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Inferences from the Doctrine of Endless Punishment.
I. THE doctrine of endless punishment being thus estab lished from the Holy Scriptures, and vindicated and supported by reason, it follows that all those doctrines, and that experi mental or practical religion, which are inconsistent with this doctrine, are false and delusive.
If we were able to take a thorough, comprehensive view of the subject, and examine it without any prejudice and darkness, it would doubtless be found that no false scheme of religion, in doctrine or practice, can stand this test, and be reconciled in all its parts to this doctrine, but that all such schemes do clash with it, however ignorant of it they may be who embrace them, and attempt to blend this doctrine with those that do really oppose it. And it will appear that true religion, including principles and practice,—the religion of the Bible, and that only,-is, in every part, consistent with God's punishing the wicked forever, so as to bear a friendly aspect to, and truly approve it. By this test, then, every doc trine and all hearts may be tried.
Here many particular doctrines, and different schemes of practical religion, might be brought into view, and examined by this test; but this will be omitted, and only one general character of all false religion mentioned and tried by this rule, that is, selfish religion, as opposed to all disinterested public affection. It is easy to see that selfishness cannot be reconciled to eternal punishment on those grounds, and for the reasons, aside from which or were it not for them, it would be undesirable and not reasonable, viz., the glory of God and the greatest general good. As endless punishment is necessary to promote this, God approves of it, and has ordained it; but, in this view, it is wholly opposed to selfishness, for that pays no regard to the honor of God, or the general good, but seeks only a private interest; and, consequently, all selfish religion does oppose endless punishment. And it hence appears that true religion consists in that benevolence, and that public disinterested affection which is implied in it, which desires and seeks the glory of God, and the greatest public or general good, so as to subordinate all to this, and be reconciled to that, and acquiesce in it, be it what it will, which is best suited to answer this end, and opposes every thing so far as it appears to be opposed to this; and that every degree of that selfishness which is opposed to such benevolence is opposed to God, and all his institutions and ways.
II. It may be hence inferred that to believe and teach the salvation of all men is very dangerous and hurtful. This appears to be so, as it is contrary to the truth so clearly revealed in the sacred oracles; since every error, especially one so gross and of such magnitude, must be dangerous, and of an evil tendency.
They whose religious exercises, whose love to God, etc., have their foundation in a belief that there is no such thing as endless punishment, and that all mankind shall be happy forever, so that the belief of the contrary would put an end to all their love and religion, are certainly in a very dangerous way. All their religious affections, their love, hope, and joy, will perish forever when they are made to know that the wicked shall go away into everlasting punishment; and they will be found enemies to the true God, and his wise administrations, and only fit to be cast into that everlasting fire. And all those whose hope of future happiness is wholly founded on a belief and confidence that none shall be miserable, are in a most dangerous situation. Their trust and confidence will perish; their hope is as the spider's web, and shall be as the giving up of the ghost. This delusion now shuts their ears, and fortifies them against all warnings adapted to excite their fears, and awaken them to fly from the wrath to come, and has a direct and mighty tendency to sink them down into carelessness and neglect of all religion, and to encourage them in worldly and vicious gratifications and pursuits, while they flatter themselves, and say, "We shall have peace, though we walk in the imagination of our heart, and add drunkenness to thirst."
It is so evident, from reason and observation, that this is true of the doctrine that there is no punishment for the wicked in the future state, that not only they who believe their punishment will be endless, but those who think it will be temporary, though it may be long and dreadful, without hesitation pronounce the former a licentious, dangerous doctrine; while they who hold the latter, say this has no such bad tendency.
It may be added, that, on this principle, all oaths, or solemn appeals to God for the truth of what men say, which are so necessary in civil government, are perfectly useless; for he who sweareth falsely has no judge or future judgment to fear or regard, and will be as happy in the future state as he who feareth a false oath. And no degree of unfaithfulness, deceit, and unrighteousness, or indulgence of any lust whatever, will be the least disadvantage to a man after he leaves the body. And no fear of any evil after death can take place, to be the least restraint from putting an end to his own life, or the life of others; but the confident expectation of happiness in another world becomes a strong inducement to put himself, and those nearly connected with him, out of this world, especially when worldly circumstances and prospects are dark and disagreeable, that he may free himself and them from the evils of this life.
But, if this subject be properly considered, it will doubtless appear that the latter has the same, and an equally bad and dangerous tendency with the former.
