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will endure: nor yet, admitting the latter to be limited, are the two commensurate; it follows then that the punishment, threatened by the law, is not temporary: by consequence, it is eternal. Now, if eternal punishment be threatened by the divine law, the justice of such punishment cannot be denied. Nothing can be more evi.dently dishonorable to God, than a supposition, that he should threaten a punishment, which it would be unjust to inflict. In all human governments, this is so far from contributing to the support of authority, that it excites either contempt or rebellion.
If, in this argument, which has been suggested by a late American divine, there be any thing liable to objection, it must be in that proposition, which asserts, that the curse of the law cannot be the same which is actually inflicted on the impenitent, on suppositon the latter is temporary. Some persons, it is probable, believe, that the limited punishment, which reprobates will suffer hereafter is precisely what the law threatens; and that the culprit, after enduring such punishment, will experience no salvation, but sink into primitive non-existence.
It is readily acknowedged, that this opinion is not affected by the preceding reasoning, which holds good in regard to those only, who believe in universal salvation. Whatever others do, they cannot deny the justice of endless punishment: but must acknowledge, conformably to their own sentiments, that such punishment is consistent with justice.
There is another ground, on which the justice of future unlimited punishment may be defended. It is this. As long, as a person sins, he deserves punishment. If he sin, during his whole life, he will be exposed to sufferings during life. If he sin for a thousand years after his death, he will suffer during that time. If he sin eternally, his punishment must have no end. This, I have no doubt, is as truly the dictate of natural religion, as of revelation. From the moral perfections of God, it follows, that he is friendly to virtue and hostile to vice. To make known his true char
acter, this friendship and this hostility must be expressed. It will be far from him to suffer "the wicked to be as the righteous." Of course, if the righteous be happy, the unrighteous must be miserable. And if the divine purity would require a difference at one time, it would require, that such difference be continued, as long as their respective characters remain unchanged. If, therefore, sinners con tinue to exist forever, it seems fairly to result from the first principles of natural religion, that they will suffer without end.
Objections will probably be made to the supposition, that any, known by Deity to be incorrigible, should forever be sustained in being.-A reply to this objection is obvious. If to support in punishment a being, foreknown to be incorrigible, for the space of ten, or even twenty years, be consistent with divine wisdom and benevolence, it can never be shown, that these attributes would militate against his being sustained a longer time, or even forever. There may be as good reasons for his continuance the year to come, as the year past, and so on without end.
That the punishment of a future life will, in fact, have any respect to sins, then committed, and not exclusively to deeds, which are done in the body, I do not assert. The last argu
ment is designed only to prove, that eternal punishment, in itself, is not incredible.
Eternity of future punishment.
I shall now proceed in noticing those arguments, which are often used in opposition to the doctrine of endless punishment.
It is believed, by some, inconsistent with the character of a benevolent or even just God, to create any being, whose existence on the whole is worse than none: by consequence, none can be eternal sufferers.
The propositon here assumed, inevitably leads, I apprehend, to confound all moral qualities; i. e. to annihilate all distinction between virtue and vice.
If the vicious man may not be rendered miserable on the whole, i. e. have more misery than happiness, it must be because he does not deserve misery; but if vice, does not. deserve punishment, virtue can surely deserve no reward. Virtue is the fulfilment, and vice the breach of moral ob
ligation. I can deserve no reward for doing what I anı bound to do, if I deserve no punishment for doing that, which I am bound not to do. Of course, obedience and disobedience are equally without desert, and all distinction between virtue and vice is destroyed. Nor will this conclusion be, in any degree, invalidated, should it be said, as I apprehend it may with truth, that virtue itself deserves nothing more, than a freedom from suffering. Nay, the conclusion would be more striking on this ground, than on any other. For, if the man of unfailing virtue can claim, as matter of right, nothing more than freedom from punishment, this is precisely what the proposition states to be the claim of the most vicious man on earth.
The matter may be viewed in another light. If the greatest offender on earth cannot consistently with justice, be miserable on the whole, i. e. have his existence rendered worse than none, and if any distinction at all could still be supposed to remain between the actions of moral agents, a sinner, somewhat less enormous, deserving proportionably better treatment, than the other, could lay claim to some positive reward: a sinner, still more moderate might claim a greater reward, and so on through the various shades of moral depravity. How clearly inconsistent this is with the express declarations of scripture, will appear from the following passages; "The wages of sin is death. The judg ment came upon all men to condemnation. Cursed is every one, who continueth not in all things, written in the law, to do them."
It will be remembered, that on the subject in hand, scripture evidence must be decisive. Without the scriptures, it has been observed, no person can be confident of a future state; much less of the continuance either of rewards or punishment. Now, if the testimony of scripture is decisive, and "the wages of sin is death," if" every one is liable to a curse, who continueth not in all things, written in the law to do them ;" and if " judgment has come upon all men to
condemnation," how is it possible, that the greatest offender should deserve no punishment, and that a great majority of offenders should merit reward? Yet you clearly perceive, that to say of any being, that he deserves not more misery than happiness, is the same as to say, that on the whole, he deserves no punishment.
Among those, who deny the perpetuity of future punishment, or advocate the doctrine of final restoration, it is not uncommon to avow a belief in necessity, as the ground of their opinion. Every thing, say they, happens by irresistible necessity; and, therefore, those actions, denominated sins, are really worthy of no punishment: and, of course, all men will be happy.
There is, in this argument a very surprising leap between the premises and the conclusion, even should we allow the former to be true. If the doctrine were true, and if necessity annihilates all vice, you clearly perceive, that it likewise annihilates all virtue. By consequence, there would be no moral desert in any action whatever. But how creatures, who are, by the argument, as truly machines as a watch or a steam engine, and equally destitute of virtue, should yet be entitled to eternal rewards, or to any rewards, is not easily discovered.
Perhaps the objector may allow, that the doctrine of universal salvation does not follow from that of necessity: but is still confident, that future punishment cannot, on this hypothesis, be reconciled with the justice of God.
I answer, that most who believe the doctrine of necessity, suppose that the actions of Deity are no more free, than those of his creatures. Now, if necessity destroys all injustice in men, it must, for the same reason, destroy all injustice in God. If men are not morally wrong in doing those actions, which we call unjust, neither can he be morally wrong in doing the same. If necessity annihilates the morality of one being, it annihilates the morality of all, whe act under its influence. It is preposterous, therefore, for