LETTER - IN ANSWER TO A SCRUPLE.
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That you may have a full answer to your scruple, concerning these words, “the folly of debtor and creditor,” in the second part of the Spirit of Love, I will set forth the doctrine from whence it is taken. Great part of that book, is to clear up, and assert the true scripture doctrine of the nature, necessity, and merit of our Lord’s sufferings and death, as an atonement, and satisfaction before God, in the work of our redemption. No point of Christianity has been more mistaken, in our common systems of gospel doctrine, or given greater offense than this, and yet nothing clearer, or more reasonably to be believed, when it stands in its own scriptural manifestation.
Now the right ground of understanding the true meaning of every different expression, relating to Christ as our savior, or salvation, lies in these two things: 1. What Christ is in himself. 2. What he does, or intends to do for us.
The scripture saith, “God was manifested in the flesh”; this describes his whole nature, what he was in himself, viz., the deity become man. What he is, and does in us, and for us, is expressed in the following words, “He was manifested to destroy the works of the devil”; and again, “as in Adam all die, so in Christ, shall all be made alive.”
Now according to this ground, every expression concerning our savior, is to have its true infallible meaning fixed. Everything that is said of his birth, his life, his sufferings, his death, his resurrection and ascension, are all of them, both with respect to God, and ourselves, of one and the same efficacy, full of one and the same merit, and all for one and the same end, viz., to destroy in man the works of the devil, and to make all that died in Adam, to be alive again in Christ.
Suppose now, any one of these to be wanting, and the same will follow from it, as if they were all wanting. Had his birth been otherwise than it was, not God as well as man, he could have made no beginning of a divine life in us. Had not his life been without sin, his death upon the cross could have done us no good, nor could have been the one mediator between God and sinful man. Had his sufferings been less than they were, had there been any evil, trial, or temptation, which had not attacked him, through the whole course of his life, with all its force, he could not have been said, to have overcome them. So sure therefore as Christ, as a son of man was to overcome all that the world, the flesh, and the devil, could do to fallen man; so sure is it, that all the evils, which they could possibly bring upon fallen man, were to be felt, and suffered by him, as absolutely necessary in the nature of the thing, to prove his victorious superiority over them. Had he not given up his body to an ignominious death, in all the horrors of a soul, that had lost its God: he could not have suffered that in, and for man, which every man must have suffered, who had died in his fallen state. But Christ dying, and sacrificing himself, as he did, in and through that horrible death, which was fallen man’s gate to eternal misery, and conquering this state of man, as he had every evil power of the world, the flesh, and the devil, then it was, that he could say to those, who were all their life in fear of this death, be of good comfort, I have overcome this death, and that upon the same ground, as he said to his followers, under a sense of worldly tribulations, “be of good comfort, I have overcome the world.” And thus his death, had no other nature, with respect to us, than every other part of his process, that was antecedent to it, only as it was the last, and greatest, and finishing part of that redeeming work, which was begun by his divine birth, and carried on in, and through his sinless, perfect life. And as I said, that the death of man unredeemed, was his gate into an eternal separation from God, so Christ’s entrance into this gate of damnation, and pouring out his blood, thus forsaken of God, had a suffering in it, that thoughts can no more conceive, than words express.
Hence it is, by way of eminence, justly said, to be the highest price, that he paid for us; and that by his blood it is that we are washed, and redeemed, not only because of its greatness in itself, but because it finished, and for ever completed the whole redeeming work, which he had to do for us in the flesh. Hence it was, that through the Old Testament, this sacrifice of his death, is the great thing mostly pointed at in all its sacrifices, types, and figures; hence also is all the boast of it in the gospel.
Well therefore may the church, through all ages, have ascribed so much to the merit of his blood shed for us; well may it have been celebrated, as the one great price, by which we are ransomed from the power of death and hell; because though all that he was, and did, antecedently to it, was equally necessary to our salvation, yet all had been without any effect, unless by his so dying, this damnable death had been swallowed up in victory.
In short, had not Christ been real God, as well as real man, he could have made no beginning in the work of our salvation, and had he not ended his life in such a sacrifice, as he did, he could never have said, “It is finished.”
He therefore, who denieth the truth, the certainty, and absolute necessity of these two essential points, is in the abomination of Socinianism, and is that very liar and anti-Christ described by St. John in his first epistle.
Again, though Christ’s death was thus absolutely necessary in the very nature of the thing, thus great in its merits and effects, yet unless his resurrection had followed, we had been yet in our sins, nor could he, till risen from the grave, have purchased a resurrection for us. Lastly, had he not ascended into heaven, he could not have had the power of drawing, as he said, all men to himself. Every part therefore of our savior’s character, or process, has its full and equal share in all that, which is said of him, as our peace with God, our righteousness, our justification, our ransom, our atonement, our satisfaction, our life and new birth; for all these different expressions, have no difference in doctrine, but whether separately, or jointly taken, signify nothing else, but this one thing, that he was the true and full destroyer of all the works of the devil in man, and the true raiser of a divine life, in all that died in Adam.
