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divine government, and thereby make an atonement for the sins of his people.' Satisfaction is distinguished from merit, thus: The satisfaction of Christ consists in his answering the demands of the law on man, which were consequent on the breach of it. These were answered by suffering its penalty. The merit of Christ consists in what he did to fulfil what the law demanded, before man sinned, which was obedience. The satisfaction of Christ is to free us from misery, and the merit of Christ is to purchase happiness for us.' Propitiation, another term considered synonymous with atonement, is said to be a sacrifice offered to God to assuage his wrath, and render him propitious. The propitiation made by Jesus Christ is that which atones for and covers our guilt, as the mercy-seat did the tables of the law; or, it may be thus defined: It is the averting of the punishment due to any one, by undergoing the penalty in the room of the guilty. Thus Jesus Christ is called the propitiation or atonement, as his complete righteousness appeases his Father, and satisfies his law and justice for all our transgressions.' 1
It is further contended by the advocates of this doctrine, that, in consequence of the transgression of our first parents, all mankind are rendered incapable, by nature, of fulfilling the divine law; that in order to salvation, God requires sinless obedience from all the subjects of the law; and as no mere man, since the fall, has been able to keep it, if Christ had not come into the world, fulfilled the law, and suffered its penalty in the room and stead of the guilty, all mankind must inevitably have perished eternally. But that God was pleased to accept the perfect righteousness of Christ, instead of the personal righteousness of mankind, and his sufferings and death as a satisfaction to the inexorable demands of his violated justice, or as a sort of commutation for the merited and endless punishment of the whole world. Add to all this the sentiment, that he who thus suffered to expiate the sins of mankind, and procure salvation for them, was the Creator of the universe, the Sustainer of all worlds, the self-existent Jehovah, and the author of that law, the violation of which, by his own creatures, rendered his sufferings and death necessary,—and we are presented with a doctrine which is not only contrary to all the
1 Buck's Theol. Dict. articles Atonement, Imputation, Satisfaction, Propitiation.
dictates of enlightened reason, but revolting to all the better feelings of the human heart.
Notwithstanding the long and very general prevalence of this doctrine in the Christian world, it is now almost invariably rejected by all who believe in the strict and proper unity of the divine Being; and this class of Christians, now numerous both in Europe and America, embraces the great body of American Universalists. No denomination in this country has done so much in opposing this sentiment, and in pointing out its incongruities as ours. Those who reject the doctrine of the vicarious sufferings of Christ, as an atonement to God for the sins of mankind, contend that it is not only derogatory to the divine character, but altogether unfounded in the Scriptures. They think, if this doctrine were true, its importance is such that it would have been expressed by the inspired writers, in language so plain and unambiguous that it could not be misunderstood. But this, they contend, is far from being the fact. On the contrary, the English word atonement, which is a translation of the Greek xaraλay, occurs but once in the New Testament; and the word in the original signifying a change or reconciliation, it cannot, they think, be applied to God who is unchangeable, but is applied in the Scriptures, and must be understood as exclusively applicable to man, who, in consequence of his ignorance and sinfulness, is alone the unreconciled party. As the arguments in opposition to the popular doctrine of atonement have been long before the public, and as they remain, as yet, unanswered, it will not be our object in the present article to introduce any direct evidences against it; but simply to suggest some thoughts relative to the origin, foundation and influence of the doctrine in question. We shall therefore, proceed to show,
FIRST, That the doctrine is of heathen origin.
SECONDLY, That it is founded on total ignorance, or gross misapprehension of the divine character.
THIRDLY, That it is inimical to genuine piety.
I. Heathen origin of the doctrine.
Among all the nations of the earth, and from time immemorial, previous to the introduction of Christianity, the practice of offering sacrifices to superior beings has been of universal prevalence. These sacrifices have been considered necessary both to appease the anger of malignant divinities, and to pro
cure favor from those who were considered more propitious. Among the Gentile nations, during the existence of the Jews as a nation, altars were erected to Baal, Ashtaroth, Moloch, and other imaginary deities. On these altars sacrifices of various kinds were offered; and to some of these gods, particularly the latter, human victims were sacrificed, and that too, even by the Jews. The Egyptians, among whom the nation of the Jews had its commencement, we are informed by historians, had no less than six hundred and sixty-six different kinds of sacrifices. Among the ancient Trojans, Greeks, Romans, and many other nations, human blood was frequently shed as an expiatory sacrifice, before the altars of their gods, and deified heroes. Some of these sacrifices were voluntary, others, it is presumed, were offered by force. In the infancy of the Roman republic, we are informed that a deep and extensive chasm having been occasioned in the Forum by an earthquake, the augurs declared the opening would never close until what contributed most to the strength and power of the Romans should be cast into it; but that by such an offering, immortality would be obtained for their republic. While all men were at a loss how to understand this prediction, Martius Curtius, armed and mounted as for battle, appeared in the Forum, and after exclaiming, What is more valuable to Rome than her courage and her arms?' rushed forward on his war-horse, and buried himself in the deep abyss; and his admiring and grateful countrymen attributed the increasing splendor of their state to the sacrifice he made. Publius Decius, too, in a war between Rome and Latium, after solemnly offering himself as an expiatory sacrifice, rushed single into the thickest ranks of the Latians, that, by his death, he might appease the anger of the gods, transfer their indignation to the enemy, and secure victory to the Roman arms. The Romans also sacrificed children in ancient times to the goddess Mania; afterwards, numerous gladiators bled at the tombs of the Patricians to appease the manes of the dead; and still later, no less than three hundred knights and senators were sacrificed by Augustus, to the divinity of Julius Cæsar.
