Page images
PDF
EPUB

treme and flagrant offenders, than on those who sin within more moderate limits ? Little thought the prodigal's elder brother that he himself stood in need of mercy, when he so grudged its lavish exercise toward the ragged penitent just returned ; and it is usually difficult indeed, to convict such persons of guilt, or of the nece of reformation : for, as their departures from rectitude have been comparatively moderate, their compunctions are likewise so. Mary weeps at Jesus' feet, regardless of the conventional forms and ceremonies of propriety ; she is wholly bent on easing her oppressed heart of its weight of remorseful anguish, while Simon, the Pharisee, sits by, a cold and captious critic upon her conduct. Poor Mary had sinned much, and therefore felt much; but Simon had only trespassed within the bounds of decency, (as the world phrases it,) and he, therefore, was troubled with fewer and less poignant compunctions. Thus it is seen, that the very excesses of an evil tend to bring about its removal ; and most strikingly is the goodness of Jehovah manifested in this arrangement. We find it to obtain in all the departments of providence. When our atmosphere becomes surcharged with impurities, insomuch that it is unfitted for respiration, the effect is, that those agitations are generated which we term storms, thundergusts, etc., and these consequences of the evil effect its cure. When the human body becomes diseased, from accident or careless exposure to the elements, the disease affects the system in various ways; it may produce discharges of the superfluous and feculent humors through the stomach or the bowels, or by means of cutaneous eruptions, morbid issues, etc., which effects it is the office of the physician not to check, (save in cases of excess) but to promote; and, in proportion as the effects are facilitated, is the cause removed. The same law, as before remarked, operates with full force in the moral system. Sin is a moral disease-it induces moral nausea; the soul hath its aches, and its rheums, and its feverish heats and thirsts, its restlessness and its torpor, as well as the body. Let the moral mediciner not attempt to sooth these, whilst the cause (which is sin) continues in full operation; let him not administer anodynes to the guilty spirit: on the contrary, let him arouse its faculties; set its crimes in startling array before it ; deepen, if possible, the poignancy of its remorse, until the cause of the disease is subdued ; let him then

be careful to impress upon the patient this truth-this momentous truth, that a soul diseased by sin, must ever, by an unalterable law of heaven, be a subject of like sufferings. This truth impressed, it will be then time enough to dismiss his convalescent patient with the voice of soothing—“Go, and sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon thee.”

Yes, I repeat it-fearless of successful contradiction—endless misery, whether physical in its nature, or moral, or both combined, is, except sin be also endless, an absolute impossibility. I say not that Omnipotence could not inflict it; by a perpetual miracle he could, undoubtedly; but then, it would be a miracle of wrath, of cruelty, of revenge! Such an anomaly as that of Almighty love, directing its energies to ends of hatred, would fill the boundless universe with astonishment and dismay !

“ But why” (you may ask) “may not sin be continued to all eternity ? For, if it can, then by your own admission, misery can also.” Yes, I admit that if the one is to be endless in duration, the other shall be so likewise. Let us inquire, however, whence sin proceeds: we shall find it proceeds wholly, and altogether, from our animal nature; hence the scriptures commonly speak of it as an offspring of the flesh ; and although I would by no means exonerate our moral powers from a participation in the guilt thereof, yet it seems highly probable, that apart from our fleshly constitution sin cannot exist “ Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like.” (Gal. v. 19-21.) In the spiritual world, it is presumed there will be no gold to tempt our avarice ; no strong drinks to gratify a propensity for drunkenness; no opportunities of conquest to excite ambition ; no conflicts of interest to engender malice, envy, or strife ; no sexual provocatives to lust ; nor temptations to fraud, falsehood, or deceit. If sin is to exist in eternity, I should like to know what are to be its objects! and what the nature of the propensities which shall produce it! Can we sin when envy, lust, ambition, malice, and the like passions, with all our animal appetites, shall have ceased to be? Setting aside those scripture testimonies, then, which respect the eventual extinction of evil, and the reconcilation of all intelligences to

God, we have common-sense reasons for believing, that sin will not continue beyond the limits of our present being : there seems a strong probability, at least, that its existence is incompatible with the spiritual nature of man in the resurrection state. **

The only view of endless suffering which, nowadays, is even attempted to be reconciled with the divine mercy, is that which supposes it is to operate as an example to others. I have already noticed, and I think, refuted this notion. I have shown that there can be no necessity, on the part of Omnipotence, to awe the universe by eternal exhibitions of his wrath, in order that he may secure its obedience. Ah! human ingenuity may do much ; it may sound the depths of oceans; it may tell the number and the magnitude of the stars ; it may measure the altitnde of mountains whose snowy summits are miles above the clouds; it may navigate the air, and find its way to distant lands across trackless seas ; it may estimate the speed of light ; it may arrest the electric bolts of heaven, and soar to ; in short, it may do any thing which is possible in itself. But to reconcile with infinite love the infliction of endless pains upon short-sighted creatures, is not possible in itself, and therefore human ingenuity must fail in that attempt.

