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with a just degree of punishment for the sins they commit; that every deviation from rectitude, even the slightest and the most secret, that every improper feeling and thought which is cherished, must bring with it a proportionate degree of suffering; must inevitably do so, unless the constitution of the mind and the whole frame of nature be changed; that those who indulge in the least degree in vice, must necessarily, in all situations and at all seasons, be the worse for it, and that if they continue in a vicious course to the end of life, both the nature of the case and the repeated and solemn declarations of Scripture assure us, that the pain they will be made to suffer in a future world, will be most severe and lasting ; to suppose that such doctrine will encourage sin, is to imagine that men can be enamored of misery, and that to excite them to any particular course of conduct, it is only necessary to convince them, that it will terminate in their ruin. If men cannot be restrained from vice by the apprehension of a reasonable and just degree of punishment, it is vain to hope to deter them by menaces, which they are satisfied are both unreasonable and impossible. To suppose that they will encourage themselves in sin, from a persuasion that the misery which they must inevitably bring upon themselves in consequence of it will terminate in their reformation, is to imagine that they are insane as well as vicious, and to
betray the baseness of our own hearts, by showing that we form a worse opinion of mankind, than the worst of men deserve. Indeed, it is hardly conceivable, that the reasonable and just, the solemn and impressive, sanctions which the Christian religion gives to the Christian law, would be attended with no greater moral benefit than it is to be feared they are, were they always scripturally enforced. It requires, however, but little acquaintance with human nature to know, that in order to render the fear of punishment availing in the hour of temptation, it is absolutely necessary to satisfy the mind both of its equity and certainty. The passions of the heart never were, and never can be counteracted, either by actual injustice, or by unreasonable menaces: and to teach that an eternity of suffering will be the consequence of the slightest offence, is to open the floodgates of sin; to deprive the mind of the most powerful motives to struggle against its improper inclinations, and even to stimulate it to the pursuit of the unhallowed objects of its desire, by forcing it to suspect the weakness, if not to doubt the reality, of the checks by which it is attempted to restrain it. Were there, therefore, no other argument against the doctrines of Endless Misery, and of Total Destruction, than that afforded by their tendency to lessen the sanctions of morality, by destroying the fear of punishment, this alone would be sufficient to justify a distrust of their truth. - The effects of the unamiable doctrine of Endless Misery, and of its kindred opinions on the temper and conduct, have been strikingly depicted by an able advocate of the doctrine of Destruction. “According to men's sentiments of God, and of the designs and measures of his government,” observes Mr. Bourn, in his Discourse on the Gospel Doctrine of Future Punishment, “such hath been the influence of religion on their temper and conduct. And if they have not framed to themselves a God after their own evil hearts, they have framed their own hearts agreeable to that false and evil character which they were taught to ascribe to God. ...And when they have believed the Deity to love and hate, to elect and reprobate nations, parties, or individuals, without reason or regard to the ends of good government, they themselves have become more arbitrary, bigoted, fierce, unmerciful, and more addicted to hate and persecute their fellow-creatures, all who were not of their own church, and whom they supposed to be reprobated of God. . . “It is hardly credible, that inhumanity and cruelty would ever have been carried to such excess in the Christian world, as they actually have been, had they not derived countenance and support from these antichristian and barbarous
notions. Tyrants and persecutors, if they have not invented these doctrines, yet have applied them to excuse to their own consciences, and to vindicate to others the most iniquitous and cruel proceedings: and when they have made the very worst use of their power in persecuting good men, at least men who deserved no such punishment, they have persuaded themselves and others that they were acting like the Deity, espousing his cause, and maintaining his character and his glory.
“The court of inquisition, as established in many countries, and as far as it differs from civil courts of judicature, is declared by the authors and maintainers of it, to be the nearest imitation of the Divine tribunal, and it is avowedly founded upon and justified by the doctrines of reprobation and of eternal torments. Jews, infidels, and heretics, are judged in that court to be criminals, and are condemned. And how do they vindicate this procedure, but by supposing them to be all reprobated and abhorred of God? And they execute them, not by a quick despatch, but by the most lingering torments. And what do they plead for this cruelty, but that it is an act of faith ; that they are doing the work of God, and that he will expose those wretches to the like torments for ever ? Thus they conquer nature by faith, as they express it; that is, they. extinguish all sense of justice and relentings of
mercy in their own nature, and harden..themselves in iniquity and barbarity, by the belief of those very doctrines we are exposing; and by them they defend themselves in the face of the world, and give a colour and sanction of religion to the most enormous wickedness.” The doctrine, on the other hand, which it is the object of the preceding pages to establish, discloses a principle which is more benevolent in its tendency, and which, were it properly felt and invariably regarded in the affairs of life, would have a happier effect on society than any other opinion which has ever engaged the attention of men. It leads to a distinction which is but beginning to be observed even by the intelligent and enlightened, and which, when it shall come to be general, will alter astonishingly the moral condition of the world. It leads to an exact discrimination between the criminal and the crime: while it inspires us with abhorrence of the offence, it softens the heart with compas. sion for the unhappy condition of the offender ; induces us to do every thing in our power to change it; to give him better views and better feelings. When we hear of the perpetration of a crime, we are too apt to think only of punishment. What suffering can be too great for such a wretch l is the exclamation which bursts from almost every lip. The sentiment is worthy of the unlovely doctrines which produce and che