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My reason leads me to the following reflections upon the subject. Suppose a man to live in sin for “ three
score years and ten,” and then to go into another world. Since he continually abused his mercies in this world, it is just that they should be diminished, if not withheld in the next. Among the chief of our mercies we place our religious advantages : justice would therefore require a diminution of these. But if he went into the other world more sinful than he came into this, and if he there enjoyed fewer helps to virtue than when here, it is not only possible, but extremely probable, if not morally certain, that he would grow worse and
But kis mercies might justly be diminished in proportion to his abuse of them. He might therefore sin them all away, and so be for ever unholy: and since we perceive that, by the constitution of nature, sin and misery are inseparably connected together, he must, in such a case, be eternally miserable.
“ 2. If the justice of eternal punishment be discover.' “ able by us, it must be by our perceiving that some
principle exists in the Deity, which will render con“ sistent with his character, the infliction of infinite
punishment upon his offending creatures, for finite 66 offences. But from what part of bis works, or of his “ word, can we perceive that such a principle exists in “ God ? To impute infinite vindictiveness and implaca
bility to the Father of mercies, who is good to all, and “ whose tender mercies are over all his works, and who " will ever be what he is, seeing he is incapable of
changing, would be to suppose him transformed into " the veriest monster in the universe."*
If God cannot punish sinners for ever without being infinitely vindictive and implacable, then he cannot punish them for an age, without being for that age
vindictive and implacable ; but if God be also incapable of changing,
* Examination, p. 32.
and will ever be what he is, then he must either punish sin for ever, or not at al).
Mr. W. proceeds, “ To assert that it will comport 6 with that justice which emanates from him who is love, “ for him to be infinitely revengeful, and glut his vin“ dictive fury with the inexpressible miseries of his “ rational offspring so long as himself exists that infi“ nite wisdom will please itself with breaking a fly upon " the wheel to all eternity, would be to belie every “thing which God hath been graciously pleased to “ reveal concerning himself, and to utter the grossest “ possible libel upon him who is worthy of universal ado“ ration and praise."*
I think it would be scarcely possible to utter a grosser libel upon God than to assert, that he could be pleased with breaking a fly upon the wheel for a day; if we can think, therefore, that the cases of the innocent fly and of obstinate sinners are parallel, we may very safely infer, that sinners ought not to be punished either in this world, or in that which is to come. It is rather remarkable that Mr. W. has kept guilt and depravity out of sight in this paragraph. Perhaps he might think an erroneous and passionate address to the feelings of his readers would answer his purpose better than a fair statement of the fact, and calm argument.
I think we may“ perceive that some principle exists " in the Deity which will render consistent with his cha“ racter the infliction of infinite punishment.” Mr. W. - conceives that the justice of God consists in his doing, “ in every case, that which is most right to be done by “ infinite wisdom, power, and goodness, for the preser66 vation of eternal order throughout the universe.” And again, p. 35, “ justice is the rectitude of infinite wisdom “ and goodness.” Now I am not without hope that I. can reconcile infinite punishment with this representation.
* Examination, pp. 32, 33.
Mr. W. must recollect that the goodness of God is the goodness of a Sovereign, and that the Almighty, as well as every good legislator, in framing laws for the government of his subjects, has an eye to their good, considered as a body politic.* To give energy to those laws, they must have sanctions annexed to them. The penal sanctions operate as warnings. See Rom. xi. 20, 21. 1 Cor. X. 5–11. Jude 5–7. Thus they tend to preserve order, and thereby to promote the general good. And since the influence of the threatenings will be in proportion to their magnitude, it must be perfectly consistent with the goodness of God, to lay as great a restraint upon sin as possible, consistent with moral liberty; and if the promise of everlasting happiness be not inconsistent with it, then neither is the threatening of everlasting misery.
It is generally agreed that the good of the public requires that some particular transgressors should be cut off for ever from civil society. And if this be no argument against the goodness of human legislators, why should it be thought inconsistent with the goodness of
*“ Justice can be no otherwise considered than as goodness towards "moral agents; regulated in its exercise by wisdom; or, as wisely, and “ in the most proper manner pursuing, not the private and separate, but " the united good of all intelligent beings." Abernethy on the Attributes, vol. ii. p. 183.
