ATONEMENT, in theology, means that sacri fice which Christ offered in his own person for the sins of men. This doctrine supposes the human race to be in a fallen state, and incapable of effecting its deliverance. There is evidently the strongest founda tion in reason for this representation. It is perfectly obvious that all have sinned ; and, if I've may judge from the infinitely varied and inconsistent attempts of men, it appears no less certain that they were alto gether incapable of devising any effectual method of expiating their sins. The austerities of the bigot, however, the self-inflicted torments of the enthusiast, and the sacrificial rites of all nations, show the gene ral impression on the human mind, that some expia tion was necessary. The whole tenor of the sacred scriptures leads to the same conclusion. The Su preme Lawgiver could not but exact perfect obe. dience to his laws, and denounce punishment against those who transgressed them : for laws cannot be en forced but by penal sanctions, and these sanctions can have no effect unless they are carried into execution. According to this view of the case, then, the whole human rate must stand condemned by the pure and holy law of God, which they have so often violated. It is absurd to talk of the mercy of God interposing to save us from punishment, without any satisfaction to his justice : it would be the same as if a king were to enact wholesome laws for the security of his peo ple, which his clemency prevented him from ever car rying into execution. Thus, then, the justice and holiness of God stood in the way of an unconditional pardon, and demanded that the purity of his nature should he vindicated, and the honour of his law as serted; he could not however have inflicted on man the punishment which his sins deserved, without involving the whole human race in one common ruin, as he formerly did with the generation before the flood. In order, then, that the sinner might be justified, and the honour of the divine law preserved inviolate, God sent his Son into the world, with his own free consent, that he might take away sin by the sacrifice of him self. For this purpose he assumed the human na ture, that he might exhibit a perfect example of righteousness, and accommodate his instructions to our capacities ; but chiefly that he might suffer and die for our offences.
The adversaries of this doctrine have endeavoured to bring it into discredit, by representing it as a-kin to the notions of the heathens, who conceived their cods to be cruel, and vindictive, and only to be ap pcased by the blood of innocent victims. No repre
sentation can be more contrary to the spirit of Scrip ture, which uniformly represents the Almighty as ac tuated by love, and not by vengeance, when he plan ned the great scheme of redemption. God so lo ved the world, that lie gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him might not perish, but have everlasting life :" and to show that his displea sure was directed against the offence, rather than the offenders, he punished sin in the person of his own Son, " making him to be sin for us, though lie knew no sin, that we might be the righteousness of God in him." It has been disputed whether the divinity of Christ be essentially connected with the doctrine of his atone ment. All the Arians maintain the negative side of the question : they admit the efficacy of the atone ment, but deny the proper divinity of Christ. Some Trinitarians are of the same opinion, maintaining that the efficacy of the atonement arises from its being ap pointed by God, and not from the dignity of the suf ferer. But if this were the case, we do not sec why the blood of bulls and of rams might not have been equally meritorious, for they certainly were offered by divine appointment. Besides, there is an axiom equal ly applicable to physics, to morals, and to theology ; Frustrap per plura, quodfieri potest per pauciora. This axiom has been formed, from contemplating the works and dispensations of God ; in which, whilst there is nothing defective, we never discover any thing superfluous, or redundant. Admitting, then, the divinity of Christ, we cannot well see how any one can deny it to be essentially connected with the efficacy of his atonement : for if a divine person has suffered, and that by God's appointment, we may conclude, from the general analogy of nature, that it is, not only proper it should be so, but that nothing less could have sufficed. This conclusion is also in perfect consistence with the usual sentiments of man kind on this subject, W•ho have uniformly believed that sacrifices were efficacious, in proportion to their va lue. This sentiment, with certain qualifications, is strictly true ; and we would therefore naturally con clude, that the sacrifice of the Son of God, as being most its nature, was, on that account, most effectual in its consequences for expiating the sins of men. The apostle, indeed, seems to decide this ques tion, and to show that the prevailing efficacy of our High Priest depends on his supreme dignity ; and that nothing less could have suited the wants of men.