It may perhaps be, that the absolute eternity of punishment was not received, till after the introduction of metaphysical subtleties, relating to time, eternity, &c. and the ways of expressing these, 1.1. not till after the pagan philosophy, and vain deceit, had mixed itself with and corrupted Christianity.
Still farther, it does by no means appear to be consonant to the nature of the christian religion to interpret the New Testament in a strictly literal manner, or adhere to phrases in opposition to the general tenor of it. Our Saviour in ifiany places appeals to the natural equitable judgments of his auditors. The evangelists and apostles all enter into the reasons of things; the gospels are short memoirs ; the epistles were written to friends, and new converts; and the nature of such writings must be very different from that of a precise determinate law, such as that of Moses, or the civil law of any country. And indeed herein lies one material difference between the rigid Jewish dispensation, and the Christian, which last is called by St. James the perfect law of liberty. From all which it follows, that we are rather to follow the general tenor, than to adhere to particular expressions. And this will appear still more reasonable, when it is considered, that we are yet but novices in the language of the Old and New Testaments, the relations which they bear to each other, and their declarations concerning future events.
Another argument against interpreting the passages above referred to, in the sense of absolutely, eternal misery, is, that there are many other passages
whose strict and literal sense is contrary thereto. And in snch a case it seems, that the infinite good-ness of God, so many ways declared ih the scriptures, must soon turn the scale. For the scriptures must be made consistent with themselves; and thcf veracity and goodness of God se^m much rather to oblige him to perform a promise, than to execute a threatening. 1 will mention a few passages, some of which it may be observed even establish the contrary doctrine of the ultimate happiness of all mankind.
Thus the most natural, as well as the most strict and literal sense of the words, As in Adam all die, 50 in Christ shall all he made alive, is the ultimate happiness of all the children of Adam, of all mankind. God's mercy is declared to endure forever; and he is said not to keep his anger forever: which expressions, in their first and most obvious sense, are quite inconsistent with the absolute eternity of punishment. Our Saviour says, that the person who is not reconciled to his brother shall not he discharged till he has paid the last farthing; which intimates, that there is a time when he will be discharged. In like manner, the debtor, who owed his lord ten thousand talents, is delivered over to the tormentors, till he pay these. To say that he can never pay them, because as we have all our faculties from God, so we can merit nothing from God, is to embrace the mechanical hypothesis, which, in the judgment of all, must be utterly inconsistent with the eternity of punishment. For, if a man cannot have merit, he cannot have demerit. To suppose a creature any
160 BAB3XKY Off UNIVERSAMSM, way brought into being upon such terms as to be only capable of demerit, seems most, highly injuri* ous to the attributes of God, by whatever means this be efieeted, the fall of our first parents, or any other.
Again, God in judgment remembers mercy. This is said in general; and therefore it ought not to b$ confined to the judgments of this world. And to dp so, when all the pleasures and pains of this world are everywhere in the New Testament declared unworthy of our regard in comparison of those of another, is highly unsuitable to the goodness of God. But indeed this cannot be done without departing from the most obvious literal sense. The same may be said of the passages, God is not extreme to mark what is done amiss; that he is loving to every man; that his mercy, his tender mercy, is over all his works, &c, Can it be said with any appearance of truth, that God will give an infinite overbalance of misery to those beings whom he loves ?
It may well be supposed, that though the pun^ ishments of a future state be finite, yet this should not be declared in so many words in the scriptures. For such a procedure would be analogous to the gradual opening of all God's dispensations of mercy. Mankind in their infant state were not able to receive such kind of nourishment; neither are all perhaps yet able. But, if future punishments be .absolutely eternal, it is hard to conceive why this should not have bean declared in the most express terms, and in many places of scripture; also how there should be so many passages there, which are apparently inconsistent therewith.
hartley on universali9m. 161
There remains one argument more, and of great weight in my opinion, against interpreting any passages of scripture so as to denounce absolutely eternal misery. This is, the declaration of the scriptures concerning the smallness of the number of the elect, and the great difficulty of entering in at the strait gate, already taken notice of. To suppose future punishments to be absolutely eternal, is to suppose, that the christian dispensation condemns far the greater part of mankind to infinite misery upon the balance, whilst yet it is every where declared to be a dispensation of mercy, to be glory to God, and good will to men;. which is a great apparent inconsistency. And indeed, unlesB the doctrine of absolutely eternal punishment be taken away, it seems impracticable to convince the world of the great purity and perfection required by the gospel in order to our entrance into the kingdom of heaven. If there be no punishment in another state, besides what is absolutely eternal, men of very low degrees of virtue will hope to escape this, and consequently to escape with impunity: whereas, if there be a purging fire, into which all the wicked are to be cast, to remain and suffer there according to their demerits, far beyond what men generally siiffer in this life; and if there be only few, that are admitted to happiness after the expiration of this life, without such farther purification; what vigor and earnestness should we use to escape so great a punishment, and to be of the happy number of those Tjhose names are written in the book of life !
This may suffice to show, that the absolute eterni-aity of future punishment cannot be concluded from the scriptures. We are next to inquire what evidences they afford for the ultimate happiness of all mahk nd. I have already mentioned some passages, which favor this doctrine; but J intend now to propose two arguments of a more general nature.
