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Mr. Wright, “offers some remarks upon the nature of «? divine justice. I do not," says he, “conceive the “justice of God to consist in inexorable severity of con“duct, in his taking all possible advantages of the errors " and follies of mortals."* And pray, Sir, who have such conceptions ? What necessity was there for this remark? But wherein does it consist? “ In the unde“ viating rectitude of his nature and conduct, in his ren. “ dering to every creature that which is most consistent “ with his own perfections, in his doing, in every case, “ that which is most right to be done by infinite wisdom,
power, and goodness, for the preservation of eternal “order throughout the universe.”+ I shall show presently that this definition and endless punishment are perfectly reconcileable ; in the mean time I will proceed to another of Mr. W.'s remarks. “ I remark that “ Dr. Ryland's conclusion, if the restitution take place “ on the foundation of grace, and through the mediation of “ Christ, then the justice of eternal punishment is admitted, “evidently implies that grace cannot operate without so arresting the arm of justice, and that what Christ - effects, through his mediation, stops the course of “ justice.”! The doctor's conclusion implies that there may be justice without grace, but not that there cannot be grace without injustice; the proof, therefore, " that "God, in dispensing his favours, acts with the strictest “ justice," was unnecessary.
Mr. W. goes on, “I think Dr. R.’s mistake arises from “ his supposing that the justice of God consists in his "giving to every one of those who die in their sins,
according to the strict demerit of their conduct; this " is not to be concluded from the declaration, who will "not; and yet my unbelief in these articles does not affect my faith in “ the great facts of which the Evangelists were eye and ear witnesses. ** They might not be competent judges in the one case, though perfectly so on with respect to the other.” Moses and the Hindoos compared, p. 341.
* Examination of Ryland's Sermon, p. 34.
Examination, p. 34. Ibid. p. 35.
"render to every one according to their deeds."* If it cannot be concluded from this text, it may from the following : Matt. v. 26. xviii. 23, 35. Luke xii. 10, 58, 59. Heb. x. 26-29. James ii. 13. If sinners
be cast into the prison of hell, in the Almighty's debt, to remain there till they pay all that is due unto him, to the uttermost farthing, and the very last mite, although they have not to pay with; if they may so blaspheme the Holy Ghost, that they shall not be forgiven ; if they may commit sin of such magnitude that the sacrifice of Christ remains no more for them, and that their certain portion will be fiery indignation ; and if they will have judgment without mercy; then I think it is sufficiently evident, that they will receive according to the strict demerit of their crimes, and that the demerit thereof is eternal damnation.
But “if Divine justice required that sinners should “ receive according to their demerits, it could not be an "act of justice to pardon the guilty. It cannot well be " denied, either, that Divine justice does not require the <endless punishment of sinners, or that God will, in “ divers instances, fail to do what his justice requires."| This is such childish quibbling, that one would wonder a man of sense should have recourse to it. Mr. W. knows that believers only are pardoned; he ought therefore to have stated it thus : “ If Divine justice required that those who die in unbelief should receive according to their demerits, it could not be an act of justice to pardon those who are obedient to the faith.” Now who does not perceive the futility of this reasoning ? According to Mr. W.'s logic, it is easy to see that he himself is under a mistake, if he suppose that Divine justice requires any future punishment. For, “if Divine justice required that sinners should receive any future punishment, it could not be an act of justice to pardon the guilty in this life. It cannot well be denied, either, that Divine justice
* Examination, p. 37. f Ibid. p. 37, 38.
does not require any future punishment, or that God will, in divers instances, fail to do what his justice requires.” How well qualified is Mr. W. to point out the mistakes of others ! I believe neither be, nor any other man, will undertake to prove, that it would be unjust in God to punish those who die in sin according to the strict demerit of their conduct.
