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THE simple.object of the author, in this Inquiry, is, to examine the foundation on which the doctrine of endless misery is built. This doctrine, rests on the fact or the falsehood, that a place called hell, in a future state, is prepared for the punishment of the wicked. In speaking, preaching, and writing on the subject, this is always taken for granted as indisputable. Most Universalists have conceded this to their opponents, and have contended, not against the existence of such a place of misery, but against the endless duration of its punishment.* The principal writers, on both sides of this question, admit that there is a place of future punishment, and that the name of it is hell. Winchester, Murray, Chauncey Huntingdon, and others, admit that hell is á place of future punishment. Edwards, Strong, and others, who opposed them, had no occasion to prove this, but only to show that it was to be endless in its duration. This Inquiry, is principally for the purpose of Investigating, if what has been taken for granted by the one party, and conceded by the other, is a doctrine taught in Scripture. If the views I have advanced are false, it still leaves the question between Universalists and their opponents undisturbed. If they are found upon examination to be true, all dispute about endless misery in hell must of course cease, for if no such place exists, why dispute about the endless duration of its punishment?
* When the first edition of the Inquiry was published, the author's attention was entirely directed to the endless duration of future punishment. From his examinations then, he had strong doubts of limited future punishment. Subsequent investigations, have confirmed and increased these doubts, nor has he seen any satisfactory evidence, that limited any more than endless punishment is taught in scripture. He thinks he has candidly considered all which his brethren have urged in defense of a limited future punishment, but the arguments used, and the scriptures quoted, only tend to confirm him in the opinion, that the doctrine of limited future punishment cannot be supported from the Bible. But, bis ears are still open, to listen to what can be said on the subject.
The author is aware, that the subject he has undertaken to discuss, is both solemn and important, and that his sentiments, are not in unison with the principles and prejudices of the religious community. He is deeply sensible, that much learning, and piety, and popular opinion, are against him. The doctrine he opposes, is a fundamental article in most religious creeds, is taught weekly from almost every pulpit, and writings from the press are numerous in its support.
There are some, we hope many, who would rejoice to find it fairly and scripturally proved, that hell is not a place of endless punishment. Their benevolence of disposition, and their inability to reconcile this doctrine with the character of God and with many parts of his word, concur in leading them to wish, that clear and decided evidence of this might appear. From such, the author expects a candid and patient hearing of the evidence he has to produce. All he wishes, is, that his arguments, and explanations of Scripture may be impartially examined, and his views received or rejected accordingly. The importance of the subject demands, that it be candidly and impartially examined. But there are other considerations, which ought to excite universal attention to it. In the present day, various opinions are entertained as to the future punishment of the wicked, and that by men, eminent for both learning and piety. Some hold to the doctrine of eternal punishment, some to its being of limited duration. Others think they are to be annihilated, and some hang in doubt, not having any fixed belief on the subject. If the Bible does teach any thing certain on this subject, all ought to know it; and in no other way can this be ascertained, but by mutually communicating our researches for candid consideration to the public, and let all men, through a free
press, read and judge for themselves. To deter men from investigation, on a subject which involves their eternal condition, is of all inquisitions the worst.
As to the sentiments advanced, the author makes no apology for them, nor does he claim any indulgence from his readers. He has appealed to the Scriptures, and to this test he desires his views to be brought for examination. If they are found false, no one can wish more sincerely than himself, to see their falsity detected. If true, they are of too much importance, and God's character is too much concerned, to be treated with indifference by judicious men. If God never threatened men with endless, or any misery in hell, it places his character in a very different light from that in which it is generally viewed.
The attempt has been made, to conduct this investigation in a cool, rational, and scriptural manner, and to express with plainness and candor the sentiments advanced, for the candid consid
eration of others. We have endeavored to state, what we consider truth on this subject, and to state it in the spirit of the truth. Should any thing contrary to this be discerned, we hope the reader will impute it to inadvertence, and not to design.
