By Elhanan Winchester
Friend. Good day to you, Sir, I was just passing by, and if you have a little time to spare, I should be happy to have some further discourse with you, respecting your sentiments; for although I cannot fall in with your views, yet I am convinced, that your mind is upright in the matter, and that you do not disagree with your brethren for the sake of differing, but for what you believe to be truth.
Minister. I have this to say, (and I can with truth declare it) that I never should have dissented from my brethren, had they only given me the liberty of enjoying that natural right of freely thinking for myself in matters of religion. I sincerely wish to live and die in unity with all that love God and keep his commandments; and I should never have troubled the world with my sentiments, had not great pains been taken to represent me as a heretic, and my sentiments dangerous to mankind: this was done to prevent people from hearing what I had to say in other matters.-- I was therefore, in a sort, compelled to sit down and answer all the objections that were brought against the truth I believed; which answers drawn (as I trust) fairly from the Scriptures, have satisfied many who have read what I then wrote upon the subject.
Friend. I never saw your answers to objections in print; but in our last conversation, you gave such answers to many questions, as seemed to convince me that much more might be said in favor of the general Restoration than I formerly imagined: but I have a number of objections remaining, which appear to me unanswerable; and which I beg leave to state in the plainest manner.
Minister. Do, my dear friend; you will give me pleasure by being free and open upon this subject; propose all your objections in the strongest manner possible, and I will give you such answers as have satisfied me in the matter; and I beg leave to assure you, that no light, trifling, or forced answer, far less a manifest evasion, would satisfy my mind upon this awful and interesting subject; and if what I believe is not capable of a scriptural defence, I shall endeavor to quit the ground as speedily as possible.
Friend. The words of our Saviour, recorded by St. Mark, ix. 43--49, form a very serious, and to me an unanswerable objection against the Universal Restoration.
"And if thy hand offend thee (or cause thee to offend) 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 (or that is unquenchable;) where their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee (or cause thee to offend) cut it off; it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched (or that is unquenchable); where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thine eye offend thee, (or cause thee to offend) pluck it out; it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire; where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt."
Here our Lord repeats five times, that "the fire is not, or never shall be quenched, or is unquenchable;" words of near similar meaning: three times he speaks of hell, as a place where "their worm dieth not;" and, to show the propriety of the sufferings of the miserable, he says, "For every one shall be salted with fire;" i.e. preserved by the fire, as salt preserves meat. These are the objections from this passage, briefly stated: are you able to answer them fairly, without any evasion, from the authority of scripture.
Minister. This is certainly a most terrible passage, and deserves to be considered particularly.
There is no doubt but Jesus Christ had his eye upon that passage in Isaiah Ixvi. 24.-- "And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases 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 abhorring unto all flesh."
It will be of use to us to understand when this prophecy shall be fulfilled: It shall be when the children of Israel shall return, and be settled in their own land; and their enemies shall come against them, and shall be destroyed, and their carcases shall fall upon the mountains of Israel, and shall be a prey to the fowls of heaven, and their flesh shall be devoured by worms, which shall not die, till they have eaten and entirely destroyed their bodies.
"Thou shalt fall upon the mountains of Israel, thou and all thy bands, and the people that is with thee; I will give thee to the ravenous birds of every sort, and to the beasts of the field, to be devoured. Thou shalt fall upon the open field; for I have spoken it, saith Adonia JEHOVAH. And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will give unto Gog a place there of graves in Israel, the valley of the passengers on the east of the sea; and it shall stop the noses of the passengers; and there shall they bury Gog, and all his multitude, and they shall call it, the valley of Hammon Gog. And seven months shall the House of Israel be burying of them, that they may cleanse the land."--(See Ezek. xxxix. 4, 5, 11, 12.) "And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem, shall even go up, from year to year, to worship the King, JEHOVAH, of Hosts and to keep the feasts of tabernacles." Zech xiv. 16. "And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith JEHOVAH." Isaiah, Ixvi. 21. And they that shall come up to Jerusalem, to worship the Lord, during the time that these bodies shall lie in the open field, shall go forth, and behold them in a state of putrefaction, a prey to worms; and all the nations of the earth shall see God's judgements executed upon those who dare rebel against him, by making war against the Lamb, and against his army.--Rev. xvii. 14. xix. 19.
It is also intimated by Ezekiel, that a fire shall be kindled, to burn their weapons of war, &c. which shall last for some time. Hear his words: "And they that dwell in the cities of Israel shall go forth, and shall set on fire and burn the weapons, both the shields and the bucklers, the bows and the arrows, and the handstaves and the spears; and they shall burn them with fire seven years; so that they shall take no wood out of the field, neither cut down any out of the forests; for they shall burn the weapons with fire." See Ezek. xxxix. 9, 10.
Thus have I endeavored to give the plain sense of the text to which our Lord alluded; and I have not the smallest doubt of its being hereafter literally fulfilled.
