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may be summoned to enter on the direful reality which I have feebly attempted to describe. May the good Spirit of the Lord enable you, while opportunity is given, to embrace the precious offer of salvation. May he guide and preserve you all, in the strait and narrow path which shall lead you to the resurrection of the just, and O ! if any amongst you are resolved upon your own destruction, in' despite of the invitations of Christ's mercy and the terrors of his wrath—God grant that your ministers may at least be found to have warned you faithfully—God grant that your blood may not be required at The Watchman's
Mat. xxv. 46.
And These Shall Go Away Tnto Everlasttng Puntshment, But The Righteous Tnto Ltfe Eternal.
The words of our text, my brethren, contain a clear annunciation of an all-important truth from the lips of our blessed Lord himself. That the life which we now live, notwithstanding its.high importance, its various duties, and its powerful attractions, is yet unsatisfactory and brief, is a fact acknowledged by all. That there is a life reserved for us which shall continue throughout eternity, and which ns event can ever shorten or destroy, is a doctrine alike interesting to us all. And if this doctrine be true, assuredly there, can be no subject of such vast and controlling magnitude presented to the hopes and fears of the children of men—no subject worthy of a moment's comparison, in the estimate of any sound and rational understanding.
Let us, then, by the aid of the only unerring Instructer, consider the proposition of the text in connexion with the concluding article of the Apostles' Creed, wherein the Christian professes his belief in the life everlasting. For this belief does not follow necessarily from the doctrine of the resurrection, as might be at first supposed, since it is possible that we might be raised from the dead, and yet not live forever. For which reason eternal life was made a distinct topic in the.Creed, and, of course, it demands a distinct examination.
In order that we may treat our subject with the greater method, we shall inquire, first, into the reasonableness of the doctrine of everlasting punishment; secondly, into the Scriptural proofs that such will be the destiny of the wicked; thirdly, into the arguments which may show the absurdity of the contrary doctrine; and fourthly, into the eternity of the happiness reserved for the righteous.
1. There is, perhaps, no doctrine of the faith more apt to be assailed in the present day, on the ground of reason, than the doctrine of everlasting punishment; and not only is it derided, in common with every other religious truth, by the professed unbeliever, but even many who bear the name of Christians condemn it, as equally unwarranted by reason and by Scripture. To dispose of the objections to the doctrine, therefore, will be our first concern. Now in conducting the argument against the cavils of sceptics in general, they willingly admit that the cardinal principle of the government of God is to produce the greatest possible amount of happiness and the least possible amount of mis* ery to his creatures. They farther admit the great propriety, wisdom, and goodness, manifested in the providing our race with another life, wherein a solemn judgment shall be passed, suited to the various merits and demerits of mankind. Thus far, in general, no objection is advanced against the reasonableness of our faith. But here appears the first difficulty; for as soon as the believer propounds the eternity of the punishment to be awarded to the impenitent transgressor, the infidel replies by denying the justice and the reasonableness of such an infliction. How, says the objector, can it be just to punish a finite sin by an infinite punishment? All punishment is unjust and unreasonable, unless it bears some proportion to the crime; but what proportion does eternity bear to time? None whatever. On this ground alone, therefore, eternal punishments are neither just nor reasonable. Again, the leading object of all punishment should be the reformation of the criminal; but this becomes impossible when the punishment is to last for ever. It is consequently incredible that God, who is all goodness, and justice, and love, should design such a perversion of his own attributes, as to ordain an everlasting punishment for any of his creatures.
Now this argument of the unbeliever sounds exceedingly well to the ears of all who wish it to be true, and even finds some acceptance amongst those, who, not having examined the subject with any care, are caught by the specious appearance in which it is presented to them. But it will be readily seen, on a proper investigation, that it is totally deficient in reason and in justice, and that the weight of sound argument is on the other side of the question.
In order that we may understand this subject clearly, on the only possible principle of analogy which human reason can apply, we must remember that in every government, without exception, laws are necessary, and that wherever laws are necessary, it is equally necessary to punish those who break them. Now the first rule which governs the kind andt quantity of punishment is this, namely, that the law shall inflict a chastisement sufficiently severe to prevent the repetition of the offence, for it is a sound and indisputable maxim in all human legislation, that the safety of the community is to be consulted in the infliction of punishment, rather than the imaginary desert or degree of the crime itself. Thus a man who commits treason against his government by only speaking, still more by writing, or printing, or taking up arms against it, is punished with death and confiscation of goods, throughout almost all the world. What proportion is here between the crime and the punishment? The criminal's family stripped of their whole subsistence, and their rank forfeited, only because they belong to him, and he himself, for a few rash words, for a hasty expression in a confidential letter, or for only enlisting (without actually combatting) in a foreign army which is engaged against his country, loses his life in the greatest torture. The objector might well ask, where is the justice and the reason here? Yet the sense of mankind have settled it to be both just and reasonable, because the criminal is removed from all opportunity of disturbing the public peace, and others, seeing his punishment, are deterred from following his example, Now let the objector compare our obligations to the Divine Government with those which we owe to any earthly power, and he will find, that he who is a traitor to his God merits a punishment Infinitely greater than the traitor against men, for two plain reasons—first, because the gift of life, reason, health, support, and every blessing, including the safety of earthly governments amongst the rest, are derived from God, and compose an amount of obligation InfiniteLy greater than any earthly government can possibly confer; and secondly, because the evils attendant upon the overthrow of the Divine government, if such a thing were possible, would be Infinitely beyond those produced by any earthly change.
Again, we find it considered just and reasonable, that a thief who steals a little property shall spend some years in the Penitentiary. Where, it might be asked, is the proportion here? The act, perhaps, did not occupy as many minutes as he must suffer years. The property was probably not worth the labor of a week. Yet he must labor in prison, in shame, in suffering, in hardship for years together; and this is even called a merciful punishment, because the same crime, in many other countries, is visited