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The death of Christ was, as the holy Scripture teaches, foreordained before the foundation of the world : and since God intended, in the fulness of time, to offer salvation to the world through faith in the sacrifice of his Son, it is reasonable to suppose that the sacrifices before and under the law were introduced and countenanced to prepare the faith of the world to receive the tender of God's mercies, in virtue of the one sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the whole world; that, being accustomed to ask pardon for iniquities by the means of sacrifices, men might be ready and disposed to receive the grace of God, when offered under like conditions.
Sacrifices in the heathen world, as all other parts of religion, were corrupted, and applied to corrupt purposes; but they appear at first in the religious worship of the best and most approved men in the earliest time, and were established as part of God's worship in the church of his own founding among the people of Israel. Had this been a mere piece of superstition and human invention in its original, however we may suppose God to accept graciously the free-will offering of a weak mind, yet it is not to be supposed that he would adopt the superstition, and make it a necessary part of a religion of his own establishment. To avoid this absurd consequence, it must be maintained that the use of sacrifice was introduced by divine precept for the atonement of sins. If sacrifices were introduced by the command of God, they had such virtue as he thought fit to annex to the performance, in consequence of the promise which attended them"; but if they came in any
it is impossible to conceive that there was any virtue in them. And since we are taught that the sacrifice offered up by Christ is the only true expiatory sacrifice for the sins of the world, it is manifest that all other sacrifices accepted by God owed their efficacy to the relation they bore to this one sacrifice, through the appointment of him, who gave them for signs and figures of better things to come. · This reasoning on the principles of revelation taught us in the gospel, may show us that the efficacy of Christ's sacrifice is not confined to any particular age or time; that sacrifices in the ancient church of God were figures and representations of this one great sacrifice, as the Eucharist in the Christian church is the memorial of it; and that the most material and significative part of worship among the people of God has ever been, the showing forth the Lord's death, in types and figures before the coming of Christ, and in the communion of his body ever since.
This sacrifice conveys to us the charter of God's pardon, and, together with it, the certain hope of glory and immortality. We are now no longer our own, that we should obey the lusts of the flesh; but we are his, who hath purchased us with the inestimable price of his own blood; purchased us, not to be slaves, but to be his brethren, and heirs with him of the kingdom of God.
These are great hopes, and are built on our faith in the promises of God through Christ Jesus. How reasonable this foundation is, a little consideration will show. All religion ultimately resolves itself into trust and faith in God. Men are not apt to refer those conclusions to the head of faith, which they collect from their own natural reason ; and yet oftentimes these conclusions have no other support. In common affairs of life, where we have long known men to act on principles of honor and virtue, we think ourselves as secure in our dealings with them, as if we pursued them in every step with bonds and obligations. This is, without doubt, trust and confidence ; and yet it is a natural conclusion of our reasoning on the characters and qualities of men about us. This is the very argument on which natural religion forms all its conclusions : it reasons from the character and attributes of God, and rests itself in this conclusion, that so just and reasonable a Being will deal justly and reasonably with the children of men; and what is this but faith and trust in God? To any higher point of certainty natural religion cannot arrive : for though we may certainly conclude from the wisdom, goodness, and justice of God, that he will, in all his dealings, act wisely, mercifully, and justly; yet we cannot draw this general conclusion into particulars, and say precisely what is the very thing which God will do in any case, or by what particular method he will bring it about. To determine this we must be as wise as God; for no Being not infinitely wise can, with certainty, say what is the best thing for infinite wisdom to do; for though we learn from natural religion to depend on God for future happiness if we do well, yet nature presents us with great difficulties: we die and moulder to dust, and in that state what we are, or where we are, nature cannot say; whether we are beings capable of enjoyment out of the body; whether we are to have the same, or other, or any bodies ; what kind of happiness is prepared for us ; what capacities and powers we shall be endowed with, and the like, are inquiries in which we can have no light from mere reason. . What does natural religion do then under these difficulties? Why, it supports itself on this one rational conclusion, that God has power and wisdom to conduct this great affair in the best method; and to him it may be securely left. And is not this a religion of faith, which trusts God for all its dearest concerns ?
This faith of natural religion is the basis and foundation of gospel faith : for as reason teaches us to depend on the attributes of God's wisdom, justice, and goodness, it teaches us also to depend on his veracity: and therefore, on God's declaring the method in which he will save the world, it is altogether as rational an act of faith to rely on the method which he has declared, as it is in natural religion to rely on his goodness to do the thing without being able to assign any method in which it shall be done: for if it be reasonable in natural religion to rely on God's goodness for the pardon of sin, is it not as reasonable, under the gospel, to rely on pardon through Jesus Christ, God having declared himself reconciled to the world through Jesus Christ? The difference lies not in the nature of faith in one case and in the other, but in the extent of our knowlege in one case and in the other. Under natural religion we see only this, that God is merciful; and therefore our trust and faith can go no farther than this, to rely on his mercy: under the gospel God has declared that he has given his only Son to die for the sins of the world, and therefore we believe that through the death of Christ we shall receive pardon and redemption. In natural religion, the general belief that God will save us, implies that some means shall be used for our salvation : under the gospel the means are ascertained; and therefore the faith of a Christian embraces the means as well as the end of this hope.
In things which are within our power to do, or to conceive, we can judge of the fitness or unfitness of the means made use of to do them ; but in things which exceed our power and our conceptions, we have not this judgment. We judge the earth to be a proper place to receive the seeds of vegetables : the seed of animals have their proper repositories also. But we judge of the propriety in these cases from experience only; we think them proper because we see they are; for we have no notion of the propriety of these means, or any clear conception of the operations of nature in one case or the other : and could these methods be proposed to one quite a stranger to the works of nature; and should he be told that the way to make ten bushels out of one, was to throw the one into the ground, and there let it lie and rot, very probably he would think the proposal exceedingly absurd. Now to give life to one dead, or to conceive how it is to be given, is the remotest thing that can be from our powers and capacities. Let the proper means therefore be what they will, they must be above our comprehension. In this article, natural religion throws itself on the unlimited power of God; which is owning itself no judge of the means for effecting this great work. The gospel has opened to us the purposes of God for effecting this work: we complain that we do not see the natural tendency of these means to the end proposed; not considering that the work itself is mysterious, and therefore the proper means to effect it must be so too.
That the death of Christ should be the life of the world, is a surprising proposition ; and yet to say this is not a proper method for redeeming the world, without having a clear view of the whole dispensation of Providence with respect to mankind, is utterly absurd.
The Scriptures of the New Testament have discovered to us that we are the immediate workmanship of the Son of God, by whom all things were made which were made; being created by him, and for him. How far this relation between Christ and the children of men made it proper for him to offer, and for God to accept the sacrifice of his death, as an expiation for the sins of the world, we are not directly informed, nor is it expedient for us to be wise above what is written : but something of this sort seems to be intimated in Scripture. The fall of man was the loss of so many subjects to Christ, their natural
Lord under God, in virtue of his having created thein : the re-