I will now endeavor to give what appears to me the meaning of the text before us:-- Christ threatened that those who would not deny themselves, and cut off those things that led them into sin, should hereafter suffer infinitely greater inconveniences, by being cast into hell fire. And, oh! who can conceive how dreadful a portion is threatened to some transgressors! that they "shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture, into the cup of his indignation! and shall be tormented with fire and brimstone, in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb:-- And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up ages of ages; and they have no rest day nor night." Rev. xiv. 10, 11.
Thus, as the enemies of God, who shall be destroyed near Jerusalem, shall have their carcases exposed, full of worms, and be an abhorring unto all that behold them; so those who are cast into the burning lake, shall be publicly exposed to shame,and shall suffer openly for their crimes; and the smoke of their torment shall ascend up continually, during those ages that the lake of fire, or the second death, shall continue.
But when I consider that this terraqueous globe itself is probably to become the lake of fire, when the elements shall melt with fervent heat; and yet after that dreadful scene is past, the earth itself shall be renewed, and become the habitation of righteousness; I can hardly have any doubts, but all the rational part of the creation, "shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption, into the glorious liberty of the children of God." See Rom. viii. 19, 20, 21, 22.
Thus, if the lake of fire, or second death itself, shall be destroyed, shall cease, and be no more;--there is an end to tormenting pain; though, perhaps, such inward reflections, shall continue for some time longer, (if not to eternity) which, though they shall tend exceedingly to increase the love of God in the souls thus delivered, shall fill them with shame similar, or perhaps more pungent than we feel here on earth, when we are melted under a deep sense of our manifold transgressions, and of the pardoning love of God at the same time. This seems to me to be the meaning of such passages as these:
"O my God, make them like a wheel; as the stubble before the wind. As the fire burneth the wood, and us the flame setteth the mountains on fire; so persecute them with thy tempest, and make them afraid with thy storm. Fill their faces with shame, that they may seek thy name, O JEHOVAH. Let them be confounded and troubled for ever; yea, let them be put to shame, and perish: that-- (our translators have added the word men, but the sense determines that the addition should be)-- "they may know that thou whose name alone is JEHOVAH, art the Most High over all the earth." Psal, Ixxxiii. 13, 18.
"The wise shall inherit glory, but shame shall be the promotion of fools." Prov. iii. 35.
"They shall be ashamed, and also confounded, all of them; they shall go to confusion together, that are makers of idols." Isa. xlv. 16. "And all that are incensed against him, (JEHOVAH) shall be ashamed."--verse 24.
"They shall be greatly ashamed, for they shall not prosper; their everlasting confusion shall never be forgotten." Jer. xx. II. xxxiii. 40.
"For thus saith the Adonia JEHOVAH; I will even deal with thee as thou hast done, which hast despised the oalh in breaking the covenant. Nevertheless, I will remember my covenant with thee in the days of thy youth, and I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant. Then thou shalt remember thy ways, and be ashamed, when thou shalt receive thy sisters,thine elder and thy younger (viz. Samaria and Sodom);-- & I will give them unto thee for daughters, but not by the covenant. And I will establish my covenant with thee, and thou shall know that I am JEHOVAH: That thou mayest remember, and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more, because of thy shame, when I am pacified towards thee, for all that thou hast done, saith Adonia JEHOVAH." Ezek. xvi. 59--63.
"Then shall ye remember your own evil ways, and your doings that were riot good, and shall loathe yourselves in your own sight, for your iniquities, and for your abominations. Not for your sakes do I this, saith Adonia JEHOVAH, be it known unto you; be ashamed and confounded, O house of Israel."--Ezek. xxxvi. 31, 32.
But the lake of fire shall go out, when all the purposes for which it shall be kindled are accomplished; and if so, then it follows of course, that intelligences shall be no longer tormented therein.
Friend. But when God says; that a fire shall not be quenched, does it not necessarily imply, that it shall never cease burning?
Minister. By no means; for we read in several places of Scripture of fires that have ceased, ages ago, that were spoken of in as strong terms as are used by Christ, respecting the fire of hell.
As for instance: in Lev. vi. 13, we read, "The fire shall ever be burning upon the altar; it shall never go out." This is a much stronger expression than if it had been said, "It shall not be quenched;" for it is said, "It shall never go out." But surely, it must be used with some limitation; for we know that it hath ceased ages ago. And we read, that Daniel prophesied of the Messiah, that he should "cause the sacrifice and oblation to cease." Dan. ix.27; but it would certainly have been a weak argument against Daniel's prophecy, that as Moses had said, the fire should never go out upon the altar, therefore the Messiah could never cause the sacrifice and oblation to cease; but it would be just as good an argument against Daniel's prophecy, as the words of Christ are against Isaiah's: "For I will not contend forever, neither will I be always wroth; for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made. I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return. That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.--Surely shall say, in JEHOVAH have I righteousness and strength; to him shall men come; and all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed." Isaiah Ivii. 16. xlv. 23, 24.
In Jer. xvii. 27, we read: "But if you will not hearken unto me, &c. then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched." See also chap. iv. 4. xxi. 12. Amos v. 6. 2 Kings xxii. 17.
