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SOURCES OF UNIVERSALISM.
It is very common to find those inclined to the belief of Universalism, who have a method of disposing of the arguments brought against them, not unlike to the Jesuitical doctrine of "probable opinions.” Present before them a serious argument, which goes to cut up their whole system by the roots; and they have at hand, a short, and as it respects themselves an unanswerable argument. They will tell you, You make your own side of the question very fair, but it signifies nothing; I am not obliged to be convinced, so long as I know that a very plausible story can be told on the other side." The man shields his conscience from the truth behind the imagined probabilities, that a cunning writer can make out in favor of a contrary belief, when he knows these probabilities come far short of a certainty. When a mind balances itself on such principles, to offer it reasons is to beat the air. I know of no way better calculated to show to such minds the folly of their treatment of the subject, than to give them an opportunity to see themselves in the doctrine of the Jesuits, as exposed by Pascal. This I shall do by a few quotations.—“An opinion is called probable, when it is founded upon reasons of some importance. And hence it happens that only one grave doctor, can render an opinion probable; for a man who is particularly devoted to study, would not adopt an opinion, unless he were induced by a good and sufficient reason-For if the tes, timony of such a man ess sufficient weight to convince us, that any occurrence took place at Rome for example, why should it not be equally satisfactory in deciding a doubtful point of morality ?” “Their views (i. e. of these grave doctors) are indeed frequently different; but this is nothing to the purpose ;
every one may render his own, probable and certain. We are well aware their opinions are not all coincident: so much the better; in fact, they scarcely ever agree; for a very few questions can arise in which you will not find one say yes and an
But each of these contrary opinions is probable. Pontius and Sanchez, are of an opposite opinion; but inasmuch as they are both learned men, each one makes his own sentiment probable.” “Such is the use of these contrary opinions on all subjects. One is always for you, and the other is never against you. If you do not find your account in one way, you are sure to do so in another. And so you are always safe.” Though the doctrine herein stated is not sanctioned by the creed of the Universalists, it is sanctioned by the conduct of many, whose minds without satisfactory evidence, are inclined to take up that belief. Though the plain common-sense-reading of the Bible is against them, they yet feel justified in taking up the opinion which they prefer, because more than one “grave doctor” has asserted it.
6 And it is not to be supposed that he would, unless he were induced to it by good and sufficient reasons.” A man so “particularly devoted to study," as Mr. Whittemore, and a man who can write Greek and Hebrew words, with as much ease as Asr. Balfour, is not to be supposed to assert the doctrine, without good and sufficient reasons, even though the whole scope of the Bible is against him. Here is the method, in which they operate on the minds of thousands, who through mental indolence, or fear of being convinced against their wishes, refuse to give the subject a full and impartial examination, and yet in spite of all proofs persist in the flesh-pleasing delusion. This, however, is a disease of mind, which no reasonings can
All that can be attempted with any rational hope of success is, so to expose the common sources of Universalism, that it shall clearly appear, that this and that man's belief of the doctrine, affords no ground for presuming the doctrine true. We come then directly at the question,-What are the causes, that incline the minds of men to the belief of the doctrine in question. That interpretations of the word of God which
are palpably false, and in many cases ridiculous, are received as sound—that the crudest absurdities are digested, by many who ought to know better—that men of sense in other matters, knowing that their everlasting all is at stake, will suffer themselves to be carried away, by reasons on which in other matters they would not risk a sixpence. Here is a phenomenon in human character which I now propose to explain.
