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Erskine Mason (1805-1851) on the Removal of Legal Obstacles

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The question before us is not, what God intends to accomplish by virtue of the sacrifice of Christ; not how far the efficacy of that sacrifice will in point of fact reach; for upon these questions God has thrown a veil of impenetrable darkness; but what is the great moral, revealed purpose of the atonement; what is its intrinsic value and sufficiency; how far is it available in its own nature to the salvation of men? Did God mean to spread it over only a part, or the whole of the race? Are men, all men, as lost sinners, so interested in the atoning death of Jesus Christ, that they may, if they will, be saved by it? This is the question, and we unhesitatingly take the affirmative. Our position is, that through the sacrifice of Christ, God can be just, and yet forgive. Such is the character of the atonement, that, “it would comport with the glory of the divine character, the sustentation of God’s government, the obligation and honor of his law, and the good of the rational and moral system, to save all men, provided they accepted of Christ.” “Every legal bar and obstruction in the way of the salvation of all men is removed.”1 Such is the nature and efficacy of the atonement of the Son of God, that the relations not merely of some men, but of the entire race, are totally different from what they would have been, had the Savior never suffered and died; different, I mean, in this sense, that since this great atoning sacrifice has been offered, God can upon the ground of it consistently pardon the sins of all, and nothing now shuts a man out from forgiveness and hope, but his own unwillingness to accept of the offers of mercy made to him in the gospel. Such is the view of the fullness of the atonement which we desire to advocate, and which we would fain commend to the intelligent faith of our hearers.

Erskine Mason, “Extent of the Atonement,” in A Pastor’s Legacy Being Sermons on Practical Subjects (New York: Charles Scribner, 1853), 275-276. [Some reformatting; some spelling modernized; and underlining mine.]


1Associate Reformed Synod’s Report, p. 53.


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Article 5. Whether Christ opened the gate of heaven to us by His Passion?

Objection 1. It would seem that Christ did not open the gate of heaven to us by His Passion. For it is written (Proverbs 11:18): “To him that sows justice, there is a faithful reward.” But the reward of justice is the entering into the kingdom of heaven. It seems, therefore, that the holy Fathers who wrought works of justice, obtained by faith the entering into the heavenly kingdom even without Christ’s Passion. Consequently Christ’s Passion is not the cause of the opening of the gate of the kingdom of heaven.

Objection 2. Further, Elias was caught up to heaven previous to Christ’s Passion (2 Kings 2). But the effect never precedes the cause. Therefore it seems that the opening of heaven’s gate is not the result of Christ’s Passion.

Objection 3. Further, as it is written (Matthew 3:16), when Christ was baptized the heavens were opened to Him. But His baptism preceded the Passion. Consequently the opening of heaven is not the result of Christ’s Passion.

Objection 4. Further, it is written (Micah 2:13): “For He shall go up that shall open the way before them.” But to open the way to heaven seems to be nothing else than to throw open its gate. Therefore it seems that the gate of heaven was opened to us, not by Christ’s Passion, but by His Ascension.

On the contrary, is the saying of the Apostle (Hebrews 10:19): “We have [Vulgate: ‘having a’] confidence in the entering into the Holies”–that is, of the heavenly places–“through the blood of Christ.”

I answer that, The shutting of the gate is the obstacle which hinders men from entering in. But it is on account of sin that men were prevented from entering into the heavenly kingdom, since, according to Isaiah 35:8: “It shall be called the holy way, and the unclean shall not pass over it.” Now there is a twofold sin which prevents men from entering into the kingdom of heaven. The first is common to the whole race, for it is our first parents’ sin, and by that sin heaven’s entrance is closed to man. Hence we read in Genesis 3:24 that after our first parents’ sin God “placed . . . cherubim and a flaming sword, turning every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.” The other is the personal sin of each one of us, committed by our personal act.

Now by Christ’s Passion we have been delivered not only from the common sin of the whole human race, both as to its guilt and as to the debt of punishment, for which He paid the penalty on our behalf; but, furthermore, from the personal sins of individuals, who share in His Passion by faith and charity and the sacraments of faith. Consequently, then the gate of heaven’s kingdom is thrown open to us through Christ’s Passion. This is precisely what the Apostle says (Hebrews 9:11-12): “Christ being come a high-priest of the good things to come . . . by His own blood entered once into the Holies, having obtained eternal redemption.” And this is foreshadowed (Numbers 35:25-28), where it is said that the slayer* “shall abide there”–that is to say, in the city of refuge–“until the death of the high-priest, that is anointed with the holy oil: but after he is dead, then shall he return home.” [The Septuagint has ‘slayer’, the Vulgate, ‘innocent’–i.e. the man who has slain ‘without hatred and enmity’.]

