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man according to his deeds.” (Rom. ii. 6.) But how so, if, in regard to many, no retribution for evil deeds will ever be rendered at all ?
Arbitrary punishments are the only ones within human power to inflict-we cannot make wickedness punish itself ; hence, we append to transgression certain penal pains, which, being by nature wholly unconnected with it, may or may not take effect, as mere accident shall determine. The popular theology represents the divine penalties of sin as being equally arbitrary, and, therefore, equally uncertain! That I may be perfectly comprehended in this branch of my subject, I will once more illustrate the difference betwixt positive and moral (in other words arbitrary and necessary) punishments, by the sin of our first parents and its penalty.
The divine threatening in regard to the tree was, “ In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” We understand this death to have been moral in its nature-consisting of condemnation, debasement, &c.; such as we are given to know they really did experience on the day of transgression, and such as naturally resulted, and must ever result, from the doing an unlawful deed. We
suppose that the punishment could not possibly have been dispensed with ; and that whether it had been threatened or not, it would have resulted from the act just as it did; because it was a natural and necessary consequence from it. It is even doubtful if Jehovah originated the connexion between sin and suffering, or whether he could dissolve it. But, supposing it possible to have set aside the penalty in the case, it certainly would have operated to the injury of the culprit, who would have been encouraged
argue thus within himself :-"I once transgressed the law of God, and no evil result ensued; hence, I find that misery is not an inevitable consequence of sin, it only takes place as Jehovah pleases; it then is not an evil in itself, for if it were, it would of itself produce evil effects; and since it pleased God that it should not in this instance, the same may happen in all future instances." Emboidened by this persuasion, he sins, and sins again, and when at length vengeance does ensue, he thinks that inasmuch as it was not necessary, it might as well have been dispensed with, and it was therefore unkind in God to inflict it.
Now, the popular theology supposes that the death in the threat
ening above noticed, implied the being doomed to eternal fames ! Can any body see any necessary, any reasonable connexion between the eating of an interdicted apple, and the suffering in ceaseless fire? It is not even pretended by those who take this view of the subject, that the penalty threatened was otherwise than arbitrary; and, accordingly (as they think) a pretext was easily found for setting it aside! They did not die! God relented ! (The snake had predicted this conclusion of the affair, and our friends confirm the truth of the prediction.) The culprits were dismissed with a halfangry and half-approving reprimand !
I do not affirm that in the administration of the divine government, arbitrary punishments have never occurred; in scripture times, it would seem, the divine dealings with men were more direct and visible than they have since been. In those days, outward and sensible expressions of his displeasure against sin sometimes occurred; as in the deluge, the destruction of Sodom, Babylon, Tyre, Sidon, and Jerusalem. It is not pretended, that in this class of punishments, the reformation of the punished is the immediate object; they are meant as examples to others, and therefore they are benevolent, although not directly so to the subjects themselves; yet they must even to them prove ultimately so, 16 being no part of Jehovah's policy to sacrifice the eternal interests of a part, to secure those of the residue, for several reasons. 1st. He is under no such necessity. 2nd. He can as easily make all eventually happy as to make a part so.
3d. He loves one portion of his creatures as well as ano er. And, 41h, must therefore prefer the final good of all before the final good of some. These outward punishments are exceptions to the general scheme of divine retribution; they have but seldom occurred, and are called his “ strange work.” (Isa. xxviii. 21.)
I have said, it is even doubtful if Jehovah originated the connexson betwixt sin and misery. I must take this back. I prefer to resolve all causes, with their effects, into the all-wise appointment of the infinite God; more especially as the scriptures afford me examples to this effect; and, besides, there is so evident a mercy in the law of which I speak, that it seems a dictate of reason as well as piety, to account for its existence on the ground of divine institution. It can scarcely be necessary for me to prove this the bible view of the case. Nevertheless, I will adduce a
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few instances. The following is the language of Elihu, the only one of Job's friends whose discourse God did not disapprove. “ That he may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man.