What should we think of the wretch, who in cool blood should load one of his children with irons, confine him in a dark and so litary cell, limit his diet to a scanty morsel of bread and water per diem, until worn out by days and nights of suffering, attenuated to the pale and meager image of despair, he could exhibit him to his other children as a sample of his power of torturing, in order to secure their obedience through the medium of their fears? We should justly esteem such a wretch a very prodigy of cruelty. Nevertheless, I put it to your conscience, reader, whether the Being who can chain down myriads of his own offspring, for similar purposes, in a boiling ocean of flame, is not immeasurably worse than even he ? Almighty God! man, in portraying thy character, has dipt his pencil into the darkest tints of his own heart!

* I may be here told, that the devil and his angels could sin without an animal nature; and that, therefore, the same may be equally practicable to us when we depart this life. Be it remembered, however, that I deny the premises; and common sense utterly repudiates the idea, that any high order of intelligences should prove themselves such idiots as to engage in an open war with Omnipotence! I assign to the popular notion, therefore, concerning personal devils, an eminent and undoubted place amongst old wives fables.

No, no—endless exemplary punishment will not do; nor will any form or purpose of endless punishment. Nothing will do, which makes punishment an ultimate object, rather than a means; for it ceases to be punishment in that view of it—it is revenge, or cruelty, or something of that nature, but not punishment, surely ; that were a sad misnomer!

I am contending that punishment, (as well as reward,) under the government of an infinitely just and merciful Being, must be present and certain. I own I am extremely anxious to succeed in making this point clear; and I may therefore introduce the same idea again and again, in different forms, in order that I may not fail of making myself perfectly intelligible. We will now take another view of it.

We distinguish between what is good and what is bad, by their respective effects; if the fruit of a tree be uniformly agreeable to our lastes, and healthful to our systems, nothing is more probable, than that we will often have recourse to it; if it even at times be not immediately pleasing to our palates, so that it prove invariably beneficial to our healths, we will still be likely to resort to it for the latter reason. By this tree I would represent virtue; its fruit is generally pleasing, and always wholesome. On the other hand, if we find another tree, of sometimes inviting appearance, whose fruit (although luscious to the taste, at times,) never fails to produce, in those who eat of it, the most painful and deleterious consequences, will we not naturally incline to shun it? Will fence be needed to guard this tree? or sentinel dog? or any devices of the kind ? No, indeed; its own bad qualities are its best protection. By this tree I would represent vice ; sweet in the mouth its fruit may sometimes be, but invariably bitter in the stomach. I cannot quite subscribe to the popular distich, that

“ Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,

As to be hated, needs but to be seen.” In regard to some vices, this is undoubtedly true; but not in regard to all. Some assume so fair and specious an appearance, that the whole strength of virtuous principle is requisite for resisting their blandishments : like sirens, they enchant the senses of the unwary voyager on life's treacherous sea, and beguile him among the rocks, where he makes fearful shipwreck of his peace, Were it otherwise, we should have no inducements to sin; vir

VOL. 1-W 2

tue would have no trials, and would deserve no recompense. However, whether sin is or is not uniformly odious in appearance, one thing is certain, viz: that its influences are always bitter upon those who practice it. To sin, of every kind, may properly be applied what Solomon has said of one species of it.

• For the lips of a strange woman drop as a honey-comb, and her mouth is smoother than oil : but her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell. Remove thy way far from her, and come not nigh the door of her house ; lest thou give thine honor unto others, and thy years unto the cruel ; lest strangers be filled with thy wealth, and thy labors be in the house of a stranger: and thou mourn at the last, when thy flesh and thy body are consumed, and say, how have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof.” (Prov. V.3-5, 8-12.) If the order of things were otherwise than as here set forth—if vice did not injuriously affect those who prac'tice it until they died, and the evil were then past remedy forever, how incalculably disastrous would be the consequences! and what a reflection against the divine wisdom and equity would this ar. rangement involve ! Consider it seriously, reader, I pray you. We are not now to learn the evil nature of sin from its present effects, when we might profit by the lesson—no, no; this is to be proven to our experience when the discovery will be too late to avail us; when the overwhelming realities of it will be final, hopeless, irremediable ! And such is the wisdom and the benevolence of a God, in his treatment of his creatures ! He strews the path of sin with roses ; man is wooed to tread in it by the mystic and winning voices of the passions and appetites; he is lulled into fancied security by the deceitful influences of a false peace; meanwhile, in the far-off horizon before him, a tempest of wrath is gathering against his spirit, and at a moment when he looks not for it, it will burst forth with a fearful ruin upon his head: he will be startled from his delusive dream at length, and find himself undone past recovery! And thus God deals with man! Oh, false and treacherous theology! yet, how cherished ! how venerated, as the very truth of heaven! One's acquaintance with the bible must be imperfect, indeed, to be unable from its pages to refute so gross an error.

Is virtue not now rewarded ? Let the following scripture testi

« PreviousContinue »