« PreviousContinue »
the encroachment of this, and every other error. But the slight impression, which men in general have of the authority of God's word, gives a danger ous advantage into the hands of deceivers to propagate fatal de lusion.
That you may be still more effectually secured against the error of universalists, it will be proper for you to weigh the arguments which they employ; to consider how superficial and hollow they are, and to prepare yourselves to confute them in the most satisfactory manner.
Their principal and most specious argument you will find to be that, which they pretend to deduce from the infinite benevolence of God. The argument is briefly this: As God is infinitely good, he must desire, and as he is almighty, he will certainly effect the happiness of all his rational creatures. If any, who are naturally capable of happiness, are subjected to final misery, it must be ascribed to a defect in the power, or in the goodness of God.
All attentive, enlightened Christians will perceive, that this argument rests on a tottering basis. If the benevolence of God is indeed infinite, as all will allow, how then is it possible that finite beings should comprehend its dimensions, or anticipate all its operations? According to the reasoning, which universalists adopt, we should judge that the moral and natural evil now existing in the world is inconsistent with the goodness of God. If it be said, that this temporary evil will be made conducive to the general good; we ask why end less evil may not be used in the same way? Who can be cer
tain that God will not most high ly manifest his benevolence and glorify himself, by exhibiting a perpetual contrast between the beauty of holiness and the deformity of sin; between virtuous enjoyment and merited pain? Who has a right, either on rational or scriptural principles, to be confident, that the endless punishment of impenitent transgressors will not furnish opportunity for a brighter manifestation of divine perfection, and for promoting a greater sum of felicity in the universe, than the final happiness of every individual? These questions are proposed to confound the confidence of universalists, and to show that the conclusions, which they derive from the benevolence of God, are marked with uncertainty and weakness. But on the other hand we would guard, with sacred care, against the sumption of carrying either our reasoning or our faith on this subject any further, than we are warranted by revelation.
Universalists sometimes reason in this way. If God should punish any of his creatures eternally, he would show himself less benevolent than an earthly parent, whose affection to his offspring could never consent, that any of them should be miserable. But here again we strongly object to the reasoning. Is infinite benevolence to be measured by finite? Must the goodness of God act upon the same limited scale with parental tenderness? But even parental love, properly directed, affords an illustration of this subject. Parents, who are governed by wise affection, will sometimes banish a child from their presence, and deliver him
up to capital punishment for the good of their family, and of the public. And it hardly needs to be mentioned, that magistrates while actuated by the purest benevolence, sentence criminals to death, for the honour of government, and the welfare of community. If there is a great and indescribable difference between such instances of punishment, and the endless misery of immortal beings; the difference is no more, than what necessarily results from the infinite distance between God and men, between the interests of his kingdom, and the interests they are pursuing. As God's benevolence operates upon a plan so much more sublime, than humon benevolence; and as the interest of his universal empire is so much more extensive, than the interest of a family or civil community; it must be expected that the measures of his administration will, in many respects, be different from those of a parent or civil ruler. My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my thoughts higher than your thoughts, and my ways than your ways." When by a thunderbolt God strikes to the ground an affectionate father, on whom depended the comfort of á blooming family; or a promising child, who was the hope and joy of his parents; when he sends wasting sickness into a city, and, in a few days, sweeps off thousands of its inhabitants; he acts upon a plan far above the principles of human virtue or human authority. The man, who should attempt directly to
imitate such an exercise of God's sovereign power, would be deemed a monster of cruelty. Hence it is evident, that no valid ar gument against the endless punishment of sinners can be deduced from its being, in some respects, unlike any exercise of human goodness or justice. It is no more unlike, than enlightened reason would lead us to expect.
Parents and rulers are acting for the interest of a family or a community. God is acting for the interest, the eternal interest of the universe. How unreasonable, then, to urge against any part of the divine adninistration, those maxims which relate to the temporal or local interests of mankind, or those rules which regulate their conduct.
