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A Treatise on Atonement, by Hosea Ballou

Hosea Ballou's 1805 work on Universalist theology, edited by Rev. Dan Harper.
Table of Contents.
Return to chapter 4.
Continue to chapter 6, The Personage and Character of the Mediator.

Chapter 5. The Necessity of Atonement, and Where Satisfaction Must Be Made

I have already entered my protest against the necessity of atonement, on the principles upon which Christians have generally believed it, by showing the finite nature of sin, and the error of supposing that the law of God required the endless misery of mankind as a penal requisition.

Atonement signifies reconciliation, or satisfaction, which is the same. It is a being unreconciled to truth and justice which needs reconciliation; and it is a dissatisfied being which needs satisfaction. Therefore I raise my inquiry on the question, Is God the unreconciled or dissatisfied party, or is it man?

For our assistance on this question, let us turn our attention to God's dealings with Adam on the day of transgression, and the conduct of Adam, the transgressor. After Adam had eaten of the forbidden fruit, his eyes opened to the knowledge of good and evil, and he found himself naked, and endeavored to hide himself from God, which he certainly would not have done had he considered his Maker his friend. Sin produced two errors in the mind of Adam, which have been very incident to mankind ever since; the first was, he believed God to be his enemy, in consequence of disobedience; and, secondly, that he could reconcile his Maker by works of his own. The first of these errors we discover from Adam's endeavoring to hide from God; and the second is seen in his endeavoring to clothe himself with the works of his own hands.

It is plain that a material change had taken place in Adam; but can we prove that any alteration happened in God? It is very evident that Adam was unreconciled to God; but it is equally as evident that God was not unreconciled to him. God's calling Adam in the cool of the day, and asking him where he was; clothing him with a garment of skins, and promising that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head, are beautiful representations of the parental love and fatherly care of the Creator. It ought to be observed that God pronounced no curse on Adam, but on the serpent. If the Almighty had been unreconciled or dissatisfied with his creature man, in room of promising him a final victory over the serpent, the curse would undoubtedly have fallen on the object of his displeasure.

To say that God loved man any less after transgression than before, denies his unchangeability; but to say that man was wanting in love to God, places him in his real character. As God was not the unreconciled party, no atonement was necessary for his reconciliation. Where there is dissatisfaction, it presupposes an injured party; and can it be hard to determine which was injured by sin, the Creator or the sinner? If God were unreconciled to man, the atonement was necessary to renew his love to his creature; but if man were the unreconciled, the atonement was necessary to renew his love to his Creator. The matter is now stated so plainly that no person who can read can mistake.

I shall now endeavor to prove from scripture that the atonement by Christ was the effect and not the cause of God's love to man. See St. John iii. 16:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him might no perish, but have everlasting life.

According to this passage, nothing is more plain in Scripture than the idea that what Christ did for sinners was a consequence of God's love to them. Again, verse 17:

for God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.

This passage says that God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world; but according to the general idea of the atonement, Christ stood as the proxy of man, and the world was tried in him, and condemned in him, and in him suffered the penalty of the law which man had transgressed. It is also said, in the text, that Christ was sent that the world through him might be saved; which, if true, goes to prove that the Father's object in Christ's coming into the world was the salvation of the sinner, and not for the removing of any dissatisfaction in himself towards them. Again, see Rom. v. 8:

But God commendeth his love towards us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ dies for us.

As the death of Christ is here spoken of as a commendation of God's love to us, it ought to be considered as an effect and not the cause of that love. Again, 1st Epistle of John iv. 9:

In this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world that we might live through him.

If Christ's coming into the world were a manifestation of God's love to us, this love must have existed before he came, and his coming was an effect produced by it. Verse 10: "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins." Verse 19: "We love him because he first loved us."

From those passages, and many more which might be quoted to the same effect, it is easy to learn that what the Mediator did for sinners was the consequence and not the cause of God's love to us. God being infinite in all his glorious attributes, he can by no means love at one time and hate the same object at another. His divine omniscience comprehended all the events of time and eternity; therefore nothing could take place to remove his love from an object on which it was placed. The Almighty had no occasion to dislike Adam after transgression, any more than he had even before he made him; for he knew as well then that Adam would sin, as he did after it was actually done. The reason that we mortals love an object at one time, and dislike it another, is the weakness of our understandings; we have not always the same view of the same object. We may slight an object of great value, its excellence being out of our sight; and we may set our affections on one of no value by erroneously attaching a value to it which it did not possess. But the Infinitely Wise is subject to no mistakes; he comprehends the whole futurition of all moral beings, and loves them as his own offspring, with a love consistent with his immutable existence. Therefore, it is evident, that God was not the unreconciled, and, of course, did not require an atonement to reconcile himself to his creatures.