Similar threatenings we find positively pronounced by Ezekiel, at the command of God. Moreover the word of JEHOVAH came unto me saying, Son of man, set thy face towards the south, and drop thy words towards the south, and prophesy against the forest of the south field, and say to the forest of the south, hear the word of JEHOVAH; thus saith Adonia JEHOVAH, behold I will kindle a fire in thee, and it shall devour every green tree in thee, and every dry tree; the flaming flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from the south to the north, shall be burnt therein; and all flesh shall see that I JEHOVAH have kindled it; it shall not be quenched," Ezek. xx. 42, 46, 47, 48.--See also Jer. vii. 20.
Now these threatenings were surely executed; for the people did not hearken to God; he did certainly kindle a fire, and it burnt, and was not quenched, but consumed Jerusalem and all her palaces; and the beautiful forests that were so much esteemed, shared the same fate. But what person will argue, that the whole city and country must be now in flames; and must have been consuming, from the days of Jer. and Ezekiel, because of these expressions, "The flaming flames shall not be quenched," &c. since we know that Jerusalem, and the country round about, have been since inhabited, and will be again in a more glorious manner than ever?
Neither will it help the matter to say, that we must understand the fire figuratively, for the angel of God, &c. for he declares by Zechariah, after the seventy years captivity, that he was "returned to Jerusalem with mercies." See Zech. i. 16. And though the present desolation of that land is compared to the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboim. Deut. xxix. 23, 28. And Ezekiel not only speaks of it as desolate and waste, but as having been always so; though we know that it was formerly filled with inhabitants: (See Ezek. xxxvi. 34,35. xxxviii. 8.)--Yet all the Prophets speak of a time to come, when it shall be much more flourishing than it hath ever been: and Isaiah says, "Whereas thou hast been forsaken and hated, so that no man went through thee; I will make thee an eternal excellency, a joy of many generations. Thou shalt no more be termed forsaken; neither shall thy land be termed desolate; but thou shalt be called Hephzibah (my delight is in her) and thy land Bulah (married) for JEHOVAH delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married." Isaiah Ix. 15. Ixii. 4.
Thus we may see, by these and many other passages that predictions apparently directly contrary the one to the other, may be all fulfilled upon the same land, people and persons, only allowing a proper time to each, without which we can never make sense of many prophecies.
Isaiah, speaking of the land of Bozrah, says, "And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch and the dust thereof into brimstone; and the land thereof shall become burning pitch. It shall not be quenched, night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up for ever; from generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it, for ever and ever. But the cormorant and the bittern shall possess it; the owl also and the raven, shall dwell in it;" (birds that cannot live in fire, pitch, and brimstone, any better than men.) "And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof; and is shall be an habitation for dragons, and a court for owls. The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the wild beasts of the island, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; the screech owl also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest.-- There shall the great owl make her nest, and lay and hatch, and gather under her shadow; there shall the vultures also be gathered, every one with his mate.-- Seek ye out of the book of JEHOVAH, and read; no one of these shall fail, none shall want her mate; for my mouth it hath commanded, and his Spirit it hath gathered them. And he hath cast the lot for them, and his hand hath divided it unto them by line; they shall possess it forever, from generation to generation shall they dwell therein." Isaiah, xxxiv. 9, 1O, 11, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17.
Now, in this passage, there are such things spoken of as are impossible to be fulfilled at once, without as great a miracle as was wrought for the three children in the furnace; and which there is no reason to expect will be wrought in favor of cormorants, bitterns, owls, ravens, dragons, satyrs, wild beasts, thorns, nettles and brambles. In the 10th verse we read of a period called for ever, wherein this land is to be on fire and is not to be quenched, night nor day; and the smoke of it is to ascend up for ever; but in the 17th verse it is said, that the before mentioned birds and beasts shall possess it for ever, even from generation to generation shall they dwell therein. But one of these periods must end, before the other can begin; the fire must cease to burn, and the smoke to ascend, before beasts can take up their constant dwelling there, and birds can lay and hatch, and gather their young ones under their shadow, and enjoy the society of their mates. And thus the whole prophecy may be fulfilled; not in the same, but in different periods: and thus also, may all the threatenings, and all the promises, in the sacred book be accomplished; not at once, but each in their season.
It appears evident, that our Lord, by alluding to a fire that shall burn on earth, and to worms that shall devour the flesh of the slain, could not mean to prove the torments of men to be absolutely endless; at least, the expressions of the worm that dieth not, and the fire that is not quenched, do not necessarily imply it; which has been sufficiently proved, by the passages where the same or similar expressions are used, where yet the subject cannot intend endless duration; and this is all that can be necessary to prove at present.
As to the expression of being salted with fire, as every sacrifice was salted with salt; I am not so clear, what might have been our Saviour's intent in this expression; but I think, in the first place, he intended to teach us, that they should not be annihilated by the fire, but preserved therein, to be tormented day and night, in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb, during the ages of ages. I would also propose, whether our Lord did not mean to intimate, that even the fire itself shall be of use under his direction, to humble, subdue and penetrate the stubborn and disobedient rebels, that shall be cast into it. Fire, as well as salt, is a great purifier; and preserves and cleanses those things which are able to endure it; and is the great agent by which all metals are separated from their dross, and prepared for the use for which they were designed. Under the law, all unclean things, that could endure the fire, were ordered to be cast into it, in order to their cleansing.
