3rdly. It is farther objected, that, if Christ expiated the sins of mankind, God is obliged by justice to bestow on them salvation.

This objection is derived from misapprehensions concerning the nature of the atonement. The Scriptures in speaking on this subject very frequently, as well as very naturally, speak in figurative language. Particularly, they exhibit us as bought with a price; as purchased; as redeemed; that is, literally understood, as bought from a state of bondage and condemnation by the blood of Christ; as ransomed by the lutron, or price of redemption. This language, derived from that fact in human affairs, which, among the customary actions of men, approaches nearest in resemblance to the atonement of Christ, seems unwarily to have been considered as describing literally this atonement. But this mode of considering it is plainly erroneous. We are not, in the literal sense, bought or purchased at all. Nor has Christ, in the literal sense, paid any price to purchase mankind from slavery and death.

The error into which the objector has fallen, has, I acknowledge, been countenanced by many Christians who have held the doctrine of the atonement. These have supposed the satisfaction for sin made by the Redeemer, essentially to resemble the satisfaction made for a debtor by paying the debt which he owed. In this case it is evident, that if the creditor accept the payment from a third person, he is bound in justice to release the debtor. As the two cases have been supposed to be similar, it has been concluded, that since Christ has made such a satisfaction for sinners, God is in justice also bound to release them.

This, however, is an unfounded and unscriptural view of the subject. There is no substantial resemblance between the payment of a debt for an insolvent debtor, and the satisfaction rendered to distributive justice for a criminal. The debtor owes money, and this is all he owes. If then all the money which he owes is paid and accepted, justice is completely satisfied, and the creditor can demand nothing more. To demand more, either from the debtor or from any other person, would be plainly unjust. When therefore the debt is paid by a third person, the debtor is discharged by justice merely. But when a criminal has failed of doing his duty, as a subject to lawful government, and violated laws which he was bound to obey, he has committed a fault for which he has merited punishment. In this case, justice, not in the commutative but the distributive sense, the only sense in which it can be concerned with this subject, demands, not the future obedience, nor an equivalent for the omitted obedience, but merely the punishment of the offender. The only reparation for the wrong which he has done required by strict justice, is this punishment; a reparation necessarily and always required. There are cases however in which an atonement, such as was described in the first of these discourses, may be accepted; an atonement, by which the honor and efficacy of the government may be preserved, and yet the offender pardoned. In such a case, however, the personal character of the offender is unaltered. Before the atonement was made, he was a criminal: after the atonement is made, he is not less a criminal. As a criminal, he before merited punishment: as a criminal, he no less merits it now. The turpitude of his character remains the same; and while it remains he cannot fail to deserve exactly the same punishment. After the atonement is made, it cannot be truly said therefore, any more than before, that he does not deserve punishment. But if the atonement be accepted, it may be truly said, that, consistently with the honor of the government and the public good, he may be pardoned. This act of grace is all that he can hope for ; and this he cannot claim on account of anything in himself, or anything to which he is entitled, but only may hope from the mere grace or free gift of the ruler. Before the atonement was made, the ruler, however benevolently inclined, could not pardon him consistently with his own character, the honor of his government, or the public good. After it is made, he can pardon him in consistency with them all; and if the offender discover a penitent and becoming disposition, undoubtedly will if he be a benevolent ruler. From these observations it is manifest that the atonement of Christ in no sense makes it necessary that God should accept the sinner, on the ground of justice; but only renders his forgiveness not inconsistent with the divine character. Before the atonement, he could not have been forgiven; after the atonement, this impossibility ceases. The sinner can now be forgiven, notwithstanding the turpitude of his character and the greatness of his offences. But forgiveness is an act of grace only; and to the same grace must the penitent be indebted for all the future blessings connected with forgiveness.

Timothy Dwight, Theology Explained and Defended (London: Reprinted for William Baynes and Son, 1823), 2:407-408. (Some spelling modernized and underlining mine.)

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