Let us now turn on the other side, and see if man be not reconciled to God; and if it would not be more reasonable to reconcile man to his Maker than to reconcile God to the sinner. See Psalm xiv. 2-3:

The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand and seek God. They are all gone aside; they are altogether become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

The apostle Paul, in the third chapter of Romans, giving a general description of mankind, introduces it with the passage from Psalms, which I have just quoted, and continues it by an assemblage of various passages (verses 13-18):

Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known; there is no fear of God before their eyes.

It is very evident that the apostle meant to exclude none from this description, as the reader may learn from verse 19:

Now we know, that what thing soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law; that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.

Again, chap. v. 12:

Wherefore, as by one man, sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and do death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.

That the scriptures abundantly prove that all men are sinners, and in an unreconciled state, will not be disputed by any. Then it is certainly 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 Almighty, 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 circumstances 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 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 a 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 own good, to give him to die, in attestation of love to sinners.

The belief that the great Jehovah was offended with his creatures to that degree that nothing but the death of Christ, or the endless misery of mankind, could appease his anger, is an idea that has done more injury to the Christian religion than the writings of all its opposers, for many centuries. The error has been fatal to the life and spirit of the religion of Christ in our world; all those principles which are to be dreaded by men, have been believed to exist in God; and professors have been molded into the image of their Deity, and become more cruel than the uncultivated savage! A persecuting inquisition is a lively representation of the God which professed Christians have believed in ever since the apostacy. It is every day's practice to represent the Almighty so offended with man, that he employs his infinite mind in devising unspeakable tortures, as retaliations on those with whom he is offended. Those ideas have so obscured the whole nature of God from us, that the capacious religion of the human mind has been darkened by the almost impenetrable cloud; even the tender charities of nature have been frozen with such tenets, and the natural friendship common to human society, has, in a thousand instances, been driven from the walks of man.

But, says the reader, is it likely that persecution ever rose from men's believing, that God was an enemy to wicked man? Undoubtedly; for had all professors of Christianity believed that God had compassion on the ignorant and those who are out of the way, how could they have persecuted those whom they believe in error? But, with contrary views, whose who professed to believe in Christ, who professed to be the real disciples of him who taught his disciples to love their enemies, have been the fomenters of persecution; they have persecuted even unto death, those who could not believe all the absurdities in orthodox creeds. It may be asked, if those animosities did not arise from pride, ambition and carnal mindedness? I answer, yes; and so does the God in whom persecuting Christians believe, for they form a God altogether like unto themselves; therefore, while they vainly fancy they are in the service of the true God, they are following the dictates of pride and unlawful ambition, the natural production of a carnal mind; and atonement is the only remedy for the evil.

Men are dissatisfied with the Almighty and his providence; they are dissatisfied with, and are enemies of, one another; whereas our true happiness consists of loving God, and our neighbors. Men in possession of vile appetites, pursue with greediness, their gratification; but still, they retain their wants, their souls are allied to heaven and holiness, and can never be happy without them. They are conscious of sin, and feel condemnation resting on their minds; they look forward to the awful scene of dissolution, and their souls start back with horror. Death is the king of terrors to the unreconciled; how awful are the thoughts of death to those whose hopes are only the feeble productions of their fears and wants, unsupported with divine evidence! Oh, how necessary is atoning grace on such an occasion, whereby a divine confidence may by enjoyed; the value thereof cannot be estimated by earthly treasures; all the shining dust of India, and the riches of the south, are poverty when compared with the riches of a reconciled mind.