Friend. What you have said concerning the fires that are represented as unquenchable, in several passages of Scripture, is worthy of attention; but you should consider, that these fires were all on earth, and in time, and therefore must have an end, or cease to burn; but the fire of hell is in eternity, and therefore must last as long as eternity shall endure. Pray, what can you say to this?
Minister. Had those unquenchable fires never gone out while earth endured, or while time lasted, there might have been some force in this argument; but since the continuance of the fire does not depend upon the season in which it is kindled, but upon the combustibles that feed and support it, this can be no objection: therefore, since those unquenchable fires that have been mentioned, were kindled on earth, and yet not burn while earth lasted, but have gone out long ago; there is no necessity of granting (even tho' we should admit your premises of the fire of hell being kindled in eternity) that the unquenchable fire of the burning lake must unavoidably burn to all eternity merely because it is supposed to belong to that state: but if punishments only belong to those ages of ages before Christ shall resign the kingdom to the Father, and the lake of fire shall be this terraqueous globe, dissolved, or melted, with fervent heat; then the ground is changed, and the whole objection vanishes of course,
Friend. As you have come over this objection better than I expected you could, I shall leave it for the present, and consider more fully, when I am by myself, what you have said upon this subject; and shall now propose the greatest objection that can be brought against the Restoration of all men, from the Scriptures; and which, if you can fairly answer, I shall be almost persuaded to believe with you; but I am persuaded that you will be hard put to it.
Minister. Produce your cause, and bring forth your strong reasons, that we may hear them; and if I am silenced, I will not be ashamed to acknowledge it with all my heart.
Friend. I shall bring my objection from the Scriptures, and state it with the utmost precision that I am able: It is the sin against the Holy Ghost, of which our Saviour speaks in the most awful manner; saying, "Wherefore I say unto you, all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men; but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall (or may) be forgiven him;-- but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world(or age) neither in the world (or age) to come. Verily, I say unto you, all sins shall (or may) be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme; but he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost, hath never forgiveness, (or hath not forgiveness to the age) but is in danger of eternal damnation." St. Matth. xii. 31, 32. St. Mark, iii. 28, 29. This is such a matter of importance, that three of the evangelists notice it. St. Luke hath it thus: "And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall (or may) be forgiven him;-- but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven." St. Luke, xii. 10. St. Matthew saith, this sin shall not be forgiven in this world, nor in that to come; St. Mark, that such an one hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation; and St. Luke positively saith, it shall not be forgiven: and to confirm the matter still more, if possible, St. Paul saith, "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come; if they shall fall away, (or, and have fallen away) to renew them again to repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. For if we sin wilfully, after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgement, and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. lie that despised Moses's law, died without mercy, by the mouth of two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?" Heb. vi. 4, 5, 6. x. 26, 27, 28, 29. And the same Apostle directs us, saying; "Looking diligently, lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled: lest there be any fornicator, or profane persons, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterwards, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected; for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it with tears." Hebrews xii. 15,16, I7.
And St. John the beloved disciple, says; "If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it." 1. John v. 16.
Now here is a sin for which there is no forgiveness, neither in this world (or age) or in that to come; which shall not be forgiven at all; he that committeth it hath never forgiveness, is in danger of eternal damnation; he cannot be renewed again to repentance, because he hath crucified Christ to himself afresh, and hath put him to an open shame; having sinned wilfully and maliciously, after receiving the knowledge of the truth, to such no more sacrifice for sins remaineth: judgement and fiery indignation are his certain portion, he is an adversary, and must be devoured; a sorer punishment than death without mercy awaits him, of which he is worthy, for that he hath trodden under foot the Son of God, the only Saviour, and hath counted the precious blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, and which alone is able to cleanse from sin, an unholy thing; and hath done despite to the Spirit of grace, which is only able to renew the heart, and therefore the case of such must be desperate; for if such an one like Esau, should wish to repent and gain what he had lost, it could not be, for he would find no place for repentance, though he might seek it carefully with tears; for having commit- ted the sin unto death, for which no prayer is to be made, no intercession offered up, he is bound over to the second death, the lake of fire and brimstone, and must bear the punishment of his sins for ever and ever!!! What say you to this?
Minister. As when Nebuchadnezzar told Daniel his dream, he was astonished for one hour at the greatness of the punishment which he saw would inevitably come upon the King; much more must all those be, who read and consider these dreadful threatenings which must surely come upon all those who have sinned in the manner described! I shall make a few observations upon these most terrible passages of Scripture; partly to prevent feeble minds from falling into despair, that may see them collected in one striking view; partly to cure proud minds of presumption; and partly to shew that the doctrine of the Restoration may be defended, notwithstanding.