First, then, it may be observed, that the scriptures give a sanction to most of the foregoing arguments, taken from the light of nature, for this doctrine, by reasoning in the same manner. Thus the punishments of the Jews and others are represented as chastisements, t. e. as evils tending to produce a good greater than themselves. Our benevolence to our children is represented by Christ, as an argument of the infinitely greater benevolence of God our heavenly father. God promises to make Abraham happy by making his posterity happy, and them happy by making them the instruments of happiness to all the nations of the earth (which they are still to be, probably, in a mueh more ample manner, than they have ever yet been). Now this shows, that the happiness, intended for us all, is thf gratification of our benevolence. The^oodness of God is every where represented as prevailing over his severity; he remembers good actions to thousands of generations, and- punishes evil ones only to the third and fourth. Not a sparrow is forgotten before him; he giveth to all their meat in due season; pities us, as a father does his children; and sets our sins as far from us as heaven is from earth, &c. All whicb kind of language surely implies both infinite mercy in the forgiveness of sin, and infinite love in advancing his purified children. We are all the offspring of God, and, by consequence, agreeably to other phrases, are heirs of all things, heirs of God, and co-heirs with Christ, members of the mystical body of Christ, and of each other, i. e. we are all partakers of the happiness of God, through his bounty and mercy. God is the God of the Gentiles, as well as of the Jews; and has concluded them all in unbelief, only that he might have mercy upon aH. And, in gen-oral, all the arguments for the ultimate happiness of all mankind, taken from the relations wtoich we bear to God, as our creator, preserver, governor, father, friend, and God, are abundantly attested by the Scriptures.
Secondly, there are in the scriptures some arguments for the ultimate restoration and happiness of all mankind, which now seem sufficiently full and strong, and which yet could not be understood in former ages; at least, we see, that, in fact, they were not. Of this kindis the history of the Jewish state, with the propheoies relating thereto. For we may observe, that, according to the scriptures, the body politic of the Jews must be made flourishing and happy, whether they will or no, by the severities which God inflicts upon them. Now the Jcúsish state, as has been already remarked, appears to bo a type of each individual in particular, on one hand, and of mankind in general on the othefr.
Thus, also, it is foretold, that Christ will subdue all things to himself But subjection to Christ, according to the figurative prophetic style of the
scriptures, is happiness, not merely sufcyection by compulsion, like to that to an earthly conqueror. Agreeably to this, all things are to be gathered together in one in Christ, both those which are in heaven, and tbose on earth: and St. John saw every creature in heaven, in earth, under the earth, and in the seaf and all that were in them, praising God.
The prayer of faith can remove mountains; all things are possible to it; and, if we could suppose all men defective in this article, in praying with faith for the ultimate happiness of mankind, surely our Saviour must do this; his prayer for his crucifiers cannot surely fail to obtain pardon and happiness for them.
We are commanded to love God with our whole powers, to be joyful in him, to praise him evermore, not only for his goodness to us, but also for that to all the children of men. But such love and joy, to be unbounded, presuppose unbounded goodness in God, to be manifested to all mankind in due time; else there would be some men, on whose accounts we could not rejoice in God. At the same time, the delay of this manifestation of God's goodness, with the severity exercised towards particulars, in their progress to happiness, beget submission, resignation, fear and trembling, in us, .till at last we come to that perfect love that casts ouf fear.
It may perhaps be, that the writers of the Old and New Testaments did not see the full meaning of the glorious declarations, which the holy spirit has delivered to us by their means; just as Daniel, and the other prophets, were ignorant of the full and precise import of their prophecies, relating to Christ. Or perhaps they did; but thought it expedient, or were commanded, not to be more explicit. The christian religion, in converting the various pagan nations of the world, was to be corrupted by them; and the superstitious fear of God, which is one of these corruptions, may have been necessary hitherto on account of the rest. But now the coruption s of the true religion begin to be discovered and removed, by the earnest endeavors of good men of all nations and sects, in these latter times, by their comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
How far the brute creation is concerned in the ' redemption by Christ, may be doubted; and it does not seem to be much or immediately our business to inquire, as no relative duty depends thereon. However, their fall with Adam, the covenant made with them after the deluge, their serving as sacrifices for tiie sins of men, and as types and emblems in the prophecies, their being commanded to praise God (for every thing that hath breath is thus commanded, as well as the Gentiles), seem to intimate, that there is mercy in store for them also, more than we may expect, to be revealed in due time. The Jews considered the Gentiles as dogs in comparison of themselves. And the brute creatures appear by the foregoing history of association to differ from us in degree, rather than in kind.
It may be objected here, that, if this opinion of the ultimate happiness of all mankind be true, it is not, however, proper to publish it. Men are very wicked, notwithstanding the fear of eternal pui»isb~ 14
ment; and therefore will piobably be more so, If that fear be removed, and a hope given to the most wicked of attaining everlasting happiness ultimately.
I answer, First, That this opinion is already published so far, that very few irreligious persons can be supposed to believe the contrary much longer: or, if they do believe absolutely eternal punishment to be the doctrine of the scriptures, they will be much induced thereby to reject revealed religion itself. It seems therefore to be now a proper time to inquire candidly and impartially into the truth. The world abounds so much with writers, that the mere opinion of a single one cannot be supposed to have any great weight. The arguments produced will themselves be examined, and a person can now do little more than bring things to view for the judgment of others. The number of teachers in all arts and sciences, is so great, that no one amongst them can or ought to have followers, unless as far as he follows truth.
But, Secondly, It does not seem, that even the motives of fear are lessened to considerate persons, by supposing the fire of hell to be only a purifying one. For it is clear from the scriptures, that the punishment will be very dreadful and durable. We can set no bounds either to the degree or duration of it. They are therefore practically infinite.
Thirdly, The motives of love are infinitely enhanced by supposing the ultimate unlimited happiness of all. This takes off the charge of enthusiasm from that noble expression of some mystical writers, in which they resign themselves entirely to God, both for time and eternity. This makes us embrace even the most wicked with the most cordial, tender, humble affection. We pity them at present, as vessels of wrath; yet live in certain hopes of rejoicing with them at last; labor to bring this to pass, and to hasten it; and consider, that every thing is good, and pure, and perfect, in the sight of God.
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