And here, sir, you are well to observe, that all that Christ was, did, suffered, and obtained, was purely and solely on the account, and for the sake of altering, or removing that which was wrong, evil, and miserable in man, or in scripture words, “God was in Christ Jesus, reconciling the world to himself,” that is, taking away from man every property, or power of evil, that kept him in a state of separation from God. Thus it was, and to this end, that “God was in Christ Jesus” in his whole process.
Unreasonably therefore have our scholastic systems of the gospel, separated the sacrifice of Christ’s death, from the other parts of his process, and considered it as something chiefly done with regard to God, to alter, or atone an infinite wrath, that was raised in God against fallen man, which infinity of just vengeance, or vindictive justice, must have devoured the sinner, unless an infinite satisfaction had been made to it, by the death of Christ.
All this, is in the grossest ignorance of God, of the reason and ground, and effects of Christ’s death, and in full contradiction to the express letter of scripture. For there we are told, that God is love, and that the infinity of his love was that alone, which showed itself towards fallen man, and wanted to have satisfaction done to it; which love-desire could not be fulfilled, could not be satisfied with anything less than man’s full deliverance from all the evil of his fallen state. That love, which has the infinity of God, nay, which is God himself, was so immutably great towards man, though fallen from him, “that he spared not his only begotten Son”; and why did he not spare him? It was because nothing but the incarnate life of his eternal Son, passing through all the miserable states of lost man, could regenerate his first divine life in him. Can you possibly be told this, in stronger words than these, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son”; how did he give him? Why, in his whole process. And to what end did he give him? Why, “that all who believe in him, might not perish, but have everlasting life.” Away then with the superstitious dream, of an infinite wrath in God towards poor fallen man, which could never cease, till an infinite satisfaction was made to it. All scripture denies it, and the light of nature abhors it. The birth, the life, the death of Christ, though so different things, have but one and the same operation, and that operation is solely in man, to drive all evil out of his fallen nature, and delight the heart of God, that desires his salvation. God is love, and has no other will towards man, but the will of love. That love, which from itself began the creation of an holy Adam, from itself began the redemption of a fallen Adam. The death of Christ was a sacrifice from the love of God the Son towards man, to overcome thereby that damnable death, which, otherwise, every son of Adam must have died; it was a sacrifice offered to the same love, in God the Father; a sacrifice, equally loved and desired by both of them, because, in the nature of the thing, as absolutely necessary to alter and overcome that evil, which belonged to man’s state of death, as the incarnation of the WORD, was absolutely necessary in the nature of the thing, to make man to be alive again in God.
This is the one only true, and full confutation of Socinianism.
But to have recourse to a supposed wrath, or vindictive justice, in a God incensed towards fallen man, in order to confute the Socinian, who denies the necessity, and effects of Christ’s death, is only opposing one great falsity with another. For wrath has no more place in God, than love has in the devil. Wrath began with devils, hell, and fallen nature, and can have no possible existence anywhere, or in anything, but where devils, hell, and fallen nature, have their power of working.
Do not, my friend, be here so furious, as to say, that if it was strictly true, that there was no wrath in God, you would burn your Bible: for if it was strictly true, you would never have had a Bible to burn; nor any more messages from heaven about man’s salvation, than from hell. For if you will have wrath in the most high God, you can have no other, or better a God, than that which the atheistical Spinoza invented.
Therefore if nature is in the most high God, then the lowest working of nature, is the true supreme God. And so instead of a supernatural God, who created heaven and earth, heaven and earth, and all things else, are the only God.
This is the atheistical absurdity, that necessarily follows from the supposing a wrath in God; for wrath can no more be anywhere, but in nature, than storms and tempests can be, where there is nothing that moves.
Let me here, sir, observe to you the barefaced calumny, that Dr.
