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seen by the common eye among infidels, or universalists; and no revival of religion, no considerable prevalence of religion, has, so far as I know, been the consequence of preaching Unitarian doctrines.
All these are direct proofs, that men, who now sin so extensively and perseveringly, would, if the denunciations of the Law were proved to be false, hy the extension of forgiveness to sinners without an atonement, sin with a harder heart, with a bolder hand, and throughout a more uniformly guilty life.
Pestroint is a necessary part of every law, and every government: Hitherto shalt thoni come, but no further, being invariably the language of both. All restraint is a hindrance of inclination; a prohibition of the indulgence of desire. In itself, it is always regarded as an evil; and is really such, whenever it does not prevent some other evil or accomplish some good. Adam, in a state of innocence, in the end considered the prohibition of the forbidden tree as an evil. We, with sinful propensities only, should undoubtedly regard, and naturally do in fact regard, every restraint in the same manner. If, then, God were not to execute the sentence of the law upon us for our transgressions, but were to forgive the sinner without an atonement, we should undoubtedly sin, not only invariably, but with a boldness, constancy, and extent, not often seen, even in this guilty world.
If any person should think this conclusion harsh, and severe; let him remember how soon after the apostacy mankind, in the possession of long life, and abundant enjoyments, forgot the loss of their immortality; and corrupted themselves, to such a degree, that the infinitely benevolent Author of their being thought it necessary to sweep away the whole human race, except one family, with the besom of Destruction. Let him remember how little reformation followed the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah ; or the terrible plagues of Egypt. Let him remember, that the Israelites worshipped a calf, at the foot of Mount Sinai ; and sunk into all the abominations of the Canaanites, as soon as the generation, which destroyed them, had gone to the grave. Let him remember, that, amid all the judgments, and mercies, which they received, they apostatized from God, at the end of every little period, and were finally given up, as hopeless, to captivity and ruin. Let him remeniber, that their descendants crucified Christ; and that, after the sufferings of eighteen hundred years, and those extreme, they are still unbelieving, impenitent, and harder than the nether millstone. Let him remember, finally, how soon the Christian world itself degenerated into idolatry, impurity, persecution, forgetfulness of God, a general corruption of Christianity, and a general dissolution of morals. With these things in his view, it will be impossible for him to think the conclusion, which I have drawn, either unwarrantable, or unkind.
But it may be said, that although all these evils might indeed take
place, if God should pardon sinners without repentance; still the
forgiveness of penitents involves no such consequence. To this allegation, which I believe to be made by almost every human heart, I answer,
1st. The threatening of the law against transgression is absolute. The soul that sinneth shall die. In this threatening there is no mention, and plainly no admission, of repentance, as the foundation of escape to the transgressor. If an exception was intended to be made in favour of the penitent; why was it not expressed, or at least hinted, by the law ? There is not, that I know, a single intimation, of this nature, in any of the expressions, which it contains. Should it be said, that, although this exception is not made in the words of the law itself, yet it is sufficiently declared in the Comments on the law, given us by Moses and the succeeding prophets; I answer, that, wherever these Commentators speak of repentance, as connected with our escape from the curse of the law, they speak of it, either as connected with the atonement of Christ, or not. If they mention it, as connected with this atonement; then the Objector will be obliged to admit, that the atonement itself is the foundation of the Penitent's escape. If they do not speak of it as connected with the atonement, then it follows, that the penitent is pardoned, under the law, or legal dispensation. An act of pardon is an act of grace; and no act is more eininently gracious, or free. To this grace the Gospel can add, and does in fact add, nothing material. Grace, therefore, came, according to this supposition, originally by Moses, and not by Christ, and the Gospel is not the good news, or the glad tidings of the grace of God; as it is often styled by the writers of it; because the tidings which it professes to bring, were long before published by the law.
