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$ 5. Is the Selection of a Class to Immortality worthy of God?
I have freely admitted that God would not be just to himself if he were simply just to his creatures. True to his nature as love, he must bestow upon men more and better than they deserve. And because God is not only love, but infinite love, my opponent may think the conclusion direct and inevitable that God must bestow upon each moral creature the infinite boon of immortal life, for which his moral constitution adapts him.
From this conclusion I dissent, for several reasons.
1. All analogy favors the idea of a sifting of the human species, and a conservation of the best, or of the individuals that mature. I have not time to array the facts in this analogy, but
may refer to what I have said elsewhere on the subject, and quote as follows: “ A true analogy would make the probation of mankind not an exception to the rule, but the highest example of it. The law of selection in the case of man is different; the end is the same. The vegetable lifeling is the sport of chance. The animal, with its spontaneity, can help and provide for itself — subject, however, to many dangers which it can not avert, and to man's dominion. Man, by his free will, is elevated to a higher rank — beyond the reach of fate, but not of hazard. Indeed, the nations of men that have not heard the Word of Life are scarcely beyond the reach of fate; though strictly, as moral beings, they are salvable, and perish through unbelief in Him who is not far from every one of them.' Those who dwell in Christendom stand higher than they, and may fall further. Yet the design of the species is accomplished in those who are perfected, and who shall never perish, because moral perfectness is an end in itself, and when attained, may be ever maintained. Man, as a race, is still subject to the sifting analogies that underlie him. As free, he is called upon to choose for himself; to make his calling and election sure; to acquit himself as a man. Failing of this, he is rejected, or reprobate, as refuse and worthless. He is likened to tares ; to the useless produce of the fisher's net; to the field of briers and stones, whose end is to be burned. Condemned as morally
unworthy, his reprobation has a higher ethical significance, while its literal import remains.” (Debt and Grace, pp. 239, 240.)
2. While God is bound, in justice or equity, not to make existence a curse, he is not bound to make it a blessing. That there is such an obligation is very strongly asserted by Mr. Ballou, in his “ Divine Character Vindicated,” where he thinks that “human existence, if enforced at all, should be, to each and every individual, when taken as a whole, a good, and not
a blessing, and not a curse." (P. 122.) This would be true if man had no moral freedom, and were not capable of deserving evil as well as good. But this fact seems to me entirely overlooked in Mr. B.'s statement. But if man may deserve evil at all, he may deserve evil on the whole ; and though his continuance in a sinful and evil immortality would be past all reason, yet there may be the best reason for his failure of immortality. And one may so fail that his brief existence shall be a loss rather than a gain. We may well suppose that this was the case with Judas.
“ Woe unto him by whom the Son of man is betrayed.
Better were it for that man if he had never been born."
But if the individual man may deserve a balance of finite evil, much more may he forfeit an infinite good. The infinite boon may be infinitely desirable; and because we would like to have it, we may persuade ourselves that we have some claim to it, or that it is not fairly withholden from us. But if bestowed, it is and ever will be an infinite gratuity.
3. In the economy of God's empire of holy blessedness, a comparative claim of one individual may be overruled by the higher claim of another. In point of right, I must yield to any one who can fill my place in the universe better than I can. Even in propriety and benevolence, I might wish to yield my place to such an one, for the general good. And if I have impaired my capacity of usefulness, it is not for me to say that infinite power, and wisdom, and goodness, too, can not replace me; especially if incapacity and deterioration have gone so far that the process of recovery may be slow and difficult.
4. Virtue is heroic. And it may be worthy of God to select, and to elect, those who are morally heroic, for the inheritance of immortality. The forms of heroism may be as various as the christian virtues and graces; yet it may be one essential element of all christian virtue. Self-sacrifice, self-denial, is essentially and peculiarly christian. “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, -yea, and his own life also, he can not be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, can not be my disciple.” Though we may not take those words of Christ literally, they will contain the principle I have named. God has a right to be choice respecting the members of his family, and to require of those who aspire to that honor the most strenuous efforts to prove worthy of it. With all their differences, a close resemblance has been observed between the stoic and the christian systems of morals. - And the stoics held the immortality of a class. Christ, teaching a higher virtue, and offering a higher glory, may bestow such immortality by a higher right. The christian race differs from the Grecian games, as it has more crowns than one; yet we must strive, if we would triumph. It is a true hymn
“ Awake my soul, stretch every nerve,
And press with vigor on;
And an immortal crown.
“'T is God's all-animating voice
That calls thee from on high ;
To thine aspiring eye.
"A cloud of witnesses around
Hold thee in full survey ;
And onward urge thy way.”
My argument has already been drawn out to greater length than was anticipated, either by my courteous opponent or my
self. A few points that might be touched must be passed by. Certain elements of truth, on which my opponent may insist, I have not recognized as fully as I shall be happy to do, though I fail to carry them to his results. I do not offer my argument as perfect, or free from flaws. I never yet saw such an argument on a theme so extended and so complex. I shall be happy to see all my errors corrected, whether essential or trivial. Of their importance, the reader will judge. I have tried to make as few as possible; and if my humble effort shall help any one to think out for himself a solid, scriptural, and true opinion respecting our relations to the endless life, I shall not have written in vain. With sincere thanks to the editor and his readers for their liberal hearing of views from which they so much dissent, I bid you, for the present, farewell.