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APRIL, 186 6.
ART. I.—The Vicarious Sacrifice, grounded in Principles of
Universal Obligation. By HORACE BUSHNELL. New York: Charles Scribner & Co., 124 Grand street. 1866. 8vo.
JUDGING from its impression upon ourselves, we should say that this book of Dr. Bushnell is far' inferior in power to his former one. That was an outburst, instinct with feeling and poetic fire. This is cold. It is addressed to the understanding. It is an attempt to justify to the reason, and in the presence of the Bible, a theory as to the work of Christ, which is the product of his imagination. It deals in analysis, in subtle distinctions, in arguments, which from the necessity of the case are sophistical, and which must be known to be false, even by those who may not see where their fallacy lies. A man undertakes a desperate task who attempts to argue against the intuitive judgments of the mind or conscience; or who strives to prove that all mankind for thousands of years, who have read and studied the Scriptures, are mistaken as to one of its most prominent and most important doctrines. The case of the Reformiers affords no parallel to such an attempt in our own day. The Romanists did not admit the Scriptures to be perspicuous or designed for the people. They did not profess to believe the doctrines against which the Reformers protested,
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on the authority of the Bible. They relied on the authority of the church; and the church with them was the hierarchy. The protest of the Reforiners, therefore, was not against the interpretation which the people of God, with the Bible in their hands, had, on a great practical and experimental doctrine, been led with unanimity and under the inward teaching of the Spirit, to give to the sacred records. Any such attempt, we say is desperate. Every right-minded Christian would be authorized to put aside the volume in which such an experiment was made without further examination. No man is called upon, for his own sake, to refute arguments against what he knows is true. He is not bound to prove his own existence, or the existence of other men. Life is too short, and too much crowded with higher interests, to justify the waste of time in proving that white is white. Unfortunately, however, many men are not right-minded; and many more have no settled convictions on the plainest points of revealed doctrine. Hence the necessity of answering what the mass of experienced Christians feel that, so far as they are concerned, needs no answer.
A second introductory remark suggested by the perusal of Dr. Bushnell's book; is, that it contains nothing new. By which we mean, first, that it contains nothing essential to his theory, which was not contained in his former volume. This is true both as to what it denies, and as to what it affirms. Besides this, the theory concerning Christ's work propounded in this volume is not new in the history of theology. It did not originate with Dr. Bushnell. There is nothing new about it but its terminology. The reed-bird of the North is the rice-bird of the South; so the theory of the Socinians is the theory of Dr. Bushnell. Apart from the obsolete doctrine of some of the Fathers, human ingenuity has been unable to devise more than three general theories concerning the work of Christ.
The first is, that the eternal Son of God assumed our nature, fulfilled all righteousness as the substitute and representative of men, bore the curse of the law in their stead, and thus made expiation for their sins. Because his work is a full satisfaction to the justice of God designed for the recovery of
men to the image and enjoyment of God, it is represented as the most wonderful display of the wisdom, love, and especially of the grace of God, ever made to the universe; and, therefore, the most fruitful in beneficent results, being the great means which God has devised to promote the glory and blessedness of all orders of intelligences.
The second doctrine is that commonly known among us as the governmental theory. This is founded on the assumption that happiness is the highest good; that “the love of being," or the disposition to promote happiness, is not only the highest, but all virtue; and therefore that justice is only a form of benevolence. The primary end of punishment is consequently the good of God's moral government, or the prevention of the evil consequences of gratuitous forgiveness. Christ's work therefore is a satisfaction to rectoral justice; and rectoral justice is only a benevolent regard to the good of rational creatures. This doctrine flows necessarily from the view of divine justice presented by Leibnitz; and was adopted by the jurist Grotius, and assented to by his Socinian antagonists as removing their objections to the church doctrine of satisfaction. In this country it has been widely adopted as one of the modern, and American improvements in theology:
The third general theory is that which resolves the saving efficacy of Christ's work into its subjective influence. This theory comprehends many different views of the nature and design of the Redeemer's work. The three most comprehensive are the following: 1. That the work of Christ owes its power to the confirmation which it gives to important truths,—such as the immortality of the soul, the willingness of God to forgive sin, &c., &c. 2. That its power is due to the exhibition which it makes of self-sacrificing love. And 3d. The mystical doctrine of the renovation of humanity through a participation of the theanthropic life of Christ. It is to the second of these views the doctrine of Dr. Bushnell belongs. This will be rendered plain by a statement, first, of what he denies, and secondly, of what he affirms.