We find that when sinners are awakened to a sense of their danger, and the evil case in which they are, so as to think in earnest of reformation and embracing the gospel, in order to salvation, it is always under some conviction and sense of endless misery as the certain consequence of persisting in their evil ways. And if they can be made to believe there is no such punishment, but that they shall certainly be happy forever, whatever be their character and conduct in this world, this will remove their great attention and pressing concern, and give them ease while they go on in their sins. And every person who has been in any degree properly attentive to his eternal interest, and will consult his own feelings, must own that it is unspeakably more dreadful and alarming to think of being lost and miserable FOREVER, and view himself in the utmost danger of it, than to see himself in danger of only a temporary punishment. The awakened sinner, in fearful expectation of destruction as the consequence of the way he has taken, will express the feelings of his mind in the following language: "Ö, if the destruction which is like to be my portion were not endless, it would be tolerable and light compared with being miserable forever! The thought of this drinks up my spirit, and draws over my soul a horrid gloom and sinking despair, and fills it with anguish and torture which nothing else could do. If I could be sure this punishment will ever come to an end, and I be forever happy after all, this would be better than ten thousand worlds to me, and turn all my sorrow and distress into peace and joy." And let such a sinner be persuaded that this is true, and his concern, that laid him under great restraints before, will subside; and his strong aversion to holiness, and powerful, pressing inclination to indulge his darling lusts and live in sin, will hold him fast in this course with a great degree of security and ease. And he is never like to be alarmed again, or persuaded to alter his
Therefore, if it were possible that this doctrine should be really believed and spread, would it not sap the foundation of civil government, introduce the greatest evils in human society by the prevalence of the unrestrained lusts of men, put an end to all mutual confidence of men in each other, and promote suicide and murders innumerable? According to this doctrine the greatest enemy of God in the world has the staff in his own hands, and whenever the indulgence of his lusts has rendered this life disagreeable, he may defy the punishing hand of his Maker, and push himself into perfect and endless happiness in a moment! This is observed, not as an argument, or from the least desire, that the civil power should be exerted to put a stop to this doctrine, but to demonstrate that tenet to be a gross delusion which is pregnant with such fatal evils to human society.
course, by all the terrors they can preach to him who tell him he is no danger of endless misery, but, let him live as he will, he must be eternally happy.*
If the sinner be told, and is made to believe, that though he live and die in his evil courses, he will be punished in the future state only till he is willing to repent; this will be no matter of terror to him, or have the least tendency to reform him, but the contrary, to an amazing degree; for he is disposed to think himself not very guilty and ill deserving, and that his lusts and vicious courses are in a great degree innocent and harmless, and, therefore, that his punishment will not be very great. Besides, he has so good an opinion of himself, that he has not the least doubt but he shall be willing to repent immediately, when the present objects of his lusts and pursuits shall be at an end, and he can have no more pleasure and happiness in the way of sin; and, consequently, it is impossible to make him fear any length of punishment on this plan, or even any at all, because he is confident he shall escape it all by repentance and submission to God. Therefore, the threatening of such a punishment will have no more influence on the sinner, to awaken and reform him, than none at all, while he is assured he shall have everlasting happiness, and shall suffer no longer than he shall continue obstinate and impenitent.
How many millions of sinners have there been who have quieted their fears, and encouraged themselves to go on in vicious courses, by presuming that in their last moments they would repent and cry for mercy, if they did not do it before; and that they should then find favor with God, when they could enjoy the pleasures of sin no longer? And if this presumption has given such encouragement to continue in sin, when they had no security that they should have any opportunity to repent, or assurance that God would then regard them if in their last moments they should cry to him for mercy, how much more encouragement to licentiousness is given to sinners by assuring them from the Word of God that they shall be eternally happy, be they as vicious as they will in this life, and that they shall not suffer a minute longer than
It has been said, that a long future punishment, including very great and terrible sufferings, even till the sinner is brought to repentance, is sufficient effectually to restrain men from their wicked courses, yea, more effectually than endless punishment, because the latter is incredible, and will not, therefore, affect the mind. But is not this said in opposition to the highest reason and all experience? Whether endless punishment does "exceed all belief," let him judge who has perused the preceding inquiry. And it is easy to see that the fear of a finite punishment must have unspeakably less influence on the sinner than of an endless one. if it will have any at all in this case.
they continue impenitent, and shall have as good and better opportunity to repent and cry for mercy in the other world than they have here, as they will not have the same tempting objects and allurements to sin, nor can have any pleasure or advantage by it, and it can never be too late to repent?
This being the case, it is no wonder it is confirmed by fact and experience. Where is the person who has been awakened and reformed from a course of sin by being told that if he did not repent and reform in this life, though he must after all be eternally happy, yet he should be punished in the other world till he was willing to repent and be happy? It is presumed no such person is to be found, nor can the argument be given up till some instances to the contrary are produced; especially, since there are so many instances on the other side to confirm it. Who are the persons that are most pleased with the doctrine of universal salvation, and forwardest to embrace it? The most sober, virtuous, benevolent people, or they who are at the greatest distance from all this? And what improvement is evidently made of it by multitudes? Is it not to flatter and confirm them in licentiousness? Is it not peculiarly suited to this corrupt age? And does it not promise to promote, as far as it shall spread, a torrent of libertinism in the practice of all manner of vice and wickedness? Every serious, attentive person will easily decide these questions.
How can that doctrine be agreeable to the gospel represented by Christ and the inspired writers, as not suited to please wicked men, but to excite their displeasure and hatred, which is so very agreeable to wicked men and infidels now; so that they will rather renounce the Bible and turn Deists, than give it up? Yea, all open enemies to the sacred oracles, if they believe a future state, are friends to the doctrine of universal happiness.
Can that doctrine be agreeable to Christ, or displeasing to the devil, which is so pleasing to wicked men in this world, and has such manifest influence to flatter and confirm them in their evil courses?
III. In the light of eternal punishment we have a most affecting sight of the awfully dangerous and extremely miserable and wretched state of all those who are in their impenitence, going the broad way that leads to this destruction; and hence learn what tender concern and bowels of compassion ought to be exercised towards them, and the reasonableness of being ready and engaged to take all possible pains, and use all proper means, that they may be plucked as brands from everlasting burnings.
There are many instances of great temporary calamity and