1. We are sure that the scribes and Pharisees of our Saviour's time, who blasphemously ascribed his miracles to the power of the devil, did, in the most direct and undeniable manner, commit that sin, and some are doubtful whether it can be committed by any in these days.-
2. It is generally acknowledged, that the Hebrews were in danger of committing that sin, by openly and wilfully apostatizing from Christianity, and publicly renouncing Christ and his salvation, and blaspheming against the Holy Ghost after having been partakers of its extraordinary gifts.
3. It cannot be committed by ignorant persons, nor without a considerable degree of malice prepense; light in the understanding, and malice in the heart, are necessary ingredients of this dreadful crime; and it appears to me, it must be committed openly, and that it cannot be committed in thought only.
4. Under the Levitical dispensation there were many unpardonable sins-- crimes that could not be forgiven or overlooked, and for which no atonement could be made, and which were punished with death, without mercy; other crimes, unless sacrifices were offered, and repentance took place, subjected the parties to death also: but under the gospel, there is but one crime that is properly unpardonable, and that absolutely subjects the person guilty of it to the second death; yet many other sins are threatened with the same punishment conditionally, but they may be forgiven, and not punished at all; but this one must as certainly be punished with the second death, as murder or any other crime, was by the law of Moses punished with the death of the body without mercy or forgiveness. Forgery is the unpardonable sin of England; people frequently suffer death for other crimes, as well as this; but other offences are sometimes forgiven, but this never; it is always punished with death. This circumstance may illustrate my meaning. The sin against the Holy Ghost is an offence of that kind, that, either owing to its uncommon malignity (as is most likely) or some other cause, exposes the guilty persons to the age of judgement, from which he cannot escape by repentance, pardon, and sprinkling of the blood of Christ as other sinners may: neither can he be at present born of the Spirit, - to which he hath done despite; nor can he be reclaimed by any possible means, in this age, or in the age that is to succeed this, but is inevitably bound over to suffer the inconceivable torments of the second death, or lake of fire and brimstone after the day of judgement.
5. There is no kind of dispute between us, respecting the certainty of the punishment of such; in this we both agree: He that sinneth against the Holy Ghost, is in danger of eternal damnation, or judgement, or the second death:-- The question is, shall there ever come a time, when the second death, or lake of fire, shall no more exist? If this can be proved, the conclusion will be evident, viz. that not one shall remain under the power thereof to all eternity: Upon this, and this alone, depends the solution of this awful, interesting, and most important question; and I consider all other answers as mere quibbles, compared with this. And if it cannot be proved that a time will come when all that bears the name of death shall be destroyed, those who commit the sin unto death, must at least be allowed to stand as exceptions to the general rule: and, I am apt to think, the rule itself will be overthrown. I shall therefore labor this point a little; and if I should be so happy as to prove to your satisfaction the total destruction of death, it will answer many other objections as well as this. My only refuge is scripture; if that fails me, I shall not presume to pursue the subject farther.
Isa. xxv. 8. "He will swallow up Death in victory; and Adonai JEHOVAH will wipe away tears from off all faces." Hos. xiii. 14. "I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death, O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, (or hell) I will be thy destruction. Repentance shall be hid from mine eyes." 1.Cor. xv. 26. "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is Death"-- or rather, as the words may more properly be arranged, "Death," the last enemy, shall be destroyed." The second death is infinitely more the enemy of man than the first, and may therefore be considered as an enemy which God will destroy.
Now, if the last enemy shall be destroyed, there will not be one left.
But the first is true; therefore also the last. As, would it not be highly absurd to say, that, although the very last enemy shall be destroyed, yet, many millions shall remain to all eternity?
Verse 56. "The sting of Death is sin." While sin remains in existence, death will be able to show its sting; but the time will come when death shall have no sting to boast of; therefore sin, and consequently death of every kind, shall be destroyed. 1 John iii. 3. "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil." Unless Christ finally destroys the works of the devil, even all sin out of the universe, his purpose must be eternally frustrated.
But the last can never be; therefore the first is true.
Heb. ii. 14. "Forasmuch, then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil."-- Now what death has the devil power over? The death of the body? Or that of the soul, which consists in enmity against God, and separation from him? "To be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." Rom. viii. 6,7. If this death with the consequence of it, is that which the devil hath the power of, then must this death be destroyed.
But, I think, the first is true; therefore also the last.
Rev. xxi. 4. We read, "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more Death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away." Here is a state spoken of beyond all death; a state wherein, sorrow, crying, and pain shall be no more. This state is contemporary with the new heaven and earth, after the lake of fire hath ceased.
Friend. We have always understood this passage to relate to the death of the body, and even to the death of the righteous only; but making this state cotempornry with the new heavens and earth, seems to throw new light upon the subject.
Minister. Most certainly the word Death here implies the second death; for we are informed, in the foregoing chapter, of the first resurrection even that of the martyrs who were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of od; and such as had not worshiped the beast and his image, neither had received his mark in their foreheads, or in their hands; then we read of a thousand years between this resurrection, and the rest of the dead living again; after this, we find, that the dead, small and great, stood before God, and were judged; and such as were not found written in the book of life, were cast into the lake of fire, which is expressly called "the second death;" which as before observed is probably the earth in its melted state. In this chapter we find, that all things are to be made new; and Death is to be no more, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither any more pain. But this must be the second death, or lake of fire; for the resurrection of all the bodies, both of the just and the unjust, had been spoken of before.