Homer describes the sacrifice of twelve Trojan captives, who were doomed by Achilles to bleed by the sacerdotal knife, over the ashes of his friend Patroclus. 2 We are informed by
Iliad, xxiii. ver. 203.
Diodorus Siculus, that the Carthaginians bound themselves by a vow to Chronus, that they would sacrifice to him children selected from the offspring of their nobles; but after a while they substituted the children of slaves; until, being defeated by Agathocles, and attributing their defeat to the anger of their god, on account of their broken vow, they offered two hundred children, taken from the most distinguished families in Carthage. After which, three hundred citizens presented themselves, that by their voluntary death, they might propitiate their deity. We also learn that the Egyptians in Heliopolis sacrificed three men every day to Juno. The Spartans and Arcadians scourged to death young women; the former to appease Bacchus; the latter to gratify Diana. The Sabians in Persia offered human sacrifices to Mithras; the Cretans to Jupiter; the Lacædemonians and Lucitanians to Mars; the Lesbians to Bacchus; the Phocians to Diana; the Thessalians to Chiron; the ancient Gauls to a great number of gods; the Swedes and Danes to Woden; and the Russians to Peroun, the thunderer, and Suetovia, their god of war. 'Here,' says the writer from whose work the above historical facts have been principally selected, we see distinctly marked the notion of vicarious suffering, and the opinion that the punishment of guilt may be transferred from the guilty to the innocent. The gods call for sacrifice; the victim bleeds; atonement is made; and the wrath of the infernal powers fall in its full force upon the enemy.'
That the heathens attributed the same efficacy to these sacrifices which is attributed to the death of Christ, is evident from the fact, that they supposed there was a natural congruity between blood and atonement; between the killing of God's creatures and receiving a pardon for the violation of his law. 'This consequence of sacrifices,' says a learned writer, when properly offered, was the invariable opinion of the heathens; but not the whole of their opinion in this matter; for they had also a traditionary belief among them, that these animal sacrifices were not only expiations, but vicarious commutations, and substituted satisfactions; and they called the animals so offered (their avriuxa) the ransom of their souls.' 4 Between these heathen opinions and those entertained by Trinitarians,
Townsend's character of Moses, p. 76. on the offerings of Cain and Abel, p. 201, &c.
Kennicott's second Dissert.
there is a striking similarity. Both attribute malevolence to the divine Being; both represent him as being filled with wrath for the sins of his creatures; both suppose that the guilt and punishment of sin may be transferred from the guilty to the innocent; both maintain that divine justice can be satisfied with something different from what it requires; and both contend that mercy flows to man through the cruelty and murders of which he is guilty. There is, however, in one particular, a wide difference between them; and in this particular the advantage is altogether on the side of the heathen; for they believed their gods would be satisfied with the blood of animals, or, at most, of human beings like themselves; but the advocates of the doctrine under consideration, believe God can only be propitiated by the blood of a Supreme Being, or, to follow the sentiments of Trinitarians to their legitimate consequences, he can be satisfied with nothing short of the shedding of his own blood. From these considerations it is plain that the transition from the heathen notions of expiatory sacrifices, and substituted satisfactions,' to the doctrine of vicarious atonement by Christ, was easy and natural; and that the latter, with the single exception of the essential divinity attached to the sacrifice, is but a very small advance from the former.
By examining the language of the Evangelists, it is evident that the disciples of Christ never thought his death necessary as a sacrifice for sin. On the contrary, that event filled them with despondency, and almost entirely destroyed, for a time, their faith in him as the Messiah and the Saviour of mankind. Had they believed, or had Jesus instructed them that such were to be the end and design of his sufferings and death, they would rather have rejoiced that the great sacrifice was at length made; that God was propitiated by this atonement; and that the door of divine mercy was now opened, and the means of salvation provided for guilty sinners.
It is also apparent that the fathers, in the ages immediately succeeding the apostolic, did not believe this doctrine as it is now held, from the fact that some of the first of those who maintained that the death of Christ was a ransom price paid for the redemption of mankind, considered this price paid, not to God, but to the devil. Origen, in the third century, was clearly of this opinion. If,' says he, we are bought with a
Opera, vol. ii. p. 486.