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THE SCRIPTURE DOCTRINĘ
CHAP. I. Wherein the testimonies of the four Gospels, relating to this subject, are considered.
Num. I. Matt. ïïi. 10, 12. And now also the ax is laid unto the root
of the trees : therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
Num. II. Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his
floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. I CITE these passages together, because, under different similitudes, they seem to establish the same truth, and explain and illustrate each other. They are a key, as it were, which opens to us the nature and design of Christ's kingdom. In this, it seems, there will be made, some time or other, a total and final separation between the good and the evil; and the texts both suppose, that there will be men, whose moral state will answer to the tree which bringeth
not forth good fruit, and to the chaff, who, like them, therefore, are to be rejected, and whose end is to be burned. Upon the evidence arising from these texts, there is no more hope of the restoration of this kind of men, than of the restoration of the tree, which is hewn down, and cast into the fire; or of the conversion of chaff into wheat. They conclude therefore plainly against the system of a restoration. But then, as to annihilation, they are so far from opposing that, that, if we will believe Mr. Whiston, they are strongly for it. The words in the latter text, “ compare the wicked to chaff, which is not “ laid up in garners, as wheat is for its preservation, “ but entirely burnt up for its destruction : which is “ strong against those, that suppose the wicked to “ have their lives preserved on purpose that they “ may be subject to never-ending pains; and plainly “ implies, that their punishment shall end much “ sooner by an utter destruction, or what we should “ call annihilation a.” If, in answer to this, any stress should be laid upon the word unquenchable, Mr. Whiston perhaps would reply, that that only means this fire shall never be quenched till the wicked are utterly destroyed b: or the fire itself may continue longer than the torments of particular offenders, and “ be the common place of torment for “ sinners in different ages and periods of the world, “ one after another c.”
As to the first supposition, that by unquenchable fire is only meant, that no one shall quench this fire before the wicked are utterly consumed; it does not come up to the first most obvious and natural idea
· P. 42. See also p. 34.
See p. 24.
of the word: for, as far as the force of the word is concerned, I can make neither more nor less of unquenchable fire, than fire that never can (or never shall) be quenched. Besides, it takes for granted the chief thing to be proved, that the wicked will be uto terly destroyed, or annihilated. The same may be said of his other supposition, which is only a private and (as far as appears) a groundless conjecture. There is no intimation in scripture, that this unquenchable fire shall be the common place of torments for sinners successively, or last longer than they do. In short, both these are only expedients which prove nothing, but, supposing Mr. Whiston's hypothesis to be true, would reconcile this expression with it. But then, he may still insist upon the comparison of the wicked to chaff, which is entirely burnt up. It would perhaps be too great a nicety to observe, that neither wood nor chaff are so consumed in the fire as to be annihilated; nor are there any instances or ex. amples of annihilation in nature, which, by the by, should make a philosopher less fond of it than Mr. Whiston seems to be, whose horrid doctrine d would annihilate, not only the wicked, but God's whole creation. However, whatever becomes of the wood and the chaff, comparisons and allusions of this kind are not to be interpreted with rigour, nor extended further than they were designed to hold. Upon the principles of all true philosophy, the souls of men are (under God) naturally immortal. They are not therefore, as Mr. Whiston supposes, “preserved on “ purpose that they may be subject to never-ending “ pains ;" but their very nature, different from that of wood or chaff, subjects them to the pains, which
+ See pp. 23, 64, 75, 89, 134.
their wickedness deserved, for ever. It is true, indeed, Mr. W. has quite another notion of the immortality of the soul, which, according to him, signifies no more than its surviving the body at death But this point must not be debated with him here, and may be safely trusted to the proof, which has been given of it in the unanswerable writings of Dr. Clarke, Mr. Norris, &c. and, since them, by the excellent author of the Inquiry into the Nature of the Human Soul
To return to my texts above: what I directly infer from them is only this, and it appears to me too plain to be denied, that there will be some time, when Christ has throughly purged his floor, a total and final separation made between the good and the evil. What will become of this rejected part of mankind, after this separation, we need not determine yet. As we travel on, our light perhaps will grow clearer. See Dr. Clarke's Sermon on this text, vol. viii. p. 111.
Num. III. Matt. v. 22. Whosoever shall say, (to his brother,) Thou
fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. This text, as Mr. Whiston observes, no way concerns the duration of hell torments; but is set down by him, in order to acquaint us with a distinction in ancient language between hades and gehenna'. We thank him for his information ; but had heard of some such thing before : nor is any one now so ignorant as to believe, that by the article of Christ's descent into hell, or hades, is meant his descending into hell fire itself. I am sure the best expositors of the Creed teach us quite other doctrine. But
e P. 72.
then Mr. Whiston would make a sort of purgatory of this hades: “ Accordingly,” says he, “ I have all along “added a few passages relating to the castigatory and “ temporary punishments of hades 8.” And so indeed he has; to obviate which, I refer, at present, (for this point will be more largely considered hereafter,) to bishop Bull's Discourse concerning the middle state of happiness or misery, between death and the resurrection h. “ Now, I do affirm,” says that learned writer, “ the consentient and constant doctrine of “ the primitive church to be this, that the souls of “ all the faithful, immediately after death, enter into “ a place and state of bliss, far exceeding all the feli“ cities of this world, though short of that most con“ summate perfect beatitude of the kingdom of hea“ ven, with which they are to be crowned and re“ warded in the resurrection; and so, on the con“ trary, that the souls of all the wicked are, pre“ sently after death, in a state of very great misery, “ and yet dreading a far greater misery at the day “ of judgment.” Mr. Whiston, not content with these two sorts of men, has three or four sorts, whom he disposes of accordingly. There are, on the one hand, the few elect, or chosen of God, p. 114. the same, I suppose, with the more perfectly and completely good, p. 112. On the other hand are the hardened and incorrigibly wicked. These are not at all admitted to repentance, and pardon in hades, and therefore are not exercised with any of those castigatory punishments, which would avail. nothing in their remediless condition. With regard to the first sort of men, these punishments are not
& P. 35.
h Vol. i. Serm. III. English Works.