Page images
PDF
EPUB

99

cepted to make an atonement for him." The animal, in this case, represents a principle of goodness from which man offers an acceptable worship to the Lord; just as, in regard to the atonement-money, the piece of silver denotes the truth, as confessed by the giver, that man owes his life, spiritual as well as natural, to the Lord as its Source: and there is no more allusion to the undergoing of punishment by one being instead of a different being, in the one case than there is in the other.

2. In another instance, we find the prayers of Moses described as making atonement for the sins of the people. How inconsistent is this with all that is so frequently said about Moses in the common doctrines of the day! Moses is usually described as the accuser, of mankind, as bringing them into condemnation; not as making atonement for them! He is perpetually represented as something like an antagonist of the Lord Jesus Christ; as delivering a law, at the command of the angry Father, to bring all men under a curse; not as an intercessor, who mediates to deliver them, and to "make an atonement for their sin." Yet, according to the Word of God, this he actually did. After Israel had sinned so grievously in the affair of the golden calf, and three thousand men had been slain in consequence, it is written thus: "And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses said unto the people, Ye have sinned a great sin: and now I will go up unto the Lord, peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin."+ What plainer proof can be desired, that, in the Scripture sense of the expression, the word Atonement does not mean, the suffering as a substituted victim for the sin of others? Moses, most certainly never thought of making atonement in the way that the Lord Jesus Christ is supposed to have done, by suffering in his own person the punishment due to the sins of the people yet he certainly did undertake to endeavor to make an atonement. But all is easy when it is known, that the proper sense of atone ment is reconciliation or agreement, without any specific modeof causing such agreement or reconciliation. How did Moses proceed with his work of atonement? The sacred narrative adds, "And Moses returned unto the Lord, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written." Moses certainly does here offer himself for death. But how? as a substitute for the people, and that his death might be accepted instead of theirs? Did he thus adopt the common perverted sense of the word Atonement, and pray that he might be

† Ex. xxxii. 30.

Ver. 31, 32.

* As Lev. i. 4.

66

punished in order that they might go free? Moses had too just ideas of the nature and character of the gracious and holy God with whom he interceded, to dream of insulting his justice and his truth by any such proposal. He simply and humbly acknowledges the sin of the people, and entreats the Lord to forgive it: "Oh, this people have sinned a great sin : :- yet now if thou wilt forgive their sin ;" which is a Hebrew form of speaking, meaning: "O that thou wouldst forgive their sin!" And when he desires that he might be blotted out of the Lord's book, it is not that he might perish instead of the people, but along with them. He endeavors to make atonement, by simply entreating the Lord to forgive the people: but "if not, (he says), — if (the Lord can) not (forgive them, he exclaims) blot me, I pray thee out of thy book which thou hast written." To think of making atonement for them by desiring to die in their stead, or as the punishment for their sin, he knows were impossible and absurd he therefore only attempts to make atonement for them by prayer: should which be unsuccessful, he desires, out of his Great love for them, to be permitted to die, or forfeit the Divine favor, together with them, to share their fate. And the Lord in his answer rejects the idea of one person's dying through the sins of others in any way, saying, "Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book."*

Again then is it impossible to doubt, that, in the ideas of Moses, and not only of Moses, but of Jehovah himself, atonement means nothing like suffering by substitution: it signifies the effecting of agreement or reconciliation, by means really worthy of justice, mercy, and truth.

3. But other instances are at hand which still fully prove, that the word atonement, as used in the books of Moses, contains no idea whatever of the suffering, by one being, of the punishment due to the sins of another.

Unwarned by the melancholy death of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, for their ungrateful and presumptuous rebellion, the congregation murmured the next day against Moses and Aaron saying, "Ye have killed the people of the Lord." A plague in consequence immediately commenced, which speedily destroyed above fourteen thousand of the people, and would have consumed the whole. But " Moses said unto Aaron, Take a censer, and put fire therein from off the altar, and put on incense, and go quickly unto the congregation, and make an atonement for them: for there is wrath gone out from the Lord; the plague is begun. And Aaron (it proceeds) took as Moses commanded, and ran into the midst of the congregation: and † Num. xvi. 41.

* Ver. 33.

behold, the plague was begun among the people: and he put on incense, and made an atonement for the people. And he stood between the dead and the living: and the plague was stayed." Here again it is quite clear, that atonement, as the word is used in Scripture according to its own proper signification, does not include any idea of the substitution of one being to undergo punishment in lieu of another who has deserved it, — anything like the infliction of vicarious suffering. The Israelites were dying by thousands; and Aaron "made atonement for them,” as is explicitly said, though neither he nor any other being died or suffered in their stead. His atonement consisted in nothing more, than burning incense kindled with fire from the altar, between the dead and the living: an action expressive of the remission of sins by the Lord, from no other prompting or intercession than that of his own divine love.

