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persons, who use this argument, to attribute to the Supreme Being either justice, or injustice. It is preposterous, therefore, to infer from the former attribute, that he will not eternally punish the wicked:--if he should, it would be equally preposterous to speak of him, as an unreasonable, or hard master. If any thing more could be necessary to elucidate this subject, I would say, that if necessity excuses a thief for stealing, it excuses the judge who hangs him for it.
But perhaps the objector's opinion is, that God is free, though his creatures are not: and he believes it unjust in him freely to punish actions, which are necessarily performed.
No person, who urges this objection, can do it consistently; no person, can be satisfied on such ground, unless he deliberately and habitually denies the distinction between virtue and vice; and ceases, of course, either to praise or blame any of his fellow creatures. Now the fact is, that we never find any such persons: we never find any, who doubt that some actions deserve praise, and others blame. There fore we never find any person, who can, without undeniable inconsistency, urge the objection.
It is to be further observed, that this argument proceeds on ground, which cannot be maintained without contending with the uniform declarations of scripture; which testify, that there is a wide difference in moral actions. They denounce "wo to the wicked," because "the reward of his hands shall be given him." They say to the righteous, that "it shall be well with them, for they shall eat the fruit of their doings." They, moreover, speak with great frequency and clearness, as to the forgiveness of sins. But how can sins be forgiven, if we act under such a necessity, as precludes the possibility of sinning?
Those who confound virtue and vice, the scriptures notice with pointed severity. "Wo unto them, who put evil for good, and good for evil :-who put darkness for light, and light for darkness."
But all who use the argument which we are now considering, do, in the most palpable sense, "put darkness for light and light for darkness." It is evident then, not only that the uniform language of scripture condemns the propo sition, on which this argument rests; but denounces a wo against those, who attempt to maintain it.
We are now to notice another argument against the doctrine of endless punishment. It is this: "All punishment is disciplinary. No being can justly receive punishment unless it be inflicted with design eventually to promote his own advantage. Therefore it is with this design that God will award punishment in a future life. But if punishments be awarded for this end, Deity must foresee, that the end will, at some time, be accomplished: by consequence, all will experience not only a termination of their sufferings, but final happiness."
That the reformation of the sufferer, is frequently an end, for which punishment is inflicted, is not denied. But if punishment ever is, or can be inflicted for a different end, the argument fails. In attempting to ascertain its value, I ob
First, that in the mildest and most rational human governments, the object of many, perhaps of most laws, is not the benefit of individuals, considered as such, but the safety and happiness of the state. In regard to many laws, the object of punishment is doubtless twofold; viz. the sufferer's reformation and the common safety. In regard to many others, the object is exclusively the latter. Of this kind are all capital punishments. The laws never take life for the good of the sufferer; but evidently to deter others, and to prevent the culprit from doing further injury. Nothing can be more evident, than the confusion and danger, which society would experience, were punishment never administered, but with a view to the individual's amendment and benefit. According to this mode of proceeding, the most enormous transgressors, and those, by whom the peace of the
community is most disturbed, would not only live, but enjoy impunity; for there is no probability, that the penalties of the law would on such persons, produce reformation. Small thefts, or other instances of dishonesty might be punished, as the delinquent would not be thought past reformation. But persons guilty of arson or murder, especially if they had committed these crimes frequently, would never fall under public censure. Nay further, it would not be just to pun ish such persons; it being assumed in the argument, that no punishment is just, but that which is disciplinary; and inveterate offenders may fairly be presumed to be incorrigi ble. The reasoning then, you see, comes to this: Justice requires, that small crimes be punished; but secures impunity to them, by whom the greatest are perpetrated. In other words, because a person has become enormously wicked he deserves no punishment.
II. If punishment must be disciplinary in order to its being just, no descendant of Adam can be under obligation to his Creator's mercy, that he suffers no more.
