Skeletons of a Course of
By Charles G. Finney
First. Show in what its value consists.
1. It is valuable only as it tends to promote the glory of God, and the virtue and happiness of the universe.
2. In order to understand, in what the value of the Atonement consists, we must understand:
(1.) That happiness is an ultimate good.
(2.) That virtue is indispensable to happiness.
(3.) That the knowledge of God is indispensable to virtue.
(4.) That Christ, who made the Atonement, is God.
(5.) That the work of Atonement was the most interesting and impressive exhibition of God that ever was made in this world and probably in the universe.
(6.) That, therefore, the Atonement is the highest means of promoting virtue that exists in this world, and perhaps in the universe. And that it is valuable only, and just so far as it reveals God, and tends to promote virtue and happiness.
(7.) That the work of Atonement was a gratification of the infinite benevolence of God.
(8.) It was a work eternally designed by him, and therefore eternally enjoyed.
(9.) It has eternally made no small part of the happiness of God.
(10.) The development or carrying out of this design, in the work of Atonement, highly promotes and will for ever promote his glory in the universe.
(11.) Its value consists in its adaptedness to promote the virtue and happiness of holy angels, and all moral agents who have never sinned. As it is a new and most stupendous revelation of God, it must of course greatly increase their knowledge of God, and be greatly promotive of their virtue and happiness.
(12.) Its value consists in its adaptedness to prevent farther rebellion against God in every part of the universe. The Atonement exhibits God in such a light, as must greatly strengthen the confidence of holy beings in his character and government. It is therefore calculated in the highest degree, to confirm holy beings in their allegiance to God, and thus prevent the further progress of rebellion.
Second. Show how great its value is.
1. Let it be remembered, the value of the Atonement consists in its moral power or tendency to promote virtue and happiness.
2. Moral power is the power of motive.
3. The highest moral power is the influence of example. Advice has moral power. Precept has moral power. Sanction has moral power. But example is the highest moral influence that can be exerted by any being.
4. Moral beings are so created as to be naturally influenced by the example of each other. The example of a child, as a moral influence, has power upon other children. The example of an adult, as a moral influence, has power. The example of great men and of angels has great moral power. But the example of God is the highest moral influence in the universe.
5. The word of God has power. His commands, threatnings, promises; but his example is a higher moral influence than his precepts or his threatnings.
6 Virtue consists in benevolence. God requires benevolence, threatens all his subjects with punishment, if they are not benevolent, and promises them eternal life if they are. All this has power. But his example, his own benevolence, his own disinterested love, as expressed in the Atonement, is a vastly higher moral influence than his word, or any other of his ways.
7. Christ is God. In the Atonement God has given us the influence of his own example, has exhibited his own love, his own compassion, his own self denial, his own patience, his own long suffering, under abuse from enemies. In the Atonement he has exhibited all the highest and most perfect virtues, has united himself with human nature, has exhibited these virtues to the inspection of our senses, and labored, wept, suffered, bled, and died for man. This is not only the highest revelation of God, that could be given to man; but is giving the whole weight of his own example in favour of all the virtues which he requires of man.
8. This is the highest possible moral influence. It is properly moral omnipotence; that is--the influence of the Atonement, when apprehended by the mind, will accomplished whatever is an objet of moral power. It cannot compel a moral agent, and set aside his freedom, for this is not an objet of moral power; but it will do all that motive can, in the nature of the case accomplish. It is the highest and most weighty motive that the mind of a moral being can conceive. It is the most moving, impressive, and influential consideration in the universe.
9. The value of the Atonement may be estimated then:
(1.) By the consideration, that it has from eternity made up
no inconsiderable part of the happiness of God. We are not aware,
and cannot know, that God has ever exercised a higher class of
virtues, than were exercised and exhibited in the Atonement.
His happiness arises out of, and is founded in, his virtue.
(2.) God has always been in that state of mind, so far as his will and design were concerned, in which he made the Atonement.
(3.) He has, therefore, always exercised those virtues, and always enjoyed the happiness resulting from them. And those virtues are certainly among the highest kind that can possibly be exercised by God, and as his happiness is in proportion to the perfection and strength of his virtue, we have good reason for believing, that the work of Atonement, or the virtues exercised or exhibited in it, have ever constituted a great share of the happiness of God.
(4.) Its value may be estimated, by its moral influence in the promotion of holiness among all holy beings:
a. Their love to God must depend upon their knowledge of him.
b. As he is infinite, and all creatures are finite, finite beings know him only as he is pleased to reveal himself.
c. The Atonement has disclosed or revealed to the universe of holy beings, a class and an order of virtues, as resident in the divine mind, which, but for the Atonement, would probably have for ever remained unknown.
d. As the Atonement is the most impressive revelation of God, of which we have any knowledge, or can form any conception, we have reason to believe that it has greatly increased the holiness and happiness of all holy creatures, that it has done more that any other and perhaps every other revelation of God, to exalt his character, strengthen his government, enlighten the universe, and increase its happiness.
e. The value of the Atonement may be estimated by the amount of good it has done and will do in this world. The Atonement is an exhibition of God suffering as a substitute for his rebellious subjects. His relation to the law and to the universe, is that which gives his sufferings such infinite value. I have said, in a former lecture, that the utility of executing penal sanctions consists in the exhibition it makes of the true character and designs of the law-giver. It creates public confidence, makes a public impression, and thus strengthens the influence of government, and is in this way promotive of order and happiness. The Atonement is the highest testimony that God could give of his holy abhorrence of sin; of his regard to his law; of his determination to support it; and, also, of his great love for his subjects; his great compassion for sinners; and his willingness to suffer himself in their stead; rather, on the one hand, than to punish them, and on the other, than to set aside the penalty without satisfaction being made to public justice.
f. The Atonement may be viewed in either of two points of light.
