|Vol. VIII, No. 7
Tishry 5611, October 1850
Letter 27, The Sacrifice of Jesus
The doctrine of satisfaction and the necessity of Jesus’ sufferings and death, appears very mainly to have been invented by his followers; his whole conduct very evidently contradicts it. We are told that, “as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples; and when the Pharisees saw it they say unto his disciples, Why eateth your master with publicans and sinners? But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy and not sacrifice; for I am not come to call the righteous (says he) but sinners to repentance.”* Nothing can be more express than this declaration of his; but how contradictory to the present system of Christianity let any one judge. Jesus declared that they that be whole need not a physician, but only those that are sick; but Christians insist that unless <<358>>both the whole and sick have one, they must be damned.
Jesus freely declares that he came not to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance, but Christians insist that without faith they must be damned; repentance not being deemed by them sufficient. Jesus declares from Hosea* “that God will have mercy and not sacrifice;” but Christians contradict him, and strenuously insist that God could have no mercy without sacrifice. Is it possible that Jesus should have made such a declaration, if he knew that he himself was to be made a sacrifice? nay, a necessary sacrifice, to which he had, as Christians pretend, devoted and offered himself willingly and freely?
But it is very plain that all pretensions of this sort have no manner of foundation; since it was with the utmost reluctance that he suffered. “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death,”† (says he;) he prayed very fervently, “O my Father! if it be possible let this cup pass from me.”‡ “Father, if thou be willing remove this cup from me.”§ Here is what he earnestly desired and what he besought in the utmost agonies,—such as even made the sweat that came from him “as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground.”||
The whole of this transaction, therefore, evidently evinces that he had not made any such agreement; for either he knew his death to be necessary, or he was ignorant of it: if the first, then was his praying to be exempted from that which was necessary from that to which he had devoted himself, and from that which he came to perform, absurd and ridiculous; and would have been thought so had any common person acted in the like manner, for how could he so earnestly pray to be exempted from that which he knew was necessary for him to undergo, having freely offered himself? was the desire of saving the world a matter of such indifference to him!— was his love to mankind abated?
But if he knew not that his sufferings were necessary, or that, by his means, the world was to be saved: then could he not be that divine person which Christians make him, and consequently, if infinite satisfaction was necessary, or the death of God requisite, he could not be the person that could make it; that he could not be God, is plain, not only from his whole conduct, but also from the circumstance of the angel’s descent from heaven to strengthen him;¶ now for God to be either in such agonies or to stand in need of another’s assistance, appears to be such an absurdity, as surely ought not to be mentioned; for of what service or use would the divine nature be, if <<359>>it could not prevent human frailties and fears from getting the better of it, nor prevent its triumphing over it?*
On the whole, I think there redounds no honour to Jesus from the representation of this whole affair, since he prayed to be excused from it, and besought it with bloody sweats, it being done contrary to his inclination. “Not as I will,” says he, “but as thou wilt,”† or, “Not my will but thine be done;”‡ so that, if he was a divine person, he must have an opposite will to that of the Father, which, if so, it will be difficult to make it consistent; and either the Jews contracted no guilt, since there could be no salvation obtained without his sufferings; or salvation must be made the consequence of an obnoxious wicked act!
To these sad dilemmas are they reduced. We are told “that the whole economy of man’s redemption is everywhere represented to us as an unsearchable mystery of divine wisdom and goodness, and as the object of our belief, and not of our comprehension;”§ but, as this is the foundation on which the whole superstructure is built, I think that if the same be proved to be false, everything that is built thereon must fall; for can that be made a matter of belief, which we not only do not comprehend, but is contradictory in itself?
Neither can it be made to answer any end or purpose at all; for as to original sin, they do not pretend that it is atoned for, it being an article of faith that all that are born are enemies to God and slaves of the devil, and children are doomed by the Romish Church to limbo if they die before baptism, and the reformed condemn those that are born of parents not baptized to damnation; this they do for original sin, of which the children are most innocent, so that Jesus’ death was of no service.
And as to actual sin, we are as subject to be carried away by the flesh as our forefathers were; the same inclination, the same proneness to vice predominates in our weak natures, and experience will teach us that there is not the least alteration; so that his suffering wrought in us no cure. And, as to any spiritual benefit, it is plain that by this scheme the world is in a worse condition than it was before; for the Jews by the law of Moses, and the gentiles by that of nature, obtained salvation; but now the elect only are to be saved, and this saving doctrine is contracted to such narrow limits that it extends no farther than a particular sect; for the Roman Catholics send the reformed of all sects to the devil, and these in their turn do the like <<360>>not only by them, but by all of different sects; for salvation is en grossed, and made the sole privilege of those within their own pale, and to the rest of mankind they show no mercy, as appears by their creeds.