The all sufficient atonement of Christ is made an argument in support of universalism. IfChrist tasted death for every man, and is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world; it is argued, that every man, even the whole world will be saved. To invalidate this argument it is sufficient to remark, that the same scriptures, which declare the universal extent and all sufficiency of the atonement, declare with equal plainness, that there are many who believe not, and that all such will certainly perish. Now if the infallible Spirit of inspiration unequivocally affirms, that a compliance with certain conditions is absolutely essential to salvation, that only a part of mankind ever comply with those conditions, and consequently that only a part will be saved; then, surely, the salvation of all cannot, according to scripture principles, be inferred from the suf
ficiency of the atonement. The to its sufficiency for the salvation Author of the Bible has not taught us to reason thus; that because Christ died for all, therefore all will certainly be saved. According to the apostle, his dying for all proves, that all were dead. But it is the familiar representation of scripture, that multitudes, for whom Christ died, will perish. It is important, that Christians reason as the scriptures reason, and that all those conclusions, which contradict the obvious sense of scripture, be rejected.
The mistake of those, who in fer universal salvation from the universality of the atonement, evidently arises from a wrong idea of the nature of the atone ment. If the atonement were like the discharge of a debt, which takes away from the debtor all obligation to make any further payment, and from the creditor all right to demand it; then salvation must have been as extensive, as the atonement. But if the atonement be considered as a divine expedient, designed to render it consistent with the hon our of God to offer salvation to all, and actually to save those who believe; in other words, an expedient, to magnify and bon our the law, which was broken and degraded by man, so that God might consistently exercise mercy, and receive to heaven all who become penitent and holy, making a proffer of the same grace to others; if the atone ment be viewed in such a light, its being designed and accepted, as sufficient for all, does not necessarily imply, that all will in fact be finally benefitted by it. Although there are no limits to its value in the sight of God, or
of sinners; still there may be limits to the extent of its application. This may be illustrated by natural things. Although God has made the sun sufficient to enlighten, direct, and cheer all mankind; yet this does not imply, that all will actually use and enjoy the light. Notwithstanding the infinite abundance of light, some men may deprive themselves of it by indulging in unseasonable sleep; others may obstinately shut their eyes and refuse to see; while others, who behold the light, may abuse it to their own injury. So that from the universality and abundance of that great blessing in the natural world, it cannot be correctly inferred, that it will eventually prove a blessing to all. In like manner, we cannot prove that all will actually eat and drink, because of the abundance of bread and water. Now it does not imply any dishonour to the inexhaustible bounty of divine providence, that all do not partake of it. Nor does it frustrate the purpose of the Redeemer, or show any waste of his all suffi cient grace, that some will not receive it. He will forever have the honour of making the bountiful provision, and all his friends will, with purest enjoyment, contemplate and adore the riches. of his goodness, forbearance, and long suffering, which sinners despise. Both in the kingdom of providence and in the kingdom of grace, God has the honour of preparing immense treas ures of good, which his creatures ungratefully neglect or abuse, and therefore never enjoy.