Reply to Objection 1. The holy Fathers, by doing works of justice, merited to enter into the heavenly kingdom, through faith in Christ’s Passion, according to Hebrews 11:33: The saints “by faith conquered kingdoms, wrought justice,” and each of them was thereby cleansed from sin, so far as the cleansing of the individual is concerned. Nevertheless the faith and righteousness of no one of them sufficed for removing the barrier arising from the guilt of the whole human race: but this was removed at the cost of Christ’s blood. Consequently, before Christ’s Passion no one could enter the kingdom of heaven by obtaining everlasting beatitude, which consists in the full enjoyment of God.

Reply to Objection 2. Elias was taken up into the atmospheric heaven, but not in to the empyrean heaven, which is the abode of the saints: and likewise Enoch was translated into the earthly paradise, where he is believed to live with Elias until the coming of Antichrist.

Reply to Objection 3. As was stated above (Question 39, Article 5), the heavens were opened at Christ’s baptism, not for Christ’s sake, to whom heaven was ever open, but in order to signify that heaven is opened to the baptized, through Christ’s baptism, which has its efficacy from His Passion.

Reply to Objection 4. Christ by His Passion merited for us the opening of the kingdom of heaven, and removed the obstacle; but by His ascension He, as it were, brought us to the possession of the heavenly kingdom. And consequently it is said that by ascending He “opened the way before them.”

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part 3, Q 49. Art. 5.


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1) There are others who deny the necessity of atonement chiefly, it may be, through misapprehension. They suppose the necessity refers to the origination of love in the divine bosom. They properly deny that the atonement or anything else was necessary to excite the love of God. That love was in his heart from eternity, and the atonement results from it. There would have been no atonement without it. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” The mission of his Son was the effect of antecedent love. God loved us, and therefore sent his Son to be the ‘propitiation for our sins. But while the atonement was not necessary in the sense of originating the love of God to man, it was, for other reasons, indispensable to human salvation. We find a reason in the claims of the divine law. This law, with its penalty annexed to its violation, is “holy, and just, and good.” If so, holiness, justice, and goodness require an observance: of its precepts, and, in case of disobedience, the infliction of its penalty. Hence the necessity of an atonement clearly appears. The law having been transgressed restrained the exercise of mercy in man’s salvation, and called for the execution of its penalty. In order to the salvation of sinners, all expiatory measure must be introduced into the divine Government, to meet the claims of the law by preserving its honor, and vindicating its penal sanctions. The atonement of Christ was the measure divinely devised and introduced. It rendered satisfaction to the law, and removed the restraints which it had placed on the exercise of mercy. Now mercy triumphs in all its beauty, justice shines forth in all its majesty, and holiness appears in all Its glory.

In treating of the necessity of Christ’s atonement, it is generally deemed sufficient to refer to it as a transaction worthy of God, designed to satisfy the demands of his law. When this is done, the interests of truth are not likely to suffer. At times, however, it is well to go more thoroughly into the matter of necessity, and trace it from the penal claims of the law to the ill desert of sin, and thence to the nature of God. For if it be asked, why the divine law, when transgressed, needs satisfaction? the question finds its answer in the nature of sin, and in the nature of God. There is intrinsic demerit in sin which renders it deserving of punishment. To present the matter concretely rather than abstractly, I say that a sinner, because he is a sinner, deserves punishment. He is a rebel against the government of God, and justice requires that he shall pay the penalty of rebellion. Law and justice require that the transgressor shall be punished, on account of the ill-desert of sin that is to say, on account of his personal blameworthiness. The philosophy of punishment is susceptible of no other explanation. There is something in the nature of sin which calls for penal infliction on the sinner, and from the nature of sin the necessity of atonement may be traced to the nature of God. It can be traced no farther. All reasoning on the subject is destined to culminate at this point, and here to exhibit its supreme strength. For if we ask why the law of God is what it is, the answer is, because the nature of God is what it is. If we ask why sin is such an evil as to deserve punishment, the answer is, because it is antagonistic to the nature of God. Here, therefore,–in the divine nature,–is the field on which is to be decided the contest for or against the necessity of atonement; The Bible teaches that there is some thing in the nature of God, to which sin is so offensive, so infinitely hateful, as to excite his wrath. It may be said, too, that sin is the only thing which has ever excited the wrath of God. That moral quality of the divine nature which causes hatred of sin, excites wrath against sin, and therefore makes necessary an atonement, in order to the pardon of sin. If sin originates wrath in the divine bosom, it is morally certain that that wrath can never be turned away, unless some atoning provision is made for the forgiveness of the sin which originates it. What do the Scriptures say in regard to the wrath of God? Listen: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” “The wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience.” Here are several passages of Scripture which speak of wrath,. nor can it be doubted what wrath is meant. It is expressly termed “the wrath of God.” We are not to suppose that wrath in God is something similar to exasperated passion in man. It is not. God’s wrath is a holy and just indignation against sin. We are not left to conjecture whether this wrath exists; for it is revealed from heaven. It comes on the children of disobedience–abides on unbelievers–and believers are saved from it through Jesus Christ. Wrath against sin and love for sinners are perfectly compatible. The feelings of every good man may be appealed to in proof of this fact, and the fact itself receives its highest exemplification in God. He so loved sinners, and so hated their sins, as to send his Son from heaven “to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself,” that he might gratify the impulses of his love in saving sinners. In the cross God shows himself to the universe as the sinner’s friend, and the uncompromising eternal enemy of sin.