In the explanation I remark in the first place, that whatever the causes may be which bring so many to the belief of this doctrine, it is not the perception of any firm and satisfactory reasons in the case, as may be shown from the shifting and varying character of the premises on which it has been builta The premises have often been changed, while the conclusion has remained. That the proofs may be adopted and then set aside, like almanacks when out of date, and yet the same conclusion remain-and that the same mind could at the same time draw conviction from opposite premises, is the conclusion to which the history of Universalism would bring us. The first Universalists were Restorationists, believing in a purgatorial punishment in the future world. Next comes in the doctrine of no punishment in the future world, built on some of the doctrines of Calvinism caricatured. Next, these grounds are abandoned, and the same doctrine comes forward under the auspices of Messrs. B. and W. and their coadjutors, sustained by such interpretations as we have been examining. Some will have it that the obvious understanding of some passages of the Bible, brings us to the doctrine of eternal punishment, but the doctrine not being in itself reasonable, and consistent with the known goodness of God, those passages must be so explained away, as to consist with more rational views. Others will have us believe that all passages of the Bible are obviously consistent with the doctrine of no future punishment. But as the conscience cannot at all times and in all persons be made to see with such eyes, the original doctrine of restoration is held by many, as a sort of reserve ground, to flee to when driven from the more comforting doctrine of no hell at all. That different minds should stand on grounds so opposite, is not marvelous; but that one and the same mind should hold them both at once, show that the conclusion is regarded as more important than the means of coming at it. My observation much deceives me if it be not true of the great mass of the Universalists, and more especially of the more intelligent of them, that they feel about an equal confidence and interest in both these systems-opposite as they are in respect to grounds of proof. The expression has gone into a proverb among those who profess to believe in no future punishment, that the restorarion system “is better than nothing.” And inconsistent as it is with their professed belief, they cherish it with a strong affection. And they guard with a jealous care against any controversy with Restorationists (see preliminaries to the Danvers discussion and the Universalist Trumpet passion) and the reader is requested to bear in mind the question, whether there is not among this class of Universalists, much of playing fast and loose, respectiug the grounds on which they are willing to rest their system, that he may satisfy himself by future observation. Refute before them Mr. Balfour's positions, and even those who have been wont to look at this author as their oracle, are ready to say—“We never agreed with Mr. B. on that point.” Or, “We always had our doubts about it.” Now the conclusion to which all this brings us is, that Universalism originates rather in the desire of the mind, than in the force of solid proofs. The conclusion seems to have been antecedent to the proofs. It is a fabric that can stand as well without an underpinning as with it. And the foundation can be slipped from beneath it, and exchanged for another, as often as it is conceived another can be found of more decent appearance. The underpinning by the way is used only for appearance sake. If Mr. B.'s system be the true one, the Universalism which existed before this was invented, must have been believed without known and sufficient reasons. A system of doctrines, under so little obligations to its proofs, that it can discard and renew them at pleasure, must be rather the offspring of man's convenience and desires, than the result of impartial study of the word of God.
In speaking more directly of the sources of Universalism, I shall first take the position that the depraved inclinations of men are a fruitful occavion of their embracing it. I suppose I shall not be required to prove in this place, that there are some men whose hearts are inclined to sin. And I suppose most readers will admit that all hearts are more or less so inclined. And I suppose it will also be admitted, that as strong as is a man's desire after an unlawful gratification, so strong is his interest to wish that no painful consequences might follow the indulgence. So strong as is a man's inclination to pursue a sinful course of life, so much is he inclined to wish there might be no punishment for sin in the world to come. That some wicked men are troubled by the fear of hell, I think will not be doubted. That many of them suffer a great amount from such fears is true. The Universalists are wont to tell us of the great amount of suffering, created in the minds of men by the doctrine of future punishment: and to make that a reason why it should not be preached. Now if some minds suffer so much, by entertaining the idea of future misery, as consequent on a life of sin, is it strange, considering how much the interests and the desires influence the decisions of the understanding? Is it strange that some through their wishes come to believe that there is no hell? It is familiar to every one, with how much ease men convince themselves of that which they wish to believe. And what doctrine can a man, determined on a life of sin and impenitence, have a stronger wish to believe, than that of no judgment to come ?
Again, the strong affinities which this doctrine has for wicked and dissolute men goes to the same point. What the Earl of Rochester said of the Bible, will particularly apply to the doctrine of a future reckoning for sin. “A bad life is the only grand objection to it.” A bad life, a life at variance with the requirements of the Bible, constitutes an ever present, and powerful bias of the mind, towards Universalism. And men of dissolute lives have the strongest objections to a future judgment. The fact, which few except Universalists will deny, and which some of them confess, that dissolute and immoral men,