that they shall be secured if an atonement is made. In other words, it is necessary to show that if it is proposed to release the guilty on the ground of an atonement, justice may demand, and the interests of a community will require, that these objects shall be secured.
I. The first point relates to the law itself, that its authority may be maintained. "Law," says Blackstone, "in its most comprehensive sense, signifies a rule of action, and is applied indiscriminately to all kinds of actions, whether animate or inanimate, rational or irrational. This, then, is the general signification of law, a rule of action dictated by some superior being." "Municipal law is a rule of civil conduct prescribed by the supreme power in a state, commanding what is right, and prohibiting what is wrong." [Com. i. 38, 39, 44.]
The following are the usual definitions of law:
" Lex est ratio summa, quæ jubet quæ sunt utilia et liecessaria, et contraria prohibet." _ LORD COKE, i. 17.
" Lex est justorum, injustorum distinctio, quiddam æternum in mente Dei existens; recta ratio summi JOVIS." _ CICERO, de Legibus, lib. 1 et 2.
" Lex est regula actuum moralium obligans ad id quod rectum est." _ GROT., lib. 1, c. 1.
" Lex est decretum quo superior sibi subditum obligat ad istius prescriptura actiones suas componat." _ PUFF., de Offic. Hom. el Civ. secund. Leg. Nat. lib. 1, c. 2.
" Law is a rule which an intelligent being setteth down for the framing of actions by." _ HOOKER, _ Eccl. Pol. B. 1.
" Lex est sanctio justa jubens honesta, et prohibens contraria." _ BRACTON.
From these well-known definitions and descriptions of law in general, we may make the following remarks in regard to its nature and value as bearing on the subject before us, and as showing why it is necessary to have regard to it in an atonement.
(1.) Law, in reference to moral actions, expresses the sense of the lawgiver as to what is right, and as to the value of right. It is the measure of his estimate of what should be done, and of the limits by which rights are bounded. The promulgation of the law indeed determines nothing on the question why the thing that is commanded is right, or why the thing which is prohibited is wrong.
So far as the promulgation of law is concerned, that may either be (a) because the lawgiver wills it; or (b) because it is right or wrong in the nature of things; or (c) because one course of conduct will promote happiness and the other will lead to misery. Which of these is the proper foundation of the distinction between right and wrong, and therefore the reason why the law is ordained, is a question which has never been so determined as to command the assent of all men; but the difference of opinion on these points does not affect the position just laid down, that the law expresses the sense of the lawgiver as to right and wrong, and that the law is the measure of his estimate of what is just.
We are always sure when we have a law in any case, that we have in that the estimate of the lawgiver of what is right; we are not certain, and we need not be certain _ for that would not affect the main point _ whether this estimate is founded on his own will in the case, his will being essentially, and from the nature of the easel a just estimate of what is right; or on the nature of things; or on the foreseen effects of conduct as bearing on the happiness of an individual or on society. We may be certain, however, that in every case of just law there is some reason why the law in that case is what it is; and in reference to the laws of God we are led ultimately to confide in his infinite wisdom and benevolence in founding his laws on true reason, though we may not be able ourselves to perceive what the reason is. [On this question I may be permitted to refer to my Essay entitled "Inquiries and Suggestions in regard to the Foundation of Faith in the Word of God," published by Parry & McMillan, Philadelphia, 1859.]
(2.) The value of law, which by the nature of the act of atonement is regarded as so important, is seen everywhere. All things are placed under law. As God made the worlds, and as he has peopled them, and as he has multiplied living forms and physical agencies, nothing is made lawless. There is not, as the universe came from his hand, and as his administration is extended over it, one thing in the mineral, the vegetable, the animal, or the moral kingdom that is placed beyond the control of law or that is not regulated by law. There is not one that is the production of chance, or that is subject to the play of chance; there is not one that in its creation, its position, its developments, or its relations, can be resolved into mere contingency. All sciences are founded on the belief that the universe is controlled by laws, and serve only to develop their nature and illustrate their universality and value. There is not a crystal that is not formed in accordance with law; not a vegetable that grows not in accordance with law; not a star in the heavens that is not moved in accordance with fixed and certain laws; not an animal upon the earth, not a fish in the waters, not a bird in the air, that is not subject in its origin, formation, and mode of living to definite laws; not a man or an angel that is not made subject to law. The study of these laws, in reference to the material world, constitutes all that there is in natural philosophy; in the animal world, all that there is in natural history; in the affinities and repellencies of the particles of matter, all that there is in chemistry; in the movements of the heavenly bodies, all that there is in astronomy; in the developments of life, all that there is in physiology; in the soul of man, all that there is in psychology; in the operations of mind, all that there is in moral philosophy; in the study of the divine nature and the unfolding of the divine plans, all that there is in theology. If there were not laws applicable to every thing, there could be no science, no calculations in regard to the future, no basis of confidence in any human effort, no encouragement to plough a field, to construct a vessel, to navigate the ocean, to attempt to restore health when impaired, or to save the soul. All that we see, all that we do, all that we hope for, is based on the existence of law, and is all an illustration of the value of law. The purpose of an atonement, therefore, clearly, cannot be to set aside law; but it is to be presumed that if an atonement is made it will so far accord with the established course of events as to illustrate its importance and value.
