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“He that soweth to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption. This seems perfectly natural, because 'whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. But to argue that corruption may be gathered from an incorruptible state, is to argue against the very nature of things."*
This passage seems to present several distinct id eas: One is, that immortality cannot suffer, which has been already examined. Another distinct part of the argument is contained in the passage of scripture, "he that soweth to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption." Because this passage says that they shall reap corruption of the flesh, you conclude that it must be in this state of existence. Now if all this should be granted, it would not oppose our views. Because men are punished in this world, it does not follow that they will not be in the future. But it is not certain that the term flesh, is here used literally. The word flesh is frequently used to signify sin or sinful dispositions. This is probably its meaning in this passage. But your argument requires that the word flesh should be used literally to signify the corporeal body. Now the word flesh in this passage must be used figuratively, or it must not. If it is used figuratively, the passage is nothing to your purpose. For the text would then read in sentiment, if men are sinful, they shall reap their reward from sin. The passage would then teach that sin shall be punished without any reference to time or place. But if the word flesh is used literally to signify the corporeal body, then sowing to the flesh, is doing things in obedience to the wants and necessities of the body; then any thing which is done to satisfy the wants of the body, is sinful, and will be punished. Even if we labor industriously to clothe our bodies, or to procure food for their subsistence, we sow to the flesh; we commit sin, and shall
* Lect. p. 369.
Surely be punished. Thus, Sir, you reap absurdity rather than advantage from your argument.
You attempt to support your interpretation of the passage, by saying, “There appears to be no connexion between sowing grain in this country, and reaping a harvest from it in Europe. But if we sow grain in a field in New England, we shall of natural consequence reap the harvest from the same field.”-Now this statement, though true relative to agriculture, does not justly apply to the case before us. You say there is no connexion between sowing grain in this country, and reaping the harvest in Europe. True-and for this good reason; the field in this country and the field in Europe are not one and the same identical field. They are two distinct and separate fields, having no relation to each other. But will you say the same relative to present and future existence? Will you admit that an individual in this life, and the same individual in a future life, are as distinct from each other, as one field in America, and another in Europe ? that they are two distinct intelligent beings? Dare you assert that Paul, for instance, in a future state, is another being totally distinct from what he was here, having no more relation to what he was in this world, than there is between the two fields abovementioned ? If you will not admit this, you acknowledge that your argument is foreign to the point, and so amounts to nothing. And if you do admit it, you espouse a cause which is no other than infidelity in disguise.
Since you have borrowed your figures from agricul . ture, and since the apostle uses sowing and reaping to represent our actions and their reward, let us for a moment look at the process of raising grain. Do we, as your system requires, sow grain, and reap the harvest in the very act of sowing? Or do we not, as our system requires, sow the grain, and then wait a period for the
harvest? Let the experience of husbandmen answer the question.
Another method which you adopt to avoid a future punishment for a part of mankind, is to represent all men equally guilty. If you do not state this in express words, still you use language which naturally gives this impression. At one time you represent all “whose labors have been in the ministry from the highest prelate down to the lay preacher,” as equally guilty.* At 40other time you represent a "company of meek and humble believers in Jesus," and a “company of profane sailors," as being alike pious in the sight of God. But does this description correspond with the scripture account? Do the sacred writers represent all men as possessing one and the same character? or rather do they not divide mankind into two classes, the righteous and the wicked? It is so evident that the scriptures speak of two classes, the righteous and the wicked, that you admit the distinction. But you attempt to do away its force by pretending that they are both found in the same individual at the same time!
"We find the righteous and the wicked in the same individual. Yes in the same man and at the same time, we find the righteous and the wicked, 'him that serveth God, and him that serveth him not." "I We readily admit that the same individual may be wicked at one period of his life, and righteous at another. When the evil disposition predominates, he is, in scripture phraseology, denominated wicked ; and when the good disposition predominates, he is denominated righteous. But to assert as you do, that the righteous and wicked are in the same man at the same time, is not interpreting, but destroying the scriptures. You make the righteous and the wicked not individuals, but simply abstract principles or charac
* Notes on the Parables, pp. 18, 19, 20. + Lectures, p. 291. I Lectures, p. 292.
ters. But what numerous absurdities does this principle involve! If the righteous and the wicked signify not persons, but abstract characters, as they must on your interpretation of these terms, then the individual experiences neither happiness nor misery'; for when the sacred writers say that the righteous shall enjoy happiness, and the wicked experience misery, we must conclude that the individual has nothing to do with either ; the one being enjoyed by the good principle, and the other endured by the bad!!
Besides, it is a palpable absurdity to say that a character abstractly considered, is capable of experiencing either happiness or misery. But let us look at some passage, where the terms righteous and wicked occur, and see if we can understand them consistently on your sense of these terms. Take the 25th of Matthew, for instance. In that scripture the righteous and the wicked are spoken of; they are said to be separated from each other; the one are rewarded, the other punished, When Christ sentenced the wicked to a state of punishment, he assigns the reasons for so doing. “For I was an hungered,” says he to the wicked, “and ye gave me no meat; I was a stranger, and ye took me not in ; sick and in prison, and ye visited me not." Now if by the wicked, we are to understand, not persons, but an evil principle, then we must absurdly suppose that Christ sentenced an evil principle to a state of punishment, because it had not visited him !! This I trust will be sufficient to show the falsity of your statement, that the righteous and the wicked are in the same man at the same time. As to all men's being equally guilty, I conceive that no considerate person will admit it. And you yourself will not admit that in point of moral excellence, you stand no higher than the convicts in the State Prison. In this manner you acknowledge, that there is a difference in the characters of men,
I have now attended to all the principal objections which you urge against a future retribution, so far at least as I have learned them. I have endeavored to state your objections in all their force. If you have any other objections more formidable than these I have considered, I am ignorant of them. And I think you will admit that the arguments and objections which I have considered, are those on which you mostly rely. The moral influence of the two systems will be considered in our next.