Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

affirm, that no one can imagine it to be any thing but the tendency of sin to produce misery. But the infliction of pain, upon that which has a tendency to occasion pain, is the application of an effectual remedy to a destructive disease ; not the visitation of suffering upon something which is inexplicable, with a design which is equally incomprehensible.

If what is here termed demerit, and which is supposed to be something intrinsic in sin, requirė, as an equitable satisfaction, the infliction of a certain degree of pain, without aiming at the reformation of the offender, or the prevention of sin in future, its infliction with this view alone, is the infliction of nothing else but misery, the production of which is all that is done or designed ; a remedy, which, as has just been observed, is more malignant than the disease itself. It is vain to repeat that the object in view is the satisfaction of justice, not the infliction of pain : for this is to reason in a circle; it is to say, that justice requires that sin should be visited with pain, on account of its intrinsic demerit, and then to argue that there is an intrinsic demerit in sin, because justice requires that it should be visited with pain.

It seems possible, however, to go much farther in reply to this objection, and to show that the term demerit is without meaning, upon the hy

pothesis which is here assumed. Let us attend to the manner in which we come at the idea which the word expresses.

There is such a thing as virtue, and there is such a thing, of an opposite nature, as vice. Such is the constitution of man, that virtue must eventually promote his happiness, and vice his misery. In proportion as an action partakes of the nature of virtue, it is said to coincide with the object of this constitution, and to merit happiness : in proportion as it partakes of the nature of vice, it is said to be opposed to the object of this constitution, and to deserve misery. The very origin of this word, then, leads us to a moral constitution, which can have no object but the production of happiness, and the prevention of misery; and accordingly we find, that the degree of demerit in an action, that is, the degree of suf. fering it deserves, is always in proportion to the extent of the misery it tends to produce.

That all the Divine punishments are corrective, is evident likewise from every thing which we see or know of these inflictions. All experience is in favor of the doctrine of corrective punishment, and against that which denies it. To what example can we point, where misery is connected with sin, in which the pain has not a tendency to correct the evil ? Every passion of our nature carried to excess is criminal ; every passion carried to excess is painful. This pain is said to be

[ocr errors]

the punishment of the passion, now, from its having passed the bounds of moderation and justice, become criminal. The same is true of every evil propensity and habit whatever. All are attended with pain or inconvenience, which increases in proportion to the enormity of the evil. : What is the design of this constitution?. It is not possi, ble to mistake it. : It is not in our power to assign to it any other object than the correction of the excess, the eradication of the evil propensity, the change of the evil habit.

If, then, in the very constitution of our nature, we recognize this benevolent design ; if our own hearts punish us for all our deviations from the path of rectitude, and will not permit us to be at peace in sin, in order that we may continually follow after virtue ; .can we suppose that the punishment which the Deity will hereafter inflict upon his erring creatures, will have no such tendency;--that the pain which he makes the natural consequence of transgression is purely and highly corrective, but that that which he himself will bring upon the transgressor, that which by his own direct act he will superadd, will not be so ;-and that, instead of perfecting by his immediate and decisive interposals, the primary ob. ject of the constitution of his creatures, he, will totally abandon it, and pursue one of which he has given no indication in their nature, and to which nothing in their nature tends?

That all the punishment inflicted upon, offend ers in the present state is corrective, is universally acknowledged. Those, s therefore, who suppose that this will not be the case in a future world, must believe that the Deity will hereafter punish with a different design from that which he pursues at present; that he will change the object and end of his inflictions. But why will he do so ? :: What reason can there be to believe, that the purpose of Him who changeth not is thus mutable? The mode and the measure of punishment he may vary ; circumstances may require it of his wisdom, but his great and ultimate object, like his own most perfect nature, must be eter: nally the same.

But to arguments of this kind, other arguments tending to establish an opposite conclusion have been urged, which as this is a poiąt of capital importance, it may

be

proper to notice. Objection 1. It is admitted by the advocates of the corrective nature of pụnishment, that the

* The following objections and reasonings are taken from the celebrated work of Dr. Jonathan Edwards, entitled, “ The Salvation of all Men strictly examined," in reply to Dr. Chauncey. They comprehend all which any one can conceive to be important'in his second and third chapters, in which various considerations tending to prove that the future punishment of the wicked will not be conducive to their personal good, are urged with much acuteness.

punishment which will be actually inflicted on the impenitent, whatever be its amount and du? ration, is the curse of the divine law; but the punishment which leads to repentance, is upon the whole no evil, and therefore no curse, because by the supposition, it is necessary to repentance, and to prepare for the everlasting joys of heaven. Instead, therefore, of being a curse, it is the greatest blessing which Omnipotence itself can be stow.

Answer. If by the curse of the divine law be meant positive and absolute evil, it is true that there is no curse annexed to the divine law: for it has been already shown that there is no absolute evil in the universe, and Mr. Edwards himself, as ardent an advocate for endless misery as his son, quotes with approbation a passage in which the opinion, that under the Divine admin. istration there is no real and ultimate evil, is asserted in express terms.* In a most important sense it is true that the punishment which leads to repentance, is, upon the whole, no real evil, and that future punishment, as it is necessary to produce, and effectual in producing, repentance, and in preparing the sinner for ultimate happiness, is the greatest blessing which Omnipotence itself can bestow; nevertheless, it may still be called a curse, because in the language of Scrip

* Edwards on the Will, Part iv. Sect. ix. p. 370.

« PoprzedniaDalej »