Treatise on Atonement

From Universalism in America, edited by Ernest Cassara (95-105)

…If sin be infinite in its nature, there can be no one sin greater than another. The smallest offence against the good of society is equal to blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. If what we call a small crime be not infinite, the greatest cannot be, providing there is any proportion between the great and the small. Are not the words of Christ (Matt. xii. 31), where he speaks of sins and blasphemies that should be forgiven unto men, and of blasphemies that should not be forgiven men, a sufficient evidence that some sins are more heinous than others? Again (1 Epistle of John v.16), where some sins are said to be not unto death, and some unto death, etc.

Now, admitting the matter proved, that sin is not infinite, it follows, of course, that it is proved to be finite. However, we will now attend to the direct evidences of the finite nature of sin.

The law which takes cognizance of sin is not infinite, it being produced by the legislature which I have before noticed, viz., a capacity to understand, connected with the causes and means of knowledge. In order for a law to be infinite, the legislature must be SO; but man's ability to understand is finite, and all the means which are in his power for the acquisition of knowledge are finite; all his knowledge is circumscribed, and the law produced by such causes must be like them, not infinite but finite. An infinite law would be far above the capacity of a finite being, and it would be unreasonable to suppose man amenable to a law above his capacity. All our knowledge of good and evil is obtained by comparison. We call an action evil by comparing it with one which we call good. Were it in our power to embrace all the consequences that are connected with our actions in our intentions, our meanings would seldom be what they now are. Had it been so with the brethren of Joseph, when they sold him to the Ishmaelites, that they then knew all the consequences which would attend the event, they would not have meant it, as they did, for evil, but seeing with perfectly unbeclouded eyes their own salvation, and that of the whole family of promise, they would have meant it for good, as did the Almighty who superintended the affair. Now the act of selling Joseph was sin, in the meaning of those who sold him; but it was finite, considered as sin, for it was bounded by the narrowness of their understandings, limited by their ignorance, and circumscribed by the wisdom and goodness of him who meant it for good. If this sin had been infinite, nothing we can justly call good, could have been the consequence; but who ever read the event without seeing that the best of consequences were connected with it?


…God saw fit, in his plan of divine wisdom, to make the creature subject to vanity; to give him a mortal constitution; to fix in his nature those faculties which would, in their operation, oppose the spirit of the heavenly nature. It is, therefore, said that God put enmity between the seed of the woman and that of the serpent. And it was by the passions which arose from the fleshy nature that the whole mind became carnal, and man was captivated thereby. But perhaps the objector will say this denies the liberty of the will, and makes God the Author of Sin. To which I reply, desiring the reader to recollect what I have said of sin in showing its nature; by which, it is discovered, that God may be the innocent and holy cause of that, which, in a limited sense, is sin; but as it respects the meaning of God, it is intended for good. It is not casting any disagreeable reflections on the Almighty to say he determined all things for good; and to believe he supersedes all the affairs of the universe, not excepting sin, as a million times more to the honor of God than to believe he cannot, or that he does not when he can. The reader will then ask, if God must be considered as the first, the holy, and the innocent cause of sin, is there any unholy or impure cause? I answer, there is, but in a limited sense. There is no divine holiness in any fleshly or carnal exercise; there is no holiness nor purity in all the deceptions ever experienced by imperfect beings; and these are the immediate causes of sin; and as such, they make the best of men on earth groan, and cry out, "Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"

If it should be granted that sin will finally terminate for good, in the moral system, it will then be necessary to admit that God is its first cause, or we cannot say that God is the author of all good.