In the first place, he denies that any such attribute as justice belongs to the Divine character. That is, he denies that the moral excellence of God demands and renders necessary the
punishment of sin. There is an obvious distinction between righteousness and justice. The former is general rectitude or rightness; the latter is concerned in the distribution of rewards and punishment, according to the general understanding of the term; but according to Dr. Bushnell it is concerned exclusively in connecting suffering with sin as a means of the recovery of the sinner. That is, it is only benevolence in one of the modes of its exercise. He distinguishes between law before government, and law after government. He assumes that God himself is subject to the eternal law of right; so also are all rational creatures. It is supposable that a universe of such beings should exist, subject not to God, but subject with God to one and the same rule of right. Should any of these intelligent creatures sin, God would “feel himself elected” to be a ruler, to institute government. P. 244. Here comes in statute law; and, justice to enforce them, penalties, &c., all designed for redemption, or recovery of the apostates., “The problem cannot, therefore, be to satisfy, or pacify justice, but simply to recompose in the violated law the shattered, broken souls, who have thrown down both themselves and it, by their disobedience." P. 246. What he denies is, that there is any such attribute in God, which requires “an exact doing upon wrong what it deserves.” P. 267. He admits that there is what he calls “a wrath-principle,” in the Supreme Being, which enables him to inflict pain without shrinking;" just as a benevolent surgeon does. But that is not justice. Hence justice and mercy are one and the same, only different in terms or modes of expression. When a regard to the welfare of the victims suffering evil leads to the exercise of kindness, we call it mercy; when it leads to the infliction of pain, we call it justice. This is the doctrine of the volume before us, on this point, covered in a wonderful amplitude of words and figures. Its thoughts are smothered in rose-leaves. The whole system of Dr. Bushnell is founded in this denial of the justice of God. There might have been, he tells us, just such a scheme of redemption as that effected by Christ, “ which has nothing to do with justice proper; being related only to that quasi justice which is the blind effect, in moral natures, of a violation of their necessary law.” The righteousness of God “never
requires him to execute justice under political analogies, save as it requires him to institute an administrative government in the same.” “ Law and justice might be instituted as co-factors of redemption, having it for their object simply to work with redemption, and serve the same ends with spiritual renovation.” P. 248. The language which Dr. Bushnell at times allows himself to use in reference to the justice of God, must be very painful to his readers. It is language which is seldom heard except from the lips of irreligious men. We are told in representing God as just, in the ordinary sense of the term, we adopt the heathen idea of the Godhead, representing him as thirsting for vengeance, and only to be appeased by suffering.
2. In denying any such perfection as is commonly understood by justice to God, Dr. Bushnell explicitly denies that there has been any expiation of sin made by the Redeemer. Expiation he pronounces to be a purely pagan idea. He denies that it has any support from the sacrifices of the Old Testament or the didactic statements of the New. 66 What is expiation ?” he asks. “It does not simply signify the fact that God is propitiated, but it brings in the pagan, or Latin idea (for the word is Latin), that the sacrifice offered softens God, or assuages the anger of God, as being an evil, or pain, contributed to his offended feeling.” “The distinctive idea of expiation is that God is to have an evil given to him by consent, for an evil due by retribution.” P. 486. " The classic and all pagan sentiments of worship, being thus corrupted by the false idea of expiation, the later Jewish commentators and Christian theologians finally took up the conception, laying claim to it as a worthy and genuine element in all sacrifices, whether those of the law, or even the great sacrifice of the gospel itself. And now there is nothing more devoutly asserted, or more reverently believed, than our essential need of an expiatory sacrifice, and the fact that such a sacrifice is made for our salvation, in the cross of Jesus Christ.” P. 488. “We never speak," he says, “of good deeds, or sentiments, or sacri fices of love, as expiations. Nothing is expiatory that does not turn upon the fact of damage or pain, or just punishment. Neither is there any difficulty of discovering from the manner in which theologians speak of expiation, that they think of God