(3.) All these laws are kept within their proper bounds, and each class of laws is appealed to and relied on in the department to which it appertains, and is never resorted to to accomplish the purpose of law in another department. If God does not govern the stars by the ten commandments; nor does he control the diamond, the oak, or the lion by the laws by which he controls men and angels. Science has arranged, with a good degree of accuracy, all the works of nature into certain great departments or kingdoms: the material, the vegetable, the animal, and the intellectual or moral kingdoms, each subject to its own laws according to the nature of the objects to be controlled; and, in the actual administration of the universe, these lines are never crossed. The laws of the vegetable kingdom are never made, nor could they be made, to control the action of gravitation, electricity, or the mechanical forces; the laws of instinct are never made to control the formation of the cells in the development of plants, nor could they be; the moral law, the law that governs angels and men, could never be applied to control either the material, the vegetable, or the animal kingdoms. However one may be made tributary to another, the operation of the one never invades the appropriate department of the other. These departments are never crossed, never interfered with. They constitute distinct sciences, and, except in miracles, their absolute dominion always exists in the departments to which they respectively belong. An atonement must respect this arrangement, and cannot be designed or allowed to disturb this order. Whether any thing like an atonement, or a compensation, could occur in respect to the infraction of a physical law, might be a more curious than profitable subject of speculation; but an atonement, in the proper sense of the term, can have respect only to moral law.
(4.) Moral law has respect to a higher order of agencies than any connected with mere matter. It supposes the existence of understanding and of will. The objects contemplated by a moral law can be secured neither by the laws which pertain to the material, the vegetable, or the animal kingdoms; for men and angels cannot be controlled by mere physical power or by instincts. The department is higher than either of those; and all the arrangements in that department differ essentially from those which pertain to the other departments of the divine administration.
Contemplating the subjects of God's moral kingdom as endowed with intelligence, will, and freedom, the things which are essential in that mode of government are two: (a.) a rule of conduct prescribed by the supreme authority; and (b) appropriate sanctions, designed to secure obedience and to deter from disobedience. The force which is applied in the material world, as, for example, in the Planetary worlds, to secure the observance of law, can never be applied here; for it would destroy the very notion of moral agency. In the control of the planets there are, indeed, rules or laws to secure their regular motion, but the observance of those laws is secured by mere power. Beyond that power there is nothing in the case; and when we contemplate all that beautiful harmony, and all the arrangements for 'self-adjustment,' and all the securities for the permanency and good order of the system, we see nothing in the arrangement but wisdom, nothing in the execution but power. There is nothing of the nature of a sanction or a penalty designed to secure a return to order if a law has been violated; nothing that can operate as a motive to secure such a return or to deter from a future violation of law. The irregularities which would occur if a law should be violated would be indeed in expression of the Creator's sense of the value of law, not, of course, to the material worlds where the law had been departed from, but to moral beings who might observe those irregularities, and they might thus be among the means of illustrating the value of law; but in no sense could they operate to deter from a future violation of law or as a means of securing a return to regularity and order. Laws in moral government are, however, and must be, appointed for these ends. They express the Creator's sense of the nature and value of right, and they are accompanied with sanctions which are ordained for the purpose of restraining, controlling, and recovering the subjects of those laws. These moral laws are designed in their sphere, as physical laws are in theirs, to control those who are principally the subjects of moral law in all worlds, and as applied to moral agents must have essentially the same nature and be accompanied with the same sanctions. As the worlds which compose our solar system, and the more remote and magnificent worlds of which even our solar system is a part, are all governed by the same simple laws of gravitation, so it is reasonable to presume that the most lofty spirits before the throne of God, and the inhabitants of far distant worlds, are controlled by the same moral laws which are designed to bind and control men, and that thus the universe is one. The law of gravitation which regulates the fall of a pebble is sufficient to control all the material worlds; the law which requires love to God, and which is sufficient to control the mind of a child, may be all that is necessary to bring into subjection and preserve in their place the loftiest intellects that the Creator has made.
(5.) An atonement must be based on the supposition that there is evil in the violation of law which it is desirable to repair; and, to obtain any correct view of the nature and the design of an atonement, it is necessary to have some just apprehension of the evils of violated law. Unhappily, our earth has furnished most painful illustrations of these evils, and, were there no other world in which this could be seen, a sufficiently full demonstration of it might be found in our own. The history of our race has been little more than an illustration of the effects of violating laws; for all the woes and calamities of earth have arisen from that cause. It is certain that, under the government of a just and holy God, if there were no violation of law there would be no suffering; and it is clear, therefore, that, so far as our world is concerned, all the suffering which has come upon the race has been but a measure of the evils of violated law. Whether this is the only measure of those evils, or whether there may be higher proofs of the evil of a violation of law in other worlds, is a distinct question, not needful now to be considered. All that is necessary now to observe is, that it cannot be doubted, from the history of man, that there are evils in the violation of the laws of God. The sufferings endured in our world can be traced indubitably in numberless instances directly to this cause. No small portion of the bodily pain that exists on the earth can be directly traced to it; a great part of the mental suffering among men has indubitably the same origin; the evils that result from intemperance, and the crimes and horrors of war, rapine, piracy, and slavery, grow out of this; the sufferings which come upon the guilty as the avowed punishment of crime have the same source; the wretchedness that follows the excesses of youth is to be traced to the same cause. Even with our limited vision we can see that the observance of the laws of God would have prevented a great portion of the calamities that have come upon men; and from analogy it is not improper to infer, even where we cannot closely follow out the connection, that all the woes of earth have been caused by the infraction of those laws. From any thing that appears, if all those woes could be traced up to their real source, it would be found that _ remotely it might be, but in fact _ all the sorrows of earth have had such an origin. If so, then in the history of our own world we have a sufficiently affecting illustration of the evils of violated law.