Another argument, which you will often hear urged by univer
salists against endless punishment, is, that it exceeds the demerit of human sin.・・ But before they can with propriety assert this, they must either have direct and plain evidence of it from scripture, or be able by their own wisdom to comprehend the whole evil of sin. As to the first; let them show the direct and plain evidence they derive from scripture, that endless punishment exceeds the evil of sin. If it had been the design of scripture to teach this, we may well wonder that, when describing future punishment, it has used such unguarded expressions. Everlasting punishment, the worm that dieth not, the unquenchable fire, and other similar phrases of scripture lead us to cherish the idea, that endless punishment is proportioned to the demerit of sin; and therefore it seems very strange, that God should introduce such expressions, if he knew, and would have us believe, that endless punishment exceeds that: de
But on this point they are not much accustomed to argue from scripture. That endless punishment is beyond the demerit of sin is, they pretend, very evident to their reason. But that they, may judge, whether endless punishment be proportioned to the evil of sin, or not, it is necessary that they have a perfect comprehension of the evil of sin. In order to this, they must possess a clear and adequate knowl. edge of that Being, against whom. sin is committed. The degree, of malignity in sin has an evident relation, to the greatness and goodness of God. It is a well known fact, that sin always ap
pears to a man a greater or less evil, as he has a higher or lower apprehension of God. Accordingly, although it now appears to universalists, that endless punishment exceeds the evil of sin; yet how do they know but a clearer and more adequate view of the perfection of God would raise their idea of the evil of sin so far, that endless punishment would appear perfectly equitable? Besides, they who take it upon them to affirm, that endless pun-. ishment exceeds the demerit of sin, should be able to comprehend the vast extent of creation, and to know all the injury which. sin would occasion to the whole intelligent system; yea, that they fully comprehend all the evil consequences which it naturally tends to produce throughout all ages, and even to eternity. For it is unquestionably just, that sinners be charged with all the natural, direct consequences of their actions, and be treated accordingly..
Now whether they, who pretend to determine, that there is a disproportion between endless punishment and the evil of sin, have what is necessary to quali-. fy them for such a determination, let Christians judge.. Have they, by searching found out God? Have they found out the Almighty to perfection? Do they know the extent of creation? Do they know all the dreadful effects, which would naturally result from sin to the intelligent universe through everlasting ages? Unless they possess all this knowledge, their undertaking to deny the proportion between endless punishment and the demerit of sin is weakness and presumption, How much more,
reasonable a part do they act, who humbly refer this subject to the wisdom of God, and implicitly confide in the declarations of his word.
Here it will not be improper to consider, how exceedingly unfit mankind are to. judge on the degree and duration of the punishment which they deserve. Besides being creatures of yesterday, totally unable to compre hend that divine perfection which sin opposes and dishonours, and the extensive and endless mis chief which naturally follows in its train; they themselves are the sinners, whose guilt is in question. They are the criminals, who are to be sentenced, and are subject to all those strong partialities, which persons are apt to feel in their own favour; partialities, on account of which neither divine nor human law suffers men to sit as judges, in their own case. Revelation teaches, that all judgment is committed into the hands of the Son of God, and that the judgment, which we pass upon ourselves, is to be governed by the solemn in formation which he has given us, and by a constant reference to the final sentence which he will pass upon us.
of the Saviour, the gracious purpose of God respecting the salvation of his people, the nature and necessity of regeneration, &c. we must search those particular portions of the Bible, in which these subjects are most directly and fully explained. Our sentiments on these subjects should be primarily founded on the plainest and most appropri ate declarations of scripture. Other passages, where the subjects in question are incidentally mentioned, or by distant impli cation referred to, may afford additional proof or illustration; but such proof or illustration must always be viewed in subserviency to the principal passages. apply this to the subject before us; if we would obtain satisfactory information respecting the future punishment of the wicked, we must primarily attend to those scriptures, in which the transactions of the all decisive day are disclosed; in which the final sentence of the Judge against the wicked, and the du ration of their future punishment are most expressly declared. But such scriptures as these universalists disregard or pervert; while they found their opinions on passages, in which the subject is very obscurely hinted at, or in which other subjects, having an imaginary, but no real connexion with it, are brought into view. Their own arguings, implications, and deductions are taken for substantial evidence, and are set up in opposition to scriptures, which are too plain to be misunderstood, too solemm and weighty to be overlooked, and too clearly and strongly expressed to admit of plausible misconstruction. II
The method, which universalists adopt, when they undertake to reason from scripture, is highly exceptionable. If we wish for the plainest and most satisfactory information on any subject, we must apply, with peculiar attention, to those passages, in which the inspired writer is professedly and explicitly treating that subject. For example; if we would know the mind of the Spirit respecting the natural character of mankind, the offices Vol. III. No. 6.