Thus, as all sin, and all that bear the name of death shall be entirely destroyed at last; the doctrine of endless misery seems to fall to the ground, or at least cannot be certainly proved from scripture, but rather the contrary.
The time must come when all things shall be subject to Christ, when he shall destroy death, the last enemy, by destroying sin which is the sting of death, so this dreadful sin, as well as others, shall be no more. For if this was not to be the case, it never could be true, that "where sin abounded, grace did much more abound;" for it never would abound quite so much; neither would death and hell be silent when God should ask the great questions, "O death where is thy sting ? O grave (or hell) where is thy victory ?" for death could say, here is my sting, that sin against the Holy Ghost, which must endure to all eternity, and which even divine grace shall never destroy; I have, therefore, the victory and dominion over these sinners who have committed it, and will hold it while God himself exists. Then death could never be destroyed, nor swallowed up in victory; neither would sorrow, crying, and pain cease; neither could God ever he ALL IN ALL, in any other sense, with respect to them, than he is now; nor would every tongue swear; neither would all things wholly be made new; nor all the former things ever pass away! Neither could the universal chorus of praise ever be sung by every creature, in heaven, or earth, and under the earth, and throughout God's wide domain; and, finally many Scriptures would never seem to be fulfilled, in the fullest sense. Rom. v. 20, 21. "But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound; that as sin hath reigned unto death; even so might grace reign, through righteousness, unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord." Now, if grace shall abound more than sin, it shall be as universal and more powerful. But the first is true therefore also the last. If grace shall be as extensive as sin, and more powerful, all who have sinned shall be restored; but the first is true; therefore also the last.
What consequences must follow from the supposition, that some of God's creatures shall always remain his enemies! Either God created some to be miserable to endless ages, or must be frustrated eternally in his designs, or all must be restored at last, and made happy by love and free love.
The first is blasphemous, the second is dishonorable to God; therefore, the third must be true: for I cannot think of a fourth conclusion.
Friend. What do you think of the deplorable case of Esau, who, for one morsel of meat, sold, his birthright; and afterwards, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected; fop- he found no place of repentance, though ha sought it carefully, with tears?
Minister. He certainly lost, or rather sold his birthright; in consequence of which, he lost the blessing belonging to the firstborn: but lest any should be led to conclude from this, that poor Esau had no blessings at all, the same apostle informs us, that, "By faith, Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, concerning things to come." Heb. xi. 20. By this we find, he was blessed as well as Jacob; but in a less degree.
Friend. Do we not read, "Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated." Rom. ix. 13. Mai. i. 2,3.
Minister. Yes, most certainly: but then this love and hatred, so called, was manifested to their posterity, and not to their persons, in the manner described by the prophet; "I have loved you, saith JEHOVAH; yet ye say, wherein hast thou loved us ? Was not Esau Jacob's brother? saith JEHOVAH; yet I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste, for the dragons of the wilderness." This manifestation of hatred did not affect the eternal state of their souls, but their condition in this world. God declared, that Jacob's seed should exist as a distinct people to the end of time, but that Esau's should not; and this difference is evident; for the remains of Esau's seed were, in the days of the Maccabees, incorporated with the seed of Jacob, and existed no more for ever, as a nation by themselves. From Jacob's race the Messiah was to come, and all nations were to be blessed in the seed of Israel. In all these instances, and in many others, there was a manifest preference of Jacob to Esau; but nothing like positive hatred can be intended.
Christ says, (St. Luke, xiv. 26) "If any man come to me, and hate not his father and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple." But we cannot suppose our Lord intended positive, but comparative hatred; according to St. Matthew, x. 37. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me.
Friend. What you have said upon this subject appears to have some weight, and I will consider it more fully hereafter; but I must beg leave to ask you, how you get over that great gulph which is placed between the regions of Paradise and Gehenna, of which Abraham speaks to the rich man; saying, and besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulph fixed; so that they which would pass from hence to you, cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Does not this imply the absolute impossibility of the rich man's being ever restored?
Minister. You have asked me many questions; give me leave to ask you one, Do you believe, that Jesus of Nazareth was able to paw that impassable gulph?
Friend. Indeed, that is a question I never heard proposed before; and which I am not prepared to answer, without farther consideration. Pray be so kind as to give an answer yourself, and tell me what you think of it.
