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Greek languages have no words to express eternal duration, stronger than these. Thus the sublime address of the Psalmist, ' Thy throne, O God, endureth For Ever,' which is quoted by St. Paul in the commencement of hia epistle to the Hebrews, presents the very same words both in the Hebrew and the Greek, which are elsewhere used to describe the eternal punishment of the wicked. So the innumerable passages of the New Testament where the illimitable existence of the Deity is intimated, such as 'The Creator who is blessed For Ever'—' The word of the Lord abideth For Ever'—' Now to the only wise God be glory For Ever And Ever,'—all these and similar passages give us the very same words and no others, to indicate the Divine attribute of Eternity. Suppose, then, that instead of the controversy turning upon the meaning of the original Hebrew or Greek, it were turned upon the proper meaning of the English word, eternal, or upon the English phrase, for ever and ever, could any sound mind be thrown into perplexity by the assertion, that these words were now and then found in connexion with a limited duration? Take, for example, the instance of the city of Rome, which has long been familiarly called 'the eternal city,' or take the expression of Jacob, 'the everlasting hills,' or the salutation given to the Assyrian monarch in the book of Daniel, 'O king live for ever,' and we ask whether these occasional applications of such language could possibly trouble the candid and sincere reader of the English Bible with respect to the meaning of our great Redeemer, where he promises eternal felicity to the righteous and denounces eternal woe upon the ungodly? Especially as the Scriptures guard against the possibility of error by such a variety of phraseology, 'their worm Dieth Not, and the fire is Not Quenched'—' An Everlasting Destruction from
the presence of the Lord'—' The Smoke Of Their TorMent ariseth for ever and ever'; and the very sentence of their awful condemnation is, ' Depart From Me, Ye Cursed, Into Everlasting Fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.' It seems to my mind too obvious, either to need or to admit of illustration, that the evidence of Scripture is as strong and as clear as the power of language can make it. We have already said, that the eternal existence of the Deity himself is not asserted in the Bible by any stronger expressions than those which are applied to the point in question; and we only add this additional remark, namely, that the very same arguments which are applied to the word of God in order to do away the menaces of eternal punishment, may be applied with just as much propriety to prove that there is no Eternity at all.
It is suggested again, however, that the mercy of God in Christ is always ready to receive the penitent, and that nothing is more reasonable than the opinion, that those who disbelieve the Gospel here will fully believe hereafter, and therefore those punishments will answer the great end of constraining them to repent and long for salvation, in which event, we may well hope that they will be released from their misery, and gladly received into the kingdom of heaven.
To this idea it seems to us that the objections are insuperable. In the first place, if the notion be true, the present life is no longer a state of probation, but the chief and final probation is to be in the world to come, which would at once destroy the whole testimony of Scripture, and remove the strongest argument for an immediate reformation. In the second place, it is unwarrantable, because we have no ground whatever for supposing that mere punishment alone can possibly produce a true repentance and a saving faith. Repentance signifies a change of mind, a change of inclination, by which the disposition to sin is removed—not a mere sorrow for the punishment, but a sorrow for the sin. Now, punishment alone has no tendency to produce such a sorrow, but rather hardens instead of softening the heart. And again, faith, to be at all of a saving character, must work by love; whereas, the faith of the wicked can only be expected to work by fear mingled with hatred, like the faith of devils, who, as the Apostle saith, 'believe and tremble.' This view of the effects of punishment alone is demonstrable both from human experience and from the Word of God. From human experience it seems altogether unquestionable, that simple punishment hardens the criminal. Thus, in Europe, it is well known, that the more frequently a culprit has been subjected to the discipline of the law, - the worse he becomes. And in our own country it is lamentably certain, that he who enters a jail or a penitentiary for a lesser crime, too commonly issues from them prepared to commit a greater. Indeed the use of legal punishment is not to reform the offender, but to prevent and deter Others; and although it is, doubtless, for this reason, a great' public benefit, yet it is often purchased, like most other public benefits, at the cost of private suffering.
The testimony of Scripture is equally positive to show the effects of mere punishment; for, setting aside the history of the Israelites, which affords a strong illustration of our position, we find in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Revelation, passages most express on this very subject. We read there, in the prophetic account of the future judgments of God upon the wicked, that' The fourth angel poured his vial upon the sun, and power was given unto him to scorch men with fire. And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God which hath power over these plagues, and they Repented Mot to give him glory. And the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat of the beast, and his kingdom was full of darkness, and they gnawed their tongues for pain, and blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and Repented Not of their deeds. And again there fell upon them a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent, and men BlasPhemed God because of the plague of the hail, for the plague thereof was exceeding great.' Now these passagesj display very forcibly the true and natural effect of punishment upon the human heart. It exasperates instead of softening. It stimulates instead of subduing the rebellious principle. And even such is the effect of severe earthly trial upon the irreligious mind. Many of yourselves have, doubtless, sometimes felt a disposition to rise against the hand of God when you have been in deep affliction, and to accuse him of cruelty and injustice. Nay, the story of Job illustrates the same truth, by showing us that even good men are in danger of irritation and discontent in the midst of severe trial, although all the trials appointed to them are mingled with so much of the Spirit of Divine love. The result of the whole, therefore, would seem irresistibly to prove, that to talk of submission and repentance under the torments of a future judgment, is the wildest ofvall absurdities, opposed alike by Scripture, by our knowledge of ourselves, and by the whole current of human experience. The chastisements of the present life are .indeed appointed to us in order to soften and subdue our hearts to repentance and faith, but they only possess this effect because they are mingled with tenderness, with invitations of mercy, and with promises of hope. They are not so properly Punishments, as Corrections. They are sent to us for the express end of cur own re
formation, and by no means for the purpose of holding us forth as spectacles to warn others from transgression. The trials of this world are therefore calculated to amend us, because they are the chastisements of a Father. The pains of the future world are calculated to harden, because they are the inflictions of a Judge. The first are sent to us privately, as a kind and tender admonition to ourselves, for our own benefit. The second are executed upon us publicly, after we have been found incorrigible, as a solemn warning to the whole universe of God, throughout eternity^; and so plain, and so strongly marked is the distinction between them, that he seems to us a most superficial and careless reasoner, who can, for one moment, confound them with each other, either in their nature, their object, or their consequences.
But, in the third place, the notion of a true repentance and a saving faith in hell, is absrud, because all the appointed instruments of God's mercy will there be wanting. Where will then be the kindly strivings of the Holy Spirit, the only source of all good counsels and holy desires^— where, the Bible, the word of eternal life—where, the opportunities of Sabbath instruction—where, the solemn warnings of the ministers of Christ—where, the prayers of assembled congregations—where, the affectionate admonitions of Christian friends—where, the various motives derived from the anxiety which all men feel, for the happiness of their family, and the discharge of their domestic duties? If all these instruments of grace have failed to touch the heart in this life, can any man believe that the sinner is to be converted when they are all taken away? Is the operation of mere punishment—Public And JudiCial Punishment—to produce a purer influence than the united means of earthly trial, Divine compassion, and Re