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parable, and in face of so much evidence to the contrary, he would be considered as driven to the last extremity for proof in support of his system, and that finally it must be abandoned as indefensible. But with most people this parable is considered as the most plain and conclusive part of Scripture, in proof of a place of endless misery. It is considered more conclusive than any, or even all the passages which speak of Gehenna. What critics and orthodox commentators give up as no proof of the doctrine, by the least informed, is considered as the very strongest. Here, say they, is a person actually in a future state, and said to be "tormented in this flame." In fact, common readers of the Bible are not to blame in drawing such a conclusion; for this passage has more plausibility in proving the doctrine, than all other texts put together.
3d, Since neither Sheol nor Hades, nor even the word hell, in English, originally signified a place of endless misery, we have a few questions to put to those who believe in this doctrine. We ask, then, is it not a perversion of the divine oracles, to quote any of the texts in which Sheol or Hades occurs, to prove it? It is well known that such texts are often quoted for this purpose. But I ask again, is it not a very great imposition upon the ignorant, to quote such texts in proof of this doctrine? The simple, honest-hearted English reader of his Bible, sees the word hell often used by the sacred writers. He has been taught from a child, that hell means a place of endless misery for the wicked. Every book he reads, every sermon he bears, all tend to deepen his early impressions, and confirm him in this opinion. Those who know better, are not much disposed to undeceive him. On the one hand, they are perhaps deterred from it by a false fear of disturbing public opinion, and on the other, by reluctance to encounter the odium of the
Christian public, in being looked on as heretics. Select the most celebrated preacher you can find, and let him frankly tell his audience, that neither Sheol, nor Hades, nor even our word hell originally meant a place of endless misery, and his celebrity is at an end. He would from that moment be considered as an heretic, and his former admirers would now be his warm opposers. But I ask again, and I solemnly put it to every man's conscience, who professes to fear God, Ought not men to be honestly told the truth about this, let the consequences be what they may? Are we at liberty to pervert the Scriptures in favor of any sect, or system in the world? Must we be guilty of a pious fraud, in concealing from people what they ought to know, because the disclosure may excite popular prejudices against ourselves, and afford cause of suspicion that the doctrine of endless misery is not true? If it be true, it can and must be supported from other texts than those in which Sheol and Hades are used. Perhaps some may think, if all these texts are given up, some of the principal supports of the doctrine are removed. Well, allowing this true, would any one wish to retain them, but such as are determined to hold fast the doctrine of eternal misery at all hazards? It is a false system of religion, or those who embrace it do not know how to defend it, who wish to support it by perverting a single text of Scripture. To found the doctrine of endless misery on the texts which speak of Sheol or Hades, is building on the sand. When the building is assailed by reason and argument, and an appeal to the Bible, it must fall, if it has no better support. Even if it could be proved true from other texts, this is calculated to bring the doctrine into suspicion.
4th, The translators of our common English version, appear to have had more correct ideas about
Sheol, Hades, or hell, than most people who read their translation. They certainly were at some pains to guard us against attaching to the word hell, the idea of a place of endless misery. In many places where they render Sheol and Hades by the word hell, they have put grave in the margin. Besides; let it be remembered, that the word hell originally signified the same as Sheol and Hades. It was then the very best word they could use in rendering these two words. If men have affixed a different sense to the word hell, the translators are not to blame. Admitting that when our translation was made, it had acquired the sense of a place of endless misery, what could the translators do but use this word in rendering Sheol and Hades. It meant the same as those words originally; and to prevent misunderstanding, they frequently put grave in the margin. They no doubt thought that this, together with the context, was security against all misapprehension. Unfortunately this has not been the case. But no blame attaches to them, for they must in this case have either coined a new word, expressed themselves by a circumlocution, used always the word grave, or left these words untranslated. I am inclined to think, that if Sheol, Hades, Tartarus and Gehenna, had been left untranslated in the common version, very few, if any, would ever have thought that by any of these words a place of eternal misery was meant. Every reader would then have been obliged to consult the context, wherever these words were used, to attain the sense of the writer. Obliged to do this, he would soon have become familiar with them, and must have seen, from the way in which they were used, that the idea of a place of endless misery was never intended to be conveyed by them. But here are four words all rendered by the word hell, and this word is
allowed not to mean originally a place of misery, but the concealed place. Let any one go over all the texts where these words are found, and put this remark to a fair trial. It is true, that our translators, in rendering the word Gehenna, have also used the word hell. But here again, what could they do, for this word had acquired a new sense from its original signification. This new sense they supposed answered to the word Gehenna, considered as the place of endless misery. Here they were under the necessity of either again coining a new word, leaving Gehenna untranslated, or expressing themselves by a circumlocution. We doubt if the translators were at liberty to do any of these, without shocking public prejudice, and exciting the displeasure of those in high authority, under whose patronage they made their translation. They were not left at liberty to give us the best translation, which their own judgments, and the progress of Biblical criticism, even at that day, could have afforded. In proof of this, see the king's instructions to the translators.
5th, Several very serious evils arise from understanding Sheol or Hades to mean a place of endlessmisery. In the first place, it is a perversion of those texts in which these words occur. This perversion of them leads to a misunderstanding of many others. By this means the knowledge such texts convey, is not only lost, but our knowledge of the word of God is greatly retarded, and our minds are perplexed and embarrassed on other connected subjects. Every text of Scripture misunderstood, lays a foundation for a misunderstanding of others; and thus error is not only rendered perpetual but progressive. But this is not all. Understanding Sheol and Hades to mean a place of endless misery, is perverting God's word to caricature himself. It is putting our own sense on
his words, to make him say things against ourselves which he never intended. It is giving a false colour to the language of the Bible, that we may support the false views we entertain of his character, and his dealings with the children of men.
6th, I may just add about Hades what was noticed about Sheol, that we never find the words eternal, everlasting, or forever, used in connexion with it, or concerning it. We never read of an everlasting or eternal Hades or hell, or that men are to be punished in it forever. Nothing like this is to found in Scripture. Such epithets added to the word hell, found in books and sermons, are among the improvements in divinity which man's wisdom teacheth. The word hell is first perverted from its original signification, and then the word eternal is added to it, to make the punishment of endless duration.