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Universalists at this day, I say, will hardly allow the idea of annihilation as a thought to be in anywise entertained. I may be mistaken ; but I think the following criticism of my
heterodox book, from my very good friend, the editor of the Christian Inquirer (Dec. 19, 1857), is only a strong statement of the real views of Universalists generally. The Inquirer says:
“ He admits the possibility of the annihilation of the soul of man, which argues a want of appreciation of its exceeding worth, its dignity, and divinity. We can not but feel that any man who esteems the image of God at so light a figure that it could by any possibility of its earthly action, choice, experience, or condition, come within the verge of the shadow of annihilation, is not fitted to write upon the immortality of man. He speaks of what he does not know, and testifies of what he has not seen. The creation points to man as the crown and completion of its long ages of change and refining development, the king and climax of its several departments of vegetable and animal growth. History and revelation confirm all that nature hints of the honor and greatness of the spiritual nature. To believe in the remotest contingency or possibility of the utter extinguishment of these souls, is to throw a disastrous eclipse over all those teachings and hopes they inspire, and destroy all moral perspective. If we admit that one soul will be annihilated, we admit that all souls may be ; we lose the absolute certainty of immortality; we begin to sink ever so little in a fathomless gulf of soulless and atheistic nonentity.”
Abating the strong statement of the case, the above, I think, expresses the common view and sentiment of your readers. But if so, it cuts off all proof of the natural immortality of man, from two of the passages most relied on by Universalists. I refer to Rom. v. 12–21, and 1 Cor. xv. 12–58.' For it is manifest that if these passages teach the final salvation and actual immortality of all men, they equally teach that man has been subject to utter death, and liable to annihilation the very thing which is held unjust to man or unworthy of God. Life and death are in these passages put in contrast. The death came by Adam ; the life comes by Christ. If the life
includes immortality, the death implies annihilation ; and it follows that man is no more absolutely immortal, or by a strict nature, but by grace; by a regaining of what was lost; by a recovery of what was forfeit ; by a redemption
a rescue from the jaws of the very monster which it is supposed has no place nor right in all the universe of God.
The only escape from this view that annihilation has been invited and confronted by man, is in supposing that Rom. v. 12–21, and 1 Cor. xv. 12–58, refer not to life and death of man's being, but either, literally, of man's body, or, metaphorically, of his moral nature. The immortality of the soul is then no longer expressed or directly taught in those passages, but assumed and implied. So much for the present; what the passages do refer to, we will inquire hereafter.
Another important passage relied on to prove the final salvation of all is that in Luke xx. 35–38. And this is also relied on by some as explicitly declaring the immortality of all. The phrase, “Neither can they die any more,” is applied to all mankind. But we need only remark that the expression," they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world,” etc., is at least partitive in form ; the whole passage taken alone would not suggest the immortality of all, but of a class only; the proof that it applies to all must be derived from other passages. Hence it is simply accurate to say that the immortality of all men is not here named, or explicitly taught.
Now orthodox writers, in saying that “the immortality of the soul is rather assumed, or taken for granted, than explicitly revealed in the Bible,” have been obviously consistent because they have not applied these three passages to all mankind. A single orthodox writer, maintaining the immortality of the lost, has endeavored to show that the last-named passage applies to all; but his attempt to relieve the silence of the Scriptures on the immortality in question only adds a manifest burden to the orthodox argument; for he would have those elsewhere called the children of the wicked one” here called the children of God." (J. H. Hinton, Athanasia, pp. 423-443.) What the passage means is to be seen hereafter.
But it will be found as really consistent for the Universalist to say that the immortality of the soul is not explicitly taught, but silently assumed in the Bible. For he claims that it is taught in Rom. v. 12–21, and 1 Cor. xv. 12–58, his argument, as we have seen, proves more than he admits ; it
proves too much. Hence I think the Universalist labors under the same general difficulty with the Orthodox, respecting the profound silence of the Scriptures on a very weighty matter, their utter failure to name the immortality of the soul as such, or the immortality of man as man. And I may therefore here repeat, with some variations, the argument I have published on this subject.
To propose the argument more distinctly I should say that I reserve two or three passages supposed to imply the immortality in question, for separate consideration. The point now urged is that man's immortality is nowhere either directly asserted or made the burden of a proposition, nor stated, mentioned, spoken of, or alluded to, in proper terms.
