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expressly said to be of limited duration, as the priesthood of Aaron, and the kingdom in the family of David. For, even if we consider Christ as intended by the seed of David, and that the duration of his dominion was foretold in the prophecies, still his kingdom, we are assured, will have an end, as we learn, 1 Cor. xv. 24.
" Then " cometh the end, when he shall have delivered “ up the kingdom to God, even the Father ; 66. then shall the Son also himself be subject unto " him that put all things under him, that God “ may be all in all."
There can be no doubt, but that the punishment of the wicked will be very awful ; but if God be a juft and righteous governor, it must be in proportion to the sins, by the commision of which it is incurred; and there is no proportion between finite and infinite. Besides, in the scriptures, the divine being appeals to inankind, whether his ways be not equal, that is, just and reasonable, Ezekiel xviii. 25. And Abraham takes it for granted, that “ the judge of all the earth must “ do that which is right.” Gen. xviii. 25. that is, what is agreeable to our ideas of justice and equity. It is, moreover, expressly said, Pf. ciii. 9. that “God keepeth not his anger for ever," that “ in judgment he remembereth mercy," and that “ he is not extreme to mark iniquity.” These expressions seem to be intended to give us an idea
of the divine character, and the general maxiins of
mercy to thousands of them that love him.”
It is remarkable, that the punishment of the wicked is always described in general terms only, expressive of great and uncertain sufferings; whereas, if the doctrine of the proper eternity of hell torments had been strictly true, we might have expected, that it would be said, in so many words, that it fould have no end, and that the greatest stress should always have been laid upon this most important circumstance, as being most interesting and alarming to all mankind.
Our Saviour, indeed, says, Mark ix. 44. that 66 their worm dieth not, and the fire is not “ quenched;" but this is manifestly a figurative expression; and, besides, the words are taken from Isaiah lxvi. 24. where they are applied to the burning of dead bodies. All the meaning may be, that the fire shall not be quenched till it has consumed that which shall be committed to it, so as to have answered its destined end ; that is, till those wickVOL. II. O
ed persons who are doomed to those Aames be destroyed, or till their vices be thoroughly corrected.
Christ also says of Judas Iscariot, Matt. xxvi. 24. that “ it had been good for him, if he had not " been born.” But this, again, is a figurative expression, used to denote extreme misery and distress in general, especially such as is apt to make men with, from anguish of mind and impatience, that they had never been born; which was the case with Job, though at the time that he used such expressions as these, Job. iii. it is probable that his sufferings had been greatly overbalanced by his happiness.
It must likewise be allowed to be an argument of considerable weight against the proper eternity of hell torments, that the number of those who believe and obey the gospel, and of the virtuous and good in general, who alone are entitled to the happiness of heaven, is sometimes represented as small, in comparison with that of the disobedient and wicked; as when our Saviour says, Matt. vii. 13. « Enter ye in at the strait gate; for wide is 16 the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to “ destruction, and many there be who go in there6.6 at : because strait is the gate, and narrow is the « way which leadeth unto life, and few there be
< that find it*." Now there seems to be no way of reconciling this with the notion of divine good. ness, but upon the supposition that the wicked will either finally perish, like plants or fruits which never come to their maturity, or that just and severe punishment will be a means of correcta ing and improving them. For God, having a perfect fore-knowledge of all that would actually happen, cannot be supposed to have made a voluntary choice of a system, the final issue of which he knew would be the everlafting and inexpreffible misery of the greater part of his creatures.
It must be allowed, however, that the scriptures represent the punishments of the wicked in a future world, to be exceedingly dreadful, so that we have reason to be alarmed to the utmost extent of our faculties. Even this may stagger fome ; but it will not appear inconsistent with the usual government of God, if it be considered, to how much anguish and distress many single acts of fin and folly often expose us in this life; and, therefore, it is very poslible, that all the vices of this present state may expose us to inexpressibly greater sufferings in the life to come.
* It is proper to observe, however, that, in the opinion of some, this passage, and others of a similar turn, do not relate to the final state of mankind in general; but to the state of things at the time when the words were delivered, and to the outward profession of christianity only.
For some observations on the moral effect of the doctrines of the proper eternity, or non-eternity of future punishments, I must refer my reader to the first part of this work. I shall only, in this place, suggest farther, that this, as well as every other great mistake concerning christianity, is a means of making unbelievers, who will think themselves justified in concluding, without reasoning or enquiry, that no religion can be true, or come from God, which contains a doctrine so manifestly unreasonable and absurd.
Of the time and place of future rewards and punish
T has long been the general opinion of chris
tians, that the reward of the virtuous, and the punishment of the wicked, will take place immediately after death, when the soul will exist in a conscious state, separate from the body, till the refurrection. But it appears to me, that the notion of the separate existence of the foul, on which this whole doctrine is founded, is built entirely on the false philosophy of the East, according to which, human souls are lapsed angels, fettered in