What was it, then, that his death redeemed the world from?—Was it the cause of introducing true religion? his death for that purpose was needless, and it might have been done without his suffering. But where, or among what sect or party is this true religion to be religion?—Is it in the Romish Church? This the others contradict. Is it to be found in many particular sects? This will be denied by all. This now being the case, of what benefit were Jesus’ sufferings and death?—Could they, in fact, show the benefit thereof, and demonstrate the cures pretended to be wrought by them: then indeed they might boast, and have some reason to apply the prophecy to him; but to pretend to impute it to him without proving the effects, is very extraordinary.
How inconsistent are Christians to their doctrines! They tell us that Jesus atoned and made satisfaction for original sin, and yet declare that children are born with it. But again they pretend that it is done away by baptism, his death benefiting those only who received it,—all others continuing under its penalty the same as if he had not suffered; so that to be free from original sin (for which no one ever thought himself in any wise accountable) his death is not sufficient; the atonement being made to consist in baptism, or in being sprinkled with water.
And after all, they place the efficacy of the cure in the imagination; for they will tell you that Jesus did his part, and by his death freed every one from this sin; but it is necessary that you think so, for otherwise you can receive no benefit from it. You must therefore first think yourself under God’s curse and indignation, and then imagine Jesus had freed you from it; that is, you must imagine yourself sick, and then imagine Jesus has cured you, and then you are sound and well; but if you have not strength of imagination sufficient to make you think yourself sick, and consequently, that you stand in no need of medicine, why then, and in such case, Adam’s eating the forbidden fruit will rise in judgment against you, and you must be eternally damned.
Is not mankind by this redemption scheme in a much worse condition than it was before? Was this the inestimable blessing which the world received by his death? Perhaps one in a thousand will be saved, and all the rest are to be damned. Now, how he carried our sorrows and our griefs, or how he bore our iniquities and our transgressions, or how he made atonement for our sins, and in what manner he justified us, are things which I confess I am not able to comprehend.
To this I answer, By this scheme Jesus was only a saviour in part, and the redemption must then be as incomplete as it is absurd, besides that it takes from him the merits of having saved the world; for if our personal righteousness be necessary, or our repentance and amendment, then cannot his death be any advantage to us, because upon these terms, as I before observed, we ever had assurance of being accepted. Nothing can be more contradictory than to pretend that a person (and he a just one, too,) was to suffer, that the wicked might receive reward; for if that be the case men would be rewarded without regard to their merits; for personal merits must necessarily belong to the agent, and are connected with the very individual, inherent in himself, and no transfer can be made of them from one agent to another; consequently, to claim another’s merits is the most absurd and incoherent scheme that ever was invented.
Is it reasonable that a person plead another’s merits, and pretend to justify himself by faith? —will this plea of justification avail the greatest villain? and shall one who practises all the moral duties of life be damned because he lacks that faith? Can it be made consistent with either Scripture or reason (to make faith the reward of the wicked), that the wicked be rewarded through faith, and to impute it to them for righteousness; whilst they deny to the good, who have led a life of goodness and virtue, the reward due to their merits?
If God accepts faith, let them trust to it, and let there be no distinction between moral good and evil; but if good works be deemed necessary, why shall not he who practises them be benefited thereby, let him belong to what sect or society, either choice or chance may have placed him in? Shall the merits of one person benefit all that will plead them, and shall not personal acts and righteousness <<362>>avail those who practise them? can anything be more inconsistent with God’s justice and mercy? Thus you see to what absurdities the scheme of Jesus’ sufferings and passion leads them.
But in truth this is only an invention, and entirely fictitious; for let them suppose that the Jews had received Jesus as their Messiah; that they had believed him to be God himself, and that they had paid him, whilst living, the adoration paid to him by Christians since his death; what must have been the consequence? must the world have been damned? this must have been the consequence, because, no atonement, no justification, no imputed righteousness, no faith could then have been pleaded, and of consequence all must perish everlastingly. Are they, therefore, not obliged to us for performing the act, though wicked, as represented, since it brought them salvation? how ungrateful are they for this benefit?
Jesus underwent a momentary pain, and for that they reverence and adore him; the Jews were involved in the same act, they were appointed to the work, but they brought destruction and damnation on themselves and posterity by doing their part; and are yet despised, ill treated, and abused by those very persons who pretend to reap the benefit. These are the absurdities attending this incomprehensible scheme, they are in the right, therefore, to call it “an unsearchable mystery,” and as such let those who can believe it.
I am, &c.