Now, it is certain that an atonement must have a bearing on law in all these respects: in asserting its true nature, in illustrating its value, in checking and arresting the evils of its violation.
In other words, it must either tend to maintain law or to repair it, either to show its importance or to Prevent the Consequences of its infraction. It must meet in the divine administration what has been found, as seen in the previous chapter, to be a defect in all human governments: it must secure the maintenance of law while pardon is extended to the guilty; it must exert such an influence that they who are pardoned in virtue of the atonement shall become in their future lives obedient to the law.
If it can secure these things, then, so far as the law is concerned, the guilty may be released from the infliction of its penalty and be restored to the favor and friendship of the lawgiver. For, on this supposition, all that the law aims at will have been accomplished, and no evil will result from discharging from punishment those who have been guilty of its violation. Whether an atonement can do this, is another question, to be considered hereafter. All that is now affirmed is, that it must do this, and that if this is done, then, so far as the claims of the law are concerned, an offender may be forgiven.
In no human government, as we have seen, has it been found possible to secure this. If a law has been violated, the only way devised of maintaining its honor is by inflicting the penalty; and when that is done, as has been remarked, justice often drives its decisions over some of the finest feelings of our nature; so far as it is not done, or so far as that penalty is remitted by pardon, the strong arm of the law is relaxed, and a proclamation is made that the law may be violated with impunity. The act of pardon, as has been shown, is, for the time, and to the extent to which it operates, a setting aside of the authority of the law.
II. The second point to be secured by an atonement relates to the penalty of the law.
(1.) Penalty is "the suffering in person or property which is annexed by law or judicial decision to the commission of a crime, offence, or trespass, as a punishment." _ WEBSTER.
Punishment or penalty is evil inflicted by a lawgiver, or under his direction, to show his sense of the value of the law, or of the evil of violating the law. It is the measure of his sense of that value; it is an expression of his conviction of the evil which must necessarily follow from an infraction of the law.
It may be well to dwell for a moment on this definition; for, in order to a correct understanding of the doctrine of the atonement, it is absolutely necessary to obtain a just view of the nature and design of the penalty of the law.
And, first, according to this definition, it is 'evil;' that is, it is pain, sorrow, suffering, privation, some thing that shall be felt to be an evil, something to be dreaded. This may pertain to person or property; it may be confinement in a prison, or it may be a fine; it may be scourging, branding, torture, or the pillory; it may be banishment, or it may be death. The essential idea is, that it shall be something that is felt to be an evil; some form of suffering or privation that is an object of dread or apprehension, and something that may be employed, therefore, to deter from the commission of crime. The very design of it is to inflict pain; and consequently, when a fine is so light or so disproportionate to a man's property that he does not feel it, or when a person is made so comfortable in a prison that it will be no object of dread, or when the sentiments of a community are such that he who is condemned to punishment is regarded as a martyr, it ceases to be punishment, and the end of the appointment is defeated. Much as it may grate on our sensibilities, and harsh as punishment in any form seems to many persons to be, and much its We shrink from its infliction, yet the very end of punishment is to inflict pain, suffering, disgrace, and when that, by any arrangements of society, ceases to be the effect of punishment, its whole purpose is defeated, and the penalty of the law becomes a nullity.
Next, it is 'an evil inflicted.' It is the result of an appointment; it is brought upon a man by design. It does not come as a matter of casualty; it is not the result of natural laws. It is not because the person who suffers is one of a crowd; it is not that he is affected by some general or universal law; it is not that he suffers in common with others, as when an earthquake rocks a city to its foundations, or the pestilence cuts down the aged and the young, or war spreads its desolations among the peaceable habitations of men: it is 'inflicted' of design, and inflicted purposely on the person that suffers. The blow is directed at him, and him alone. The arrow is not shot into a crowd: it is aimed at him; and when he falls he falls by the intention of him who has directed it.
Nothing is more important in estimating the nature and design of punishment than to remember that it is aimed at the offender, and that, in its very nature, it is separated essentially from a mere providential dispensation, a random blow or shot, a casualty. The suffering, indeed, may be the same; but in one case it occurs under a general law by which the guilty and the innocent are swept away together, in the other it occurs under a special and particular law which aims at the individual, and at him alone.
Further, it is 'evil inflicted by the lawgiver, or under his direction.' It must be the result of his appointment, or it cannot be regarded as punishment. The falling of a tree on a man cannot be regarded as punishment unless it can be proved that this came upon him as the result of the appointment of a lawgiver, and as designed as an expression of his sense of the evil of the course of life which the man was pursuing, that is, under the general law that men who do certain things may expect that trees will fall on them.
Once more, it is 'evil inflicted by a lawgiver, or under his direction, to show his sense of the value of low, or of the evil of the violation of law.' That may be expressed in the words of a statute; but it is more impressively exhibited in the sufferings which he appoints as the effect of the violation of the law. The evil thus inflicted becomes the measure of his sense of the value of the law; and if the amount of evil which attends the infraction of law is ascertained, we have an infallible mode of estimating his sense of the evil.