Further ; it will not be in this case true, that heaven and earth shall souner pass away, than one jot, or one tittle, of the law shall pass, until all be fulfilled. Not only one jot, or one tittle, but the whole penal sentence, of the law is, according to this scheme, left, and will for ever be left, unfulfilled; without any other reason to forbid its fulfilment, beside what existed, and was known to exist, at the time when it was published to the world.
2dly. The absolute threatening of the law was denounced by God in the exercise of his infinite perfections. When he denounced it, therefore, in this manner, that is, unconditionally, he acted wisely and justly. The denunciation he intended either to execute, or not. If he did not intend to execute it, he acted, so far as I am able to discern, insincerely; because in publishing it he declared that he would do what he intended not to do. If he intended to execute it, he will certainly execute it; because no reason exists, in the case supposed, to forbid the execution, which did not exist in his view, when he published the threatening. It will not be denied, that he foresaw every instance of repentance, which would afterwards be exhibited by mankind. As God is immutable; it must, at the least, be conceded, that he cannot be supposed to change his determinations, in any case, especially a case of such importance, where no reason whatever exists for the change, beside those which existed when the determination was made.
3dly. The repentance of the sinner cannot be an atonement for his crime. Repentance consists in sorrow for sin; confession of it; an acknowledgment of the justice of God in punishing it; resolutions of future obedience; and actual reformation. These things undoubtedly constitute an important change in the character of the sinner; but they alter not the nature, or degree, of the guilt which he has already incurred. For this he is condemned; and for this, even according to his own penitential views, he has merited punishment. In what manner does his present penitence affect this guilt? Certainly in no such sense, as to lessen its degree, or desert of punishment. In what manner, then, can it prevent him from being punished? Plainly in none, except that, which will make amends for the evils, which he has committed; the dishonour, which he has done to the law, and government, of God. But what is there, in his repentance, which can make these amends ? In what manner will it discover, that the character of God, in threatening punishment to his sins, and declining, on account of a repentance originally foreseen, to inflict that punishment, was the same character; or that God, when he threatened the punishment, and when he refused to execute it, regarded holiness and sin in one unchangeable manner? Will his sorrow for sin make it cease to be sin? Will the confession of his guilt make him cease to be guilty ? Will his acknowledgment of the justice of the punishment, which he has deserved, make it cease to be just ? Will his resolutions of amendment, or his actual reformation, efface, or lessen, the guilt of his past life? None of these things will, I suppose, be pretended. "How, then, can the repentance of a sinner become a proper ground for his forgiveness, and acceptance ? If he is actually forgiven, on this ground, it cannot but be seen, and will with truth be said, that God, in the formation and the administration of his law, has acted inconsistently; and that either the law was unjust and unreasonable, or that his failure to execute it was unwise and dishonourable to himself. For this evil, which, for aught that appears, may be great beyond any assignable limit, this scheme furnishes, so far as I can see, no remedy.
But it may be further asked, Would it not be more honourable to God, or at least equally honourable, to forgive the penitent, without an Atonement ? Whence is it, that suffering, or punishment, becomes necessary to the establishment of his glory in the Government of the Universe ?
To these questions I answer, that it ill becomes a creature of yesterday to employ himself in contriving a government for the Universe; or a system of regulations, by which the Author of the
Universe may direct his immense and eternal administration. Even to understand that state of things, which really exists, is, in a few instances only, possible for us ; and, in almost all, utterly transcends the extent of our faculties. A little child would be very absurdly employed in contriving a system of government for a kingdom, or in forming decisions concerning the wisdom or folly, the justice or injustice, by which it was governed. The Universe is more disproportioned to the powers of a man, than a kingdom to those of a child; and the government of God as absolutely transcends the comprehension of an Angel, as that of a prince exceeds the understanding of a child. An attempt to answer these questions, therefore, must be, and from the nature of the case, be seen to be, lame, imperfect, and in many respects unsatisfactory. Nothing more can be expected on this subject by a sober man, than a removal, or diminution, of some of the most obvious doubts, and even this, perhaps, may be attempted in vain. Let it be remembered, however, that the difficulties, attendant upon our inquiries in the present case, arise, not from any perceptible absurdity of what we know, but from the mere inexplicableness of what we do not know; from the nature of the subject, in itself free from all absurdity, but incomprehensible by such minds as ours.