Without atonement, God's glorious design in the everlasting welfare of his offspring, man, could never be effected; the ordination of an infinitely merciful God could never be carried into effect. The Almighty must not be deprived of the means of accomplishing his gracious designs. We read of his covenant with day and night, which cannot be broken; but it would be broken at once, should the causes cease that produce their changes. So of the covenant of eternal mercy, the testament of eternal life, it must be put in force by the death of the testator, and its life and immortal glory be brought to light through his resurrection. Let it be understood, that it is man who receives the atonement, who stands in need of reconciliation, who, being dissatisfied, needs satisfaction; and not place those imperfections and wants in him who is infinite in his fulness; and the doctrine of atonement may be sought for in the nature of things, and found to be rational to the understanding.

That man receives the atonement, was evidently the opinion of St. Paul (see Rom. v. 11):
And not only so, but we also joy in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.

Were there a single passage in the Scriptures that would reach half as far in proving that God received the atonement, as the one just quoted does to prove that man received it, the matter might be considered more disputable than it now is.

We read that men are enemies to God by wicked works, which teaches us that enmity is wickedness. Should we then dare to say that God is our enemy? It is wrong for us to be enemies even to those who injure us, much more to those who never had it is their power to do us any harm. I wish to ask, did any of God's creatures ever injure him? Surely not. Why then does hi turn our enemy? He commands us to love our enemies, that we may be like him; but if he hate his enemies, we must hate ours if we would be like him. If he be not our enemy, he needs no atonement. But if men are enemies to God, they need an atonement to bring them to love him who loves them.

Here the reader will observe that we shun those difficulties which have represented the Gospel of Christ so inconsistent. We now view the Almighty the same, yesterday, today, and forever; by no means changed in his disposition towards his creatures, but always designing and working in all things, for their good. Here is no need of the self-contradictory notion of altering an unalterable being; of satisfying an infinite dissatisfaction; of reconciling a being who was never unreconciled; of producing love in love itself; of causing an eternal unchangeable friend to be friendly, or of offering a sacrifice to the eternal father of our spirits, to cause him to love and have mercy on his offspring.


How much more reasonable it is to suppose ourselves in need of those alterations. But unhappily men have looked at Deity through the medium of a carnal mind, and have formed all their evil tempers in Jehovah; like the deceived astronomer, who fancied he saw a monster in the sun, occasioned by a fly on his glass. The creature being in the medium of sight, was supposed to be in the object beheld; and though it was small in itself, and would have appeared so, could it have been seen where it was; yet carrying it into the sun, it magnified to an enormous size. So it is with our vile and sinful passions, could we behold them in ourselves, and view them as they are, they would appear in their finite and limited sphere; but the moment we form those passions in Deity, they magnify to infinity. Let a council of astronomers be called, who are all deceived by the fly; let them consult on the bigness of the monster, calculate how long it has been growing, and how soon it may wholly absorb the sun; let them endeavor to account for its cause, and analyze its constitution, inform us of the degrees of heat its lungs sustain, and how many degrees hotter it is than iron can be heated in a furnace. But here is room for disagreement, which may give rise to great disputations. To one, it appears much larger than to another; they cannot judge alike, with regard to its age, nor how much larger it will grow; some are ready to dispute its being a living creature, fancying it may be an opaque body. They are all agreed that there is a phenomenon in the sun, but dispute, and even quarrel, about its peculiarities. What would become of all their calculations the moment they should discover the fly? All would be gone, at once, and the sun would be relieved of the burden of so ponderous a monster.

How many various calculations have divines made, on the fury and wrath which they have discovered in God. How much they have preached and written, on the awful subject; and how many the ways they have invented, to appease such wrath and vengeance! When we come to see the error, and find those principles in ourselves, all those notions vanish at once. The fly on the glass might easily have been removed, or destroyed; but had there been a monster in the sun, what calculations could mortals have made to remove it; enmity in man may be overcome with love; but, did it exist in God, it must be infinite and eternal.

To conclude, the supposition that Deity receives the atonement, or any possible advantage from the Gospel plan, whereby an alteration is effected in him for the better, amounts to the inexplicable absurdity of making omniscience more wise, omnipotence more powerful, justice more just; and of giving love the power of loving, of making mercy more merciful, truth more true, and goodness better; for these are the seven spirits of God, which are in all the earth, and they are without the shadow of turning.

Having shown, as I hope, to the reader's satisfaction, the necessity of atonement, and where satisfaction must be made and reconciliation take place, I shall pass to make some inquires into the personage of the Mediator who makes the atonement, and his ability for performing the work.

Continue to chapter 6, The Personage and Character of the Mediator.
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