In this definition I have purposely left out an idea which is commonly supposed to be connected with the notion of penalty or punishment, that it is designed to reform the offender. I shall have occasion to show that mere punishment, however it may check an offender, has no tendency to reform him, and that of itself it never produces that result; and, if this is so, then the reformation of an offender is no part of the proper design of the punishment. That looks at the violation of law as an evil, and is designed to express that fact and that alone. The legislator regards the law as valuable, and its violation as an evil; and he expresses that fact in the appointment and infliction of the penalty consequent on its violation. A man is hanged, not for purposes of reformation, and not to deter others from the commission of the same crime, but as a public expression of the sense which the lawgiver entertains of the guilt of the act of murder. Whatever incidental effects, either in reference to the individual who suffers the penalty of the law, or to others, may follow from the infliction of the penalty, the one prime, main thought in the case is that murder is an evil, and the execution of the guilty man expresses the sense entertained by the lawgiver of the nature of the evil.
(2.) All law has a penalty. We may conceive, indeed, that a law could be made, or a rule of conduct prescribed, where there was no penalty appointed to express the sense entertained by the lawgiver of the evil of the violation of the law. But such a case, in fact, has never occurred. 'It is but lost labor,' says Blackstone, [Com. i. 57.] 'to say, I do this, or avoid that,' unless we also declare, 'this shall be 13 the consequence of your non-compliance.' We must, therefore, observe that the main strength and force of a law consists in the penalty annexed to it. Herein is to be found the principal obligation of human laws."
(a.) As a matter of fact, all laws have penalties. Though a penalty, properly speaking, can pertain only to a moral law and have respect to moral agents, for physical objects and brutes cannot appreciate the evil that comes from the infraction of a law, yet the violation of any law is followed by certain consequences which may be regarded as an expression of the sense entertained by the lawgiver of the value of the law. A violation of the laws of vegetable growth in a plant is followed by consequences in the stunted form, or sickly aspect, or deformed appearance of a tree which is expressive of the evil of the violation. A violation of the laws of health is followed by consequences in the various forms of disease which are illustrations of the value of the laws of health. So in regard to temperance, chastity, honesty. In all the 'kingdoms' of nature _ material, vegetable, animal, moral _ it would not be possible to find a single instance in which a law is violated, whether in the organic structure, the development, or the moral conduct, which will not be followed by consequences that should be regarded as an expression of the sense entertained by the Great Author of all things of the value of law, and that may not, in that sense, be regarded as a penalty.
(b.) A law without a penalty would be counsel or advice, but it would cease to convey the notion of law. It might affect us by its being the result of the wisdom of him who appointed it; by leading us to follow it from our confidence in his experience, integrity, sagacity, or ability, but it would not make the impression on us which is always produced by law. It might have come down to us as the result of the observation of other times, but it would not come down to us as law. It might lead us to respect it from being the result of the wisdom of legislation in other ages, from its being found in the laws of the Medes and Persians, or recorded on the twelve tables at Rome, or preserved in the codes and Pandects of Justinian, but it would be no law to us. It might come to us as the result of the imagination or of the profound reasoning of ancient or modern times, found in the 'Republic' of Plato, or in Godwin's Political Justice, or in More's Utopia, but it would not be law to us. Even the Ten Commandments would cease to have the effect of law on us if there were no implied penalty or sanction to express the sense of the lawgiver as to their value and as to the evil of violating them.
We always, though we may scarcely have thought of it, make a distinction between the laws which are binding on others and those which are binding on us, between the deductions of reason and the enactments of law; for, though law is the "essence of reason," [Lord Coke.] yet to make law binding it must have proceeded from some appointing power and be accompanied with some proper sanction. We always make a distinction, also, between advice and law; between counsel and command. One has authority, the other has not; one has a penalty, the other has not; one comes to us as the injunction of one who is authorized to require our obedience, the other comes to us as the result of the wisdom of age or experience. And as law without a penalty would fail in securing obedience, so it would equally fail in securing respect. The laws of any nation, wise as they may be, and salutary as would be obedience to them, would become at once a bugbear if all penalty was removed. They would practically bind no one as laws, however much they might be respected as advice or as the suggestions of wisdom. For reasons such as these, as a matter of fact, penalties have been connected with all laws, human and divine, and those penalties, in every case, have been nothing more than an expression of the sense entertained by the lawgiver of the value of the law and the evil of a violation of it.
(3.) In reference to the determination of what the penalty of a law must be, the following remarks may be made:
(a.) In just laws it is not arbitrary. That is, it is not mere will; for although the will of the lawgiver must determine it, yet that will must itself be founded on equity. It is, indeed, the measure of his estimate of the value of the law and of the evils of disobedience, and that is the motive which determines his will in affixing the penalty to the law. If he goes beyond or falls short of that, the penalty of the law is unjust. If he should affix anything to the penalty of the law beyond what would be necessary in expressing his sense of the value of the law and the evil of disobedience, it would be so far unjust to the community; and if, in determining the penalty of the law, he should fall short of that, and should appoint any thing which, when fairly interpreted, would not be a just expression of his sense of the value of law and the evil of violating it, it would be so far an act of injustice to himself; for it would convey a false impression of his own estimate of the value of obedience. There may be other ends of a penalty; but it must express the sense which the lawgiver entertains of the value of the law.
(b.) A penalty must be the appointment of the lawgiver. As he appoints the law, so it is his to affix such a penalty to it as shall express his sense of the nature and value of the law. No one else has a right to do this; no one else could so do it as to express the sense entertained by the lawgiver of the value of law.
(c.) The security that a penalty will be just must be found in the character of the lawgiver himself. If there is no such security in his character, there can be none in regard to the equity of the penalty. He has entire control in the matter. No one can require him to appoint a different penalty from what he chooses to do. No one can compel him to change it; and, if he has sufficient power, no one can prevent its infliction. We are, therefore, under the necessity of referring to the character of the lawgiver as the only security that a penalty will be just.
