III. It is further objected that the doctrine of the atonement is not compatible with the gracious nature of pardon.
Those who hold this objection assert that forgiveness of sins is always ascribed by the Scriptures to grace. It is an act of free favor, of sovereign goodness. But, they claim that it is no longer grace but an act of justice when it hinges on the supposition that Jesus made satisfaction for sin. Instead of it being merciful of God to pardon sin, it would be unjust of Him to withhold forgiveness. Simply put: grace and justice are so opposed to each other that if something is done in deference to justice, it cannot be of grace.
Problems with this objection:
A. This objection supposes justice and grace to be opposed to one another, not only in their nature but also in their exercise, so that both cannot have respect to the same object. We need only recall what we have already said about the perfect harmony of these perfections in the divine nature to dispel this objection. This is a nonsensical objection unless we are willing to argue that God suspends one of His attributes when He acts according to another. In short, this objection cannot be made unless you are willing to posit a God with multiple personalities.
B. This objection overlooks the origin of Christ's satisfaction. Man did not find a Surety for himself. If someone besides God had provided the ground on which pardon rests, there might be room to deny the graciousness of the act. But it is God who provides the Mediator and the work of the Surety. God manifests His grace in determining to pardon man and further demonstrates it by providing a legal ground on which pardon may proceed in a way that is completely consistent with justice.
C. This objection also overlooks an obvious fact: Although the satisfaction of Christ may be regarded as a legal purchase of forgiveness, the bestowing of forgiveness is completely act of grace as the recipient is concerned. It is free pardon to men. They have no claim to it. No satisfaction was made by them. They do nothing to procure forgiveness for themselves. If pardon is an act of justice at all, it is only so to Christ. To the sinner it is pure sovereign goodness.
D. It is also falsely assumed that God could have given a display of His grace by pardoning sin without satisfaction. In layman’s terms: If God wanted to, He could just forgive sins, because He’s a nice guy, and because that’s what nice guys do. There is actually no need to punish His Son so that He could forgive us. Couldn’t He just overlooked or sins and shown how loving He really is? This would be a display of His grace.
It seems to me that the opposite would be much truer. This would display no grace at all. Imagine for a minute that God had pardoned sin without an atonement, and pardoned not only some people, but all the family of man. What inference would intelligent and moral beings have been disposed to draw from this? That God is gracious, and that His grace is without limits? I think not. Wouldn't it be far more reasonable to infer that sin, the violation of His law, was no big deal, at least not as big a deal as had been imagined, considering it could be so easily passed over by a Being of such absolute moral perfection?