He keepeth back his soul from the pit, and his life from perishing by the sword. He is chastened also with pain upon his bed, and the multitude of his bones with 'strong pain : so that his life abhorreth,bread and his soul dainty ineat. His flesh is consumed away, that it cannot be seen; and his bones that were not seen, stick out. Yea, his soul draweth near unto the grave, and his life to the destroyers. If there be a messenger with him, an interpreter, one among a thousand, to show unto man his uprightness; then he is gracious unto him, and saith, Deliver him from going down to the pit; I have found a ransom. His flesh shall be fresher than a child's: he shall return to the days of his youth. He shall pray unto God, and he will be favourable unto him; and he shall see his face with joy: for he will render unto man his righteousness. He looketh upon men; and if any say, I have sinned, and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not; he will deliver his soul from going into the pit, and his life shall see the light. Lo, all these things worketh God oftentimes with man, to bring back his soul from the pit, to be enlightened with the light of the living.” (Job xxxiii. 17–30.) The same Elihu also exclaims, “Surely it is meet to be said unto God, I have borne chastisement, I will not offend any more.” (Job xxxiv. 31.) Jeremiah takes a similar view in regard to the sufferings brought on themselves by the Israelites, whom he personates under the name of Ephraim. “I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus, Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke : turn thou me and I shall be turned ; for thou art the Lord my God. Surely after that I was turned, I repented ; and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh: I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth. Is Ephraim my dear son ? is he a pleasant child ? for since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still; therefore my bowels are troubled for him: I will surely have mercy upon him saith the Lord.” (Jer. xxxi. 18–20.) And the sufferings entailed upon the same people by an invasion of their country, is by the same prophet accounted for in the same way throughout his book of Lamentations; and they are also rep
resented as issuing in the same gracious ends. " For the Lord will not cast off for ever. But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies. For he doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men. To crush under his feet all the prisoners of the earth. To turn aside the right of a man before the face of the Most High. To subvert a man in his cause, the Lord approveth not. Who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not? Out of the mouth of the Most High proceedeth not evil and good ? Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins ? Let us search and try our ways and turn again to the Lord.” (Lam. iii. 31–40.) David, enumerating the blessings of providence upon himself and his household, represents the following as the divine promise in regard to his children. “ If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments; if they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless my loving-kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail.” (Ps. lxxxix. 30– 33.) Now it is absolutely pitiful, yea, contemptible, to give to passages of this nature a partial application, as if Jehovah does not in his dealings with each and all of the transgressors of his law, observe the same eternal principles of mercy and justice !
Let us attend now to the modus operandi of divine punishments. I have before considered the case of the gambler, but we may take a more difficult view of it. We will suppose, then, that he constantly rises from the game a winner ; how, in that event, does he get his punishment? Is he not rather rewarded for his wickedness, and encouraged to proceed in it? He would be encouraged, indeed, if he fared as well as you, reader, seem to suppose ; and in that case, why shall we not all turn gamblers, since we are lured to it by the flowers which providence strews in that path! Reader, dismiss this delusion; for such, and a very destructive one, it really is. I will tell you how the successful gambler gets his punishment. It does not follow from the fact that he always has won, that he therefore always shall; one more expert than himself may at any moment strip him of all his past gains; his very successes serve to lessen his caution, and embolden him to venture larger stakes; hence, it often happens that his entire for
tune is vibrating upon the chances of the moment; he may arise with double his present wealth, or without a penny. What must be his mental perturbation when so much is depending on such shifting hazards ? Anxiety of this nature, so feverish, so intense, is rapid in its progress of eating out the soul. But aside from this, has he no reasons for disquietude in regard to his victiins, some of whom he may have rendered desperate by despair at their losses, and may visit their ruin upon his head? Let him who wishes to portray the career of a gambler as pleasant, go to a Parisian or a London hell, (rightly named,) to borrow his lights and shades for the picture. Would you, reader, exchange your life of quiet and of honest self-approval, for his, of turbulence and apprehension ?
Consider, next, the case of the dishonest man. Suppose him so adroit in his arts that he is never detected ; is he therefore never punished ? Why then starts he at every leaf that rustles near him? Why those uneasy glances when he hears approaching footsteps ? Why cannot he look his honest neighbors in the face, but his eye must be constantly cowering beneath their glance ? And consider, moreover, in addition to the suffering which these circumstances indicate, how many painful risks of detection he runs, how much time he spends in plotting and executing his felonies ; which, employed in honest industry, would bring him equal gains, with more certainty and less suffering; and when he prowls forth in the darkness to effect his disgraceful purposes, what dangers of various nature he must necessarily encounter. Pah! his bread is bitter and hard-earned !*
I might detail the penalties attendant on the different crimes in practice amongst mankind-lying, adultery, fornication, drunkenness, &c.; each has its own appropriate pains and dangers ; each
* The case of Johnson, of Cincinnati, is an instance to the point, that great danger is incurred even by the most expert marauders. This man had for a number of years, as it afterwards appeared, been in the habit of commiuing burglaries, and with such secrecy and success, that he had amassed a large quantity of stolen goods together, to the value of several thousand dollars; nor does it appear that in all that time his character and conduct were suspected. One morning, the keepers of a wholesale slore in the city found their door to have been opened in the night, and on entering a spectacle of a horrid description presented itsell-it was the dead body of the burglar, mangled in such a manner as baffled all attempts to identify him, until by accident (or led by a suspicion of the fact) his own daughter approached, examined him, and by a pariicular mark on his person discovered the dreadful truth, that the mangled wretch before her was her father! He had in the darkness fallen from the third loft through the scuttle. What a death to die ! and in what a cause !