Paul Dean’s Lectures: the fourth lecture

This is the fourth of the lectures in Paul Dean’s 1832 A Course of Lectures in Defence of the Final Restoration, an homage to celebrate the Universalist minister’s 240th birthday.

The numbers in brackets are the beginning of the page in the original.




The question to be considered this evening, is not whether there will be endless, or no future punishment? nor whether future punishment will terminate in annihilation, or be extended without end? — but this is the question, whether future punishment will be endless, or limited in degree and duration, according to the character of the impenitent, and so result in their restoration to happiness? This is a momentous question — one of the most intense interest to the character of God and religion — one, which has engaged the gravest attention of the wisest and best of men, in ancient [58] and modern times — and one, which has justly claimed and received the profoundest investigation; for upon its answer depends an eternity of joy or of grief, for myriads of the human race. This is not, properly speaking, a sectarian question, but one in which we are all deeply concerned; and therefore it merits the most serious treatment, and our most prayerful consideration.

Punishment, either limited or unlimited, presupposes the existence of a Ruler; of laws, and of subjects, who are capable of knowing the laws, and doing the will of the ruler. Therefore to judge of the punishment, we must be acquainted with the character of the Lawgiver, the nature of the laws, and the capacity and circumstances of the subjects.

The character of God, as seen in his works, is most glorious. The creation around us is a mirror in which we behold “his eternal power and Godhead.” The lofty mountain, the extended plain, the starry heavens and the mighty deep, give but a faint idea of his immensity; the movements of the heavenly bodies, the revolutions of the earth, and the change of the seasons, all preserving such perfect order, and resulting in the production of so much good to the universe, are but faint illustrations of his wisdom; and the cheering influences of the sun, the salubrity of the air, and the productions of the earth and sea, [59] sustaining and blessing such countless myriads of various beings, are but the smallest proofs of his goodness. But when we think of the power that gave being to the universe, and the discernment that reads the heart, and sees the end from the beginning; the mind, overwhelmed with reverence and wonder, unites with the sacred writers, in ascribing to him the attributes of eternity, omnipotence, and infinity, and also, the perfections of knowledge, wisdom, and goodness. His natural relations to man are those of Creator, Benefactor, and Judge; and thus far at least, he is the same to every human creature, and they are the same to him; for having created them all of “one blood,” he can be “no respecter of persons.” And hence, as the Judge of all the earth, he cannot but do right.

The law, by which we are to regulate our conduct, as the subjects of this Supreme Ruler, is revelation, without which we should never have been able to merit from him either praise or blame; for nature and the works of God, unassisted by the light of revelation, could never have taught us the divine will in regard to our relative duties to each other, or the worship to be offered to him, much less could it have furnished those powerful motives to obedience, drawn from a future state.

The chief designs of revelation are the glory of God, and the good of men; and its principal top-[60]ics, the display of the divine perfections, the declaration of the divine will, and the discovery of the motives to its performance.

Its doctrines in reference to Deity, to the origin and destiny of human nature, to the present and future state, together with the method of preparation for an advancement to eternal life, are most rational, pure, holy and sublime. Its precepts are most benevolent, just, and suited to procure for their author the greatest praise, and for men the greatest personal and social happiness. The promised rewards to faith and virtue, being according to our honest designs and real good works, are happily calculated to advance us by degrees in the attainment of perfection; and the threatenings to unbelief and vice, being also proportioned to our voluntary assent to their influence, and being emendatory in their design, must have a constantly increasing tendency to banish such feelings and habits from human society. And thus it is the manifest design and tendency of God’s holy government in all its administrations, to produce righteousness in the hearts and lives of men.

To be subjects of such a government, founded on principle and extended by moral suasion, men must be moral and free agents, i.e. they must be capable of understanding the general scope of revelation, the practical influence of its doctrines [61] and precepts, and of feeling a conscious obligation and ability to perform them. The sacred scriptures therefore must be virtually their own expositor to every man who searches them prayerfully: and he who does thus search them, must know what the Lord doth require of him, and what it is right for him to do or not to do; and he must also have the power of sincerely aiming to perform what he thus knows to be right, or he can be no subject of conscious desert, and of course no subject of moral government.

