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tion; I. The clearness, and force of those passages. As the scriptures were given by inspiration of God, they must be true in the sense, in which they were spoken. And, if the sense, in which they have been understood, be so clear, as to admit no reasonable doubt, the previous presumption vanishes before it. This world is in a state, it has been observed, in various respects, different from what might have. been anticipated. Previously to its creation, there would have been, to creatures of our limited powers, a very strong presumption against the existence of natural and moral evil, especially in that enormous degree, in which we find them actually existing. But since disorder and sufferings do exist in the world, all previous presumption, however strong, goes for nothing. Now, let it be supposed, that at a time before creation began, Deity gave to some beings, whose capacities were not greater than ours, a revelation, containing some account of the world, soon to be made. In this revelation, would of course, be foretold, the vices and the sufferings of men. If the language, describing these evils, were explicit and forcible, and could have no other meaning, consistently with the general tenor of the revelation, and the meaning of terms, as there used, such declarations ought, by all means, to prevail against a previous presumption.
II. When we speak of presumptions either for or against an opinion, it is important to inquire, whether we have so much knowledge of the subject, as to be judges, on which side probability lies. To a child it might appear extremely improbable, that a humane magistrate would sentence any one to prison, to the post, or the gallows. Yet a better knowledge of the subject would lead him to perceive, that such punishment might be not only consistent with benevolence, but the result of it. And it will readily occur to every considerate person, that the inability of a child to judge of the measures of a civil magistrate is incomparably less, than the inability of men to judge of the proceedings of God.
With a view to disprove the doctrine of eternal punishment, it is common to make appeals to parental feelings. As these would be extremely injured by the idea of perpet ual punishment inflicted on a child, it is argued, that such punishment must be adverse to the nature of that Being, whose benevolence is far superior to that of men.
Whether this kind of reasoning can be relied on, will appear by applying it to certain facts. It is, for instance, inconsistent with parental tenderness, to imprison a child for life, or sentence him to be executed. Yet the doing of neither of these, under particular circumstances, argues any want of correct feelings in a magistrate. All men would unite in allowing, that no man could be fit for a magistrate, who should refuse to punish the assassin or highway robber. A prince should doubtless be the father of his people; but, to support this character, would it be necessary to suffer murderers to live, and the guilty in general to go unpunished? You clearly perceive, that this apparent humanity to the guilty, would issue in extensive danger and harm to the innocent.
Let us apply the reasoning to other cases, which happen more directly under the divine government? Reasoning in this way, Noah would not have expected the deluge, nor prepared for his own safety. He would have said, 'God has indeed declared his purpose of destroying all flesh from off the earth; but as such severity would be most abhorrent from parental feelings, it is not to be imagined, that any such purpose can be entertained by him, who is parent of the Universe. Therefore, the divine declaration, though apparently obvious, must be explained away, or considered only as a menace, designed to produce salutary alarm.'
Now, this was probably the reasoning of the antedeluvians, who were destroyed: but surely it was not the reasoning of Noah, who was saved.
In like manner, when the angels announced to Lot the
approaching ruin of Sodom, he might have persuaded himself, that no such event would happen. God is the parent of men. These inhabitants of Sodom are part of his family. He is better and more full of compassion, than earthly parents. But who, among the latter, could endure, that his children should be destroyed by fire, enraged with brimstone? Therefore, though these celestial messengers have threatened ruin to the city, they must have had some meaning altogether different from that which their language seems calculated to convey.
In all attempts to disprove the doctrine of endless punishment, no argument perhaps is so much relied on, as that which is founded on the divine benevolence. This attribute the scriptures extol in the strongest language.
Now, it is readily granted, that the doctrine in question, if really inconsistent with the goodness of God, cannot be defended. But though it is perfectly safe to make this concession, you must carefully consider how inadequate we are to determine what measures the highest benevolence will dictate. This benevolence is undeniably consistent with all the sufferings, which are actually endured by men. It is consistent with that vast aggregate of evils already noticed, as having been endured, in various periods of the world, by individuals and nations; though it is far beyond our power to discern how these are made to accomplish benevolent designs. Of this we are sure, that the benevo lence of God will never inflict a punishment, which justice condemns ;-i. e. a punishment, which is disproportionate to the offender's demerit. But such is our ignorance of the scheme of God's moral government, and the connexion, subsisting between its various parts, that we cannot determine, in regard to any given instance, that the execution of justice will be inconsistent with benevolence. In civil governments, there are many cases, in which benevolence requires, that the law should be rigidly executed. Whenever the infliction of just punishment on individuals, tends to promote
good order, and the happiness of society at large, to dispense with such punishment argues, not the exuberance of good will, but the want of it. In like manner, if it be just to punish the sinner without end, such punishment may contribute to the order and well being of God's moral kingdom. If it does, that benevolence, which regards the whole more than parts, and that which is greater, more than what is less, requires, that such punishment be inflicted. (Dr. Priestly.)
It becomes highly important, therefore, to ascertain whether endless punishment be consistent with justice; in other words, whether it be proportionate to the sinner's character. This, you perceive, is perfectly distinct from the main question; and may be answered in the affirmative, without proving the actual perpetuity of future punishment.
Towards rational creatures God sustains the character of law-giver. From the fact, that God maintains a moral government over intelligent beings, it follows, that there are some things, which he approves and will reward; others, which he disapproves and will punish. That God is a legislator, and that he will reward the observance of his law, and punish violations of it, is more clearly taught in revealed, than in natural religion. The punishment threatened to disobedience, is in the dialect of scripture, termed the curse of the law.
In Deuteronomy xxvii. 26. it is said, "Cursed is he who confirmeth not the words of this law to do them." To which passage the apostle evidently refers, in his epistle to the Galatians, "As many, as are of the works of the law, are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one who continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them." To ascertain the duration of the evils, comprehended under this curse, may be of use towards determining whether endless punishment be consistent with divine justice. For, that the law of God is just, will not
be denied. Of course the penalties, which it threatens, cannot be unjust. These penalties must consist either in limited, or unlimited evils; i. e. sufferings, which are either temporary or endless. It is likewise certain, that the wicked will, after death, endure a punishment, to which the scriptures apply the term everlasting. "They shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever."
This language however powerful, is supposed by those, who deny the perpetuity of future punishment, to mean nothing more, than a limited duration. If so, it may be equal to the evils, which are threatened in the law, or it may be greater or less. If the future punishment of reprobates is just equal to that which is threatened in the law, it is in fact precisely the same. And if the impenitent will endure the curse of the law, it is evident that they will not be saved. They will be treated with as much severity, as if no Saviour had been appointed. For, in that case, more, than was threatened in the law could not have been required.
Suppose then, that the punishment, threatened by law, was limited; yet of greater duration, than that which reprobates will in fact experience. But that which reprobates will experience, is declared to be eternal;--to continue forever and ever. Now, whatever these terms may signify, it is evident, that none, more powerful, are used to express the curse, denounced by the law: and, therefore, no person can assert, that the law threatens a greater punishment, than that which reprobates will endure, unless he can show, that such punishment is more than eternal, and will continue longer than forever and ever. It will hardly be said, I suppose, that the punishment, threatened by the divine law, is less, than that which the impenitent will endure. For, in that case, the Gospel is a dispensation of more severity, than the law: and, if, as will be readily granted, the law threatens all the punishment, which is just, the gospel threatens that which is unjust. It appears then, that the curse of the divine law, is neither a temporary punishment greater nor less than the punishment which reprobates