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A truly wise man will always endeavour to improve by the virtues and foibles of others. And as we are sensible that many religious teachers have dwelt too much upon the threatenings of divine inspiration, it becomes us to beware of the other extreme. A middle course is generally preferable. The gospel of Jesus Christ, though a dispensation of mercy, has threatenings as well as promises. The author of this dispensation was anointed by the Father, to proclaim the day of vengeance of our God, as well as the acceptable year of the Lord. The Christian minister is to persuade men by the terrors of the Lord,t as well as to beseech them by the mercies of God. Now if we dwell exclusively upon the promises of the gospel, we go counter to divine instruction. If we make no other use of the threatenings than to explain them away, and convert them into assurances of pardon, we weaken the motives of our holy religion, and injure the cause we are laboring to support. These remarks, I think, will strike you as self-evident truths.
The success of any cause depends much upon the course pursued by its public advocates. And, although I can say with pleasure that you have done much to extend the cause of liberal Christianity, and have been eminently successful in rectifying false notions relative to the character of God, and the destination of mankind, still I have the mortification to say, that I think you have carried your principles too far. Had you confined yourself to scripture phraseology, and been content to say, in the language of the apostle, that the economy of divine grace will be accomplished "in the dispensation of the fulness of times," I should have rejoiced with joy unspeakable. But when you limit the benefits of the gospel to this state of existence, and thus fix "the times
⚫ Isa. Ixi. 2.
+ 2 Cor. v. 11.
Rom. xii. 1.
and seasons which the Father hath put in his own power," I feel impressed by a sense of duty to enter my feeble protest. I do not mean, however, by these frank remarks to call your sincerity in question, or to injure in the least, your moral or religious character. Personal attacks and unfriendly insinuations always betoken an improper spirit, and injure the cause of the person who uses them. Every thing of this nature I shall endeavour to avoid. But if, in the ardor of debate, the writer should unfortunately adopt them, it is freely acknowledged that it would not redound to his honor, nor promote the interest of his cause.
Having introduced the subject with these desultory remarks, I will now call your attention to a particular statement of the theme in debate. The question is, not whether men are punished in this world, but whether they receive all their punishment here; not whether they are punished here for their sins generally, but whether they are punished for every sin they commit; not whether some are fully recompensed on earth, but whether this is true of the whole human kind. All passages and arguments, therefore, which go to prove that men are punished in this state, have no bearing in the case; they must prove that every individual receives all his punishment in this world, or that he will receive none after death, or else they prove nothing in this controversy.
That men are accountable for their actions to the Author of their being, is plainly taught in the scriptures, and demonstrated by universal experience. To assert the contrary is downright Atheism. If there is a God then, to whom we are accountable, it presupposes that he has given us a law as the rule of our conduct; and a law supposes a penalty which must be inflicted in case of transgression. The very idea of accountability, therefore, teaches us that virtue will be rewarded and vice punished, here or hereafter. Rewards and punishments
grow necessarily out of accountability; and all the punishments inflicted by God are founded upon the same principle. Now if it be cruel in God to punish men according to their deeds in a future state, it is equally so in the present. And on the other hand, if punishment apportioned to our deserts, inflicted in this world, be not only just, but merciful, then punishment founded on the same principles, will be just and merciful in a future state. We do not pretend that punishment in a future state, differs either in nature or design from punishment inflicted in this world. Men after death are not punished on the principles of revenge or retaliation, but with a design to humble and reform; or, in other words, to qualify the creature for the enjoyment of happiness. We do not believe that those will be punished in a future state, who have been duly punished, and have become penitent here; no-this discipline will be experienced by none but those who have not been equitably recompensed in this state, and who go out of the world in rebellion. Now on this view of the subject, what reasonable objection can be brought against a future, disciplinary punishment, which does not weigh equally against all punishment in this world? Why then are you so averse to this sentiment? You will agree with me that virtue and happiness are inseparably connected. Now religion is valuable only as it makes men happy, that is, as it makes them virtuous. Why then insist so strenuously that all punishment is confined to this world? Do you really think that this sentiment is more productive of piety and virtue than a future limited discipline? Can you lay your hand upon your heart, and say in the presence of God, that you think a future retribution corrupts
I will here state for the information of the reader, that I shall not, in this or any future Letter, labor to prove any position which is held in common by the writer and him to whom these Letters are addressed.
the morals of society; that it weakens the motives to virtue, and leads to the perpetration of crime?
In the discussion of the question before us, much has been said about the ground of the controversy, and the method of argumentation. You maintain that all the labor of proof devolves upon the believer in future punishment. You insist that future punishment must be proved true, or else you are justified in believing the opposite; and when you are called upon to produce the evidence in favor of your scheme, you complain that this is burdening you with proving a negative, which is incapable of proof. In a discussion of this question with Mr. Turner, you say, "Although you persist in contending that it is incumbent on me to prove the negative of our general question, I am still disposed to maintain the reverse, and to contend that it is incumbent on you to attempt to prove the positive of our general question. by the testimony and word of divine inspiration. Until this is done, and the doctrine of future punishment is proved from the word of God, this doctrine is not entitled to our belief."
Again you say, to prove positively and directly that all misery is confined to this life, "is, to say the least, throwing all the labor on one side." Now, Sir, if to prove that all misery is confined to this life, is "throwing all the labor on one side," then to prove that men will be punished after death, is "throwing all the labor on the other side." This then is the only ground on which you will consent to meet your opponent in this controversy; he must go forward and prove his doctrine true-he must pursue a course which according to your acknowledgement, is "throwing all the labor on one side." He must pursue a plan which appeared to you "30 unreasonable," that you rejected it at once.‡
Gospel Visitant, Vol. 3, p. 312. ↑ U. Magazine, Vol. 4, p. 20.
lb. p. 20.
The course which you have adopted, is pursued by all the principal advocates for your views. They all decline producing any evidence in favor of their system, being, as would seem, determined to throw all the labor on one side." Mr. Kneeland says, "It is not pretended, as we know of, that the scriptures prove there will be no future punishment; for how can they prove a negative ?" From these citations, and to these others might be added, it appears that you consider our system as the positive, and yours as the negative of the question before us. But permit me to ask you, have you no positive to your faith? does your doctrine consist entirely of negation? does your faith rest solely upon disbelief? One would think so by your method of meeting this discussion. When you are declaring your views to the world, you are not at all deficient in positive affirmation; but as soon as you are engaged in controversy on this subject, your doctrine is all negation! But, Sir, you cannot be insensible that in questions of this nature, the positive and negative are transferable from one side to the other. If the doctrine of future punishment is advanced, that side of the question becomes the positive, and yours the negative. But if the doctrine which limits all punishment to this world, is advanced, then that becomes the positive, and future punishment the negative of the question. Thus the great cry which has been raised about proving a negative, has no bearing in this case; because it can be used on one side as well as on the other.
But, Sir, the doctrine which bounds all punishment by temporal death, for which you contend, must be either a positive or a negative. Is it a negative? Then it is incapable of proof; then you have no evidence in favor of your hypothesis-not a solitary text of scripture,