Andrew Fuller Friday: On the Atonement

Thus it was that the apostle, while in the ninth, tenth, and eleventh chapters of his Epistle to the Romans, he traces the sovereignty of God in calling some from among the Jews, and leaving others to perish in unbelief, never thought of excusing that unbelief, nor felt any scruples in exhorting and warning the subjects of it, nor in praying for their salvation. Even in his preaching to the Gentiles, he kept his eye on them, if by any means he might provoke to emulation those who were his flesh, and might save some of them.

But whatever this doctrine is in itself, yet if viewed out of its connexions, or in connexions which do not belong to it, it will become another thing. God’s election of the posterity of Abraham was of sovereign favour, and not on account of any excellence in them, natural or moral; in which view it was humbling, and no doubt had a good effect on the godly Israelites. But the Jews in our Saviour’s time turned this their national election into another kind of doctrine, full of flattery towards themselves, and of the most intolerable contempt and malignity towards others. And thus the doctrine of “eternal and personal election viewed in a similar light becomes a source of pride, bitterness, sloth, and presumption. Conceive of the love of God as capricious fondness—imagine, because it had no inducement from the goodness of the creature, that therefore it was without reason, only so it was and so it must be—view it, not as a means by which God would assert the sovereignty of his grace, but as an end to which every thing must become subservient—conceive of yourself as a darling of Heaven, a favourite of Providence, for whom Divine interpositions next to miracles are continually occurring—and, instead of being humbled before God as a poor sinner, you will feel like a person who in a dream or a reverie imagines himself a king, takes state to himself, and treats every one about him with distant contempt

If the doctrine of atonement be viewed in the connexions in which it stands in the sacred Scriptures, it is the life-blood of the gospel system. Consider it as a method devised by the infinite wisdom of God, by which he might honour his own name by dispensing mercy to the unworthy in a way consistent with righteousness, and we shall be furnished with considerations at once the most humiliating and transporting that were ever presented to a creature’s mind.

But there are ways of viewing this doctrine which will render it void, and even worse than void. If, for instance, instead of connecting it with the Divinity of Christ, we ascribe its efficacy to Divine appointment, the name may remain, but that will be all. On this principle it was possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should have taken away sin, and that the cup should have passed away from the Saviour without his drinking it. As there would on this principle be no necessity for the death of Christ, so neither could there be any great love displayed by it; and as to its constraining influence, we need not look for it.

Or if the atonement be considered as a reparation to man for the injury done him by his being connected with his first parents, it is rendered void. Whatever evil we derive from our first parents, while we ourselves choose it, we are no more injured than if we derived it from our immediate parents; and it will no more bear to be pleaded at the last judgment, than it will bear to be alleged by a thief, at an earthly tribunal, that his father had been a thief before him. To argue, therefore, as some have done, that if Christ had not come into the world and given us grace so as to remove the inability for doing good under which we lay as the descendants of Adam, we should not have been blameworthy for not doing it, is to render grace no more grace, and the atonement a satisfaction to man rather than to God. If man would not have been blameworthy without the gift of Christ and a provision of grace, it would seem a pity that both had not been withheld, and that we had not been left to the justice of our Creator, who surely might be trusted not to punish for that in which we were not in fault.

Or if the doctrine of atonement lead us to entertain degrading notions of the law of God, or to plead an exemption from its preceptive authority, we may be sure it is not the Scripture doctrine of reconciliation. Atonement has respect to justice, and justice to the law, or the revealed will of the sovereign, which has been violated, and its very design is to repair its honour. If the law which has been transgressed were unjust, instead of an atonement being required for the breach of it, it ought to have been repealed, and the lawgiver have taken upon himself the disgrace of having enacted it. Every instance of punishment among men is a sort of atonement to the justice of the country, the design of which is to restore the authority of good government, which transgression has impaired. But if the law itself is bad, or the penalty too severe, every sacrifice made to it must be an instance of cruelty. And should a prince of the blood royal, in compassion to the offenders, offer to suffer in their stead, for the purpose of atonement, whatever love it might discover on his part, it were still greater cruelty to accept the offer, even though he might survive his sufferings. The public voice would be, There is no need of any atonement; it will do no honour, but dishonour, to the legislature: and to call the liberation of the convicts an act of grace is to add insult to injury. The law ought not to have been enacted, and, now it is enacted, ought immediately to be repealed. It is easy to see from hence, that, in proportion as the law is depreciated, the gospel is undermined, and both grace and atonement rendered void. It is the law as abused, or as turned into a way of life in opposition to the gospel, (for which it was never given to a fallen creature,) that the sacred Scriptures depreciate it; and not as the revealed will of God, the immutable standard of right and wrong. In this view, the apostle delighted in it; and if we be Christians, we shall delight in it too, and shall not object to be under it as a rule of duty; for no man objects to be governed by laws which he loves.

Finally, If the doctrine of Divine influence be considered in its Scriptural connexions, it will be of essential importance in the Christian life; but if these be lost sight of, it will become injurious.

Excerpt from: “Importance of a True System,” Letter II in Letters on Systematic Divinity.

Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.; Vol. 1, pp. 686–688). Sprinkle Publications.

By |March 18th, 2022|Categories: Andrew Fuller Friday, Blog|

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