Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

laxation of its laws and government; as in the well known instance of Zaleucus, who put out one of his own eyes, to support the authority of the law against adultery, which his own son had violated.

On the whole, when we inquire whether the endless punishment of the damned be consistent with justice, the word justice means distributive justice. This, as has been already observed, respects the personal merit or demerit of the man rewarded or punished. A man suffers distributive injustice when he is not treated as favourably as is correspondent to his personal conduct or character. On the other hand, he has justice done him, when he is treated in a manner correspondent to his personal conduct or character. A just punishment then is that which is proportioned or correspondent to the crime punished. But it may be further inquired, when is a punishment proportioned to the crime punished? To this the answer seems to be, when by the pain or natural evil of the punishment, it exhibits a just idea of the moral evil or ruinous tendency of the crime, and a proper motive to restrain all intelligent beings from the commission of the crime.

Further to elucidate this matter, let it be observed, that any crime, by relaxing the laws and by weakening the government, is a damage to the community; and deserves just so much punishment, as, by restoring the proper tone of the laws, and proper strength to the government, will repair that damage. The chief evil of any crime, on account of which it principally deserves punishment, consists in the relaxation of the laws and government of the community in which the crime is committed. For example, the chief evil of theft is not that a certain person is clandestinely deprived of his property. His property may be restored and he may in this respect suffer no damage. Still the thief deserves pun

ishment. If a man be defamed, the chief evil is not that the person defamed is injured by the loss of his reputation. His reputation may, by a full confession of the defamer or by other means, be restored. Still the defamer may deserve punishment. If a man be murdered, the chief evil is not that the man is deprived of his life, and his friends and the community are deprived of the benefit of his aid. His life may have been a burden to himself, to his friends and to the community; or he may by divine power be raised from the dead. Still, in either case, the murderer would deserve punishment.

The true reason, why all those criminals would, in all those cases, deserve punishment, is, that by their respective crimes they would weaken the laws and government of the community, thereby would break in upon the public peace, good order, safety and happiness; instead of these would introduce confusion and ruin; and thus would do a very great damage to the community.Therefore, they would respectively deserve just so much punishment, as by restoring the tone of the laws and government, would re-establish the peace, good order, safety and happiness of the community, and thus would repair the damage done to the community by their crimes. A punishment adequate to this end exhibits by the natural evil of it, a just idea of the moral evil of the crime, and a proper motive to restrain all from the commission of it: it is therefore duly proportioned to the crime, is correspondent to the conduct of the criminal, and is perfectly just.

The passages in which Dr. C. declares positively, that the endless punishment of the wicked would be unjust, are very numerous; but his arguments to prove that it would be unjust, are, so far as I can find, very few. As this is a capital point in the present controversy, it was to be expected, that he would go into a formal conside

ration of it, and give us his reasons methodically and distinctly. Instead of this, in all the various parts of his, book in which he declaims most vehemently on the subject, there are very few in which I find an attempt to argue. These are as follows:-" An eternity of misery swallows up all proportion or though there should be some difference in the degree of pain, it is such a difference, I fear, as will be scarce thought worthy of being brought into the account, when the circumstance of endless duration is annexed to it."*"The smallness of the difference between those in this world, to whom the character of wicked belongs in the lowest sense, and those to whom the character of good is applicable in the like sense, renders it incredible, that such an amazingly great difference should be made between them in the future. The difference between them, according to the common opinion, will be doubly infinite.-For the reward and punishment being both eternal, they must at last become infinite in magnitude. How to reconcile this with the absolutely accurate impartiality of God, is, I confess, beyond me."-"It does not appear to me, that it would be honourable to the infinitely righteous and benevolent governor of the world, to make wicked men everlastingly miserable. For in what point of light soever we take a view of sin, it is certainly in its nature a finite evil. It is the fault of a finite creature, and the effect of finite principles, passions and appetites. To say therefore, that the sinner is doomed to infinite misery, for the finite faults of a finite life, looks like a reflection on the infinite justice, as well as goodness of God. I know it has been often urged, that sin is an infinite evil, because committed against an infinite object; for which reason an infinite punishment is no more than its due desert. But this metaphysical nicety proves a great deal * Page 309. + Page 320.

too much, if it proves any thing at all. For according to this way of arguing, all sinners must suffer the utmost in degree, as well as in duration; otherwise they will not suffer so much as they might do, and as they ought to do: which is plainly inconsistent with that difference the scripture often declares there shall be in the punishment of wicked men, according to the difference there has been in the nature and number of their evil deeds."*

These, I think, are the passages in which Dr. C. offers his most plausible and strong, if not his only, arguments, to prove, that endless punishment is not consistent with justice; and the arguments here offered are these three only-That endless punishment implies such a different treatment of the smallest sinners and smallest saints, as is out of all proportion to their respective characters; it is therefore incredible, and not reconcileable with the justice and impartiality of God.-That endless punishment is out of all proportion to the demerit of sin, as the latter is finite, the former infinite. That endless punishment, on account of the infinite evil of sin, as committed against a God of infinite glory, implies, that future punishment is infinite in degree too, and therefore that the punishment of all the damned is equal.

I. That endless punishment implies such a different treatment of the smallest sinner and smallest saint, as is out of all proportion to their respective characters; it is therefore incredible, and not reconcileable with the justice and impartiality of God. On this I observe,

1. That there is an infinite difference between the treatment of two persons, one of whom is sent to endless misery, the other not, is readily granted. But that the one, who is sent to such a punishment, is treated unjustly, is not granted; and to assert, that he is treated unjustly, is to beg and not to prove the thing in question.

* Page 361..

2. That of the two persons now supposed, one should be treated according to his demerits, and the other by the "boundless goodness of God," should be exempted from that punishment, to which, by his demerit, he is justly liable, is nothing incredible or unjust. Surely the gracious exemption of one man from that punishment, which he deserves, renders not the punishment of another unjust, which would otherwise be just.

3. As there is no injustice in the case now stated, so neither is there any partiality in it. There is no partiality in the conduct of the Supreme Magistrate, who condemns one criminal according to his demerit, and pardons another criminal equally guilty. But partiality is then practised, when of two real and known criminals, one is condemned by the judge; the other cleared, on the pretence, that he is innocent. So that this whole argument from the incredibly different treatment of the smallest sinner and smallest saint, whose characters are so nearly on a level, so far as it supposes the different treatment to be incredible, on account of the endless punishment of the sinner, is a mere begging of the question. It takes for granted, that the sinner does not deserve an endless punishment. So far as it supposes the different treatment to be incredible, on account of the infinite reward or happiness bestowed on the saint, it supposes, that God in his infinite goodness, cannot bestow an infinite good on a creature, who in his own person is entirely unworthy of it. It also supposes, that if ever God pardon any sinner, he must pardon all, whose demerits are no more than that of the man pardoned; otherwise he is partial: and for the same reason, that if ever he condemn any sinner, he must condemn all those, whose characters are equally sinful with that of the man condemned. But it is presumed, that these sentiments will be avowed by no man,

« AnteriorContinuar »