Minister. I believe, that with man it is impossible; but with God all things are possible. And I believe, that Jesus Christ was not only able to pass, but that he actually did pass that gulph, which was impassable to all men, but not to him. And he assures St. John, that he had passed it, and not only so, but that he had the keys of the same in his possession; for he saith, "Fear not, I am the first and the last; I am he that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore, amen; and have the keys of hell and death." And St. Peter informs us, that "Christ once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, (that he might bring us unto God); being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the spirit; by which also he went and preached to the spirits in prison; who sometime were disobedient, when once the long suffering of God waited, in the days of Noah, while the ark was preparing." And he also tells us, that we "shall give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead. For this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead," (in distinction from them that are quick) "that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit." See Rev. i. 18. 1 Pet. iii. 18, 19,20. iv. 5, 6.
Friend. You know, the common opinion is, that the Spirit of God, in Noah, preached unto the inhabitants of the old world; who, in St. Peter's time, were shut up in the prison of hell. But I must confess, it appears to me a very dark text.
Minister. If you only observe how particular the expressions are in these texts, I think it will soon appear that not the Spirit of God in Noah, but the spirit, or soul, of Christ in its disembodied state, is here intended. His body was doubtless quickened by his soul, or spirit, coming into it again: was it not?
Friend. It seems most reasonable to believe it was.
Minister. Then observe the next words, he went; here the idea of a journey to a distant place is intimated, the original word being expressive of an actual passage from one place to another, and is the same that is used in verse 22, for the ascension of Christ into heaven; so that he appears to have gone into the prison in the same proper sense, as he afterwards vent into heaven. He actually journied to the place of confinement, and preached to the spirits, &c. He preached the gospel, no doubt, not to men in the body, but to the spirits, to those in a disembodied state; not only so, but to the spirits in prison. Had they not been in prison, Christ would not have gone into the prison to preach to them. But, who were these spirits?-- St. Peter informs us, that they are those who were sometime disobedient; but this expression intimates that the time is perfectly past; as, "Ye were the servants of sin; for when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness." Rom. vi. 17, 20. St. Peter tells us when they were disobedient; when once the long suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was preparing. Here he evidently distinguishes the two periods of their visitation; one is called the preaching of Christ, by his spirit, after he was put to death in the flesh; and the other is called the long suffering of God, which waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was preparing. The long suffering of God waited upon them, before they were drowned, while the ark was building; but Christ preached to them when they were spirits in prison. They were disobedient to God's long suffering; but it is not certain that they were so when Christ preached to them; but the contrary is intimated in these words: "For, this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, &c. This cannot intend those that are spiritually dead only, but those whose bodies are dead; because we here find the dead set in opposition to the quick, or those whose bodies are alive, and not those that are spiritually alive; for we may observe, that whenever the words quick and dead occur, by quick, we always understand those whose bodies are alive; and by dead, those who have ceased to exist here.
Acts, x. 40, &c. St. Peter, in his sermon to Cornelius and his family, informed them of Jesus, who was slain, whom "God raised from the dead, and shewed him openly; not to all the people, but unto witnesses, chosen before God; even to us, who did eat and drink with him, after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify, that it is he, who was ordained of God to be the judge of quick and dead." And St. Paul says to Timothy, I charge thee, therefore, before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing, and his kingdom; preach the word," &.c. See 2 Tim. iv. 1. So, in 1 Pet. iv. 5, the words quick and dead are used in the same manner; and then immediately, while the idea is warm in our minds, the apostle gives us the reasons why the gospel was preached to the dead, (or the spirits dn prison) of which he had before informed us, and now repeats again, and assures us, that it was, that they might be judged according to men, in the flesh; or, as though they had heard it while they were alive in the flesh; but also, that they might live according to God, in the spirit. The gospel not only was, but is, preached to them that are dead, in a moral or a spiritual sense. It need not have been said; For, for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, if only the spiritually dead are intended; for it is rarely preached to any other but such. Why should it be said, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, if they were men in the flesh at the time when it was preached to them?
This passage proves the existence of the soul after the death of the body; for unless the soul of the antediluvians existed after the drowning of their bodies, Christ could not have preached to them in prison. But the dead being opposed to the quick in this passage, sufficiently, and even incontestibly, determines the sense.
With a little attention, we may easily be convinced, that Christ was not only designed to be a covenant of the people, (meaning the Jews) and a light to the Gentiles; which two descriptions, comprehend all the living; but also, to bring out the prisoners from prison, and them that sit in darkness, out of the prison house; which (if it be not a repetition) must intend the dead, as all the living were mentioned before.
"And he said, it is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth. Thus saith JEHOVAH, in an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee; and I will preserve thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages." Thus far the Redeemer's work seems limited to the earth, and respects the living. But the prophet goes much farther, and says, "That thou mayest say to the prisoners, go forth; to them that are in darkness, shew yourselves; they shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places. They shall not hunger, nor thirst; neither shall the heat nor sun smite them; for he that hath mercy upon them shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall he guide them." See Isaiah, xlii. 6, 7. xlix. 6, 8, 9, 10. Compared with Rev. vii. 14, 15, 16, 17. The words of the Saviour, as described by the elegant pen of Isaiah, (chap. Ixi. 1, 2, 3) seem to comprehend a great variety of particulars; all which he hath performed already, or shall execute in due time. "The Spirit of Adonia JEHOVAH is upon me; because JEHOVAH hath anointed me, (1) to preach good tidings to the meek: (2) He hath sent me to bind up the broken hearted; (3) to- proclaim liberty to the captives, (4) and the opening of the prison to tht;m that are bound: (5) To proclaim the acceptable year of JEHOVAH, (6) and the day of vengeance of our God: (7) To comfort all that mourn: (8) To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them: First, beauty of ashes; Secondly, the oil of joy for mourning; Thirdly, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called, First, Trees of righteousness; Secondly, The planting of JEHOVAH, (and ALL for this end)-- that he might be glorified."