With this view before us of the character of God, the general nature and design of his moral government, and of the capacity of men to learn and do his will, we may form a just idea of human accountability, and of the nature of that punishment ordained for the disobedient and the sinner. It has been a question whether the punishment of the wicked is local, that is, whether it will be produced by the place occupied by the sufferer, rather than from his character, and so be inseparable from the place? The locality of punishment has been asserted and defended by very many persons of piety and talents, and rejected by others of equal learning and worth. Among the latter, are St. Origen and St. Augustine, and several of the Fathers; Calvin, with many others of later times; and by far the greater part of intelli-[62]gent christians of the present day. With these we concur in the opinion that hell is a state or condition of sinners in a future world, rather than a place, for the reasons that follow. First, it does not appear that any such place was created, when all things visible and invisible were made and pronounced good. Secondly, that if such a place had been created for the punishment of all sinners who die in impenitency, it would not have appeared how they could have been therein severally punished according to their respective works; as all in that case would have suffered the infliction of the same sufferings. Third, the scripture account of it, cannot well be understood otherwise than metaphorically. And fourth, because the punishment of sinners will consist, according to the scriptures, in a sense of the loss of the divine favor, loss of the pleasures of innocence; and also of conscious guilt for having abused divine goodness, and betrayed into ruin their more innocent fellow creatures.

From this course of reasoning, we arrive at the satisfactory conclusion, that although the sinner must necessarily occupy a place suited to his nature and mode of being while he suffers, yet that his sufferings will not proceed from the place, but the state of his character; and consist in a sense of shame, regret, remorse, and fear, inflicted by the righteous Judge of all, upon the awakened conscience.

[63] There is therefore nothing in the character of the Judge, the requirements of the law, the circumstances of the agent, or the nature and tendency of the punishment, which would necessarily or naturally incline us to the belief that it will be endless; but much that leads us to the contrary opinion. And hence, if the endless duration of hell torments can be supported, it must be by the clear and express language of revelation.

Here, let us observe, that such is the importance of the doctrine, such the awful consequences of unceasing woe, that if it were contained at all in the sacred scriptures, we should expect to find it expressed in the most unequivocal terms, and those repeated by each of the sacred writers, and in every book, if not in every chapter of the bible, and to see it holding a most conspicuous place in every creed and summary of christian faith, drawn up by the primitive and early followers of Christ.

And yet, judging from the habit of some modern preachers, we shall upon examination be surprised to find how sparing the sacred penmen have been in the use of such phrases in connexion with punishment, as have been supposed to mean endless; for instance, the words everlasting and eternal, which are by no means the strongest terms to express duration, they could have chosen. These words occur only twice in relation to sufferings, in all the old testament. They are employ-[64]ed but three times by St. Matt. and only Once in the gospel of St. Mark. They are sought for in vain in the gospel of St. Luke, and in all the accounts given by him of the early preaching of the apostles, in the book of Acts. St. John neither uses them in his gospel or his epistles; and everlasting occurs but once in all the writings of St. Paul, which make so considerable a part of the new testament, and then it is everlasting destruction, and there is no mention made of everlasting or eternal punishment, in the Epistle of St. James, or in those of St. Peter. Not only have most of the authors of the sacred writings wholly omitted, and the rest of them been thus sparing in the use of those terms supposed to be expressive of the proper eternity of punishment in a future state; but it is a fact worthy of notice, that the doctrine of endless sufferings is not found in any summary of christian faith, collect, or creed, drawn up by christians in the early ages of the church. The Apostles creed, for instance, does not enjoin the belief of, or require the assent of christians to the sentiment. Now, if as some suppose, the belief of this doctrine be so essential to the christian character, that he who rejects it cannot be a christian; how are we to account for its entire omission in this confessedly ancient and short summary of the fundamental articles of the christian faith, adopted by those who were best ac-[65]quainted with genuine and primitive Christianity?

