Noble's 'Appeal': VIII. The Atonement, Sacrifice, And Mediation Of Jesus Christ::
B. Other Modes of Atonement, beside that by Sacrifices, mentioned in Scripture.
atonement, we have seen, according to the meaning of the word in the Scripture use of it, and the only meaning which it bore at the time of translating the Scriptures into English, is Reconciliation. Consequently, "the Atonement of Christian Doctrine is Reconciliation with God, including the means by which reconciliation is effected." But in consequence of the erroneous views which have been introduced into religious systems respecting the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and its being supposed that he underwent the punishment of our sins as a substituted victim, to appease the wrath of another Divine Person, the word "Atonement" has come to be confined, in common use, to express this unfounded idea. Whenever Atonement is now spoken of by religious persons, they always mean by it, the appeasement of divine wrath, by Jesus Christ's suffering the punishment due to sinners, as their substitute, or in their stead,—the innocent for the guilty. And because the word is often used in the Old Testament, or in the Levitical law, in connexion with the sacrifices, it is concluded that this—the substitution of one being to undergo the punishment incurred by another—is what Atonement really means. The erroneousness of this notion has already been amply shown, in the exposition that has been given of the true nature of Sacrifices: and it may easily be proved by other means: For there are several other modes of making atonement, beside that of sacrifices mentioned in the Old Testament. An examination of these will establish, beyond all doubt, what Atonement, in Scripture, really means. To this, therefore, we will devote a short part of this section.
1. The first instance of other modes of Atonement beside that of sacrifices, occurs in Ex. xxx. 10—16. It is there commanded, when the children of Israel were numbered, that "they should give every man a ransom for his soul unto the Lord—that there be no plague among them." They were to give for this purpose half-a-shekel a piece. "The rich (it is said) shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less, than half-a-shekel, when they give an offering unto the Lord, to make an atonement for your souls." This is expressly called, their "atonement-money." This every one was to pay for himself. There was here no substitution of one being for another,— no death or punishment inflicted on any thing: but to avert the plague of death with which they would have been visited, had they, under that representative dispensation, attempted to ascertain their strength, by counting their numbers, without any symbolic act implying their dependence for life and existence on the Lord, the payment of the half-shekel, for the service of the tabernacle, was required. The half-shekel, which was a piece of silver, represented the truth, reverently acknowledged, that man derives his life, with all the endowments which accompany it, and especially all power in spiritual conflicts, from the Lord, and is continually dependent for it on him; the non-acknowledgment of which dependence includes the privation of spiritual life: and the payment's being the same for all —for rich and poor alike, was to express that the life of all—especially the spiritual life—is of equal value in the eyes of the Lord,— that the souls of all are equally precious in his sight,—that rich and poor—the highly or the poorly gifted either with worldly wealth or with mental endowments, are all equal before Him, and that he equally regards the life, especially the eternal life, of every one of his rational creatures. To retain eternal life, man must acknowledge that he derives it from the Lord. This, every one must do for himself,—not another for him. The piece of silver representing this acknowledgment, is expressly denominated his "atonement-money:" and the giving of it is most pointedly declared to be done, "to make an atonement for your souls." By doing that spiritually, then, which this natural action represented, every one makes an atonement for his own soul.
Thus this circumstance of the payment of atonement money, is alone a sufficient proof, that no such idea as that commonly attached, in modern times, to the word atonement, belongs to it as used in Scripture. No allusion to substitution—to a vicarious undergoing of punishment,—can, possibly, be here intended. Neither is any such thing intended, when it is said in the directions about sacrifices, that a man's offering "shall be accepted to make an atonement for him." (as Lev. i. 4). 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" (Ex. xxxii. 30). 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 endeavour to make an atonement. But all is easy when it is known, that the proper sense of atonement is reconciliation or agreement, without any specific mode of 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." (Ver. 31, 32). 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 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 intreats 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 endeavours 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 favour, together with them—to share their fate. And the Lord, in his answer rejects the idea of one person's dying through the sin 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 soon 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, 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.