…Man's main object, in all he does, is happiness; and were it not for that, he never could have any other particular object. What would induce men to form societies; to be at the expense of supporting government; to acquire knowledge; to learn the sciences, or till the earth, if they believed they could be as happy without as with? The fact is, man would not be the being that he now is, as there would not be any stimulus to action; he must become inert, therefore cease to be. As men are never without this grand object, so they are never without their wants, which render such an object desirable. But their minor objects vary, according as their understandings vary, and their passions differ. Then, says the objector, there is no such thing as disinterested benevolence. I answer, words are used to communicate ideas; there is that often in our experience, which is meant by disinterested benevolence. An American is traveling in Europe; he meets in the street a young and beautiful fair, bathed in tears, her breast swollen with grief, and her countenance perfectly sad. His heart, fraught with the keenest sensibility, is moved compassionately to inquire the cause of her grief; he is informed that her father, in a late sickness, became indebted to his physician twenty guineas, for which he was that hour committed to gaol, when he had but partially recovered his health. Our traveller no sooner hears the story than he advances the twenty guineas to discharge the debt, and gives her fifty more as a reward for her generous concern. As our traveller did not expect any pecuniary reward, either directly or indirectly, his charity is called disinterested benevolence. But, strictly speaking, he was greatly interested; he was interested in the afflictions of father and child; their relief was his object, and charity his passion. Now did he not act for his own happiness? Yes, as much as ever a man did in life. What must have been his misery, possessing the same disposition, without the means to relieve? And what a sublime satisfaction he enjoyed by the bestowment of his favor! Sacred truth informs us, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."

We find some men honest and industrious who think, and think justly, that happiness is not to be found in any other way. Others are indolent and knavish, and they expect to obtain happiness in so being. But they are deceived in their objects, and will finally learn that they must be, what conscience has often told them they ought to be, honest and just, in order to be happy.

The objector will say, to admit that our happiness is the grand object of all we do, destroys the purity of religion, and reduces the whole to nothing but selfishness. To which, I reply, a man acting for his own happiness, if he seek it in the heavenly system of universal benevolence, knowing that his own happiness is connected with the happiness of his fellow-men, which induces him to do justly and to deal mercifully with all men, he is no more selfish than he ought to be. But a man acting for his own happiness, if he seek it in the narrow circle of partiality and covetousness, his selfishness is irreligious and wicked.

I know it is frequently contended that we ought to love God for what he is, and not for what we receive from him; that we ought to love holiness for holiness' sake, and not for any advantage such a principle is to us. This is what I have often been told, but what I never could see any reason for, or propriety in. I am asked if I love an orange; I answer I never tasted of one; but I am told I must love the orange for what it is! Now I ask, is it possible for me either to like or dislike the orange, in reality, until I taste it? Well, I taste of it, and like it. Do you like it? says my friend. Yes, I reply, its flavor is exquisitely agreeable. But that will not do, says my friend; you must not like it because its taste is agreeable, but you must like it because it is an orange. If there be any propriety in what my friend says, it is out of my sight. A man is travelling on the sands of Arabia, he finds no water for a number of days; the sun scorches and he is exceedingly dry; at last he finds water and drinks to his satisfaction; never did water taste half so agreeably before. To say that this man loves the water because it is water, and not because of the advantage which he receives from it, betrays a large share of inconsistency. Would not this thirsty traveller have loved the burning sand as well as he did the water if it had tasted as agreeably and quenched his thirst as well? The sweet Psalmist of Israel said, "0 taste and see that the Lord is good." And an apostle says, "We love him because he first loved us." What attribute do we ascribe to God that we do not esteem on account of its advantage to us? Justice would have been no more likely to be attributed to the Almighty than injustice if it had not first been discovered that justice was of greater advantage to mankind than injustice. And so of power, were it of no more advantage to human society than weakness, the latter would have been as likely to have been esteemed an attribute of God as the former. If wisdom were of no greater service to man than folly, it would not have been adored in the Almighty any more than folly. If love were not more happifying to man than hatred, hatred would as soon have been esteemed an attribute of God as love.