Nor is this all; the opposite doctrine of the Universal Restoration, advocated by many of the fathers, was never censured by any act of the Christian Church until the close of the 4th century, and never rejected, till the meeting of the fifth general council, by whom it was for the first time, with some other sentiments, anathematized as a damnable heresy, and that rather on account of the sentiments associated with it, than for its own sake. These circumstances and facts connected with the history and character of future punishment, are mentioned, not as containing positive proof of the falsity of endless sufferings; but as throwing light on the general subject of our present inquiry, and making it certain that the doctrine of a limited punishment to be succeeded by an universal restoration, was advocated by many, and tolerated by the whole body of christians for a long time, and that, while the Church was the most pure. And if this sentiment, as we suppose, was believed by the apostles, and therefore they used the terms everlasting and eternal in a limited sense, then we are not to wonder that these terms were entirely omitted by some, and used so seldom by others; for in that case, they would use them as being perfectly synonymous with all those modes and forms of expression frequently used by each and every one of them, to enforce a sense of [66] human accountability, and an apprehension of being judged according to the deeds done in the body. And hence, these words in the cases above alluded to, mean no more than that every man must give an account of himself to God, and be rewarded according to his works; a doctrine taught with equal force and clearness by our Lord, his apostles, and the holy prophets, who have also spoken of the “restitution of all things,” and all in perfect consistency.

Waving further remarks, having noticed the question of the locality of punishment, let us now give our attention to the more important inquiry of its duration, and consider the grounds urged by those who advocate its strict eternity. The principal grounds relied upon for its support, are three, the scriptures, justice, and reason. We come to this work with perfect respect for the sincerity, piety, and learning, of those from whose views we freely use the liberty of dissenting, in the charitable exercise of the christian rights of private judgment.

As a fair specimen of the scriptural authority for the sentiment, take the following; Isa. 66: 24. St. Mark 9: 43, 44. “And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me, for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhoring unto all flesh.” “And if thy [67] hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched; where their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched.”

The prophet in describing the future and complete triumph of the true worship of God, the entire overthrow of idolatry, and the punishment of idolators; represents the worshippers of idols in Israel and elsewhere, after their defeat and the total loss of their cause, as being thrown into the valley of Hinnom, a place on the east of Jerusalem, rendered extremely odious to the Jews by its being once the seat of the idol Moloch, where the abhorrent, cruel, and impious spectacle, of innocent children passing through the fire for his pleasure and in sacrifice to him, was for a long time to be seen; and there too these impious Israelites, idolators, and monsters of cruelty, are to be looked upon as being consumed by the worm that never shall die, and tormented by the fire that never shall be quenched. And our Lord forewarned his followers that it would be better for them to deny themselves the enjoyment of advantages, gains and pleasures, dear to them as a right hand, eye, or foot, provided they led them to offend against the gospel, than to enjoy them here, and thereby bring upon themselves the punishment of a future state, expressed by the lively and strong metaphors of [68] the fire, and worm, used by the prophet. For the better understanding of these metaphors, let it be remarked that the valley of Hinnom was subsequently to the days of the prophet, and in the times of our Saviour, used as a place of punishment in which men were burnt alive, or cast there to be consumed by worms; and that the worm and the fire are the two agents, by whom the bodies of those men are consumed. Both are therefore used by Christ and the prophet as figurative expressions to denote the punishment of the wicked in a future state. By the repeated assertion that the worm shall not die, we learn that it will not be interrupted in the consumption of the body on which it preys, until it hath completed its work. The fire is unquenchable by those who are cast into it, and shall not be extinguished by any other; and hence 1% will certainly accomplish the object for which it was kindled.

Those who understand these metaphors in any other light than this, seem not to have examined this subject, for in the valley of Hinnom the worm died when its food failed, and the pile on which human sacrifices were burnt to Moloch was often extinguished. Newcome.

That the phrase unquenchable fire, upon which so much stress is always laid in the argument for endless misery, does not, in its scripture use, denote a fire which shall never cease, is most certain.

[69] as will appear by reference to the following passages. Lev. 6, 13. Isa. 34, 9—11. Jer. 17, 27. and Ezek. 20, 45—48; and others. Wherein Jehovah declares the fire shall ever be burning upon the alter, it shall never go out; that he will kindle a fire in Jerusalem, which shall never be quenched; that every green tree and every dry tree in the beautiful forests of the south shall be consumed, and the flaming flame shall not be quenched; and that the streams of Bozrah shall be turned into pitch, and its dust into brimstone, and the land thereof become burning pitch; and it shall not be quenched night nor day. Now although the fire was never permitted to go out upon the altar of God, while that alter stood: yet with the overthrow of the altar, the fire ceased. And notwithstanding the devoted inhabitants of Jerusalem could not quench the fire that consumed their Temple, city, and adjacent country, and therefore by them the fire was unquenchable, yet having accomplished the destruction of these objects of their solicitude, it has ages since been extinct.

