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CONCERNING THE ENDLESS PUNISHMENT OF THOSE WHO DIE IMPENITENT.
$ 1. OBJECTIONS of modern libertines against the Scripture evidences of future punishment, taken from an anonymous pamphlet on that subject.
The word Gehenna signifies only the Valley of Hinnom. That fire was said to be everlasting, because it was kept burning night and day.
The words ever and everlasting the Greeks understand for an age.
The word everlasting is commonly used in the law of Moses for a limited time.
That fire is said to be durable, or everlasting, that goes not out till the fuel is consumed.
The fire that consumed Sodom and Gomorrah, is called eternal fire.
If the fire is everlasting, it will not follow, that what is cast into it is everlasting. But the wicked are compared to chaff and stubble, which is quickly burnt up.
The Scripture often uses very hyperbolical expressions. • §. 2. The objections of Mr. Whiston ; several of which are the same with those mentioned above.
That the words in the New Testament, translated everlasting and eternal, are sometimes used concerning things of a temporary duration.
That the use of the same word in both cases, viz., in both the future reward of the saints and punishment of the wicked, does not imply the equal duration of the punishment and the reward. Because some of the precepts of the law of Moses are called everlasting, that are moral, and shall continue to the end of the world; others are so called, using the same word, that were only to last till the Christian church was established.
That if the words eternal and everlasting do signify a proper eternity, when applied to the punishment of the wicked, it may mean only an everlasting privation of being.
That the fire, and smoke, and worm, &c., may be eternal, and yet the pain not be eternal, because the wicked may be consumed, and so their pain be at an end.
That Christ speaks of them that blaspheme the Holy Ghost, as those that shall not be forgiven, neither in this world, nor the world to come ; implying that others shall be forgiven in the world to come.
That Christ went and preached to the spirits in prison, i. e., preached the gospel to the departed souls of the wicked, in order to their salvation.
That dior in the New Testament signifies an age; that cloves TOOV LIWY0Y signifies, ages of ages.
That ởidios is used for a limited time, when, in Jude 6th, the devils are said to be reserved in everlasting chains; where the chains spoken of last no longer than the day of judgment.
That some shall be beaten with many stripes; others with few: which must naturally mean, that some shall suffer longer than others.
That eternity of punishment is inconsistent with the divine attributes, and therefore cannot be proved by any pretended revelation.
That the eternal misery of sinners can be no advantage to God, to them. selves, or to others.
That it is inconsistent with God's mercy.
That it is inconsistent with justice, to punish men eternally for their sinning during this short life.
That the threatening such a punishment will do no good, because, if men will not be deterred from sin by the expectation of a great temporary punishment, neither would they by the expectation of eternal misery.
§ 3. Evidences of the doctrine.
The word everlasting is used in the very sentence of the Judge at the last day, whom we cannot suppose to use rhetorical tropes and figures. The punishment of the devil will doubtless be eternal. But the wicked shall be sentenced to the same everlasting fire.
The wicked that are finally impenitent, are represented as wholly cast away, lost, made no account of, &c., which is quite inconsistent with their punishment being medicinal, and for their good and purification, and to fit them for final and eternal happiness.
Eternal punishment is not eternal annihilation. Surely they will not be raised to life the last day, only to be annihilated. “ The words used to signify the duration of the punishment of the wicked, do, in their etymology, truly signify a proper eternity; and if they are sometimes used in a less strict sense, when the nature of the thing requires it, yet that can never pass as any reason why they are not to be understood absolutely, when the subject is capable of it. They are terms the most expressive of an endless duration, of any that can be used or imagined. And they always signify so far positively endless, as to be express against any other period or conclusion, than what arises from the nature of the thing. They are never used in Scripture in any other limited sense, than to exclude all positive abolition, annihilation, or conclusion, other than what the natural intent or constitution of the subject spoken of must necessarily admit. The word dimVLOs, which is the word generally used by the sacred writers, is, we know, derived from the adverb ael, which signifies forever, and cannot without force be used in any lower sense. And particularly, this is the word by which the eternal and immutable attributes of Deity are several times expressed.” Dodwell's Sermon in answer to Whiston, p. 15, 16.
Those words which Christ spoke concerning Judas, are a demonstration of the eternity of the misery of hell—“ Good had it been for that man that he had not been born,” Matt. xxvi. 44.
