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Man’s Nature and Destiny

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    34 GOD’S DEALINGS WITH HIS CREATURES

    “SHALL not the Judge of all earth do right?” asked an eminent servant of God in the opening pages of revelation, Genesis 18:25; and when all is finished, the redeemed, looking over all God’s dealings with man, exclaim with fervent lips, “Just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.” Revelation 15:3. It is objected that we should raise no question regarding the justness of the doom to which God may devote any portion of our race; because we are not able to judge of his ways. Of things with which we are imperfectly acquainted, or which are above our comprehension, this is undoubtedly true; but respecting our relation to God, the light in which he looks upon sin, and the disposition he will finally make of it, he says to us, “Come, let us reason.” We are never called upon to form an opinion or a decision in regard to things respecting which we are incapable of judging; but we are called upon to reverence God, as a God of love, wisdom, justice, and mercy. We must, therefore, be capable of judging of his character, his mercy, his love, his wisdom, and his justice. Are these characteristics displayed in his future dealings with the wicked, according to the view generally promulgated by the churches of the present day? The question to be decided is this: Is an eternity of torture so intense that the severest pain a person can suffer on earth is but a faint shadow of it, any just punishment for any conceivable amount of sin committed by the worst of men, during the brief period of our mortal life? What is our present life? Something for which we did not ask; something given us without our knowledge or consent; and in the forcible language of another, “Can any abuse of this unasked for gift justify the recompense of an existence spent in unending agony?”MND 287.1

    Between the sins committed in this finite life, and the fiery torment of hell continued through numberless millions of ages, and then no nearer its end than when the first groan was uttered, there is a disproportion so infinite, that few attempt to rest that eternal misery on merely the sins of the present life; and they endeavor to vindicate God’s justice in the matter, or at least to apologize for his course, by saying that the sinner continues to sin, and that is the reason why he continues to suffer. The guilt of all the sins done in the body is soon expiated in the fiery flame; but then they must suffer for the sins committed after they left this mortal state, and commenced their life of agony in hell. And here they are represented as sinning faster than the inconceivable woe of hell can punish. It is affirmed of them, as quoted from Benson in the previous chapter, that “they must be perpetually swelling their enormous sums of guilt, and still running deeper, immensely deeper, in debt to divine and infinite justice. Hence, after the longest imaginable period, they will be so far from having discharged their debt that they will find more due than when they first began to suffer.”MND 288.1

    In like manner, Wm. Archer Butler, in his sermon on Future Punishment, says: -MND 289.1

    “The punishments of hell are but the perpetual vengeance that accompanies the sins of hell. An eternity of wickedness brings with it an eternity of woe. The sinner is to suffer for everlasting, but it is because the sin itself is as everlasting as the suffering.”MND 289.2

    Do the Scriptures anywhere thus speak? Do they not affirm, not once or twice, but over and over again, that the punishment of the future is for the sins of the present time? It is for the sins in which the sinner dies, not for what he commits after death, that he is to suffer future retribution. Ezekiel 18:26. The works for which we are to be brought into judgment (and for no others can we be punished) are the works of this present life. Ecclesiastes 12:14. And Paul testifies, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” 2 Corinthians 5:10. It is for the sins done by human beings in the body, in this present life, not for what they would, according to the popular view, commit as lost spirits in hell, that they are to answer at the judgment seat of Christ, and for which they are to receive a just retribution. And if everlasting misery is thought to be too much for this, we are not at liberty to throw in post-mortem sins to balance the excessive punishment. If eternal torment cannot be defended as a just punishment for the sins of this present life, it cannot be defended at all.MND 289.3

    To illustrate: Suppose, in an early tribunal the judge should sentence a criminal to a punishment altogether too severe for the crime of which he had been guilty, and then should endeavor to justify his course by saying that he gave the sentence because he knew that the criminal would deserve it by the sins he would commit after he went to jail! How long would such a judge be tolerated? Yet this is the very course attributed by learned doctors of divinity, to the Judge of all the earth, who has declared that he will do right.MND 290.1

    On the supposition that eternal torture is to be inflicted as the penalty for a life of sin in this world, were man asked if God’s conduct in this respect was just, his own innate sense of justice, not yet wholly obliterated by the fall, would prompt him to a universal and determined, No! The framers of different religious systems have felt this, and seem to have searched sharply for some avenue of escape from the fearful wrong of this horrid theory. So Plato had his Acherusian lake, from which at least some of the wretched sufferers in Tartarus, after a purgative process, might issue forth again to the upper air. Augustine, following Plato in his notion of an abode of unending pain for some, had also his purgatory, from whence others might find a road to heaven. Rome has only a purgatory; the fires of a finite period, for the millions within her communion. Origen conceived of a purgatory wider than Plato’s, Augustine’s or Rome’s from which all should at length be restored to the favor of God.MND 290.2

    The churches of the Reformation have generally accepted of Augustine’s hell, but denied his purgatory. In the Protestant denominations, therefore, we have this doctrine in its most horrid aspects. And it is no marvel that many who have felt compelled by their creed to accept it, have shrunk from its advocacy and have tacitly, if not openly, confessed that they could heartily wish it were a lie.MND 291.1