In human governments all the security that can exist on the subject must be in the character of the sovereign, or in the constitutional right to change the government if the penalties of law are excessive. By a change of rulers, by a new constitution, by rebellion or revolution, the severe and unjust penalties of law may be changed, and a milder system may be established; and, as a matter of fact, the penalties of law have been thus modified and made milder as the world advances in civilization. Of course, there can be no change in the divine administration, for there can be no successful rebellion, no revolution, no progress of civilization, that will affect the penalties of law.
There can be no now views, the result of experiment or observation, which will modify the laws of God. All that could ever influence the divine mind in the appointment of a penalty was before that mind when the penalty was appointed; and all the security, therefore, that the penalty will be right is to be found in the character of God himself, in the fact that God is perfectly just. If there is a doubt on that point, just in proportion to that doubt will there be uncertainty in regard to the justice of that penalty; if it should be that God is not perfectly just, then there could be no security that the penalty of his law would be right. To that conclusion, then, we must ultimately come in all our contemplations of the law of God, that the only certainty which we can have of the justice of that penalty is to be found in his perfect and holy character.
(d.) In fact, the penalties of the violation of law are appointed by God, They are not the result of chance; they are not the effect of natural laws; they are not the appointment of any being inferior to God. There is, for example, a penalty affixed to the violation of the laws of health; and that penalty is the appointment of God. It is so universal that it proves that the same lawgiver presides over the whole race of mankind; it is so uniform that it demonstrates that it is not the result of accident or chance; it has so much of a moral bearing that it shows that it is not the result of any material organization; and it is so far susceptible of being made the basis of moral dealings with the individual himself as to make it plain that it is the appointment of God and is designed to accomplish his own plans and purposes. The same remarks might be made in respect to pride, ambition, selfishness, anger, sensuality, ingratitude. Sooner or later, each and all of these are followed by results which are the proper measure of his estimate of their nature.
(4.) The next inquiry is, How is the measure of the penalty for the violation of a law to be ascertained? In other words, in view of the preceding remarks, how shall we know what God has appointed as the expression of his sense of the value of the law and the evil of its violation?
In answer to this question, it may be observed that these methods are two: a direct statement on the part of the lawgiver, and a correct observation of the results of conduct.
(a.) A direct statement on the part of the lawgiver, God. If man could look at once at the essence of things and see them as God sees them; if he could look into their very nature and see, by contemplating the germ, all that would ever be developed from it; if he could place himself at the center of the universe and by a glance look through all things, then, as God does, he could determine at once what a penalty ought to be and what it will be. But this would be to possess a degree of knowledge which can belong only to God; and, unless man has this, it is clear that he cannot determine what a just penalty would be. Nor, unless he has this, can be determine what a penalty may be and ought to be. That must be, therefore, high presumption in man when he assumes that he can himself determine what a penalty will not be or ought not to be, or, which is the same thing, when he presumes to decide that an appointed and revealed penalty of law must be unjust. There are many penalties of law under the divine administration in this world which man would not, from any point of view which he occupies, have regarded as proper; and, for the same reason, there may be penalties in reference to the world to come which man, from any point of view which he can occupy, would not have himself anticipated, and the reason of which, now that they are appointed, he cannot understand.
To a very great extent the penalties of law are made known by the direct statement of the lawgiver. This occurs in most of the laws of men, where the penalty, leaving a certain amount of discretion to the judicial tribunals, is directly specified. Thus, the penalty of murder, piracy, and treason is fixed; thus, within certain limits, the penalty of arson, burglary, larceny, forgery, bigamy, is fixed also. So in the Bible there are clear statements in regard to the consequences of sin, that is, statements in regard to the value affixed by God to his law and to his sense of the evil of transgression; statements of what will be the consequence of sin on earth, and its eternal results beyond the grave.
(b.) But it is true, also, that, in reference to a large part of the actions of man, the nature and extent of the penalty for the violation of law is to be ascertained not by statement, but by observation of the consequences of conduct; of what, in fact, follows in the line of the offence. There are many things evidently of the nature of crime, sin, or wrong, to which there is no specific written or promulgated penalty attached, and where the fact that there is a penalty, as well as the true nature of the penalty, can be learned only from the observed effects of conduct. In this case it is to be observed that we ascertain not what is penalty from the mere sequences of events; we do not infer properly that any one thing is the penalty of a certain action because it follows it directly in respect to time, for the falling of the tower of Siloam was not proof that the eighteen on whom it fell were peculiarly guilty, and the calamities which befall a city in an earthquake or a nation in pestilence are not proof that all those who suffer are universally guilty; but the things which define the relation of crime and the penalty must be connected as antecedent and consequent; they must pertain to the same individual, for one man cannot be punished for the crime of another; they must be in the line of the offence; the one must follow so directly and so constantly from the other as to indicate cause and effect; and the whole must bear such marks of being the appointment of a legislator as to show that the consequences of conduct in any specified case are an indication of his will or purpose in the matter. In this way we ascertain what are the penalties of intemperance, licentiousness, dishonesty, fraud, anger, gluttony; for they are followed by such consequences as show that God intended to mark them with his displeasure and to restrain men from them by being thus apprized of his displeasure. In these and all similar cases, the consequences which follow from such conduct are the indication, even where there is no revealed statement, of his disapprobation, and are to be regarded as the measure of his displeasure. To observe carefully these consequences of human conduct; to collect, arrange, and record them, has been the great business of writers on moral and national law. The results of such observation constitute, in a great measure, the code of morals by which men are governed in the world. These results are not the basis or foundation of the distinction of right and wrong, but they are the indications of what is right and wrong, and are, in particular cases, the measure of the divine estimate. Thus, if we could collect and embody all the results of intemperance in any case, those results would be at the same time a demonstration of the fact that God regards intemperance as an evil, and would be the measure by which we are to estimate the evil.