4. On other occasions, when plagues were raging, "atonement," it is said, was effected, by making notable examples of the chief offenders or their representatives. Thus when Israel had flagrantly transgressed, and a plague had broken out which destroyed 24,000 of the people, Phinehas, the son of Eleazer, the son of Aaron, inflamed with zeal, slew one of the most flagrant of the transgressors upon the spot; for which he is promised an everlasting priesthood, "because, (as the words run) he was zealous for his God, and made an atonement for the children of Israel." And when there was a famine in the time of David, declared to have been caused by the cruelties of Saul to the Gibeonites, and David asked the injured parties, "wherewith shall I make the atonement, that ye may bless the inheritance of the Lord," it was done by executing seven of Saul's sons.‡

Thus again it is most palpable, that no idea of the suffering by one party of the punishment due to the sins of another, in order that the guilty may go free, is included in the meaning of atonement, as the word is used in Scripture. In the case of the atonement made by Phinehas, it was effected not by putting to death an innocent person or animal instead of the real offenders, but by inflicting summary justice upon the most hardened and presumptuous of the transgressors; and in the case of David and the Gibeonites, the atonement consisted in the visiting upon Saul's family of the wickedness of their father,not as substitutes for him, that he might go free, but as his proper representatives, he being already dead. This was quite agreeable to the practice of those ages and countries; and it was permitted, to represent the extirpation of evil in its derivations as well as in its original source. The spiritual lesson

* Ver. 46, 47, 48.

† Num. xxv. 7—12.

2 Sam. xxi. 1–9.

taught by both examples is, that, in order to the making of atonement, that is, the effecting of reconciliation, of agreement, and thus of conjunction, between man and the Lord, the evils that occasion the separation must be renounced and removed. No atonement can ever be effected (and it is a monstrous perversion of language so to apply the word) by the suffering, by one being, of the punishment due to the sins committed by another. To accomplish any real atonement, the sins themselves must be desisted from, put away, and exterminated from their place in the affections. Then, atonement is sure to be accomplished. Reconciliation cannot but ensue, when what occasioned the alienation exists no longer; and this must be removed in and by the man himself; it never can be the result of anything only done for him in and by another.

5. One other conclusive instance, proving that the word atonement, as used in the Scripture, and especially in the books of Moses, (where it occurs ten times oftener than in all the Bible beside), has no connection with the idea of vicarious suffering of punishment still remains. When the children of Israel destroyed the Midianites* and took possession of their property, a certain portion of the spoil was assigned, by command, to the Lord, under the name of tribute; over and above which, the men who had gone to war, and who had possessed themselves of numerous small articles of value, on ascertaining that they had all come safe back, not one being missing, presented a spontaneous offering from this part of the plunder also, to the amount of 16,750 shekels; and their words to Moses on making offering were these: "We have brought an oblation for the Lord, what every man hath gotten, of jewels of gold, chains and bracelets, rings, ear-rings and tablets, to make an atonement for our souls before the Lord." This offering was very similar that of the half-shekel per head, already noticed on numbering the people, which was also given "to make an atonement for their souls;" only that was given by command, this was a spontaneous effusion of gratitude on adverting to the wonderful preservation which they had experienced. Having discovered that not one of them had been killed or disabled in the war, they were forcibly struck with so extraordinary an instance of divine protection: and to acknowledge, practically, that they owed their lives, or their souls, (which term in Scripture is often used to signify lives), to the Divine Goodness, and from a feeling that, should they omit to ascribe their preservation to the Lord, they could not expect a continuance of this marked protection, they brought this spontaneous oblation for the Lord, to make an atonement for their souls before him.

* Num, xxxi.

† Ver. 50.

Here then, again, there was nothing vicarious, or in the way of the substitution of one party for another. They made an atonement for their own souls or lives: that is, they maintained their happy state of reconciliation or agreement with the Lord, by a practical and substantial acknowledgment that they owed their lives to his bounty: which is a striking representation of the gratitude that will be felt, and the acknowledgment that will be made, by the regenerating subject of the Lord's true Church, on emerging from the conflicts of temptation, that he owes the preservation of his spiritual life, and all the increase of spiritual gifts which are obtained through victory in his trials, to the pure mercy, goodness, power, and protection of the Lord.

[ocr errors]

We have now, I believe, examined all the various modes of making atonement mentioned in the Old Testament: - in the New, the word, as we have seen, occurs only once, which is where Paul says to the Romans, that by Jesus Christ-meaning the Lord in his Humanity, 66 we have received the atonement." We find from our examination, that atonement was made, in the whole, in seven different ways—first, by the payment of the half-shekel per head on numbering the people: secondly, by prayer or intercession, as was done by Moses: thirdly, by Aaron's running with a pot of incense, kindled with fire from the altar, into the midst of the dying people fourthly, by the putting to death of the principal perpetrators of great crimes, whose wickedness, while connived at, brought judg ments down upon the people: fifthly, by making spontaneous offerings of the spoils gained in war: sixthly, as explained in the preceding PART of this SECTION, by presenting the scapegoat before the Lord, and then letting him go for a scape-goat into the wilderness; and seventhly, as also there explained, by the offering of sacrifices; which, as we now find, was only one mode of atonement out of seven.

:

Surely it must be impossible for any considerate mind to advert to all these various modes of making atonement, and yet to suppose that the true meaning of atonement is, the undergoing, by one person or being, of the punishment due to the sins of another. In most instances, likewise, or in most modes of making atonement (and virtually in all), the atonement was made by the party for himself, not by another for him. Even in the case of the atonement by sacrifice, it was not anything done or suffered by the animal, in place of the offerer, that constituted the atonement; it was his offering up the animal as the expression of a principle and state of good existing in his own breast, by communication from the Lord, which caused it to be accepted as an atonement for him. Nor are even the cases

« PreviousContinue »