When a man eats too much of any food, however wholesome it may be, he eats forbidden fruit; when he violates any law of health he eats fruit forbidden by those laws, which are Divine laws, written in his organization; and he cannot violate them without dying to the exact extent of their violation. Man’s sin consisted in departing from the laws of spiritual life, and consequently he began to die. Death followed as an inevitable consequence, and not from an arbitrary infliction of the Divine vengeance. The Lord did not change. His love did not turn to hatred. Man changed, and because he began to suffer pain, he attributed it to the Lord. He knew he had received all his joys from the Lord, and he could not be made to understand that he did not receive the pain which was caused by his sins, from Him also. This is the reason the Lord is represented as angry, in the Bible. It was an apparent truth, and is the highest man could then be made to understand. But the real truth is, that the Lord did not change from love to hate; the only change was in man.Our doctrines teach us that the Lord came to take away our sins. They direct us to fasten our whole thought and attention upon the sin, and never confound it with the punishment. They teach us to shun all evils, as sins against God, and not because they entail punishment; to pray to be saved from the penalty while we cherish the sin is hypocrisy, and can have no avail with the Lord.
On the contrary, the doctrine of the Christian Church looks primarily to the penalty; when it says sin it means punishment. This is the legitimate result of the whole theory; and it is a most fatal mistake, for it leads men to believe that they can be saved from mere mercy, and that salvation consists, essentially, in the Lord’s consent to remit the penalty of sin; that repentance consists really in being sorry that we are going to be damned, rather than that we have acted against so much goodness….You will observe that this places the necessity for our Lord’s sufferings upon an entirely different ground from the common theology. That declares that they were the penalty demanded by the Father and suffered by the Son; this affirms that they were the necessary consequence of the work He performed. The one declares that the Father punished the Son instead of the sinners; the other that He Himself came to save the sinner, regardless of the suffering that must attend the assumption and glorification of the nature He assumed; one doctrine declares, that punishment is the end of His coming, as the only means of saving men, the other that it was entirely incidental. One doctrine primarily regards the penalty of sin, the other the sin itself.
The question, then, naturally arises, What did His sufferings effect? if they did not pay the debt due to a violated justice, what did they contribute to human Salvation? I answer, Much, in Many ways, but nothing in the way commonly supposed.
They set forth in the clearest and most forcible manner the nature and extent of the Divine love. There are innumerable ways in which love can manifest itself. The whole universe manifests the love of the Lord. Our friends declare their love for us by speech and deed, but never so forcibly and clearly as by suffering for us. “Greater love bath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” If we have an abundance, it is easy enough to give. When the heart is full of love, it is painful not to show it by word and deed……. But when we forego our own delights, suffer ignominy and pain and the most cruel torments, and even death itself, for others, without any expectation of return, we give the highest test of our love. We prove that it is pure, unselfish, and the strongest principle within us, and it would seem impossible for any human being to be unaffected by it.
Suppose it was now made known to you for the first time, that some one, from pure love to you, had watched over you with the most untiring assiduity; had omitted no occasion to do you a service; had suffered privation, pain, ignominy; had labored for your good; had fought and overcome your enemies; had denied himself in everything, and taken upon himself every suffering that he might save you from sorrow; could you remain entirely unmoved by it? And if, at the same time, you should discover that you had been acting contrary to his will, and doing all in your power to oppose him; would not your heart be filled with shame and sorrow? How, then, can we fail to be affected by the Lord’s love for us, when we see what He has suffered for us from pure mercy? Bring it home to yourself as a distinct fact, that God Himself loves you with such an unselfish, infinite love; that He has voluntarily suffered what no merely human being could suffer, that He might save you from your sins, from the cause of all your sufferings, and bestow upon you eternal and perfect blessedness! Can you remain unaffected by such a view of the Divine character?……This is one of those important central points on which great principles turn, and become great truths or great errors. It is, therefore, worthy of our careful consideration. The point is this: While suffering is necessary to our salvation, it contributes nothing essential to it. It was what our Lord did for us that saved us, and not what He suffered. Suppose He could have assumed a human nature and glorified it, without suffering, He could have brought His life and power down to us in the same way, and with the same saving efficacy that He has now; for it would have been the same life, and would have operated in the same way. His sufferings make it no more powerful, and no less. They do not affect the result in any way. If His sufferings and death were a penalty which He paid for sin, in man’s stead, as is commonly supposed, then they were the important and only essential thing in the work of man’s salvation. But if He came to remove our sins, to heal our spiritual diseases, to open our eyes, to give strength to our palsied limbs, to raise us up from spiritual death by infusing His own life into us, it was the life we received that saved us, and not the pain it caused Him to do the work.