It should be added here that, in all cases, such penalties, as ascertained by observation, would coincide with the statements which would be made on the subject, if any, in a book of professed revelation. If there were a discrepancy between the fact and the statement in such a book, it would prove that the book could not be from God. If, therefore, the facts in regard to the consequences of guilt do not accord with the statements in the Bible, that would prove that the Bible could not be a divine revelation.
(5.) The next remark to be made in regard to the penalty of law is, that the subject for whom the law is made, and in reference to whom the penalty is appointed, may be little qualified to determine what the penalty should be, or fitted to pronounce upon its justice when it is appointed.
A child of four years of age may be very little qualified to understand the justice of the penalty which a parent appoints for the violation of his laws, or to appreciate the results which the parent designs to bring out of the infliction of the penalty. The penalty may appear to the child to be altogether disproportionate to the offence, and in a great measure undeserved. For example, he may see, as yet, little, comparatively, of the turpitude of a falsehood, and may not be able to see why such a penalty should be appointed for such an offence as the parent chooses to inflict. A few years may work wonders in regard to that child in enabling him to see the justice of a penalty which may now appear to him so unequal, severe, or harsh, and in a few years he may be in circumstances where he will appoint the same penalty for his own children, themselves then as much disqualified in turn to understand the reason and the propriety of the penalty as he himself had been.
In respect to this point, the following remarks may be made:
(a.) It is to be presumed, as in the case of the child above referred to, that the subjects of the law of God may have limited views, and be little qualified to see the reason and propriety of the law itself, much less to see the reason and propriety of the penalty of the law.
(b.) All the subjects of a law are interested in the matter; and therefore, it cannot be assumed that they will be impartial in their opinions of the penalty of a law. Men determine what shall be the penalty of the law for others, not for themselves. Kings thus enact laws; legislators in free governments thus enact laws; parents thus enact laws. All laws are made for others; and this fact goes far in securing equity and impartiality in adjusting as well as administering the penalty. If thieves were to ordain penalties in regard to theft, and murderers to murder, and pirates to piracy, and seducers to seduction, it may be presumed that very slight penalties would be affixed to each of these offenses. Nor would it be safe for either of these classes to make laws for the others. We could calculate little on equity if thieves should ordain Penalties for murderers, or murderers for pirates, or pirates for seducers, or from a congress of such men in ordaining penalties for any of these crimes. Guilt unfits men to appoint just penalties to law; and indulgence in one form of sin disqualifies, just so far as it exists, a legislator for determining what is due to the violation of the law.
Solon, Lycurgus, Numa, Alfred, had eminent qualifications for determining by just legislation what is due to the violation of law. Nero, Tiberius, Caligula, Alexander VI., Cæsar Borgia, Charles II., had none. Of all beings in the universe, therefore, God is best qualified to determine what is due to the violation of law.
(c.) The subjects of a law can see little of the effects of violating law, and are, therefore, little qualified to affix its penalty. Some of the effects may be on the surface and may be apparent to all.
Most of the effects are such that they cannot be traced out by the subject himself. A child, as above remarked, can see as yet but little of the effects of a lie; a subject of a civil government may be unable to trace or comprehend all the effects of treason; still less can man, as a subject of the divine government, follow out and comprehend all the effects of the violation of laws of God. Yet it is obvious that, in order to affix a penalty with exact justice to law, it is necessary to take in all those effects and to adjust the penalty exactly to them. Hence it is that, from the limited views which the subject must take, the penalties of law, as we shall see, often appear to be harsh and unjust. They are not, in the mind of the subject, a proper measure of the evil of the violation of the law, and do not determine that evil as he sees it. They are the measure of an evil which he cannot as yet comprehend, and as it is measured by the comprehensive mind of the lawgiver himself.
(6.) It follows from all this, as was suggested above, that in many cases _ perhaps in most cases the subject would not have affixed the penalty to the law which has been actually appointed.
There are in fact, for example, evils flowing from the sin of intemperance which man would not have been qualified to appreciate, and which he would not have made the basis beforehand in affixing a penalty for indulgence in intoxicating drinks. Some penalty, perhaps, he would have affixed to the violation of law; but it would have been quite different from what has actually been appointed. If we can conceive of a body of men in some now unknown part of the world, assembled together to affix an appropriate penalty to the use of alcoholic liquors, when the art of distillation was first discovered, and if the results which now follow their use had been affixed by express legislation as the penalty, the world would have started back with horror, and would have proclaimed such a penalty to be shocking and barbarous. If the poverty and wretchedness which follow from that use, the degradation of the body and the mind, the diseases and disgusting developments on the person, the wreck of health, reputation, and hope, the sorrows, of wives and children, the results in brawls, contentions, and strifes, the agonies of a wretched life _ the horrors of mania-a-potu at death _ the curse descending on posterity _ the apprehension of eternal woe, if these had been appointed by such a body of legislators, the sentimentalists of the world, who now start back so much at the revealed penalty of the divine law, would have pronounced it cruel, horrid, tyrannical. They would have affirmed that nothing in the nature of the case could justify such monstrous legislation. And if man, taking his place as a counselor and adviser of the Almighty, could have been consulted beforehand, he would have said that such a penalty would be so unjust and horrid that it could never be appointed. If any legislative body on earth had actually threatened precisely those inflictions which come upon the drunkard, and had had the power to carry out the threatening, the government that had done this would have been regarded by the sentimentalists who now impugn the divine penalties of law as harsh and unjust, as a most severe and savage form of tyranny.
