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DISCUSSION OF HUMAN DESTINY.
Do reason and the Scriptures teach the utter extinction of an unregencrate portion of human beings, instead of the final salvation of all ?
For several generations past the great controrersy in the Christian Church has turned on the question of a supposed eternal misery of the wicked, and a supposed eternal evil in the universe of God. Two parties have been arrayed against each other, separated by a twice infinite difference of opinion, inasmuch as endless bliss and endless woe are each infinitely removed, and in opposite directions, from man's original nothing.
Each party has also maintained, consistently with its confidence in the safety of truth, or at least in the hurtfulness of error, that its opinion is most conducive to the present and future welfare of man. And when we look to the lives of those who have held the opposing opinions with any devoutness, it can not be denied that they bave exhibited real, though sometimes different, graces and virtues.
Paradoxical though it may seem, their twice infinite difference has turned on one point of agreement. They have held alike and in common the actual immortality of all human souls. The paradox vanishes at a single thought, and appears as an
essential and explanatory fact. For only as immortal beings can sinful men be eternally blessed or endlessly wretched.
But this common opinion of a general immortality is lately, more than for several centuries past, challenged and denied. It is claimed, by respectable and growing numbers, that man's immortality is not absolute, but dependent on personal goodness and virtue of character. The language of Paul, “ to those who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory, honor, and immortality, eternal life,” is taken by these persons in a literal sense, which precludes the endless life of those who obey not the gospel of Christ. This third opinion, commonly known as that of the final annihilation of the wicked, is now giving a triangular character to the Eschatology of the day. In its recent history it is not old enough to have produced much character of any kind, and will be judged somewhat by the existing character of those who embrace it. I think it suffers no disparagement by their general morals. And two hundred years ago, when it had lived long enough to allow some estimate of its proper fruits, we are told it was “matter of public notoriety that in respect to morals no sect had approached more nearly to the simplicity and strictness of the early Christians” than those who held this view.
It has fallen to my lot to offer this view instead of that of eternal suffering, in my
book 66 The Doctrine of a Future Life.” There has been a little criticism on the part of my orthodox friends, as if I had more ably combated their view than defended my own.
And I have met a few who told me they would sooner accept the Universalist faith than mine. The former fact I think is due to the aggressive character of my book; the latter, to the modern novelty of my opinion. But in view of both facts I am happy in my present opportunity to treat the question anew; to show- - if my pen and the truth will allow it — that the Universalist view is untenable, and to say some things that more directly concern the view I hold.
But before I proceed to the argument I should meet certain prejudices of various kinds that may beset me.
1. I shall not by the phrase “ Universalist faith” imply the opinion that all men, without respect to present character, enter immediately after death into a state of unsullied happiness. This notion has been ably opposed by those called Restorationists, and it is fast declining. Yet I find the term Restorationist inconvenient, because it implies the opinion that there is a fall in the history of the human race from which man is restored; and this opinion is disowned by many who believe that condition is ever the inseparable consequence of acquired character, that salvation is never forfeited or lost, and that Restoration is strictly impossible. By the term Universalist, then, I mean simply one who holds that all men will be at last both holy and happy.
2. I shall disclaim all opinion of a special or violent interposition on the part of God, in the final perishing of the wicked. My view is that the unrepenting sinner destroys himself ; and though this self-destruction may not be complete in the death of the body, but in a second instalment of death, I shall still regard it not as miracle, but the natural process of the life divorced from an unloved God, languishing back to naught.
This view also cuts off a frequent objection that final punishment is “vindictive," and that God is wrathful in a bad sense of the word. It also allows the opinion that physical death is not a crisis in the history of one's being, and that one who has not deliberately rejected God and virtue before the dying breath, may embrace God and virtue thereafter. Thus I hold, and have long held, the salvability of the heathen. The doctrine of an intermediate state without change, and of an appointed limit of probation on either side of the interval between death and resurrection, may still be true.
3. I speak of “persistently wicked” men. I do not assume that there are such, that being part of the argument. Nor do I design to limit the power of God in this regard, but only to show that the soul may be so contaminated with sin that reformation would involve reconstruction, at the hazard of personal identity; or, that after a great sin the power of faith in God's forgiveness, or the possibility of happiness along with a faithful memory, may be gone.