That celebrated infidel, Lord Shaftesbury, could perceive this truth. “ If,” says he, " there be a general mind, it can have no particular interest : “but the general good, or good of the whole, and its own private good,
must of necessity be one and the same. It can intend nothing besides, “nor aim at any thing beyond, nor be provoked to any thing contrary." Characteristics, vol. i. p. 40.
† Archbishop King has a fine remark upon this subject. “Since God," says he, “has undertaken to conduct and preserve an almost infinite "multitude of thinking beings to all eternity, through all the changes and “ successions of things, in as great a degree of happiness as possible, with
out violence done to elections; where is the wonder if he leave a few to " the misery which they brought upon themselves, thereby to give the rest " a warning how much they ought to stand upon their guard against the “like? And since these punishments may be conceived to promote " the good of the whole, they may arise from the goodness of the Deity." Origin of Evil, p. 505.
Divine justice that some individual sinners should be cut off for ever from the society of heaven.*
It will perhaps be objected, that though human legislators cannot, in all cases, devise modes of punishment which may, at the same time, be warnings to society, and corrective to the sufferers, yet it cannot be impossible with God to do it. I answer, that our business is not so much with what God can do, as what he hath done, and will do. Now the sacred Scriptures are decisive upon this subject. We do not perceive how the destruction of the old world, of the inhabitants of Sodom, &c. could be effected with a view to their reformation : we might as well suppose that a man is gibbeted to make him an use. ful member of society. When wicked professors are threatened with strong “ delusion,” (2 Thess. ii. 11, 12.) it is not with a view to their reformation, but their damnation. When sinners are punished in consequence of having neglected their day of visitation, God does not intend their reformation and happiness, because they will then call upon him in vain. Prov. i. 24—28. Matt. XXV. 10–12. Luke xiii. 24-28.
It has sometimes been asserted, that the consideration of limited punishment is quite sufficient to determine every reasonable being on the side of virtue. The above contains a sufficient reply to this assertion ; but it may not be amiss to remark further, that the happiness arising from the practice of virtue, both in this life and that which is to come, ought to determine the choice of every reasonable and accountable being, though there were no future punishment at all. Shall we then infer that warn
*“ God is to be considered under the character of a moral governor, " and therefore, in order to approve his goodness, he must consult, not so “ much the happiness of any particular person, as what may, upon the “ whole, be for the benefit of all that moral kingdom over which he pre" sides, and may at the same time suit the majesty and honour of his go. “ vernment: now for any thing we certainly know, the everlasting misery " of some sinful creatures may be the most effectual means of answering “these ends in harmony with each other.” Doddridge's Lectures, vol. ii. p. 472. 4th edition.
ings are unnecessary ? This would be to reflect on the wisdom of God in employing them. We must therefore infer what is true in fact, that men do not always follow the dictates of reason, that they are carried away by the violence of corrupt passions and appetites. And we cannot be sure that the threatening of endless punishment is not necessary to counteract the influence of our depravity. Certainly when we consider the powerful influence of sinful habits and examples, we cannot possibly suppose, that they are likely to be counteracted by the threatening, or rather promise of punishment, which is corrective in its nature, moderate in its quantity, limited in its duration, and glorious in its end.
“ 3. If the justice of eternal punishment be discovers able by us, it must be from God's having pointed it out
as the wages of sin, and threatened sinners with it in the “ Scriptures. The Scriptures declare the wages of sin “ to be death, not an endless life of torment: that the " soul that sinneth shall die, not live in misery to all eter
An advocate for annihilation might have made these reflections without exciting much surprise, but for such a comment to come from the pen of an Universalist is truly wonderful; for if the death threatened be epposed to existence, it is as true that there will be no restoration, as that punishment will not be eternal. Death is not always opposed to existence, because some are dead while they live, 1 Tim. v. 6. Mr. W. must believe that the death threatened is a life of torment, or hé must retract what he has written about “ hell being in
expressibly more dreadful than the most racking pains “ human nature is capable of bearing in the present “ state ;»* and since there is no promise of deliverance from the torment annexed to the threatening, there is Bo ground for hope that the punishment will have an end. And here I will take occasion to remark, that in the re* Examination, p. 33.