Hence, the metaphorical representations of future punishment derived from Gehenna, contain no proofs of the unceasing duration of that punishment, nor does the connexion or scope of the passages before us, from our Lord or his prophet, require us so to understand them.

[70] The next authority which we propose to consider, is the oft repeated assertion of oar Saviour, St. Matt. 25, 46. ‘These shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal.’ The strength of the argument from this passage, if indeed there be any strength in it, is drawn from the meaning of the term everlasting, assumed to be that of endless; and its application to the happiness of the righteous as well as to the misery of the wicked, and that in the same passage, by way of an antithesis.

This term, together with those of eternal, forevcr, and forever and ever, are confessed to be of the same meaning, and to be translated from words of the same stock, in the Hebrew of the old, and the Greek of the new testament. What that meaning is, has occasioned much inquiry and discussion, which have resulted in the concession that in the scriptures they are sometimes applied to things of interminable perpetuity, and sometimes to things which endure for a long time, for an indefinite period, which is all we ask. This concession has been made by the ablest writers, who are at the same time advocates for the infinite perpetuity of punishment, and therefore would never have yielded this ground, but from the force of the clearest conviction. Dr. Adam Clarke, and the late President Edwards, in their writings, agree with professor Stuart, that these terms denote a limited [71] period when applied, as they often are by the sacred writers, “to the Jewish Priesthood; to the Mosaic ordinances; to the possession of the land of Canaan; to the hills and mountains; to the earth; to the time of service to be rendered bv a slave; and to many other things of a like nature.”

Let it not be supposed that we advocate the limited or finite meaning of everlasting, chiefly on account of its favorable influence upon the doctrine of the restoration; for if it were not understood thus, it would be impossible to reconcile the old and new testament together, and to harmonise the scriptures. If the everlasting priesthood of Aaron had been endless; it could never have been succeeded by the priesthood of Christ, which was after the order of Melchisedeck. If the everlasting ordinances of the law had been of unceasing perpetuity and force, they could never have given place to the more simple and spiritual institutions of the Gospel; nor if everlasting punishment be endless, can it ever be followed by the “restitution of all things” as promised by the holy prophets.

Now if as thus admitted, and for such good reasons, the term everlasting be sometimes used to denote a limited period; then it can never in any case, of itself, prove any thing to which it is applied to be interminable, and therefore it does not prove the punishment of the wicked to be such. To make this clear, let us take the excel-[72]lent rule given by the Editor of Brown’s Dictionary of the Bible, for understanding the words eternal, everlasting, and forever. “These words must be understood according to the nature of the subject concerning which they are used, and according to the connection of the places in which they occur.” By this rule it appears that we are never to admit everlasting as meaning endless, except the subject concerning which it is used, be known to be endless in its own nature, or proved to be so, by something else. Now punishment is not endless in its own nature; therefore everlasting, applied to it in the text, does not prove it to have that meaning.

To prove that the punishment in the text, is not in its nature endless, let it be noted that the word rendered punishment signifies chastisement, or correction, such as parents use with their children, hence it tends to exhaust the source from whence it springs, and aids the restoration of the sufferer, and hence the passage before us, awful as it sounds to the ear, is rather a proof of the hypothesis of the universal restoration, than of the opposite sentiment.

Again it has been urged in favor of the perpetuity of punishment, that it is placed over against the happiness of the righteous antithetically, and that the duration of the happiness of the one, and the punishment of the other, are expressed by the [73] same term; and therefore that if everlasting means endless in one case, it means equally so in the other. To this it may be answered, that it appeared to be rather the object of our Lord to present to the view a contrast of the general subjects of happiness and misery, than to prove their equal duration; and therefore he employed an indefinite term to denote their continuance, leaving us to form such opinions of the duration of the one and the other, as the Scriptures authorise us to entertain.