With these things premised, I will suggest, as a direct, but partial, answer to these inquiries, the following observations.
1st. We are prejudiced judges of this subject. Our own case, and that a case immensely interesting to us, is concerned. Where we have interests depending, of very moderate importance, our judgments usually are partial. Here they must of course be extremely partial.
2dly. No government of the Universe can become the character of the Creator, except a moral government. A government of force would be absolutely destitute of any moral excellence, or any intellectual glory. The ruler, so far as he was obeyed, would be obeyed only from fear, and never from confidence, or love. This is the obedience of a slave; as the government would be that of a tyrant. It is unnecessary to multiply words, to prove, that in this case the ruler could never be reverenced, nor loved, by his subjects; or that his subjects could never be virtuous and amiable in themselves, or loved and approved by him.
3dly. The Law of God is, and must of necessity be, a rule of action for an immense multitude of beings, that is, for the whole intelligent Universe, throughout eternity. The wise and perfect regulation of this vast kingdom cannot but require a course of administration, in many respects different from that, by which a little part of this kingdom might, perhaps, be effectually governed. Regulations, also, which are to extend their influence through eternity, must of course differ from those, whose influence is confined to a little period of time. Particularly,
4thly. The Motives to obedience must be great, uniform, always
present, and always operative. We well know by familiar experi ence, that a little State can be kept in order by what is commonly called a very gentle administration : that is, the government may consist of mild laws, holding out motives to obedience of moderate efficacy, and an administration of those laws, presenting by its gentleness similar motives. Whereas a great empire, containing vast multitudes of people, can be successfully controlled, only by what is called a more vigorous or energetic government; inducing obedience by more powerful motives, addressed unceasingly to every subject, both in the laws and in the administration. The degree, to which these motives need to be extended in the government of the universe, can be comprehended only by an unlimited understanding.
5thly. All motives to obedience are comprised in natural good and natural evil; that is, in enjoyment and suffering. As a moral government influences only by motives, and only in this way preserves the peace, and insures the happiness, of those who obey; it is plain, that these motives, found in enjoyment and suffering, must in such a kingdom as this, possess, if its peace and happiness are to be secured, very great power; power, sufficient to accomplish the end. How great the suffering, or the enjoyment, proposed by the law, and produced by the administration, as motives to obedience and disobedience, must be, God only can determine.
6thly. A great part of all the motives to obedience, in such a Government, is presented by the uniformity, and exactness, of the administration. No State, in the present world, is ever well governed; is ever orderly, peaceful
, and happy ; under an administration inconsistent with itself; an administration at one time rigid, at another lax; at one time severe, at another indulgent. This is proverbially acknowledged. Such a government of the Universe would, not improbably within a little time, throw its affairs into confusion, and involve its inhabitants in very extensive evil, if not in absolute ruin. If the law of God, then, were not to be executed, unless occasionally ; if its penalties were not inflicted on penitents; this inconsistency would be seen in all its extent, and be productive of all its evil consequences. But this could not be honourable to God; nor, as it would seem, useful to his Intelligent kingdom.
7thly. The law of God is formed in such a manner, as to insure, if obeyed, the supreme glory of his character, and the highest happiness of his subjects. Nothing can be so honourable to God, as to sit at the head of an immense and an eternal kingdomn, composed of subjects, who love him with all the heart, and each other as themselves; a kingdom, therefore, of perfect order, harmony, and rectitude. But these immense blessings are secured, as well as generated, by this law. A law of such importance can neither be given up, nor changed in any manner, consistently with the honour of God.