    Saurin, at the close of one of his sermons, thus speaks: -MND 291.2

    “I sink, I sink, under the awful weight of my subject; and I declare, when I see my friends, my relations, the people of my charge, - this whole congregation; when I think that I, that you, that we all are exposed to these torments; when I see in the lukewarmness of my devotions, in the languor of my love, in the levity of my resolutions and designs, the least evidence, though it be only possible or presumptive, of my future misery, I find in the thought a mortal poison, that diffuseth itself through every period of my existence, rendering society tiresome, nourishment insipid, pleasure disgustful, and life itself a cruel bitter. I cease to wonder that the fear of hell hath made some melancholy, others mad; that it hath disposed some to expose themselves to a living martyrdom, by fleeing from all commerce with the rest of mankind, and others, to suffer the most terrible, violent torments.”MND 291.3

    Albert Barnes, the well-known preacher and commentator, speaks on the same point as follows: -MND 291.4

    “I confess, when I look upon a world of sinners and of sufferers, upon death-beds and graveyards, upon the world of woe filled with hosts to suffer forever; when I see my friends, my parents, my family, my people, my fellow-citizens; when I look upon a whole race, all involved in this sin and danger; and when I see the great mass of them wholly unconcerned, and when I feel that God only can save them, and yet he does not do it - I am struck dumb. It is all dark, dark, dark, to my soul, and I cannot disguise it.” -Sermons, pp.124,125.MND 291.5

    Such is the effect of the doctrine of eternal misery with some, according to the confession of its own advocates. No one can say that such effects are either good or desirable. And why does it not have this effect upon more? We answer, It is because the lips only mechanically assent to what the heart and reason either will not try to realize, or else do not seriously believe. Says Bishop Newton: -MND 292.1

    “Imagine a creature, nay, imagine numberless creatures produced out of nothing ... delivered over to torments of endless ages, without the least hope or possibility of relaxation or redemption. Imagine it you may, but you can never seriously believe it, nor reconcile it to Gad and goodness.” - Dissertation, No.60.MND 292.2

    But the majority are affected by it far differently. Every better emotion of their nature revolts at the idea, and they will not accept it. They cannot believe that God is thus cruel, tyrannical, revengeful, implacable; the personification, in short, of every trait of character which, when seen in men here, we consider unmistakable marks of debasement and degradation; and believing the Bible and Christianity to be identifies with such teaching as this, with equal promptness they too are rejected and cast away. But here we need not enlarge. Probably no one will read these lines under whose observation some case has not come of persons driven into skepticism, yes driven and held there, by the popular doctrine of eternal misery, - a doctrine which has been well described by a Christian writer, as “a theology that is confused, entangled, imperfect, and gloomy: a theology which, while it abundantly breeds infidelity among the educated classes, fails to spread through the body of the population, and but dimly, or only as a flickering candle, enlightens the world.” - I. Taylor.MND 292.3

    But how is it with the view we have tried to present? - Quite the reverse, as our own observation proves. Instances have come under our immediate knowledge of persons who, when they saw the divine harmony of God’s system of government, as brought to view in his word, when they saw the just and reasonable disposition which the Bible declares that he will make of all those who will persist in rebellion against him, - a disposition in which justice and mercy so beautifully bland, have been able to take that Bible, and say for the first time in their life that they could believe it to be the book of God. And believing this, they have been led to turn their feet into its testimonies, and strive, by obedience to its plain requirements, to escape a doom which they could see to be just, and therefore knew to be certain. This has been the experience of many. Let, then, the impression no longer exist, and the assertion no more be made, that these views tend to irreligion and infidelity. Their fruits everywhere show just the reverse.MND 293.1

    Can it, then, be wondered at that we should be solicitous to disabuse the minds of the people in this respect? Shall we not have a zeal for the Lord, and he untiring in our efforts to wipe off from the book and character of God the aspersions which are by this doctrine cast upon them? God represents himself to his creatures by the endearing name of Love; he declares that he is very pitiful and of tender mercy, long-suffering and slow to anger, not hasty to execute sentence against an evil work, not gratified in any manner by the death of the wicked, and not willing that any should perish; he declares that he delighteth in mercy, that he will not contend forever, neither be always wroth. And can it be that while thus representing himself to the inhabitants of earth, he was kindling fiery tortures on multitudes of wretched beings in the dreary regions of hell, feeding their flame with his incensed fury, preserving and tormenting them in infinite indignation, exerting all his divine attributes to make them as wretched as the capacity of their nature would admit, and maintaining a fixed purpose to do this through the endless ages of eternity! If not, “what a portentous error must it be!” How fearfully is his character misrepresented! What a bold and audacious libel is uttered against his holy name!MND 293.2

    The root and trunk of all this is the “taken-for-granted” position that the soul is immortal. But search through your Bible, and see if you find it so. See if you will not rather be prepared to exclaim with the eminent commentator, Olshausen, that, “the doctrine of the ‘immorality of the soul,’ and the name, are alike unknown to the entire Bible.” (Comment on 1 Corinthians 15:19, 20) See if you can find the death that never dies, and never-dying soul. If not, we ask you to reject the idea at once as a most dangerous and destructive error. Men are thus rejecting it. The leaven is working in the public mind. Men are growing suspicious of the truth of a declaration, first uttered by a not over-truthful character in Eden, perpetuated thence through heathenism, and at last, through the medium of thee mother of harlots, disseminated through all the veins and channels of Orthodoxy. But the truth will work its way up, however deeply the rubbish may have been heaped upon it; and before the bright rising of its light, all antiquated superstitions and traditionary dogmas, will lie exposed in their native deformity.MND 294.1

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