When we consider to how many different subjects the word everlasting is applied in the sacred volume, and how many different and at the same time indefinite periods of time it is employed to denote; we certainly shall not think it strange that Christ applied it to the misery of the wicked, and to the happiness of the righteous. Nor can I see the least reason or necessity for supposing it to have the same meaning in the two cases. The subjects with which it is connected differ in every other respect, and why should we think them of the same duration? Again, the word everlasting does not govern the character of the subject to which it is applied, but the character of the subject governs its meaning, as so applied.

If for instance, forever be applied to the existence of God, it means without beginning and without end, because he is without beginning of days [74] or end of life; but if the same word be applied to the time a Jewish servant was required to serve his master, it means merely as long as he should live. How very different are the meanings of this same word in these two cases; and from what does that difference arise? Answer, from the great difference between the subjects of its application, the Deity and the slave. What can be more different than are happiness and misery? The one originates with God, the other in the sinfulness of men; why then should they be alike enduring, seeing God delights in the one, but takes no pleasure in the other? It will avail nothing to say that everlasting is connected with future happiness and misery, and that in the same verse; and therefore it must mean as long in the one as the other case.

There is a similar case of the same word being applied twice in the same sentence to different things, and having two very different imports. Hab. 3. 6: “And the everlasting mountains were scattered, and the perpetual hills did bow; his ways are everlasting!” yet who from seeing in this passage that everlasting is in the same sentence applied to the mountains and to the ways of God, could reasonably conclude that the ways of God and the mountains will be of the same duration, when the one must from the very nature of the case continue strictly to eternity, and the oth-[75]er can stand only for a limited time, being destined to be brought low?

We come then to this conclusion, that the wicked shall be punished according to their deserts, and the righteous rewarded according to the laws of Christ’s kingdom; and that there is nothing in the nature or circumstances of the case, which requires us to attach to the term everlasting, as applied to punishment in St. Matt. 25,46, the idea of endless. Should it be thought that by this conclusion we leave the happiness of the righteous without sufficient proofs of its endless continuance; as from the above reasoning some persons may choose to say that future happiness is not in its nature interminable, and therefore everlasting when applied to it does not mean endless, and this being the strongest proof of its durability, it may come to an end as well as misery, — to this it may be replied, that the most conclusive proofs of the eternity of future happiness, are not found in the application of everlasting or any other term, used in the scriptures to express the duration of punishment; and for two reasons, first because there are stronger terms used in connection with happiness, than are found connected with misery, and second, because other circumstances show it to be endless.

  1. God declares that the righteous shall not be confounded world without end; that the saints have in heaven an inheritance incorruptible; that [76] they cannot die any more; for they are equal unto the angels; and that they shall have a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. See Isa. 45, 17.—1. Pet. 1, 4.— St. Luke 20, 36.-2. Cor. 4, 17. Where in all the bible is it said of the misery of the wicked, that it shall be endless, or continue world without end, or that the weight thereof is far exceeding eternal, as it is here affirmed of the happiness of the redeemed? But second, we depend not so much on these and many other equally strong expressions and forms of speech, made use of to denote the permanency of the saints’ felicity, (but are never applied to misery) as we do upon their union to Christ: so that while he lives, they shall continue in happy life; for Christ is made Priest by the power of an endless life, and he says to his disciples, because I live ye shall live also; therefore when we see him we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And again, their happiness and life in heaven flows from the infinite source of goodness as its fountain, and hence it can never cease; but this can never be said of misery and death.

Our Lord’s remark concerning Judas, the unhappy man who betrayed him, St. Matt. 26, 24; ‘it had been good for that man if he had not been born,’ has been supposed to furnish an argument for the endless misery of the wicked.

To this it is sufficient to reply, that this language of Christ is proverbial; and that such a tremen-[77]dous doctrine cannot be supposed to be founded on the solitary use of a Jewish proverb. The import of this saying seems to be this, that his punishment would be more than a balance for all the blessings of this life, so that he would have been a gainer, by passing immediately from his birth to his grave; for, to suppose that our Lord intended by it, to say that if God had been good to him he would not have conferred upon him his existence, (the only view which can favor the doctrine of his eternal perdition) would be an impeachment of the Divine goodness.