Warburton has ventured to cast upon me, in charging my writings with Spinozism, though all that I have wrote for these last twenty years, has been such a full contradiction of it, as is not to be found in any book, that has been purposely wrote against it. Had I only proved, as I have done, by a variety of proofs, that wrath cannot possibly be in the true God, I had sufficiently confuted Spinozism; for if not wrath, then nothing of nature is in God. But I have gone much further, and have, in my Appeal, the book of Regeneration, the Spirit of Prayer, the Spirit of Love, and the Way to Divine Knowledge, opened the true ground of the unchangeable distinction between God and nature, making all nature, whether temporal or eternal, its own proof, that it is not, cannot be God, but purely and solely the WANT of God, and can be nothing else in itself but a restless, painful want, till a supernatural God manifests himself in it. This is a doctrine, which the learned of all ages have known nothing of; not a book ancient or modern in all our libraries, has so much as attempted to open the ground of nature, to show its birth and state, and its essential unalterable distinction from the one abyssal, supernatural God; and how all the glories, powers, and perfections of the hidden, unapproachable God, have their wonderful manifestation in nature and creature. This is a blessing reserved by God for these last times, to be opened in his chosen instrument, the poor, illiterate Behmen. And this I will venture to say, that he who will declare war against him, has no choice of any other weapons, but raillery and reproach.
To call the blessed man, a possessed cobbler, will be doing something; to call his writings, senseless jargon, may stand his learned adversary in great stead; but if he tries to overcome him any other way, his success will be like his, who knocks his head against a post. But no more of this here.
And now, sir, what shall I say of my learned, accusing doctor? Why only this, that if he knows how to forgive himself, then there will be one thing at least, in which we are both of us like-minded.
A word or two now to yourself and friends, who are so loath to own a God who is all love: let me tell you, if you will have wrath in the supreme God, you must have a God, in whom is selfishness, envy, and pride, with all the properties of fallen nature. For as it is impossible for one of these to be without the other in the creature, so if any one of them was in God, all the other must be there. They are the four essential elements of hell, or fallen nature, which mutually beget, and are begotten of one another; where one is, there are all of them, and where all are not, there cannot be one of them. Every pride consists of three things, selfishness, envy, and wrath.
And so of every one of them, take which you will, it consists of the other three, so that to separate them, is to separate a thing from itself.
Divine love is just as contrary to them, as God is to the devil; and where love is not, there God is not, and where the work is not wholly the working of love, it is no work of God, but the selfish, wrathful, proud, envious working of the diabolical nature, fallen from its first blessed subjection to, and union with the supernatural God of love.
To talk (as some do) of a good wrath in God, which is only so called, because it has a likeness to, and produces like effects to those that come from wrath in the creature, is but calling that a good wrath, which is like a bad wrath, and is no better, no wiser, than to talk of a good envy, a good pride in God, which are only so called, because they have a likeness to that, which is a bad pride, and a bad envy in the creature. Can anything be more profanely absurd than this? Which yet is the best that can be said by those, who will have it the glory of God, to be wrathful, who think all is lost, that the gospel salvation is blasphemed, if the same love that created man in glory, should be his only redeemer, when he had fallen from it. Not considering, that salvation could never have come into the world, but because, all that good and blessing, which love can be, and do to the creature, must be done, and doing for ever and ever, by that first creating God, whose name and nature, whose will and working, is love, the same yesterday, today, and forever.
And now, sir, need I say much more, to remove your scruple about the following passage in the Spirit of Love, “No wrath in God, no fictitious atonement, no folly of debtor and creditor, no suffering for suffering’s sake, but a Christ suffering and dying, as his same victory over death and hell, as when he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven.” (Spirit of Love, Second Part.)
I said folly of debtor and creditor, because Christ’s overcoming man’s damnable death, by his victorious passage through it, has nothing in it that has any likeness to the transaction of a debtor paying his creditor; nothing was done in it by way of payment of a debt, any more than Christ paid a debt for Lazarus, when he raised him from the dead, or paid a debt for the man born blind, whom he helped to seeing eyes. For the good that is done us by the death of Christ, is a good that relates solely to ourselves.
Nothing in it, is given to, or received but by ourselves; it overcomes, and saves us from our own evil of death, just as that, which Christ did to Lazarus, and the blind man, overcame the death that was in the one, and the darkness that was in the other.
You appeal to a parable of our Lord’s, which has no more relation to the nature and efficacy of Christ’s death, than the parable of the tares of the field. St. Peter saith, “How oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him, till seven times?” Christ answereth, “Not until seven times, but until seventy times seven.” And then he sets forth this doctrine of continual forgiveness in the following parable. “The kingdom of God is likened to a certain king, who would take account of his servants,” etc. Read the whole parable, and you will be forced to see, that nothing else is intended to be taught by it, but that one conclusion, which Christ draws from it: “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do unto you, if ye from your hearts, forgive not everyone his brother their trespasses.” All that the parable saith, is neither more nor less, than is said in these other words, “Be ye merciful, as your Father which is in heaven is merciful”: again, the doctrine of this parable, quite overthrows that, which systematic doctors intend by debtor and creditor; for their doctrine is, that the injured authority of God must have full satisfaction made to it, and thence it is, that they ground the necessity of so great a payment, as Christ made to it. Whereas this parable of the kingdom of God, sets forth a king, (N.B.) frankly forgiving, and not requiring any payment at all, either from the debtor himself, or from anyone else for him. Can there therefore be a greater folly, than to appeal to this, and the like scriptures, to make God a creditor, whose vindictive wrath against his debtor, will not be appeased, till full payment is made to it? And what a blind persisting is it in the same folly, to urge the petition in the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” as another proof, that God is that creditor, who will be fully paid the debts, that are due to him? For surely, if God requires us to expect, and pray for the forgiveness of our debts, it is badly concluded from thence, that therefore full payment of them, must be made.