“I will inquire,” says Mr. W., " if we have any proof “ that eternal punishment would be just ? If it would be "just, I know of but three ways in which the justice of " it can be discoverable by us :
“1. From its being perceivable, by reason, that the “ demerit of sin is unbounded ; and, consequently, that “ it is reasonable to conclude, that the sinner ought, in “ justice, to be punished with inexpressible torments to “all eternity; but to assert this, would be to contradict “ the most evident facts, the clearest perceptions of the "human mind, that man' is a creature whose powers are * limited, consequently, whose virtues and vices must be “ limited that there are degrees in sin, and ought, in * justice, to be degrees in punishment. The reason “which God hath given us'must revolt at the idea of the “crimes of a few years, perhaps of a few days, being “punished with the most exquisite misery, so long as “God himself exists. Such a doctrine outrages all our “ feelings."*
I will not undertake to prove merely by unassisted reason that punishment must be eternal, since the question involves in it the consideration of a variety of subjects too deep for the most penetrating human mind to develope, without the aid of divine revelation : it will be quite sufficient to show that punishment may
be eternal. But, it seems, “ the most evident facts, and the clearest
perceptions of the human mind,” are against its possibility. We may inquire, however, what those facts and perceptions are ? Why, one is, “ The powers of man
* Examination, p. 31, 32.
A man may
Bare limited.” Very well ; and what then?
« Conse. “quently his virtues and vices must be limited.” This is not so clear a perception as the former. injure his body to such a degree, by cutting off an arm, or plucking out an eye, that nothing in the material world can make it perfect again ; and since Mr. W. will allow that the soul may be injured, he cannot be sure that the injury may not be so great, in some cases, that nothing in the spiritual world can restore it to its former state. So that if man's powers be limited, yet the effects of his vices may be infinite. As to man's virtues, I think even the Universalists will allow that they are not limited in their effects. It will not be pretended to be contrary either to reason or revelation, that a man who has lived virtuously in this world should be happy for ever hereafter; and Mr. W., I dare say, thinks it is not contrary to reason, that the restored should have a degree of bliss inferior to that of the saved.* It cannot therefore be denied that the virtues performed by our limited powers in this life, are the cause of our enjoying a degree of happiness for ever, which, without those virtues, we should be deprived of. And if the effects of virtue may be happiness infinite in duration, then, for any thing which our reason can perceive to the contrary, the effects of vice may be misery infinite in duration also.
But, “ there are degrees in sin, and ought, in justice, “to be degrees in punishment. Reason revolts at the “idea of the crimes of a few years, perhaps of a few
days, being punished for ever.” Mr. W. here pleads for two rules of proportion, first, between the degrees of sin and the degrees of punishment ; second, between the time of sinning, and the time of suffering. To the first I have no objection ; for it is as easy to suppose the degree of punishment in hell to be proportioned to the degree of moral pravity in sinners, though the duration of punishment be endless, as it is to suppose the degree of
* Examination, p. 44.
glory in heaven to be proportioned to the degree of moral virtue in the saints, whose happiness, Mr. W. believes, will be eternal. Now before I proceed to the other rule, I wish to ask Mr. W. whether a sinner will receive twenty degrees of punishment for ten degrees of sin ? I know Mr. W. will revolt at such an idea : he will plead for an equal proportion, ten degrees of punishment for ten degrees of sin. I beg leave then to remind him, that reason requires his second rule should be calculated in an equal proportion also ; thus, for ten years of sin, a man ought to receive ten years of punishment. - I know Mr. W. will not plead for an equal proportion being applied to his second rule ; but I know also, that any reason which he can assign for a different proportion will serve to overturn the rule. Should he say that a longer season of suffering is necessary to restrain sin, by operating as a warning to others; I then answer, that the duration of suffering is not proportioned to the time of sinning, but to the restraint necessary to be laid upon sinners; and since Mr. W. cannot show that the threatening of everlasting punishment is more than a necessary warning, he cannot show that justice does not require endless misery. If he say, that a longer term of suffering is necessary to correct the moral pravity of sinners; then I reply again, that the duration of punishment is not proportioned to the time of sinning, but to the strength of sin ; and as we have seen above, that the wound which sin gives to the soul may be incurable, it follows, that punishment may be eternal.
Once more, “ Such a doctrine outrages all our feel“ ings." True; but that is no new thing. Criminals are often outrageous under their sufferings, though, according to the reason of sober men, they are not too
The damned are outrageous enough, God knows! They are represented as gnashing their teeth with
rage. But if our feelings are to settle the controversy, why does Mr. W. appeal to our reason?