Some persons are brought to repentance in this world; and some according to the theory, which we are considering, are made penitent by sufferings, endured beyond the grave. These sufferings are supposed to be just, because they are forescen to issue in the sufferer's amendment. Of course, at the moment, when he does amend, justice has no further demand: any additional punishment would be tyrannical. No person, therefore, who is rendered penitent in this life, can acknowledge himself indebted to Christ for deliverance "from the wrath which is to come."
III. If no punishment is just, but that which is disciplinary, none but such a punishment is threatened in the divine law for doubtless God has not threatened to do an unjust thing. All, therefore, who by discipline, whether in this world, or another, are brought to repentance, have suffered the "curse of the law;" i. e. that punishment, which the law threatens. In Gal. iii. 13. it is said, that "Christ
hath delivered us from the curse of the law." But if the opinion, which we are considering, is true, all persons actually suffer this curse; because they endure that discipline, whether mild or severe, whether present or future, which is necessary to bring them to repentance. It would follow then, that the reverse of St. Paul's assertion is true, and that Christ does not deliver men from the curse of the law and it will likewise follow, that if he did this, it would be an important injury: it would be delivering us from that, which is necessary to our amendment and salvation.
IV. If this opinion be considered in another view, its consequences will be equally absurd: they will be, that salvation, instead of being enjoyed by all, will be enjoyed by none. Salvation is security from evil. This is agreeable to St. Paul's declaration, "Jesus delivereth us from the wrath, which is to come." Now, what is that evil; what is that wrath from which men are delivered? It is either deserved or undeserved. It will hardly be said I think, that Christ came to deliver us from a punish. ment, which was undeserved for if such punishment, unless the divine government is unjust, we were in no danger. It follows then, that Christ came to deliver us from a just punishment, but, by the supposition, no punishment is just, but that, which is disciplinary; i. e. necessary to bring the sufferer to repentance. But this is the precise punishment, which, it is supposed, that all men endure. Therefore all men endure the curse of the law, or the wrath which is to come. The consequence of the opinion, viewed in this light, is, that none will be saved.
V. If the opinion, which we are considering, were true, it would be difficult to see what has been effected by the interposition of Christ. For, on this supposition, even now, the law has its full course. Every offender endures all that punishment, which it threatens, or can threaten with justice; i.e. he endures that discipline, which is requisite for his amendment. If it be said that the sufferings of Christ were
necessary to procure for men, positive happiness after their amendment, I answer, that, as, by the supposition, every human being, either in this world or in the next, satisfies the law, i. e. endures the penalty, which the law threatens, he is, for ought,which appears, as fair a candidate for happiness by the law, as Adam was at the first moment of his probation. In regard to the law, he is perfectly right. If you tell him, that he once broke the law, he allows it; but immediately rejoins, that he has paid the penalty. If a person has, this day, discharged a debt of ten years standing, he is as completely free from his creditor, as he was before the debt was contracted. If a person has been punished for some crime, by imprisonment, when the term of his confinement is expired, he is as completely under the protection of the law, as any individual in the community. So, if men satisfy the law by that suffering which corrects their vices and reduces them to obedience, one can, by no means see, how the atonement of Christ should be necessary to render them happy.
VI. If no punishment is just, but that which is disciplinary, it is evident, that offences can never be punished on account of the injury, which they occasion either to other individuals, or to the community. In civil governments, a man is not to be branded or imprisoned for dishonesty, because this crime renders property insecure, and exposes the owners to want: the incendiary is not to be punished to prevent houses from being set on fire, and their inhabitants from being consumed in the flames; the murderer is not to suffer the penalty of the law, because he has shed human blood,— brought distress on a family, and terror to the public; but solely for his own advantage. The magistrate, unmindful of the public good, is to keep but one thing in view; and that is the good of the criminal.
Further, if this opinion were true, the Deity himself must proceed on the same principles. He must never punish envy, hatred, malice, and impiety, because these crimes are hateful in themselves, and dishonorable to his gov