Another passage which has been much relied upon as a proof of the doctrine under consideration, is that found in 2 Thes. 1: 9. “Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.” That we may learn what St. Paul intended by these words, let us consider that they and their connection were addressed to the church at Thessalonica: while under a grevious persecution from those who believed not the gospel. The principal object of the whole passage was to encourage and comfort the “brethren” under all their “tribulations,” first, by assuring them that they should be accounted worthy of the kingdom of God for which they were suffering such tribulation, and therein should find rest with the apostles and others who remained faithful to the end. Second, [78] by assuring them that it would be a righteous thing with God to recommence tribulation to their persecutors, at the time when the Lord Jesus should be revealed from heaven in flaming fire, (the symbol of Divine Glory) with his mighty angels, to give rest to, and to be glorified in all them that believe, and also to punish with everlasting destruction them that obey not the gospel.

From this general view of the scope of the passage, it appears (1,) that this destruction is future, and will take place at the time when Christ shall come in glory to judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and kingdom; (2,) that the destruction does not signify annihilation, as some have supposed, for it is called “tribulation” by the apostle, see verse 6th; (3,) that it will be a righteous recompense for the trouble they have given to the saints. There is nothing therefore in the nature of the ease which requires the punishment to be endless, but on the contrary, as the “trouble” they had given was limited, so it would rather seem that in reason and justice, their “trouble” in return, to the righteous, should also be limited. But not to insist on this, we would farther say, the argument from the term everlasting in this text, has already been fully answered; and close our observations on this class of scripture proofs with the single remark, that everlasting does not naturally and necessarily imply that the punishment to [79] which it is applied will be endless, nor do the words destruction, punishment, or fire, or any two of them united, imply the doctrine.

We come next to notice those passages in the New Testament, where our Saviour speaks of the wicked under the metaphors of a tree “hewn down and cast into the fire,” of chaff burnt up “with unquenchable fire,” of bad fish, taken in the net only to be “cast away,” and of foolish virgins, against whom the door of mercy is shut. These Scriptures have been much employed in support of the irrecoverable loss of the wicked; and the challenge has been made with much assurance, “when the fruitless tree is burnt up, who shall restore it again! when the chaff is burnt up with unquenchable fire, who will be able to restore it!” and so, also, of the bad, cast from the gospel net, and of the foolish virgins against whom the door of grace is closed. The whole force of the seeming argument from these passages, arises from the literal meaning of these figures of speech, and the natural impossibility there is of restoring the tree or chaff to their former state, when once they are burnt; but not at all from their metaphorical use, for there is no such impossibility with God, to restore sinners after having punished them. This will appear, and the whole argument be conclusively answered, if we refer to St. Paul’s language and argument found in the eleventh chapter to the [80] Romans; where he speaks of the unbelieving Israelites under the metaphor of branches broken off and rejected. Now nothing can be more obvious than it is, that the very characters here styled branches by St. Paul, are by our Lord called trees, chaff, &c. and as he affirms, God is able to, and will graft them again into their own olive tree, and that the receiving of them shall be life from the dead, and so all Israel be saved; therefore we cannot understand our Saviour in the above passages as teaching the impossibility of the restoration of the very same characters, whom St. Paul says shall be saved.

Another ground of defence for the endless torment of the wicked, is divine justice. Those who assume this ground, reason thus; because sin is infinite in respect to the object against which it is committed, therefore it deserves an infinite punishment.” But to this it is replied, that if for this reason all sins are infinite as to their demerit, then the demerit of all sins must be equal, and so there must be equal reason for the pardon of all sins; for the demerit of no sin can be more than infinite. And besides this, it from hence follows, that God cannot render to every man according as his works shall be; because, although they commit innumerable sins; he can only punish them for one; as they cannot receive a punishment which is more than infinite. The great error in this ar-[81]gument consists in the supposition that sin is infinite, which is absurd; because it is the act of a finite creature; and therefore can be no more than a finite act, whatever may be the aggravation of its circumstances. Hence, the conclusion is irresistable, that as sin is limited, being the act of an agent of limited powers; neither reason nor justice can require an unlimited or endless punishment, as such punishment would not be according to his works.

