The Vicarious Element In The Divine Government -- By: N. S. Burton

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 050:198 (Apr 1893)
Article: The Vicarious Element In The Divine Government
Author: N. S. Burton


The Vicarious Element In The Divine Government

Rev. N. S. Burton

The chief objection made to the doctrine of the Atonement is that it offends our ethical instincts. It is said that our instinctive sense of righteousness forbids that an innocent person should take the place of a criminal, and the criminal be released from penalty. The principles of righteous government, it is said, require not merely that penalty follow crime, but that the criminal himself be punished; transfer of guilt or merit seems as impossible as of character or personal identity, and we do not see how there can be a transfer of penalty or reward, or how such a transfer can satisfy either justice or mercy.

Is it not possible that this objection claims too much for what we call our intuitive sense of righteousness? Is such an a priori judgment of equal authority with our intuitions respecting time and space, and to be treated as infallible? Does not the scientific method require us to ascertain what are the facts in providential government, as an astronomer takes observation of a comet to determine its orbit, and when we have made a sufficient number of observations to enable us to define the orbit in which the divine administration does actually move, to conform our notions of righteousness to facts thus ascertained? None of our a priori judgments can be more positive than our conviction that God is righteous—that the Judge of all the earth will do

right. To question this would be to contemplate moral suicide, so that we must start with assuming this.

There are four facts so manifest under the divine administration in this world as not to be questioned. 1. The good in this world suffer in consequence of the sins of the bad. 2. The bad are benefited by the good acts and lives of the good. 3. The bad are saved from some of the natural consequences of their sins through what the good do or suffer on their account. 4. Some of the bad are led to repentance and reformation through what the good do or suffer on their account.

These facts are constantly brought to view in the family and other relations, so that all are familiar with them. They are not mere accidents of rare occurrence, nor mere incidental results in the working of a social system which God for other reasons saw fit to institute, but are of such frequent and regular occurrence as to indicate that God planned his government over men in this life with a view to just these results. Charles Kingsley says: “I believe that if we could behold all hearts, as the Lord Jesus does, we should find there never was a good man but that the whole of Christendom, perhaps all mankind, was, sooner or later, better for him j and that t...

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