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perfections. This therefore is what I am now to attempt : and in order to it, I observe,
First, That the doctrine of eternal punishments all along proceeds upon the supposition, that the persons condemned to them are incurably wicked, and fixed in a state and temper of mind everlastingly and unalterably evil. This, I conceive, if he will be consistent with himself, Mr. Whiston cannot well deny; since he declares it “ is perfectly agree“ able to the testimonies sacred and primitive," and what they all agree in, “ that what repentance or “ pardon soever there may be in hades, the state of “ preparation, there is no hopes of either in gehenna, “ or hell itself,” p. 73. See Num. XV. above. In other places he speaks of such as are “ incorrigibly “ wicked;" — of “ abandoned wretches, whom no “ methods of mercy, or correction, or preaching of “ Christ or his apostles, either on earth or in hades, “ could bring to repentance and salvation,” p. 117. Now, supposing such beings as these, men or devils, what can even goodness itself do with them? It is not possible, in the nature of things, that such creatures should be made happy; it is no way desirable, Mr. W. allows, “ that they should ever be made hap“ py, either in this or another world,” p. 131. There is no expedient then to relieve them, but annihilation; a point which I must discuss by itself, and which therefore I take the liberty at present to suppose out of the question. This therefore being set aside for the present, I ask again, what the great Governor and Judge of the world can do with such creatures C? It is inconsistent with every moral per
• Mr. Swinden, in his Enquiry into the Nature and Place of Hell, p. 284. had asserted, “ that the mercy of God, though in
fection of his nature to reward them; it is inconsistent with justice and reason and truth; it is inconsistent with goodness itself, if goodness be consistent with rectitude, with doing always what is right and best. It is inconsistent with their depravity, and their utter moral incapacity of becoming better, wil. fully and obstinately contracted by themselves, ever to be made happy. There will be no amendment in their temper, no change or reformation of their evil habits; that is, no alteration, for the better, in their moral state : and why then should there, or how indeed can there, be any in their natural ? If it was
“ finite as himself, is yet not capable of being extended to those “ obstinate and wilful offenders ; (viz. the Devil and his angels, “ whom he had just mentioned;) to them that despise, revile, and “ trample it under foot; to them that contemn, and undermine, “ and oppose the gracious designs of it.” Somebody who writ a Supplement, as he calls it, (though he did not so much as know what the word supplement means,) takes Mr. Swinden to task for this assertion, p. 364. “ It must appear," he says, “greatly sur“ prising, that after Mr. Swinden has declared his approbation of “ the freedom of thought which ought to be allowed to every “ writer, that he should pronounce such an ipse dixit, as to-as“sert—that “the mercy of God, which, though infinite as himself, “is yet not capable of being extended to sinners.'" The grammar and sense of this period are of a piece. The Devil and his angels, and such obstinate and incorrigible offenders, are turned into sinners in general, penitent or impenitent; and Mr. Swinden is made to say, that the infinite mercy of God cannot be extended to sinners. When a man thus misrepresents his adversary's argument, take it for a confession that he cannot answer it. What Mr. Swinden says, wants no proof, and is capable of no confutation. It is evident, from the clearest ideas in the human mind, that the only possible object of mercy is penitence; unless you mean by mercy an imperfection, an irrational weakness, by no means compatible to the great God, the supreme Governor and Judge of the world.
right and reasonable, and consistent with the moral attributes of God, to punish them for a year, or a day; it will be so still to punish them for ever, if they themselves, and all the reasons of their punishment, remain the same for ever; which is according to the supposition.
There are but two things, as far as I can discern, that can be objected to this account. One is, that the supposition itself of their incorrigible wickedness, or incurably wicked temper, is unreasonable ; since all intelligent beings, sooner or later, will probably return to order. The other is, that allowing the supposition, that free beings can thus fix themselves in a state of incurable and endless wickedness and misery, it is not consistent with the perfections of God, who must know and foresee this, to create them. I must speak more particularly to the first point, when I come to examine what they call the system of the restoration, or reestablishment. I only say now in general, that the case supposed may possibly be a real one. We cannot from any clear ideas prove, that such final incurable perverseness and depravity is impossible in the nature of things. And we know an instance, in fact, of beings, who have continued in such a state of moral disorder for upwards, it may be, of six thousand years. They may continue the same for six millions more, and so on for ever. For length of time signifies nothing towards producing a real reformation, which is not an event that comes to pass of course; but serves only to confirm their evil temper and habits, and ingraft them more deeply in their very frame and constitution. However, as I said before, this is the supposition, on which the doctrine of eternal pu
nishment proceeds. It is in vain therefore to say how they would be dealt with in case they repented, and became really virtuous; for there is no such case supposed. They have rendered themselves incapable of it, by their own free and deliberate choice; and the means and opportunities of it are no longer afforded them. Compare Numbers XII. XIII. XVI. XIX. XX. XXI. XXV. CI. and what is advanced under each.
But it is said, that this supposition is inconsistent with the divine perfections ;—it is inconsistent with the wisdom and goodness of God, so to form and constitute the human or rational nature, that it should be possible for it to degenerate into incurable depravity: or, if he would so frame it, it ought at least to have been with this reserve, that, when it once came to that extremity, it should return to nothing. In short, no creatures ought to be exposed to the terrible risk of eternal damnation ; they would have reason to upbraid the Creator for giving them existence d.
I am satisfied, for my own part, that men, who talk thus, talk they know not what; and throw some words together without any clear ideas. “God “ must not form or constitute the human or rational “ nature, so as it shall be capable of degenerating “ into a state of incurable wickedness e." But it
d Burpet ubi sup. p. 291. and the introduction to some letters on this subject, at the end of a book entitled, The World unmasked; or the Philosopher the greatest Cheat. Translated from the French, and printed 1736.
e“Others there are, who have presumptuously taken upon them “ to argue, that, according to their notions of the divine goodness, “all creatures should be made capable of happiness only, and should have been clearly proved, that such a capacity as is here mentioned, is not implied in the very nature and notion of a free creature; such as human or rational beings are. These must have a power of choosing evil; that is, of making a wrong choice. And, possibly, they may make it so obstinately, and so long, that at last they cannot, or will not, make any other. Must God then, to prevent this accidental consequence or abuse of liberty, create no free beings at all? that would be hard; would rob him of his glory, and millions of creatures (who. make a right use of their liberty) of their happiness. Well, but if this be the case, and free agents must be created, who, as such, may wilfully render themselves incurably wicked; it should be, however, with this condition, hac saltem lege et modo, that when they once arrived at this pitch, “they should fall “ back again into nothing.” But what if this project too should be a violation of the nature of things ?
“none of them liable to fall into misery. But then it would fol“ low, that God had no right to create any rational or free agents " at all. For wherever there is freedom, (except only in God “ himself, who is by nature essentially and immutably good; “ wherever else, I say, there is freedom,) in whatever proportion “ and degree it be, there must be accordingly a power of choos“ing evil as well as good; and where there is no possibility of “ disobedience, there can be properly no obedience neither; nor “ any virtue, where there is no room for vice. Sufficient it is, " that God, the supreme Judge and Governor of all, will deal “ with every one proportionally according to their respective cir“cumstances; and will finally punish even incorrigible wicked“ness itself, not arbitrarily, but according to its just deserts; and “ in such manner as shall appear to become him, who is all-wise “ and good as well as all-powerful, to act in his government of “the universe.” Dr. Clarke, Sermon on Matt. xxv. 46. vol. vii. p. 409.