The Atonement In The Light Of Conscience -- By: Lemuel S. Potwin

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 024:93 (Jan 1867)
Article: The Atonement In The Light Of Conscience
Author: Lemuel S. Potwin


The Atonement In The Light Of Conscience

Rev. Lemuel S. Potwin

Salvation by the atonement, whatever else may be true of it, is certainly right. This is the least that can be said in its favor. Yet on this very point our theories of the atonement present the greatest difficulty. They do not commend themselves plainly to the conscience. But no theory can stand without this endorsement of our sense of right. If the conscience is not satisfied the reason cannot be.

The strength of the Old School theory of the atonement lies in its seeming response to the demand of conscience, that sin must have its desert. Premising that the desert can come only by punishment, and then conceiving of a penalty per se that can exhaust itself upon the intrinsically innocent, the advocates of this theory satisfy themselves that sin has, in the person of Christ, received its penal desert. What sin really deserves we will consider further on; but it seems to us self-evident that sin cannot be punished without the punishment of the sinner. Hence, speaking for ourselves only, the theory under notice cannot satisfy our conscience, because the conscience cannot be satisfied by what the mind sees to be absurd.

But we are no better satisfied with any theory that leaves out of account the intrinsic desert of sin. We may see, with Dr. Bushnell, how the atonement satisfies our highest conceptions of love; but this makes more intolerable the want of a correspondingly full satisfaction of the sentiment of justice. The conscience is set for the defense of justice, and, though dazzled for a while by the overpowering rays of love, it never quite loses its hold on the idea of desert.

What is called the “governmental theory,” but which ought, we think, to be called the “manifestation theory,” is

often presented in such a way as to leave conscience and its demands very much out of sight. Dr. Taylor made the support of authority to be the end of both punishment and atonement. “When applied to denote the attribute of a perfect moral governor, justice is a benevolent disposition on his part to maintain by the requisite means his authority, as the necessary condition of the highest happiness of his kingdom.”1 But how can authority be maintained to any good purpose by punishments that are in the view of conscience unjust? Although, as we hope to show, the atonement does more than meet the ends of punishment, yet to do as much as that, must it not satisfy the sense of desert? In other words, if punishment must have such a relation to sin as the unperverted conscience pronounces just, why must not the atone...

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