A mistaken idea has been entertained of sin even by professors. I have often heard sincere ministers preach, in their reproofs to their hearers, that it was the greatest folly in the world for people to forego salvation in a future state for the comforts and pleasures of sin in this. Such exhortations really defeat their intentions. The wish of the honest preacher is that the wicked should repent of their sins and do better; but, at the same time, he indicates that sin, at present, is more productive of happiness than righteousness; but that the bad will come in another world; that, although doing well is a hard way, yet its advantages will be great in another state. Just as much as any person thinks sin to be more happifying than righteousness, he is sinful; his heart esteems it, though in some possible cases, for fear of the loss of salvation in the world to come, he may abstain from some outward enormities; yet his heart is full of the desire of doing them. A thief passes a merchant's shop, wishes to steal some of his goods, but durst not for fear of apprehension and punishment. Is this man less a thief at heart for not actually taking the goods? I have been told, by persons of high professions in Christianity, that if they were certain of salvation in the world to come they would commit every sin to which their unbridled passions might lead them; even from the lips of some who profess to preach the righteousness of Christ have I heard suchlike expressions! I do not mention these things to cast reflections on any person or denomination in the world; for I have a favorable hope that there are some in all denominations who are not to be deceived; but I mention them in order to show how deceiving sin is to the mind. It is as much the nature of sin to torment the mind as it is the nature of fire to burn our flesh. Sin deprives us of every rational enjoyment, so far as it captivates the mind; it was never able to furnish one drop of cordial for the soul; her tender mercies are cruelty, and her breasts of consolation are gall and wormwood. Sin is a false mirror, by which the sinner is deceived in everything on which his mind contemplates. If he think of his Maker, who is his best friend, it strikes him with awe, fills his mind with fearful apprehensions, and he wishes there was no such being. If he think of any duty which he owes his Maker, he says, in a moment, God is a hard master, why should he require of me what is so contrary to my happiness? Religion is only calculated to make men miserable; righteousness blunts my passions, and deprives me of pleasures for which I long. But it represents stolen waters to be sweet, and bread eaten in secret to be pleasant. In a word, sin is of a torment-giving nature to every faculty of the soul, and is the moral death of the mind.

Well, says the reader, can sin have all those evil effects and not be infinite? Undoubtedly; as all those evil effects are experienced in this finite state. Thousands, who, I hope, are gone to greater degrees of rest than the most upright enjoy here, were once tormented with sin, were once under the dominion of the carnal mind. The effects of sin as sin are not endless, but limited to the state in which it is committed.

…I wish to inquire into the propriety of an innocent person's suffering for one who is guilty. It is Scripture, reason, and good law never to condemn the innocent in order to exculpate the delinquent. Supposing a foreign court sends a person who is old in conspiracies and blood, to America, to lay a deep concerted plan to murder the President of the Union, and a number of the first officers in the Federal government, for purposes mischievous to our political existence; and he should so far succeed as to engage a number in this wicked design, and finally makes the attempt; his plans are discovered by government and detected, but not until numbers have fallen a sacrifice to his mischievous endeavors. The leader of these seditious murders is taken and condemned to be executed; and the voice of every friend of justice and equity is against the criminal. But what would be the consternation of the good people of the United States on being informed that the good president of the Union, the man whom the people delighted to honor, was executed in the room of this seditious person, and the wicked murderer set at liberty? Is it possible to conceive that there is a single person in the world who would call this a just execution? If it be said that the president freely offered himself in the room of the criminal, it alters not the case in the eye of justice. If an innocent man can justly be put to death because he consents to it willingly, a guilty one may be acquitted because he prefers it. But it is further argued that the authority had power to raise the president from the dead, which done, renders the work just and glorious. I say, in answer, that if the authority had this power, it might as well have executed the real criminal, and raised him from the dead, as to perform this work on one who was not guilty. What is the most shocking of anything in this system of atonement, is the partiality represented in the Almighty; for admitting the plan rational, as it respects those circumstances in which I have shown its absurdity, what can we find in Scripture or reason that justifies such infinite partiality in our Creator? or what can, in the least, serve as evidence to prove him possessed of it? Have we not reason to believe our Creator possessed of as much goodness as he has communicated to us? Can we rationally believe that he is wanting in those principles of goodness which he has placed in our understanding? When he saw the whole progeny of Adam in the same situation by reason of sin, one no more guilty than another, why should he propose a plan of mercy for some few of them, and disregard the awful circumstances of the rest? The sacred oracle declares God to be no respecter of persons; if this be true; he is not a partial being. Jesus taught the character of God to his disciples by turning their attention to nature, observing the equal distribution of rain and sunshine, on the evil and on the good, on the just and on the unjust. Supposing Joseph had dealt out bread plentifully to two of his brethren in Egypt, and had starved the rest to death, would it have looked like impartiality? It is argued that none of them deserved a crumb from Joseph, whom they had sold; and if he pleased to give to one and not to another, he had a right so to do. Then, I say, he had a right to be partial. I am travelling through a large and extensive wood, and many miles from any inhabitants; I find ten persons who are lost; they have been out of provisions for several days; and having fatigued themselves in wandering from hill to hill, from stream to stream, striving, to the utmost of their abilities to find inhabitants; having given up all hopes of ever seeing their homes again, and having, in their minds, bid their wives and children a long farewell, they are waiting for hunger to do its last work! The moment I discover myself to them, with large supplies of wholesome and rich provisions, every eye glistens with unexpected joy; the current of life starts afresh in their veins, and they all advance to meet me on their enfeebled hands and knees, with eagerness to receive the staff of life! I hasten to improve the opportunity of showing my sovereignty and goodness; I feed five of them to the full, the other five I neglect. They beg for the smallest crust, which I do not want, but to no effect. Those whom I feed solicit me, every mouthful they eat, to bestow some on their fellow-sufferers, but I refuse. I tell them, however, not to construe my conduct into partiality, but to learn my power and sovereignty by it. The five whom I have fed I assist out of the wood, and leave the rest to their wants. My conduct in the above affair appears so much blacker than my paper is white, I choose rather to leave the reader to make his comments than to write my own.

