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ten centuries! Who is competent to take the arithmetic of that man's accountability ? Could one life suffice for him to suffer all, if God were to render to him according to his deeds ? And if it could, history gives us no account of such sufferings having come upon him. He lived and died next to deified by millions. Does this look like a judgment rendered to every man according to his works in the present world? If a man may do so much mischief, and live and die so much as an ambitious man would wish to live and die, in spite of what God's justice.can do in its last efforts, is that justice worthy of the respect of the world?
Again, that this world is not the scene of God's last and complete retributions, appears from the fact that the greatest portion of the earth, and its productions, is in the hands of ungodly men. In the words of Job, The tabernacles of robbers prosper, and they that provoke God are secure, into whose hands God bringeth abundantly. But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee, and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee, or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee, and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee,—to whom they belong; that it is not only or chiefly for the righteous few that the earth is productive. But rather into the lap of proud luxurious despisers of God, the earth and sea empty their most abundant treasures. God fills the storehouse out of which all get what supplies they have, and orders by his providence all the circumstances which give to individuals any advantages they have over their neighbors, and yet he makes no discrimination in favor of the godly in his distribution of the good things of this life-sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust, employs the great agents in nature which minister sustenance to man, in carrying round his bounty to enemies as well as friends, and surely he either has no preference for righteous conduct, which he will manifest by appropriate rewards, or this is not the season of completing his retributions.
And then God's providential arrangements in this world and the state of this world by his permission, are such, that sterling integrity is often a check to the course of worldly advancement. Self-denial, a willingness to forego worldly advantages for obedience to God, is essential to christian character. A man, if he will follow Christ, must take up his crosslike Moses, must refuse to be called the Son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt, having respect unto a recompense of reward which lies beyond the bounds of time. This circumstance throws the elements of worldly prosperity chiefly into the hands of those who have less conscience than others. That promotion which men have the power to give, falls into other hands, than those of the upright, both because he may not seek it, and because they have their favorites among quite another class. A thousand “wrigglers into place” have the advantage of him. And then wealth is usually amassed by means that godliness forbids. Such in short, is the structure of society and the course of providence, that godliness in some conditions requires the loss of all things, and even death itself. And can such a scene of things be the theatre of God's last and most perfect retributions ? If it be, what else is it than the proposing of rewards on a broad scale for the encouragement of sin. If wickedness has the decided advantage, I will not say as to real happiness, but as to the means of those gratifications which depraved men most sigh for, and no ill effects are to be felt from it in a future world ; so far from being punished it is comparatively rewarded, if there be no retributions beyond this life.
Again, the great agents of human suffering are quite as indiscriminating as to their objects. Those disasters that come upon individuals and families under the name of adverse providences, make no distinction between the righteous and wicked. The holiest men not unfrequently have the deepest experience of this kind of affliction. The liability to sickness and death, and the thousand ills that flesh is heir to, extends to all. And the same is true of general public calamities. If drought, famine, pestilence, earthquakes, floods or fires are
commissioned to spread wide disaster, they have no warrant except in a few miraculous instances to exempt the righteous on account of their righteousness. When wars and revolutions sweep over nations, the distress is general and indiscriminate. And they carry no exact and appropriate retributions to individuals.
Now, in this stage of the argument, it is competent for me to ask, if there be complete retributions in this world, in what facts do they show themselves? We have traced out God's leading modes of dealing with men, and find them not. We look abroad on the moral state of the world and find, that the ends of punishment are far from being answered by all the judgments that light upon the world—that the greater part of men are ignorant of God, and of his retributions. This supposed complete retribution is not to be found in success given to the enterprises of the righteous and withheld from those of the wicked—not in any marked and adequate calamities which have come upon the giants in crime, the authors of persecutions and wars—not in any superior elements of worldly happiness in possession of the righteous--not in righteousness opening a way to worldly promotion, wealth and distinctionnot in any partiality of the great distributors of God's bounty and the great agents of human misery in favor of the righteous. And if it be not in all these, we ask again, where is it? Surely it is in nothing that addresses itself to the observation of men. Is it then anything which passes in the mind and internal experience? I own that there are enjoyments peculiar to the righteous, and sufferings of mind peculiar to the guilty. But that these are not so distributed as to amount to exart and sufficient retributions, it were easy to show. That sinners of reckless character, and a seared conscience, having all the means of external enjoyment, endure these mental sufferings amounting to adequate punishment for all their sins, is a matter that wants proof. And as to the happiness of the righteous, their recompense of reward, Mr. B. tells us that all the enjoyments of a Paul were not to be desired in preference to annihilation. "That it was far better for him to die than live, death being an extinction of being. So that let his enjoyments be what they may, the executed malefactor has on such principles a better reward than he.
Finally, it is not at all according to the common sense of men, that all in this world are treated according to the principles of retributive justice. If a universalist minister, in preaching the funeral sermon of one who after a life of marked afflictions, had come to some appalling death, should take occasion to inculcate the idea that those afflictions in which the deceased was distinguished from others were the retributions for guilt in respect to which he was distinguished, and that the dealings of providence in all cases afforded a criterion of character, he would find his doctrine no less offensive than that of the need of repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, as a means of escaping the second death. This is a doctrine which Job with all his patience could not bear in application to himself, and successfully did he refute it. I appeal to the history of your own impressions. Have you been wont to estimate the character of your neighbors by the dealings of providence in relation to them? Have you regarded those as sinners above all others, who have suffered above all others ? When you have seen the apparently virtuous poor, crushed under the hand of providence, enduring affliction after affliction, wave after wave rolling over them, and deep calling unto deep to overwhelm them, have you said in your hearts that their apparent virtue was a cheat,—that they were the most guilty of men? And when you have seen those apparently of another character invested with affluence and splendor, feeling no changes, and having no bands in their death, have you said that these are the men whom God approves ? Do you forget their extortions, oppressions, sensualities, profanity and blasphemy, and regard their happy life, and quiet death, as the seal of heaven's approval of their character ? On such ground many a monster of iniquity would be canonized at once. Universal observation then confirms the conclusions from scripture, THAT THERE IS A JUDGMENT TO COME.
Is THE ETERNAL LIFE, PROMISED TO BELIEVERS IN THE NEW
TESTAMENT, A LIFE TO BE ENJOYED BEYOND THE GRAVE, OR ONLY IN THIS WORLD?
The world will be indebted to Mr. Balfour for all the instruction they will get by the discussion of the above question ; for who but he would ever have thought of making it a question ? He deserves the credit of having made the discovery, that the exigencies of his system demanded, that those passages which speak of eternal life be interpreted as meaning something whose existence is confined to this world, and of having the courage to set up the position, and to dash through the desperate course of criticism needful to sustain it. And the idea so felicitously struck out by him has already become classical with Universalist writers. Mr. Whittemore has strongly insisted on it in his work on the parables, and he promulgates it through the Trumpet, the leading organ of New England Universalism. The reasons why this position is taken are obvious. While the words eternal and everlasting are seen to stand connected with a life enjoyed beyond the grave, and enjoyed as the fruits of righteous conduct in this life, it is not easy to make the reader believe that the same words applied to punishment for sin, do never extend the punishment beyond the grave. And in the second place, it is the fundamental and állpervading idea of modern Universalism, that the “future state of immortality and incorruption" "cannot in the nature of things be effected by the conduct of men in this life.” (See Whittemore p. 262.) As long as it is admitted that the enjoyments of heaven are in any sense a recompense for holiness in this life, it is not easy to be convinced that sin will not also