On the supposition that God intends finally to deliver all mankind from misery, and make all intelligent creatures eternally happy at last; and that to suppose the contrary (viz., the everlasting continuance of the torments of hell) is so extremely derogatory to God's moral character, and represents him in such black and odious colors, and as so cruel a being: why have not Christ and his apostles, who have revealed a future and eternal world so clearly, and brought life and immortality to light; I say, why have they not declared this doctrine, when speaking of future punishment, and clearly revealed this glorious doctrine of such a universal eternal salvation, so much more evangelical and agreeable to the office of Christ as a Saviour, and the design of his coming into the world ?
§ 4. Axiom 1. If the torments of hell are purifying pains, that purge the damned from their sins, it must be by bringing them to repentance, convincing them of the evil of sin, and inducing them to forsake it, and with a sincere heart to turn from sin to God, and heartily to choose and walk in the ways of virtue and holiness. There is no other way for sinners being purged as moral agents; and, if hell fire is the means of any other purification, it cannot be a moral purification. These flames do not purge from sin, and bring to virtue of heart and life, merely as a hot fire purges metals from dross, and senseless dead lumps of matter from material filth. But the defilement which they purge from, is defilement of heart or will; and the purity which they bring to, must be purity of will, intention, choice, and the active faculties and principles.
Axiom 2. If the wicked in hell are the subjects of torments there, in order to their purification, and so being fitted for, and finally brought 10 eternal happiness; then they are the subjexts of a dispensation, that is truly a dispensation of love, and of divine and infinite goodness and benevolence, towards them.
Axiom 3. If the design of the pains of hell be that of kind and benevolent chastisement, to bring sinners to repentance, and a yielding to God's authority, and compliance with the divine will; then we cannot suppose that they will be continued after the sinner has repented, and is actually brought to yield and comply. For that would be to continue them for no purpose ; to go on using means and endeavors to obtain the end when the end is accomplished, and the thing aimed at is fully obtained already.
§ 5. If the damned, after many ages suffering extreme torment in hell, are to be delivered, and made perfectly and eternally happy, then they must be in a state of probation during this long season of their confinement to such extreme misery.
If they are not in a state of probation, or on any trial how they will behave themselves under these severe and terrible inflictions of wrath, but are to be delivered, and made eternally happy at the end of a certain period; then what restraints are they under from giving an unbounded loose and license to their wickedness, in expressions of enmity against God, in cursing and blaspheming, and whatever their hearts are inclined to? And if they are in such a state as this, wherein they are thus left to unrestrained wickedness, and every curb to their most wicked inclination is taken off, being nevertheless sure of deliverance and everlasting happiness; how far is this state fit to be a state of purgation of rational creatures and moral agents from sin, being a state wherein they are so far from means of repentance, reformation, and entirely reclaiming and purging them from sin, that all manner of means are rather removed ; and so much is every restraint taken off, that they are given up wholly to sin, which, instead, of purifying them, will tend above all things that can be conceived, to harden them in sin, and desperately establish the habits of it ?
A state of purgation of moral agents, that is, a state to bring sinners to repentance and reformation, and not a state of trial, is a gross absurdity. If any should say, that, though we should maintain that the pains of hell are purifying pains, to bring sinners to repentance, in order to their deliverance and eternal happiness; yet there will be no necessity of supposing, either that they may sin with impunity, and so without restraint; or that they are properly in a state of probation : for they have no probation whether they shall finally have eternal happiness, because it is absolutely determined by the benevolent Creator, concerning his intelligent creatures, that they shall finally be brought to a state of happiness : but yet their circumstances may be such as may tend greatly to restrain their wickedness, because the case with them may be thus, that the time of their torment shall be longer or shorter, according as they behave themselves under their chastisements more or less perversely; or that their torment shall be raised to a greater height, and addi
tions be made in proportion to the wickedness they commit in their purgatory flames. To this, I answer : Even on this supposition they are in a state of probation for a more speedy possession of eternal life and happiness, and deliverance from further misery and punishment; this makes their state as much a state of probation, as their state in the present life. For here it is supposed by these men, that sinners are not in a state of trial, whether ever they shall obtain eternal happiness or no; because that is absolutely determined, and the deterinination known or knowable concerning all without any trial. But only it is a state of trial whether they shall obtain eternal life so soon as at the end of their lives, or at the day of judgment. Neither have they any trial during this life, whether they shall escape all affliction and chastisement for sin or not; but whether they shall be relieved from a state of suffering so soon, and shall escape those severer and longer chastisements that, with respect to many, are to come afterwards. And on the supposition of the objection, there must be the proper circumstances of a state of probation in hell, as well as on earth. There they must likewise be continued in that state of free agency, that renders thein properly the subjects of judgment and retribution. For on the supposition of the objection, they shall be punished for their wickedness in hell, by an addition to their misery proportioned to their sin; and they shall be the subjects of God's merciful strivings, endeavors, and means to bring them to repentance, as well as here. And there must be a divine judgment after the trial, to determine their retribution, as much as after this life. And the same, or like things, must be determined by the Supreme Judge, as will be determined at the day of judginent. At that great day on the supposition of such as I oppose, what will be determined concerning the impenitent? not what their eternal state shall be, but only whether they must have eternal happiness immediately; whether they have repented, and are qualified for immediate admission to heavenly glory, or, whether the bestowment of it shall be delayed, and farther chastisements made use of, and so it must be again after their castigatory purifying pains. At the end of all, there must be a judgment, whether now they truly repent, and so have performer the condition of deliverance, and immediate admission to the state of the blessed, or whether there shall be a further season of misery; which brings it in all respects to be a proper judgment, as much as that at the general resurrection ; and the preceding time of the use of means and God's striving with them to bring them to repentance, is as much a proper time of trial in order to judgment, as the time of this life.