Some think that it detracts from the perfection of the divine character to speak of the wrath of God. Their view of wrath is that it is a resentful, vindictive passion. Such a passion is, they think, and properly too, unworthy of. God. But there is a vast difference between vindictive and vindicative; and while the wrath of God is not vindictive, it is vindicative of his justice, his law, his government. This is seen in the agony of Gethsemane, and in the tragedy of Calvary.

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Joseph Truman (1631-1671) on the Removal of Legal Obstacles

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8. Lastly, “That he might be just, and the justifier of him that believes in Jesus; or, that is of faith of Jesus, ton ek piseos Iesus, that is, of the Christian faith.

God set not forth Christ to due merely for this end, that Sinners might be justified without any more ado, only be sinners. Some have said, “Be but sure of this, that you are sinners, and you may believe you are justified.” The immediate effect of this Satisfaction, as satisfaction, and which is an essential consequent of a satisfaction to Justice, is only this, ‘That, that obstacles being removed, he might be left at liberty to act in the pardon of sinners, in what way, and upon what terms he pleased.’ The immediate effect is, ‘That God might be just, though he should pardon sinners;’ that he might pardon salva justitia; not that he must pardon them, come what will of it; or be unjust: not that sinners should ipso facto be pardoned, the price being undertaken or paid, and accepted. The Justice of God, as a flaming sword, obstructed all treating with us upon any terms of reconciliation whatsoever; and this would have been an eternal bar to all influences and effluxes of favor and bounty whatsoever. Now this Justice being satisfied (as I have before made out) and this bar and obstacle removed, Divine Grace and Benignity is left at liberty freely to act how it pleases, and in what way, and upon what terms and conditions it thinks meet.

Joseph Truman, The Great Propitiation; or Christ’s Satisfaction and Man’s Justification by it, Upon His Faith; that is Belief of, and Obedience to the Gospel (London: Printed by A. Maxwell, for R. Clavell, in Cross-key Court in Little Britain), 86-87. [Some spelling modernized, some reformatting, and underlining mine.]


Samuel Davies (1723-1761) on the Removal of Legal Obstacles

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2 Cor v. 20.–We then are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.

…The introduction to this passage you find in the foregoing verses, God hath given to us (the apostles) the ministry of reconciliation; the sum and substance of which is, namely, “That God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” As if he had said, “The great Sovereign of the universe, though highly provoked, and justly displeased with our rebellious world, has been so gracious as to contrive a plan of reconciliation whereby they may not only escape the punishment they deserve, but also be restored to the favor of God, and all the privileges of his favorite subjects. This plan was laid in Christ; that is, it was he who was appointed, and undertook to remove all obstacles out of the way of their reconciliation, so that it might be consistent with the honor and dignity of God and his Government. This he performed by a life of perfect obedience, and an atoning death, instead of rebellious man. Though “he knew no sin” of his own: yet “he was made sin,” that is, a sin-offering, or a sinner by imputation “for us,” that we might “be made the righteousness of God in him.” Thus all hindrances are removed on God’s part. The plan of a treaty of reconciliation is formed, approved, and ratified in the court of heaven; but then it must be published, all the terms made known, and the consent of the rebels solicited and gained. It is not enough that all impediments to peace are removed on God’s part; they must also be removed on the part of man; the reconciliation must be mutual; both the parties must agree. Hence arises the necessity of the ministry of reconciliation which was committed to the apostles, those prime ministers of the kingdom of Christ, and in a lower sphere to the ordinary ministers of the gospel in every age. The great business of their office is to publish the treaty of peace; that is, the articles of reconciliation, and to use every motive to gain the consent of mankind to these articles. It is this office St. Paul is discharging, when he says, We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us; we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.

Samuel Davies, “Sinners Entreated to be Reconciled to God” in Sermons on Important Subjects (New York: Robert Carter, 1845), 1:45, 55-56. [Italics original; underlining mine.]