The last source of its defence which we shall mention, is that of reason. It is said to be reasonable that we should be punished according to our departures from the line of duty here, and therefore it will be equally so that we should continue to be punished by the same rule so long as we shall continue to be sinners, which will be always; and hence our sufferings must be perpetual and without end. To this we answer, that we do not admit several things here taken for granted: first, that men will continue to sin time without end; second, that there will be no means of grace, or space for repentance beyond the present life; and third, that the only design of punishment is to satisfy the demands of divine justice, and of course never to be employed as an instrument or auxiliary of the sinner’s reformation. Could these things be shown, the inference of endless misery would follow; but those scriptures which speak of Christ [82] as taking away the sin of the world, and being the propitiation for the sins of the whole world, plainly forbid the idea of its endless continuity; and the numerous passages which declare that the severest judgments of God shall result in the sinner’s knowing and confessing the Most High, and those which place all punishment under the gracious government of the Mediator, who will subdue all beings and powers to himself, and subsequently resign his kingdom to the Father in perfect subjection to his holy and blessed will;1 clearly prove the fallacy of limiting the work of grace to the present life, or of asserting that the only design of punishment is the satisfaction of justice; and hence the argument built on these premises necessarily falls to the ground, and reason, as alleged, is not for, but against the doctrine that misery will have no end. Not only this, but the places above referred to, with many others which might be quoted had we time, strongly imply the emendatory character and design of punishment, and this is farther strengthened by the universal admission that the retributions of God are in many cases salutary, and if as the Scriptures assure us, there is no respect of persons with him, then they must prove so in all cases; and if the punishment be salutary, then under its continuance men must finally cease to commit sin, and conse-[83]quently cease to be punished. Now from this examination of the doctrine of punishment, we come very naturally to the conclusion that the punishments denounced in the sacred writings against sinners, are not endless, and therefore not opposed to the doctrine of the final and universal restoration, but rather in favor of that most desirable and glorious hypothesis.

Having thus answered this most important objection, but whether satisfactorily or not, the hearer is left to decide; we will now close with a short reference to the reasons for believing that future punishment is limited in degree and duration, by the number and aggravations of the crimes for which it is inflicted.

We believe it to be thus limited, because it harmonises much better with the infinite love and goodness of God, as revealed in the gospel and attested by the Holy Spirit within us; because it accords much more perfectly with the general scope and design of the gospel of Christ, and the numerous means which it employs for the salvation of the world: because it is perfectly consistent with that justice which lies at the foundation of divine government, prescribing equal laws, and securing the rights of God, and the rights of mankind: because it is the only view of punishment, which can render it salutary to men, and conducive to the willing subjection of all minds to the will of God; and [84] lastly, because it harmonises with all the attributes of Deity, the promised triumph of Christ over sin and death, and will issue in the ascriptions of glory and praise to the righteous Judge of all the earth, by the happy millions of the human race.

My friends, being fully impressed with a sense of how deeply the great question of this evening’s discussion concerns the Divine Character, the reputation of the early christians and martyrs, the success and prevalence of the holy scriptures and of genuine Christianity; — of the deep interest you feel for yourselves and fellow creatures in this great subject; and for myself being perfectly convinced that neither the Bible, the justice of God, or the dictates of enlightened reason, sustain the doctrine of the endless perpetuity of sufferings for any of the human family, but that they perfectly accord in giving their united authority to the support of a future limited, emendatory, and righteous judgment of God, which will result in the bowing of every knee to God, and the confession of every tongue to Christ; I therefore submit this whole subject, with what has been said upon it, to your best feelings and unbiased judgment in the fear of God, for your prayerful consideration, praying that a careful search of the scriptures and the super-human light and wisdom from the Holy Spirit, may guide you to a right decision, and that decision lead you to feel more true rev-[85]erence for God, more filial fear of his displeasure, more sacred regard for the Holy Bible, and more genuine sympathy for mankind; and to cherish a more ardent love to Christ, the great Restorer of the world, and a more devout faith in his religion, which has the promise of the life that now is, and that which is to come.

  1. 2 Cor. 5, 10. Rev. 14, 10. 1 Cor. 15, 24—28.↩︎

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