It follows from this that we are very inadequate judges of the penalty which should be affixed to the divine law. It follows, also, that we should not be surprised to find that a penalty has been appointed such as we should not have anticipated, and such as we find it difficult to justify or to explain.
Now, it is obvious that if an atonement is made for sin, it must be of such a nature as to secure the object contemplated by the penalty of the law; that is, it must be such as to show the sense entertained by the Great Legislator of the value of the law, and of the evil of violating the law.
As the punishment of the offender himself would have secured this, and as this is the very design of the penalty, if an atonement is contemplated in virtue of which the guilty shall be rescued from the infliction of the penalty, it is clear that the atonement must answer the same end or secure the same result. If it can do this, then no objection could arise from this source to the pardon of the offender, whatever might arise from other sources; if it cannot do this, or if the atonement does not do this, then an act of pardon is, in fact, a setting aside of the penalty of the law altogether, and a public proclamation that that penalty is not to be regarded as an expression of the sense entertained by the legislator of the value of law and of the evil of disobedience. A friend of the government of God has a right to expect that an arrangement for an atonement will secure this end; an enemy of that government _ a skeptic _ has a right to demand that this provision shall be found in that which professes to be an atonement. If such an arrangement is found in any proposed scheme of salvation, it would be so far an evidence of the divine origin of the scheme, for it is far above the wisdom of all human schemes; if it is not found in a professed revelation, or if the arrangement would not secure this end, it would be a conclusive argument for rejecting the scheme, for a scheme originating in infinite wisdom must meet what is so radical a defect in all human governments. It is impossible to believe that God would solemnly appoint a penalty to his law, and then in all his dealings with men act so as to set that penalty aside, or so that the fair interpretation of his acts would be that he regards the law as of no value and the violation of it as no evil.
III. The third point in an atonement relates to the offenders in whose behalf an atonement is made, that it may make their reformation and future good conduct certain.
We have seen that one of the great difficulties of pardon, a difficulty which none of the arrangements in a human administration has been sufficient to remove, arises from the fact that there can be no security of the future good conduct of him who is pardoned, either from professed repentance and reformation, or from the efficacy of the punishment inflicted, or from any influence of the act of pardon itself on the mind of him who is pardoned. We have seen that one of the principal evils which results from the free exercise of pardon arises from the fact that convicts from prisons are sent out without any such evidence of their reformation, to prey again upon the community. We have seen that by no possible arrangement, under a human government, would it be safe to discharge at once all the convicted felons in the penitentiaries in the land. To render a community secure would be one of the ends of an atonement; and if such an arrangement could be made, it would remove one of the main difficulties in the way of pardon. That arrangement in a human government, if it could be made, would consist essentially in some scheme for securing the reformation and future good conduct of the violators of the law who would thus be discharged.
Not precisely, indeed, for the same reason, but for a reason equally imperative, it is necessary, in a scheme of pardon under the divine administration, to secure the reformation of the guilty, and to obtain a guarantee for their future observance of law. It cannot be supposed that God would discharge the guilty, or release them from the obligation of the penalty of the law, unless there were some ground for believing that they would obey the law in time to come. It is possible that the very stability of the divine administration may depend on this: certainly it would be a reasonable expectation among holy beings that God would not discharge the guilty and demand that they should be received into the 'goodly fellowship' of holy beings, without some evidence that they were thoroughly reformed. What, we may ask, would the universe be if the legions of fallen spirits now "reserved in everlasting chains, under darkness, (Jude 6,) were at once released, and, with all their mature powers and ample experience, suffered. to roam over the face of the earth, or to make their way to distant worlds? What would heaven be if the hosts of atheists and scoffers, of murderers and seducers, of the profane, the corrupt, and the sensual, that are now upon the earth, were admitted at once to the blessed abodes of holy beings? What security of happiness could there be in those realms were they suddenly peopled with all the polluted and the defiled of earth?
If, therefore, the guilty are to be released on the basis of all atonement, then there must be some provision by which the reformation and the future good conduct of the guilty will be secured.
What that is will be the subject of future inquiry. But it is obvious that it must be something quite different from any arrangement which has been made by human laws. It must be something in the atonement itself, or something secured by the atonement, some power or influence to act on the mind of the guilty to bring them to voluntary repentance and reformation, for there call be no other true repentance and reformation; it must be something that shall extend into all the future, embracing eternity itself, making it certain that the offender who is pardoned will never again revolt from God.
IV. The fourth point relates to the community, that its rights may be secured, and that it may have nothing to apprehend if the guilty are pardoned. We have seen that one of the difficulties in regard to pardon has respect to the safety of a community. That safety is now protected by the arrangements which have been made for detecting and punishing the guilty. The processes of law are important safeguards in defending the rights and securing the welfare of a community; and each one of those processes, as has been already remarked, constituted, when it was introduced, an epoch in the history of jurisprudence. The rights of person, property, life, reputation, are dependent on the forms of law; on the mode of indictment; on the trial by jury; on the confronting of the accuser and the accused; on the examination of witnesses in open court; on the writ of habeas corpus; on the vigilance of the police and the fidelity of public prosecutors in detecting offenders and bringing them to trial.