(a.) Christ may be considered as the law-giver, and attesting his sincerity, love of holiness, approbation of the law, and compassion for his subjects, by laying down his life as their substitute.
(b.) Or, Christ may be considered as the Son of the Supreme Ruler; and then we have the spectacle of a sovereign, giving his only begotten and well beloved Son, his greatest treasure, to die a shameful and agonizing death, in testimony of his great compassion for his rebellious subjects, and of his high regard for public justice.
g. The value of the Atonement may be estimated, by considering the fact that it provides for the pardon of sin, in a way that forbids the hope of impunity in any other case. This, the good of the universe imperiously demanded. If sin is to be forgiven at all, under the government of God, it should be known to be forgiven upon principles that will by no means encourage rebellion, or hold out the least hope of impunity, should rebellion break out in any other part of the universe.
h. The Atonement has settled the question, that sin can never be forgiven, under the government of God, simply on account of the repentance of any being. It has demonstrated, that sin can never be forgiven without full satisfaction being made to public justice, and that public justice can never be satisfied with any thing less than an Atonement made by God himself. Now, as it can never be expected, that the Atonement will be repeated, it is for ever settled, that rebellion in any other world than this, can have no hope of impunity. This answers the question so often asked by infidels, "If God was disposed to be merciful, why could he not forgive without an Atonement?" The answer is plain; he could not forgive sin, but upon such principles as would for ever preclude the hope of impunity, should rebellion ever break out in any other part of the universe.
i. From these considerations, it is manifest that the value of the Atonement is infinite. We have reason to believe, that Christ, by his Atonement, is not only the Saviour of this world, but the Saviour of the universe in an important sense. Rebellion once broke out in Heaven, and upon the rebel angels God executed his law, and sent them down to hell. It next broke out in this world; and as the execution of law was found by experience not to be a sufficient preventive against rebellion, there was no certainty that rebellion would not have spread until it had ruined the universe, but for that revelation of God which Christ has made in the Atonement. This exhibition of God has proved itself, not merely able to prevent rebellion among holy beings, but to reclaim and reform rebels. Millions of rebels have been reclaimed and reformed. This world is to be turned back to its allegiance to God, and the blessed Atonement of Christ has so unbosomed God before the universe, as, no doubt, not only to save other worlds from going into rebellion, but to save myriads of our already rebellious race from the depths of an eternal hell.
Third. For whose benefit the Atonement was intended.
1. God does all things for himself; that is--he consults his own glory and happiness, as the supreme and most influential reason for all his conduct. This is wise and right in him, because his own glory and happiness are infinitely the greatest good in the universe. He does what he does, because he loves to do it. He made the Atonement to gratify himself; that is--because he loved to do it. "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." God himself, then, was greatly benefited by the Atonement. In other words, his happiness, in a great measure, consisted in it.
2. He made the Atonement for the benefit of the universe. All holy beings are and must be benefited by it, from its very nature. As it gives them a higher knowledge of God, than they ever had before, or ever could have gained in any other way. The Atonement is the greatest work that he could have wrought for them, the most blessed, and excellent, and benevolent thing he could have done for them. For this reason, angels are described as desiring to look into the Atonement. The inhabitants of Heaven are represented as being deeply interested in the work of Atonement, and those displays of the character of God that are made in it. The Atonement is then, no doubt, one of the greatest blessings that ever God conferred upon the universe of holy beings.
3. The Atonement was made for the benefit particularly of the inhabitants of this world. From its very nature, it is calculated to benefit all the inhabitants of this world; as it is a most stupendous revelation of God to man. Its nature is adapted to benefit all mankind. All mankind can be pardoned, if they will be rightly affected and brought to repentance by it, as well as any part of mankind can.
4. The Bible declares that Christ tasted death for every man.
5. All do certainly receive many blessings on account of it. There is reason to believe, that but for the Atonement, none of our race, except the first human pair, would ever have had an existence.
6. But for the Atonement, no man could have been treated with any more lenity and forbearance than Satan can.
7. The lives, and all the blessings which all mankind enjoy, are conferred on them on account of the Atonement of Christ; that is--God could not consistently confer these blessings, were it not that Christ has made such a satisfaction to public justice, that God can consistently wait on sinners, and bless, and do all that the nature of the case admits to save them.
8. That it was made for all mankind, is evident, from the fact that it is offered to all, indiscriminately.
9. Sinners are universally condemned, for not receiving it.
10. If the Atonement is not intended for all mankind, God is insincere in making them the offer of salvation through the Atonement.
11. If the Atonement is not for all mankind, then God is partial.
12. It not, sinners in hell will see and know, that their salvation was never possible; that no Atonement was made for them; and that God was insincere, in offering them salvation.
13. If the Atonement is not for all men, no one can know for whom, in particular, it was intended, without direct revelation.
14. If the Atonement is for none but the elect, no man can know whether he has a right to embrace it, until by a direct revelation, God has made known to him that he is one of the elect.
15. If the Atonement was made but for the elect, no man can by any possibility embrace it without such a revelation. Why cannot Satan believe in, embrace, and be saved, by the Atonement? Simply because it was not made for him. If it was not made for the non elect, they can no more embrace and be saved by it, than Satan can. If, therefore, the Atonement was made but for a part of mankind, it is entirely nugatory, unless a further revelation make known for whom in particular it was made.
16. If it was not made for all men, ministers do not know to whom they should offer it.
17. If ministers do not believe that it was made for all men, they cannot heartily and honestly press its acceptance upon any individual, or congregation in the world; for they cannot assure any individual, or congregation, that there is any Atonement for him or them, any more than there is for Satan.