The doctrine of the atonement seems to have a philosophical, as well as a religious foundation; that is to say, it will be found to be sustained not only by many passages of Scripture, but by sound philosophical inquiry. The conceptions of right and wrong, of merit and demerit, of reward and punishment, and of the necessary and fixed relations among them, are elementary in the human mind; — not so much the results of reasoning as connatural and necessary; and are common to all men. The human mind has never separated, and never can separate, the relations of merit and reward, of demerit and punishment. It is not more true that there is an universal conviction, than it is that there is an universal law represented in that conviction, that virtue is and must be followed by happiness, and that crime is and must be followed by misery. And it is a conviction not less universal, that God, as the administrator of the universe, and as the administrator and sustainer of the truth and the right, cannot and does not allow these important relations to be violated. It is not possible, under a perfectly holy administration, for the wrong-doer to escape punishment, and to be forgiven, except by means of an atonement.
Such, at least, on a thorough inquiry, will be found to be the general feeling of mankind. Feelings represent principles. And they do so because they spring from them. If man feels his need of some mediatorial agency in order to become reconciled to God, it is because he is secretly convinced, although he may be unable to analyze that conviction, of its moral necessity. It would be well for men who are given to philosophical inquiries, to turn their attention to this point. They cannot do it with any care, without seeing how widely spread is the sense of sin, and how deeply men, in all ages, have felt, not only the need of reconciliation, but the need of some mediatorial power.
It is for this reason, that, in all nations, and in all ages of the world, offerings have been made, and burning altars have been kindled. It was necessary, as it seemed to men, that the offended Deity, under whatever form or name he might be believed in, should be propitiated. They did not then know, that the benevolence of God could be exhibited in connection with his justice; that God himself, in the person of his Son, would be the sinner's offering; and that the fires of human altars would be quenched in the blood of the incarnate Immanuel.
The atonement being made, God appeared once more as the restorer and new creator of the violated and lost sonship. Angels proclaimed the message. To all the world it was announced, "Peace on earth; good will to men." As many as were of a broken heart returned, and God gave them power to believe. Beaten by the world's tempests, disappointed and ruined in all their worldly expectations, they ceased to have hope in the finite, and turned their weeping eye to the Infinite. They found God by having faith in God, when they lost themselves by ceasing to have faith in themselves. Their necessity became the mother of their faith. In their sorrows they turned to him, who alone could give hope. The golden link, which had united the Father and his children in the garden of Eden, was readjusted, and they became one.
— A Treatise on Divine Union (1851) Part 2, Chapter 3.