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saved. I confess I once thought differently ; but now I can scarcely see how it was possible for me to have believed that an infinitely just and holy Being would condemn his creatures for involuntary and hence necessary ignorance.
How is it credible that a God of so much compassion and mercy, would consign to eternal misery, those whom he placed in such circumstances on earth, as forbad their obtaining his divine acceptance. The Bible disclaims such a reflection upon the character and administration of the universal Governor. It explicitly declares that those who have not the written law are not required to ascertain its precepts, or to fulfil its injunctions. They are under another dispensation. However dim the light they have, by that light and that alone they are to be judged. If they follow its guidance, they shall receive the approbation and final plaudit of their judge. What else can be implied in those parts of Scripture, which declare that if the Gentiles who have not the law, (the written law,) do by nature the things contained in the law, these having not the law are a law unto themselves ;” and “ in every nation, he that feareth God and worketh righteousness, is accepted of him.”
And even admitting that the heathen do not act in all respects according to their knowledge,
are they to be condemned for those slight deviations of conduct which it is scarcely in our nature to avoid ? Would not repentance, as in the case of pagan Nineveh, avert the threatened punishment; or will not the remedial economy avail to their pardon as well as to ours? The fact that they have no knowledge of a Saviour, only places them in the condition of infants and idiots; and who would exclude these from heaven, though they have no personal agency in getting there?
But it is at least possible that the heathen have some general idea of the plan of reconciliation revealed in the gospel. What other interpretation can be given to the sacrifices which are so common among pagan nations ?
And although their views of the true religion are exceedingly limited and mixed up with a great deal of error, are we on that account to deny that the Spirit's agency can extend to them ?
We know that this gracious Being does communicate his influences where there is very great ignorance even respecting the atonement of Christ. Witness the case of the disciples. How partial and absurd were their views of the spiritual objects for which their Lord came into the world, before they were miraculously enlightened at the day of Pentecost. Some instances have been found among the modern heathen in which
it appeared that the Holy Spirit had wrought a change before the gospel was introduced to them.
Even could it be proved, which from the considerations stated, I can by no means allow, that there is no hope for the heathen in the present state of their probation ; I would not hesitate to believe with some of the first German divines, that they will enjoy another scene of trial, under the advantages of at least our knowledge, before their final and irrevocable destiny is awarded.
I am free to acknowledge that these considerations to my mind tend greatly to mitigate the wretched condition of the heathen, and to cheer their prospects for eternity. If it were not so, I should certainly feel myself bound by every principle of justice and benevolence to make as many of them as possible acquainted with the life and immortality brought to light in the gospel.
À CLERGYMAN who had spent several years in preparing a commentary on parts of the Scriptures, was requested to offer his views on the destiny of the adult heathen. After some preliminary remarks on the overpowering magnitude of the subject, and the humility with which such short-sighted creatures as ourselves should approach it, he continued:
I am shocked to hear the doom of the heathen pronounced without feeling. I am much more distressed to hear the probability of their salvation proclaimed without proof. To act on the belief, as the brother admits he has done, that the heathen will be saved, where there are so many arguments to subvert this opinion, and when the consequences of its fallacy are so fatal to the eternal happiness of millions, is at least repugnant to the charity which he appropriates to himself.
After weighing all the arguments I could conceive or collect, which bear upon the future condition of those who have no knowledge of Christ, I have been driven to the conclusion, that there is so much in the word of God, to prove their final condemnation, that the only safe and charitable plan is, to assume that they all must perish; and then to exert ourselves to the utmost for their recovery. By this method, we cannot possibly do them injury ; by any other, we will probably leave them to irremediable misery.
To disembarrass the subject, and prepare the mind for the mass of scriptural argument which bears upon it, it is useful to revert to some of the first principles of theology. Many are led into error by not considering the true condition of mankind, and the nature of the salvation which has been mercifully provided for them. They forget that the world is filled with creatures in active rebellion against their Sovereign, and suffering under a moral disease, which each is fastening upon himself.
Had all been left to reap the fruit of their doings in the world of despair, it would have been perfectly just. As man deserved to perish, and God was under no obligation to save him, the gospel of salvation must be a gratuity. Now has not the great Dispenser of its blessings the right to give this gospel to whomsoever he pleases ? Has he not exercised his sovereignty in providing it for man in preference to another class of rebels against his government? If it be a gratuity,