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ON THE ETERNAL DURATION OF FUTURE
REWARDS AND PUNISHMENTS.
MATTHEW XXV. 46.
And these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but
the righteous into life eternal.
If there be any truth, which is announced to us clearly and unequivocally in the Gospel of Christ, and the declaration of which appears to be one of the great objects for which the will of God has been revealed to man, it is that we are here placed in a state of trial for an eternal state; that, after the close of this our state of trial, a day of resurrection is to come, and after that the judgment; and that, at the aweful day of retribution, the portion, whether of good or of evil, which will be assigned to every son and daughter of man, will be finally and unchangeably fixed.
The expression of my text is one amongst many other passages of Scripture which announce
ON THE ETERNAL DURATION OF
this important truth. The words occur at the close of the very striking description given by our Lord himself of His own future coming to judgment; and they appear to tell us, as plainly and as distinctly as any words possibly could do, that the doom which will then be pronounced upon the righteous and the wicked. will admit of no subsequent change or relaxation. After declaring that the King would say unto them on His right hand, “ Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world,” and that He would say to those on His left hand, Depart ye from Me into everlasting fire,” He adds at the close of the whole, in repetition and confirmation of what He before had stated, “ These shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal."
Here then is indeed a sentence full of joy and comfort, and rich with grace and hope to the good, as it abounds in terror to the wicked. It is a sentence which ought to arrest every sinner in his career of thoughtlessness or of hardened guilt; which addresses itself to all inankind by the most availing of all considerations, and ought to bind them by the strongest obligations to follow those paths of righteousness, whereby they
may be saved.
Still, notwithstanding these clear declarations,
FUTURE REWARDS AND PUNISHMENTS.
which appear to admit of no doubt or misapprehension, persons, professing to derive religious truth from the authority of Scripture, have not been wanting, who are willing to allow the truth of the doctrine only on one side. They admit it, indeed, to be distinctly announced that everlasting happiness is the destined portion of the righteous; but they refuse to believe that, according to the first clause of the text, the wicked “shall go away into everlasting punishment;" maintaining; on the contrary, that they are merely destined to undergo a temporary correction, which will have an issue in the complete restoration of all to general happiness.
Amongst the most strenuous supporters of this opinion, are persons of the modern Socinian school *, who, while they profess to receive the holy Scriptures as containing the revelation of the will of God to man, still in fact believe only such parts of them as agree with their own preconceived opinions ; opposing, on a variety of points, the fancied conclusions of their own reason, to that which has uniformly been admitted in the Christian church as clearly announced by revelation. At the same time it is not to be denied that others, whose belief on general points has been correct, and consistent with
* See Note B.
48 ON THE ETERNAL DURATION OF sound views of Christianity, have maintained a similar opinion'; having been apparently led to embrace it by trusting too confidently to certain abstract reasonings respecting the attributes God and the ways of His providence, and by an unwillingness to admit what they have deemed inconsistent with His benevolence.
But this point of religious belief concerns so nearly the hopes and fears of mankind, involves such extended interests, and is so directly operative on their lives and practices, that it cannot be a matter of slight importance to ascertain, as clearly as we possibly can, what is really revealed in Scripture respecting it, and therefore to be received as true. For, let it be observed, although many of those who maintain the doctrine of a final restitution to happiness may have been very far from intending to impair, and perhaps, in their own apprehension of the matter, have not in any essential degree impaired, that fear of future retribution which affords the most efficacious discouragement of all iniquity, inasmuch as they have supposed this final restitution to take place, only after penalties of long and fearful duration; still the greatest care should be taken how any departure is made from the broad and straight line of Scriptural truth, by which an opening may be afforded for unfounded presumptions, lead
ing to delusions the most dangerous. If it be true that the opinions of men, on every subject, are very much influenced by their wishes and their inclinations; where will be found an opinion which will ensure to itself more ready advocates, than one which flatters vice and crime with the expectation of lighter penalties ? Every corrupt propensity, every intemperate passion of the human heart, starts up at once in active conspiracy for its support. And, from the slightest encouragement, men may easily slide into an extreme of fatal error, which may set open all the flood-gates of depravity in this world, and, by too probable an event, plunge many souls of men into eternal misery in the world which is to come.
In whatever light, therefore, other Scriptural doctrines may be viewed, it must surely be allowed by all that 'a subject so important to the feelings and practices of men, as the Scriptural doctrine of future punishments, presents a most commanding claim for a serious and dispassionate consideration. And, as there is no want of activity at the present day, on the part of the class of writers to whom I have alluded, in pressing on the attention of the Christian world their peculiar opinions, it cannot be unseasonable shortly to weigh the grounds on which those opinions are founded.