He was a nineteenth century Scottish theologian. A great one, too. He wrote two books on the atonement of Christ- The Doctrine of the Atonement, As Taught by Christ Himself and The Doctrine of the Atonement, As Taught by the Apostles. Both are great expositions of penal substitutionary atonement and a defense of it. If you’re not familiar with George Smeaton, you probably should be. Here is a snippet from one of his books:
“Yet many in these days who exalt the inner life at the expense of true and proper doctrine, are not slow to say that it is indifferent whether the death of Christ be regarded as the procuring cause and ground of pardon, or as the mere assurance of it. They will not inquire how the atonement was effected; they avoid the definition of terms and all biblical precision of thought, as if it could be of little moment to a Christian, whether the death of Jesus is considered as a vicarious sacrifice, or an expression of divine love,—whether it display the evil of sin, or merely stand for a solemn revocation of the Old Testament sacrifices. They will have it, that these points are but theological debates or human speculations, from which they do well to stand aloof in the discussion of the doctrine. That is a process of unlearning, or of leaving all in uncertainty, which does not spring from a commendable zeal for truth, but from a wish to blunt its edge; and it is tantamount to saying, that there is in Scripture no doctrine on the subject. This is the watchword of a tendency which is adverse to clearly-defined views of doctrine or of Scripture truth.
The very reverse of this is our duty. We must acquire, as much as lies in us, sharply-defined ideas on the atonement from the gospels themselves; which, in our judgment, are by this very topic far elevated above all mere human wisdom. Whatever cannot be asserted from the Scriptures, or is overthrown by their teaching, can easily be spared; and we are willing to dismiss it. But we must collect whatever is really taught, comparing text with text, and the less obvious testimonies with the more easy and perspicuous, if we would think our thoughts with God.
Nor is it less common for another school to allege in our day, that the death of Jesus was rather His fate or fortune than a spontaneous oblation, in the proper sense. These writers will make Christ fall a victim to His holy and ardent zeal, while preaching religious and moral truth, and discharging a high commission as the Herald of forgiveness. His death thus becomes a merely historical event or an occurrence; which, however, it is alleged was the occasion of giving a weighty confirmation to that declaration of absolute forgiveness of which He was the preacher. That is an insipid half truth, which is seemingly right and essentially wrong. It will offer a certain spiritual phase to those who are hostile to the vicarious sacrifice, and who will see nothing but love in God. They view Jesus as a mere preacher or herald of salvation, but not as a veritable Saviour in the full sense of the term. They will go farther than this, and will extol Him as the Prince of Life, and as its Dispenser; but it is life unconnected with the price paid, or the ransom offered. And the prominence given to Christ’s example, or to the pattern of His life, is never free from a certain influence that operates like a snare. We shall try this view, which has many pretensions to spirituality, by the explicit testimonies of our Lord Himself. But, meanwhile, we indicate the danger from which it is not free. It never brings off the mind from legality, from self-reliance, and self-dependence. It perverts the spiritual life and the example of the Lord to be a ground, if not a boldly avowed argument, for fostering a certain self-justifying confidence. That is the vortex, within the attraction of which every school is drawn irresistibly, that offers no objective atonement, or perfect plea on which the soul can lean. Nothing so effectually carries off the mind from self-dependence as the atonement,—nothing so exalts grace and humbles the sinner; and on this account, God appointed that acceptance and forgiveness of sin should not be given without a Mediator, and without a dependence upon His merits. Hence the jealousy of the apostles and of all Scripture on this point. The apparent spirituality of any tendency will be no compensation for this hazard” (George Smeaton, “The doctrine of the atonement, As taught by Christ Himself (Second Edition) (17–19).
Sounds like he was refuting the Emergent Church before it ever existed, doesn’t it? That’s because this heresy has been around for a long time and changes form, name and leaders but still is a departure from the Gospel. Soli Deo Gloria!
For His Glory,