Yet, as we have seen, all these are practically set aside by an act of pardon. So far as that goes, all that the community has done to guard its own rights, and to secure public peace and safety, is declared to be of no value by each act of pardon. An offender, though arrested and tried by those forms of law which the community has regarded as of so much importance to its own peace and safety, is again discharged, with no security whatever that the same offence will not be repeated; with nothing to protect the community from the murderer or burglar who is thus set at liberty. Nothing can be introduced into the system that shall secure the community from a repetition of the crime for which he was arrested, tried, and sentenced. Now, what, in this respect, is needed in the case of pardon is some arrangement by which all the interests which it has been the object of the law to secure by the regular processes of trial shall be secured if pardon is extended to the guilty. To make such an atonement admissible as a part of a just administration, there must be the same security of person, property, reputation, and life which the community has sought to obtain by these processes of law. The act of pardon must not be capable of an interpretation by which all these, or any of these, would be set aside. There must be, under an atonement, as much safety as these processes of law have been designed to obtain; and, if this could be done, there would be no objection, on this account, to the discharge of the guilty; that is, to the pardon of one convicted of crime.
What would thus be requisite in a human government must be equally so in the divine administration. If an atonement is made, it must be of such a character that the divine declarations in reference to the evil of sin; that the laws which God has established in the soul itself to show the guilt of transgression, and the arrangements which he has appointed in society to keep up the idea of that guilt; that what he has intended to communicate to man in regard to that guilt by the threatenings of future woe; and that the various influences which he puts forth to detect and punish the guilty here and hereafter, shall not be set aside by that work. There must be the same security on all these points which there would be if they were all carried out and if the guilty were made to illustrate the value of these arrangements by enduring themselves the penalty of the law. To all these the work of atonement must have reference; and, if these can be secured, the offender may be discharged.
V. The fifth point relates to the character of the lawgiver, that character may stand fair before the world, and be such as to inspire confidence, if the penalty of the law is remitted. We have seen that one of the difficulties on the subject of pardon has reference to this point. In a case where it should be contemplated that it was never to be extended to the guilty, the character of the sovereign, though it might be just, would be severe, harsh, repellant. A government such as that would make its way over some of the finest feelings of our nature. It would be a government which might inspire cold respect, but never love or esteem. In the case where it was supposed that pardon would be often extended to the guilty, we have seen that it is impossible so to do it as not to infringe on the arrangements made for securing the regular operation of law. In a case where pardon should be always extended to the guilty, we have seen that the effect would be to encourage crime, and to render every interest in a community insecure. We have seen, also, that in human arrangements it has been found absolutely impossible to blend the two attributes of justice and mercy so that they shall be exhibited in proper proportions; so to dispense pardon, or so to administer justice, that the one shall not cast a shadow over the other.
Now, what is needful, if an atonement is made, is, that there shall be, through that atonement, a proper expression of the character of the lawgiver. It must be required and expected that the atonement shall somehow represent him as a just being; as the enemy of transgression; as maintaining the principles of his own law; as confirming all that he has said in that law in regard to its value, and in regard to the evils of its violation. The atonement must make the same representation or impression on this point which the actual infliction of the penalty would do. It would be unjust to the sovereign if it did not; that is, if one representation was made by a revealed law and its threatened penalties, and another by the atonement. In other words, it must be demanded that, for example, the character of God shall not be one thing as seen in his revealed law and its threatened penalty, and another thing in the atonement; that, in looking at the atonement, we shall not get one impression of the character of God, and another from the threatenings of the law; that in the one God shall not be represented as just, and in the other as unjust. In like manner, it may be demanded that there shall not be a false impression made by the atonement in regard to the mercy of God. If he is merciful, then the atonement should so represent his character. It should leave that as a fair impression on the minds of all who contemplate it. There should be in that atonement a real and not an imaginary display of mercy. There should not be a mere transfer of guilt; there should not be a mere infliction of wrath on the innocent instead of the guilty; there should not be mere punishment and nothing but punishment, the punishment of the innocent instead of the guilty; there should not be a mere stern demand of the 'last farthing,' demanded of the offender or of a substitute; there should be real mercy, real forgiveness, a real lessening of the infliction of pain.
If this were not so, then, whether a pretended atonement were made or not, the entire representation of the character of God in the case would be that he was only severely and absolutely just, or that there was no mercy blended with justice in his character. If God is merciful, then this would be a wholly unfair representation of what he is. In one word, it is necessary in the work of an atonement that all the arrangements should be such that the divine character, as far as the atonement goes to illustrate that, should not be susceptible of a misrepresentation, or that it should fairly represent that character on these points: (a) That God is, in fact, just; (b) that he is, at the same time, merciful; (c) that he does not connive at sin; (d) that he is not indifferent to sin; (e) that he actually intends to lessen by the atonement the amount of suffering and of sin in the universe, and does not mean merely to transfer them from the guilty to the innocent. If an atonement can be so made as to furnish in itself a correct representation of the divine character in these respects, it is plain that so far as these points are concerned there can be no difficulty in pardoning offenders. If an atonement could be so made as to furnish a more clear and impressive demonstration than could be made in any other way of what the character of God in these respects is, there would be this additional reason why it might be introduced into the system.
Whether the atonement proposed in the gospel actually is such as to secure these results will be the main subject of inquiry in the remainder of this Essay.| Chapter Three | Chapter Five |