There is, however, something more than this. The gospel is not simply an offer of mercy, it is a law. It has its own duties, and prescribes its own penalties. It does not simply make it the privilege, but the duty of all men, without exception, to embrace Jesus Christ, and to accept the offer of forgiveness which is made to them. It makes the question of eternal. life or eternal death to every hearer of the gospel to hinge upon his acceptance of proffered mercy, coming to him on the ground and through the provisions of the atonement of Christ. “This is the commandment of God, that we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ.” He is set before us, before every one of us, in all his fullness and freeness, and it is at our peril if we reject or neglect him. With these views of the gospel offer, I cannot advocate a limited atonement; I cannot put a restriction of the provision which I do not find in the offer; I cannot believe that God would make to a sinner in his wants and his woes the tender of a relief which did not exist, or which he did not wish him to embrace; I cannot believe that God would command his creatures to embrace a provision which had never been made for them, or sanction by the peril of one’s everlasting interests a commandment which he never meant should be obeyed, and which itself precluded the possibility of obedience.

It does not at all meet the difficulty of the case to say, at this point, that we are required thus indiscriminately to offer the gospel and thus to enforce its acceptance upon all, because we do not know the persons for whom the provision is made, and whom God designs shall accept it. The offer is not ours; we are but the channel through which it comes. God himself makes the offer; we but take up God’s words, and announce them as he has given them to us. We are ambassadors of Christ, not speaking in our own name, but according to our instructions, which bind us to say to each and every one of our hearers, “Come, for all things are now ready.” In this matter we have no responsibility beyond the simple utterance of the message, “This is the will of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent;” and the question returns upon us, how can we reconcile a universal offer with a limited provision? How can we acquit God of the charge of insincerity in making to men a tender, and enforcing upon them by the high sanctions of eternity the acceptance of that which not only was never designed for them in any sense, but which, in fact, has never been provided?

And yet it is said, at this point, “the Lord knows them that are his; it is not a matter of doubtfulness to him, who sees the end from the beginning, who shall and who shall not be saved through the atonement; he has his all-wise purposes in reference to this subject, and the final result will not vary one hair’s breadth from his purpose;” and while the truth of this principle is claimed from us, and cheerfully admitted by us, the difficulty of the subject is supposed to be thrown over upon ourselves, as the question is retorted upon us, how can we reconcile a universal offer with God’s secret purpose; an unrestricted provision with a well-known definite and limited result? Why should God make a provision to an extent he knew would be unnecessary, and be guilty of an expenditure beyond what the well-known circumstances of the case required? If he knew that in many cases the atonement would be rejected, why for such cases provide an atonement? If he saw distinctly that there would be some, and knew who they were, who would treat the blood of the covenant as an unholy thing, where the honesty of pressing it upon their acceptance, and bringing such mighty sanctions to bear upon them to enforce obedience?

I do not know, my brethren, a better example than the foregoing questions furnish, of that rule of logic which forbids us to allow a weak argument to stand isolated and unprotected, and requires us to combine such arguments and present them in one view, so that they may help each other, and have the appearance, at least, of overwhelming force. When you take all the questions together, they seem to have no little weight; but when taken singly they are wholly pointless and irrelevant.

For we may ask in return, what has any secret purpose to do with our role of judgment and action? “Secret things,” we are told, “belong unto the Lord our God; but things which are revealed, unto us and to our children.” The question taken from the hidden purposes of the divine mind, can have no force whatever, because it is an appeal to our ignorance. We know, and can know nothing about them. One thing, however, we do know. God must be always and everywhere consistent with himself; and whether we can understand it or not, it is certain that there can be no inconsistency between revealed and unrevealed truths; and if God has made an offer of eternal life through the atonement unto all men, and commanded all men to embrace it, there cannot be in any purpose of God concerning its nature, anything which will clash with, and so contradict this universal offer.

This argument, however, from God’s purpose, which is so often brought forward to limit the nature and availableness of Christ’s atonement, like many other arguments, destroys itself by proving too much. With equal pertinacity, it might be brought forward to put restrictions upon the law of God, and prove it not to be a law for the race. No fact is more palpable to human observation than that the requirements of God do not bind all men. This is a sinful world; the race is corrupt; men have thrown off their obligations to their Creator, and have turned rebels against his rightful authority. And God knew beforehand that it would be so. Everything has eventuated in precise accordance with God’s expectations. And now we turn the question, and ask, is not the law of God a law for the race? Was it not designed for and adapted to secure the obedience and happiness of the race? Did not God mean that it should be obeyed? And where is the consistency of his publishing such a law, and enforcing it with the tremendous sanctions of his eternal throne, when he knew beforehand that it would not be obeyed? Look at these questions for a moment, and as you see the absurdity involved in them, you can judge whether they are not quite as pertinent, and do not contain an argument quite as forcible as those by which some men would attempt to put restrictions upon the atonement of Jesus Christ, when they ask where is the wisdom, where the consistency of preaching an unlimited provision, and the sincerity of enforcing it universally, when it was well known beforehand that it would not be universally accepted.

And now, if you still press the question, why should God make provision for forgiveness, to an extent he knew would be unnecessary, and be guilty of an expenditure of means beyond what the well-known circumstances of the case required, We answer, by referring you to the characteristic of universality, to which we have already adverted, as marking his dispensations in the natural world, and ask you why his sun shines and wastes its beams upon sightless eye-balls, or upon those who will not open their eyes to behold his goodly rays? Why does he send his rains upon the barren rock, or waste his showers upon the sandy and sterile soil, in which the seed can never vegetate? If I propose this question, you tell me in reply, that I mistake altogether the nature of God’s creations, and the general principles of the system which he has established. You tell me that the necessity for the sun being what it is, does not depend upon the number of the persons who are to be enlightened by his rays, but grows out of the fact that it must be what it is to give light to any one–that atmospheric laws are general, and cannot in their nature be so arranged as to secure the descent of rain only where it will render the earth productive. You cannot consider that there is any waste of light or moisture, because there are some who do not see, or because in some places the surface of the earth presents the impervious rock to the rains of heaven.

We admit the explanation, and falling back upon the authority we have already quoted, we use it in reference to our present subject. The spiritual system, as well as the natural system, is governed by general laws-and the atonement of Christ must be general. “Its necessity does not arise from the number of sinners, but from the nature of sin. The very nature of sin requires an infinite atonement in order to its honorable remission. Such an atonement as Christ offered, was indispensably necessary to the pardon of one act of sin”–and as the sun must be what it is, whether it lightens one man, or every man who cometh into the world, so it makes no difference as to the nature or availableness of the sufferings of Christ, whether one sinner, or a race of sinners, is to be saved by them. There is no more waste or unnecessary expenditure in the one case than in the other.

Erskine Mason, “Extent of the Atonement,” in A Pastor’s Legacy Being Sermons on Practical Subjects (New York: Charles Scribner, 1853), 283-288.

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