As Olshausen says, “ the doctrine of the immortality of the soul and the name are alike unknown to the entire Bible.” Such expressions as to live or to exist for ever, to be immortal, the immortal soul, etc., never occur in the Scriptures with plain reference to the nature of man or the destiny of the human family. If such be the doctrine of Scripture, it is not told, but quietly taken for granted and assumed.
For argument's sake I will admit this ; and we will compare this supposed implicit doctrine of the Bible with another doctrine doubtless assumed in that volume, and with which the doctrine in question is often associated as one of the main pillars of all religious truth. I mean, of course, the doctrine of God's existence; which I say is assumed or taken for granted because it is never made the burden of a proposition. The doctrine of one God is sometimes asserted against that of many gods. And in one instance (Heb. xi. 6), where the nature of faith is the point in question, the existence of God appears in a subordinate statement, by which the doctrine is explicitly assumed; but even this is a single case.
Now I assert that we might expect these two truths to receive similar treatment in the Bible. For the questions of God's existence and of man's immortality are of precisely the same importance to man himself. Not of the same absolute importance, to the universe at large ; for in that relation the eternal duration of a billion human souls might be only as a drop in the ocean, to the existence of an infinite and eternal God. And therefore, if the universe had been divided into two halves, ruled by two Gods, and if the Bible were a volume of diplomatic documents and messages exchanged between the two deities, then we might suppose a bare allusion in it to the existence of the people of this earth, and nothing said whether they would at all live for ever. All nations are as the dust of the balance, compared with the Deity. “He sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers before him." But the Bible is no such book of state papers, or of royal correspondence. It is not a majestic thundering, from deity to deity, uttered from Sinai to Olympus, or from nebula to nebula, in which the children of Adam might be overlooked and forgotten; but it is a special revelation from the Supreme God to the sons of Adam. And it is a revelation for their special instruction and benefit and behoof; and so exclusively for them is it designed, that all the rest of the universe is put by it in the background, and it seems to make the earth the centre of the world, insomuch that its apparent meaning once imprisoned the reformer in astronomy, Galileo ; and the star gazers can now tell us more about the universe than the Bible itself does. And this confined and exclusive character of the revelation, with which geologists and astronomers have sometimes quarrelled, is just and proper because the dearest personal interests of man's immortality are as important to him as all worlds beside, and as the being of God himself. Whether God exists at all and whether man lives for ever, are questions of equal moment to man. Hence I that in the revelation of God's character and of man's destiny, these two doctrines, if equally true, should be treated alike; we should expect to find them on the same footing.
If, then, one of these cardinal truths is stated in the Bible explicitly and directly, we should expect the same of the other. If one is expressed not directly, but explicitly assumed, with frequent mention and allusion, we should expect the same of the other. If one is assumed implicitly and silently, - taken as a doctrine too clear for doubt and scarcely needing to be named, we should expect the same of the other.
But in fact these doctrines receive in the Bible the widest difference of treatment. That of the divine existence, as I have already remarked, is not directly asserted; but it is assumed as too clear for assertion. It is taken as a first truth of the religious consciousness, to prove which would be preposterous. The Bible never goes into debate with the atheist. If one says in his heart,“ there is no God,” there is no help for him in logic. But while this truth is taken for granted in the Bible, so far from being tacitly assumed, it is named and alluded to in various forms of speech, continually. It stands out, in bold relief, on almost every page. In two short books only is it not named, Esther and the Song of Solomon, and their inspiration has been questioned on that ground. In every other book this doctrine is the apple of gold in the picture of silver. It is the central truth, that makes the Bible a Discourse of God -- the Word of God. It is the Shekinah that renders it sacred and “holy.” And with manifold names, and expressions of the wisdom, power, and goodness of God, do the Scriptures invite men to the faith, love, and service of Him. If we strike out from the record those passages that tell of His being and His works, we reduce the dimensions of the volume almost by half, we make it a book without sense or meaning, we exchange its radiant light for midnight darkness.
But if we expunge from the same book all those passages in which man's immortality is expressly mentioned or unquestionably assumed, we leave the volume unchanged. It might have been written precisely as it is, and the revelation would have been just as complete as it is, if the sacred writers had agreed to ignore that doctrine now so much on the lips of men, or at