In the course of the work, a number of quotations have been made from different authors. But few or none, have been taken from Universalist writers. We have purposely avoided this, and have availed ourselves of quotations from those, who, while opposed to the views advanced, have conceded many things in favor of them. The testimony of an opponent is always reckoned valuable. Such testimonies, might have been increased had it been necessary. But we rest the truth of the views advanced, on evidence we have drawn from Scripture.
The path in which the author has trod, in this Inquiry, has been new to himself, and but little frequented by other writers, of which he has any knowledge. That we have not in any instance, turned aside from the path of truth in our statements, we do not affirm. It would be surprising if we had not, for to err is human. All we can say, is, that we have studied to be accurate in our statements, and to be guided by the Scriptures in the explanations we have given. Should any trifling inaccuracies be pointed out, my time and habits of thinking, forbid my promising any reply. Any answer, meeting the body of the evidence produced, shall be attended to, either by acknowledging my error, or by defending what I have written. That the truth of God on this, and every other subject, may be made manifest and prevail, is the desire of the author, whatever may become of his sentiments.
In presenting, the third edition of the Inquiry to the public, it may be proper to inform the reader, of the following things respecting it. The first edition was published in 1827. It would be tedious, and would occupy more room than we can spare to notice all the attacks which have been made upon it, from the pulpit, and in the public journals, since its first publication. The instances, which have come within the range of our own personal knowledge and observation, have not been few. We shall only notice
the attempts, which have been made to refute it, in regular book form.
The first attempt, was made by Mr. James Sabine, a Boston Clergyman, soon after the Inquiry was first published. A Gentleman, called on the Clergy in the public journals, either to refute the Inquiry, or confess they were deceiving the people. This call roused Mr. Sabine ; and he announced in the public papers, his intention to refute the Inquiry, provided a suitable meeting house was obtained, his own being inconvenient for the purpose. When all sects, declined offering him a house for
the purpose, the Universalist Society in Charlestown, unanimously voted him the use of theirs. He accepted their offer; and delivered six discourses, one every other Sabbath evening, to excessively crowded audiences. He afterwards published his discourses; and our reply to them, appeared in 1825. This public, and published attack on the Inquiry, hastened a second edition of it in a cheaper form, but in every material respect the same as the first. Mr. Sabine's attempt to refute the Inquiry, was considered very generally a total failure. He did not pretend to advocate endless punishment; nor, did his discourses touch the principal facts and arguments contained in the Inquiry. All seemed to allow, his discourses did more evil than good, to the cause of endless punishment. They however, excited inquiry in the public mind, and somewhat promoted the demand for the Inquiry, which was very unpopular. Most people denounced it as a pernicious book, but felt perplexed with the evidence it contained, and were desirous to see it refuted.
The next attempt to refute the Inquiry, was made by Mr. Charles Hudson, a Universalist Clergyman, in Westminister, Mass. His letters appeared in 1827, and were replied to in my essays, which were published in 1828. Mr. Hudson's “reply" to my essays appeared in 1829; and in the same year, my letters in answer to it were published. From some cause or other, like Mr. Sabine, he passed over the principal facts and arguments of the Inquiry, still leaving the book to be answered by some one else.
Dr. Allen, President of Bowdoin College, Maine, was the next person who made an attack on the Inquiry. This he did in a lecture, which he first delivered before the Students of the College, and afterwards published. We replied to his lecture, in a letter, which was published in 1828. The Dr.'s attempt to refute the Inquiry, was deemed so weak, even by his own friends, that his pamphlet was withdrawn from the bookstores and suppressed, if our information is correct. It is certain, it was frequently asked for in the bookstores in Boston, but could not be obtained; and very few persons in this region, ever procured a copy of it. The very weakness of this effort to refute the Inquiry, was calculated to lead many to think it could not be answered.
The last attempt, to refute the Inquiry, was made by Professor Stuart of Andover. From some cause or other, the public had long looked to him, to furnish a refutation of the Inquiry, The failure of the preceding attempts to refute it, was imputed by some to the want of talent. When Mr. Sabine did not succeed, we heard it remarked—“if Mr. Stuart only takes hold of it, he will easily refute it.” At last, his exegetical essays ap