The truth is, this petition teaches the same frank forgiveness, as the foregoing parable, and is utterly inconsistent with the doctrine of an infinite satisfaction, necessary to be made; for if so, then the petition ought to have been thus, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” (N.B.) “when full payment is made, either by themselves, or by someone else for them.”
In a word, vindictive wrath in God, that will not forgive, till a satisfaction equal to the offense, is made to it, sets the goodness of God in a lower state, than that which has been found in thousands of mankind. The truth of the matter, is this, the divinity of Christ, and his whole process through life and death, was absolutely necessary in the nature of the thing, to raise man out of the death of sin, into a heavenly birth of life. And the necessity of all this, is grounded upon the certainty of man’s fall, from a divine, into a bestial life of this world. The Socinian blasphemy consists in the denial of these points, the deity of Christ, and the fall of man, and the necessity of Christ’s death. Our scholastic doctors, own the fall of man, but know, or own nothing of the true nature and depth of it. They own the truth of Christ’s divinity, and the necessity of his sufferings; they plead for the certainty of these things from scripture words, but see not into the ground of them, or in what, the absolute necessity of them consists. Hence it is, that when opposed by Socinian reasoning, they are at a loss how to support these great truths, and are forced to humanize the matter, and to suppose such a vindictive wrath in God, as usually breaks forth in great princes, when a revolt is made, against their sovereign authority.
What a paltry logic, to say, God is righteousness and justice, as well as love, and therefore his love cannot help, or forgive the sinner, till his justice, or righteous wrath has satisfaction? Every word here, is in full ignorance of the things spoken of. For what is love in God, but his unchangeable love of his own goodness, his impossibility of loving anything else but it, his impossibility of suffering anything that is unrighteous, to have any communion with him? What is God’s forgiving sinful man? It is nothing else in its whole nature, but God’s making him righteous again. There is no other forgiveness of sin, but being made free from it. Therefore the compassionate love of God, that forgives sin, is no other, than God’s love of his own righteousness, for the sake of which, and through the love of which, he makes man righteous again. This is the one righteousness of God, that is rigorous, that makes no abatements, that must be satisfied, must be fulfilled in every creature that is to have communion with him. And this righteousness that is thus rigorous, is nothing else but the unalterable purity and perfection of the divine love, which from eternity to eternity can love nothing but its own righteousness, can will nothing but its own goodness, and therefore can will nothing towards fallen man, but the return of his lost goodness, by a new birth of the divine life in him, which is the true forgiveness of sins. For what is the sinful state of man? It is nothing else, but the loss of that divine nature, which cannot commit sin; therefore the forgiving man’s sin, is in the truth and reality of it, nothing else, but the revival of that nature in man, which being born of God sinneth not. Lastly, let me ask these dividers of the divine nature, what different shares, or different work, had the righteousness, and the love of God in the creation of man? Was there then something done by the love of God, which ought not to be ascribed to the righteousness of God? Who can be so weak, as to say this? But if the love and the righteousness of God, is one, as God is one, and had but one work in the creation of man, it must be the highest absurdity, to say, that in the redemption of man, the love, and the righteousness of God, must have, not only different, but contrary works, that the love of God cannot act, till the righteousness of God, as something different from it, is first satisfied.
All that which we call the attributes of God, are only so many human ways of our conceiving that Abyssal All, which can neither be spoken, nor conceived by us. And this way of thinking, and speaking of God, is suitable to our capacities, has its good use, and helps to express our adoration of him, and his perfections. But to conclude, and contend, that there must therefore be, different qualities in God, answerable, or according to our different ways of thinking, and speaking of his perfections, is rather blaspheming, than truly glorifying his name, and nature. For omnipotent love, inconceivable goodness, is that unity of God, which we can neither conceive, as it is in itself, nor divide into this, or that. The importance of the subject I have been upon, has led me further than I intended. But for the full illustration of it, I refer you to the Second Part of the Spirit of Love. And so committing you to a God, who has no will towards you, but in, and through the life, and death, the Spirit and power of the holy Jesus, to deliver you from all your natural evil, and make you his beloved son, in whom, he can be well pleased to all eternity, I bid you farewell.
July 18, 1757.