We should also bear another fact in mind. When the doctrine of endless punishment began to be taught in the Christian Church, it was not derived from the Scriptures, but from the heathen converts to Christianity, who accepted Christ, but who brought with them into their new church that doctrine which had for centuries been taught in heathen lands, but which neither Moses nor Christ accepted. And having received the idea from heathen tradition, it was natural that the early Christians should transfer it to the Bible, and seek to find it there.
That heathen invented this doctrine is undeniable. Says Cicero" "It was on this account that the ancients invented those infernal punishments of the dead, to keep the wicked under some awe in this life, who without them, would have no dread of death itself."
Says Polbius, the Greek historian: "The multitude is ever fickle and capricious, full of lawless passions and irrational and violent resentments. There is no way left to keep them in order but by the terrors of future punishment, and all the pompous circumstances that attend such fiction! On which account the ancients acted, in my opinion, with great judgment and penetration, when they contrived to bring those notions of the gods and a future state into the popular belief."
Strabo, the Greek geographer and philosopher, says: "it is impossible to govern women and the gross body of the people, and to keep them pious, holy and virtuous, by the precepts of philosophy. This can only be done by the fear of the gods, which is raised and supported by ancient fictions and modern prodigies." And again he says: "The apparatus of the ancient mythologies was an engine which the legislators employed as bugbears to strike a terror into the childish imagination of the multitude."
This horrible heathen dogma sought entrance into the Christian church in vain for the first three centuries after Christ, and though here and there a heathenized Christian announced it, it did not become an accredited Christian doctrine till after more than five centuries. Dr. Edward Beecher candidly confesses that as late as three hundred years after Christ it had hardly obtained a foothold.
He says: "What, then, was the state of facts as to the leading theological schools of the Christian world in the age of Origen and some centuries after? It was, in brief, this: There were at least six theological schools in the church at large. Of these six schools, one, and ony one, was decidedly and earnestly in favor of the doctrine of future eternal punishment. One was in favor of the annihiliation of the wicked. Two were in favor of the doctrine of universal restoration on the principles of Origen, and two in favor of universal restoration on the principles of Theodore of Mopsuestia."
That is to say, here were four times as many Universalist theological schools, where clergymen were educated, as there were schools in which endless punishment was taught, even as late as A. D. 300. But from that time onward, as darkness increased, the heathen idea was more and more transferred to the sacred page, till it entirely overlaid and obscured the truth. and it was not until the light of the Reformation began to dawn that the profane inscriptions of heathen tradition were erased from the palimpsest of the Scriptures, so that the meaning of the inspired authors could be apprehended.
We propose in this volume to show that the texts quoted in behalf of the heathen error do not contain it; that none of the threatenings of the Bible teach endless punishment.
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