"§ 6. But if it be so, that the damned are in a state of trial, let it be considered how unreasonable this is.
If they are in a state of trial, then they must be in a state of liberty and moral agency, as those men will doubtless own; and so, according to their notion of liberty, must be under no necessity of continuing in their rebellion and wickedness, but may cast away their abominations, and turn to God and their duty, in a thorough subjection to his will, very speedily. And then, seeing the end of their probationary state, and the severe means God uses with them to bring them to repentance, is obtained; how unreasonable will it be to suppose, that God, after this, would continue them still under hell torments for a long succession of ages ? But if not so, but God should speedily deliver them on their speedy repentance; how are the threatenings and predictions of their everlasting punishment fulfilled in any sense, according to the sense even of those who deny the absolute eternity of the misery of hell, and hold that the words everlasting and forever, &c., when applied
to the misery of the damned, are not to be taken in the strictest sense? They yet allow they signify a very long time, a great many ages.
§ 7. If the devils and damned spirits are in a state of probation, and have liberty of will, and are under the last and most extreme means to bring them to repentance, and consequently the greatest means, having the strongest tendency of all to be effectual, I say, if thus, then it is possible that the greatest part, if not all of them, may be reclaimed by those extreme means, and may be brought to thorough repentance before the day of judgment; yea, it is possible, it might be very soon. And, if so, how could it certainly be predicted concerning the devil, that he would do such and such great things in opposition to Christ and his church, from age to age ? and that at last he should be judged and punished, and have God's wrath more terribly executed upon him? as, Rev. xx. 10 : “ And the devil that deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night, forever and ever. And how is it said in Scripture, that when he fell, he was cast down from heaven, and reserved under chains of darkness unto judgment ? The expression seems naturally to signify strong and irrefragable bonds, which admit of no comfort or hope of escape. And besides, a being reserved in chains unto judgment, is not consistent with the appointment of another time of trial and opportunity to escape the judgment and condemnation. It is said, Jude 6, “ They are reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.” And if any of the separate souls of the wicked, that are in the case that the soul of the rich man was in, when he died and lift up his eyes in hell being in torments, should repent and be delivered before the day of judgment, and so should appear at the right hand among the righteous at that day, then how could that be verified, 2 Cor. v. 10, “For we must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, whether good or bad ?” And we have reason to think, that the time of standing before the judgment seat of Christ, which the apostle has a special respect to, is the day of judgment, if we compare this with other Scriptures; as that of the same apostle, Acts xvii. 31: “ He hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness, by that man whom he hath ordained.” And many other places.
§ 8. And how does their being in a state of trial, many of them for so many ages after death before the day of judgment, during all which time they have opportunity to repent, consist with those words of Christ, Mark viii. 38, “ Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father, with the holy angels ?” How is their continuing in a state of trial from the time of that generation, and from the end of their lives to the day of judgment, consistent with its being declared to them from God beforehand, that they shall certainly be condemned at the day of judgment ? or, with Christ's certifying them beforehand, that whatever trial they shall have, whatever opportunity God should give them for repentance and pardon, for so many ages, all would be in vain ; which in effect is passing the sentence.
We may argue in like manner, from those words, Matt. x. 14, 15 : “ And whosoever shall not receive you, and hear your words—Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city.” So Matt. xi. 21, 22 : “ Wo unto thee, Chorazin, wo unto thee, Bethsaida-I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable
judgmel be more not rece