* Ver. 33. + Num. xvi. 41. # Ver. 46, 47, 48.
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 Gribeonites, 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.+
* Num. xxv. 7—12. + 2 Sam. xxi. 1—9.
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 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 Scripture, and especially in the books of Moses, (where it occurs ten times oftener than in all the Bible beside,) has no connexion with the idea of the vicarious suffering of punishment, still remains. When the children of Israel destroyed the Midianites (Num. xxxi) 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 the 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 the offering were these: "We have brought an oblation for the Lord, what every man hath gotten, of jewels of gold, chains, and bracelets, rings, earrings, and tablets, to make an atonement for our fouls before the Lord." (Ver. 50). This offering was very similar to 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 often is 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 his marked protection, they brought this spontaneous oblation for the Lord, to make an atonement for their souls before him.
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.
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, —"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 judgments 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 scape-goat 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 of the praying of Moses and the burning of incense by Aaron real exceptions to the universal truth, that atonement, to be beneficial to any party—to operate really and individually as an atonement for him,—must be made by the party himself: for, in these instances, the party benefited was the whole congregation, of which both Moses and Aaron were a portion. So also, in the atonements made by Phinehas and by David. Thus vicarious atonement—and especially atonement made by one being's suffering the punishment due to another, is a thing utterly unknown to the Scriptures, and for which no real countenance whatever can thence be drawn..
Perhaps this may be called, by persons unacquainted with the whole of our sentiments, denying the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. It has, however, been shown previously, that no class of professing Christians acknowledge his atonement, properly understood, more sincerely or gratefully than we do. As we have seen, the atonement of Jesus Christ is the reconciliation effected between man, or human nature, generally, and the Lord, or the Divinity: and this is what the Apostle means when he says, that by Him "we have received the atonement." By assuming Humanity, purifying and glorifying it in himself, the Lord put all mankind in a state capable of salvation, and assumed to himself the Divine means necessary for that purpose. But whether any particular individual is, by these means, and by this atonement, finally saved or not, depends upon the use and application of them made by himself. Man, individually, must make atonement, or enter into reconciliation with God, for himself, according to the modes which, we have now seen, are prescribed for the purpose in the law of Moses, when spiritually understood: otherwise, the atonement or reconciliation made for human mature, or for the whole human race, by the assumption and glorification of Humanity by Jehovah in the person of Jesus Christ, will, as far as such individual is concerned, have been made in vain. Man must acknowledge from the heart, that he receives all his life, and especially his spiritual life, from the bounty of the Lord, and that, unless he makes such acknowledgment, he cannot retain it; as represented by the offering of the half-shekel as atonement-money. He must feel that it is through the operations within him of the Divine Truth, represented by Moses and his prayer, and of the Divine Love, represented by Aaron and his sacred fire, that he obtains remission of his transgressions and deliverance from their fatal consequences. He must consent to renounce his darling evils, as represented by the execution of the daring transgressor by Phinehas, and that of Saul's sons by David, in order that he may escape from the grievous injury and eternal ruin which, by conniving at and cherishing them, they would bring upon him. He must confess from the heart, on emerging from spiritual trials, that it was by the Lord's power that he was brought through them in safety, and that all the acquisition of goods and graces which, in consequence, enrich his soul, are of the Lord's pure bounty; as expressed by the offerings of valuable spoil made by the Israelites on their all returning safe from the war against Midian. He must reject his evils to hell, from whence they come, acknowledging that that is their home, and that they must be separated from him, that hell may not become his final home also; as represented by the sending of the scape-goat, representatively loaded with sins, into the wilderness. And he must worship the Lord from the affections of innocence and charity represented by the various animals offered in sacrifice. A11 these are things which, it is perfectly plain, man himself must do; though, as he will most heartily and gratefully acknowledge, by power given to him by the Lord; and sincerely doing them, they will be accepted to make atonement for him. But all this would have been impossible, had not the Lord effected a general atonement for all, by uniting Humanity with Divinity in his own Person, and thus putting man in a condition to receive those saving aids and graces, of which his Divine Humanity is the only Source.