I inquire still further, did the Almighty know, before he made man that he would become a sinner? Did he know that he would deserve an endless punishment? If the answer be in the negative, it supposes God to be wanting in knowledge, and that he created beings at an infinite risk, as he did not know what would be the consequences. If the question be answered in the positive, it proves that an infinite cruelty existed in God; for unless that was the case he would never have created beings who he knew would be infinitely the losers by their existence.

Those who believe in the system which I am examining, believe in the existence of the devil, whose existence I have refuted in this work. I am willing, however, for the sake of the argument, to admit the existence of their God and devil likewise. But I wish to inquire, which of them is, in reality, the worst being. God, when he created mankind, perfectly knew that some of them would suffer endless torment for their sins; he must, therefore, have intended them for that purpose. For, it is inconsistent to suppose that the Almighty would create without a purpose; and his purpose could not be contrary to his knowledge. The matter then stands thus, God created millions of beings for endless misery, which they could not escape; the devil is desirous of having them miserable, and does all in his power to effect it. Now, reader, judge between these two beings. Had this devil been consulted by the Almighty when he laid the plan of man's final destiny, I cannot conceive him capable of inventing one more eligible to his infernal disposition than this which I am now disputing.

…It is . . . man that needs reconciliation. Men, while dictated by a carnal mind, are dissatisfied with God; they accuse him of being a hard master, reaping where he has not sown and gathering where he has not strewed. They think on the Al-mighty, but desire not the knowledge of his ways. They behold no beauty in him; he appears as a tyrant, regardless of his creatures. A consciousness of sin, without the knowledge of God, represents Deity as angry, and full of vengeance; in which sense, many Scriptures are written, as I have before observed. How often do we find that God has been provoked to wrath and jealousy, and his fury raised to a flame against the sinner? And how often do the Scriptures represent him repenting of his anger, and growing calm! All these Scriptures are written according to the circumstance of the creature, and the apprehensions which the unreconciled entertain of God. Viewing man in this state of unreconciliation to God and holiness, it appears evidently necessary that he should receive an atonement productive of a renewal of love to his Maker. Without atonement, God could never be seen as he is, "altogether lovely, and the chiefest among ten thousand;" nor could he be loved with the whole heart, mind, might and strength. How often are men grumbling at Providence, that things should be governed as they are? How often are men displeased at the Supreme Being himself? What an infinite number of hard speeches have sinners spoken against God? All which argue the necessity of atonement, whereby those maladies may be healed.

What an infinite difference there is between the All-gracious and Merciful, and his lost and bewildered creatures? He, all glorious, without a spot in the whole infinitude of his nature; all lovely, without exception, and loving, without partiality. Who can tell the thousandth part of his love to his offspring? And this invariably the same through every dispensation, without the smallest abatement. But what can we say of man? Lost in the wilderness of sin, wandering in the by-paths of iniquity, lost to the knowledge of his heavenly Benefactor, and dissatisfied with his God; he goes on grumbling and complaining, attributing the worst of characters to the most merciful, and entertaining no regard for the fountain of all his comforts. God never called for a sacrifice to reconcile himself to man; but loved man so infinitely, that he was pleased to bruise his Son for our good, to give him to die, in attestation of love to sinners.