Our Lord Jesus Christ, by his process, hath laid a foundation for the recovery of all men. "For to this end Christ both died, rose, and revived, that he might be Lord, both of the dead and living." Rom. xiv. 9-- He passed through all our states, that he might redeem us. He came down from heaven-- he was conceived in the womb of Mary-- he was born of her-- he lived in the world unknown-- he sympathized with us in our sorrows-- he bare our sins in his own body, on the tree-- he was buried-- he descended into Hades-- he arose-- ascendeth-- sitteth at the right hand of God-- and maketh continual intercession for us.
It seemed necessary, that our Saviour should visit men in all situations, that he might redeem them.-- The apostle informs us, saying, "Forasmuch as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death, he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them, who, through fear of death, were all their life time subject to bondage Heb. ii. 14, 15. It was not only necessary that he should die, to vanquish death, and to redeem us from its power; but it was equally needful for him to go into those places, where spirits were confined in the regions of darkness, that he might gain universal dominion, spoil principalities, and redeem the captives whom he had bought with his blood, in order that he might ascend up to Heaven, and open to his followers the gates of eternal life.
"Wherefore he saith, when he ascended tp on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.-- Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things." Eph. iv. 8,9, 10. "And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it." Col. ii. 15.
Thus our Saviour by his divine process, hath obtained a right to open the prison doors, and let the captives go free; and though the rich man was in torments where he could not get a drop of water to cool his tongue, and had judgement without mercy, because he had shewed no mercy; yet it is possible that, by the blood of the covenant, he may be sent forth out of the pit wherein there is no water. See Zech. ix, 11.-- The Lord Jesus is able to take the prey from the mighty, and to deliver the lawful captive. Isa. xlix. 24.
''Such as sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death, being bound in affliction, and iron; because they rebelled against the words of God, and contemned the counsel of the Most High; therefore he brought down their heart with labor; they fell down and there was none to help." This evidently points out the deplorably miserable state of sinners, cut off in their sins; having rebelled against God's words, and contemned his counsels; for which reason he hath shut them up in darkness, and in the shadow of death; in such a situation, that no power but his own, can give them the least help, much less release. Such circumstances seldom occur in this life; but these words are a lively and affecting description of the miseries of the future state.
"Then they cried unto JEHOVAH in their trouble, and he saved them out of their distresses. He brought them out of darkness, and the shadow of death, and brake their bands in sunder. O that men would praise JEHOVAH for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! For he hath broken the gates of brass, and cut the bars of iron in sunder." Psal. cvii. 10, 16.
This amazing deliverance seems to be described in such language, as corresponds much better with the deliverance of the spirits from their dreadful prison, than with any temporal mercies that are bestowed on mankind here on earth. "The righteous shall see it and rejoice; and all iniquity shall stop her mouth: whoso is wise, and will observe those things, even they shall understand the loving kindness of JEHOVAH," ver. 42, 43.
Those who are acquainted with the Divine character, and see his designs of mercy towards his creatures, shall rejoice in the same. They that are wise, shall observe these things, and shall understand his loving kindness; and that "JEHOVAH is good to all; and his tender mercies, are over all his works." Psal. cxlv. 9.
Thus, how impossible soever it might appear lo us, that the rich man should ever be delivered,, we must remember, that "with God nothing shall be impossible." St. Luke i. 37. "Is there any thing too hard for JEHOVAH?" Gen. xviii. 14. "Behold (says he) I am JEHOVAH, the God of all flesh: is there any thing too hard for me?" Jeremiah xxxii. 27.
Our Saviour says, St. Matth. xix. 24, St. Mark x, 25, St. Luke xviii. 25. "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." Whether the word here used, intends a camel, or a cable, it certainly implied the greatest difficulty imaginable, even amounting in the view of his disciples, to a natural impossibility, or they would not have been as the evangelist expresses, exceedingly amazed and astonished out of measure at his words, "saying among themselves, who then can be saved?" But though Jesus meant to represent the matter as in itself a kind of natural impossibility, and absolutely impossible to men; yet he could not intend thereby, that it never should be accomplished, because he immediately adds, "with men this is impossible; but not with God. For with God all things are possible." St. Mark, x. 27. Therefore, though it was impossible for men to pass the gulph between Paradise and Gehenna; yet as we have seen, Christ was able, and therefore as we know not the ne plus ultra of his power to save, we cannot positively conclude against the Restoration, from this instance of the rich man, unless we could find some passages o Scripture, where God has promised never to restore, or to reconcile such to himself, whom he hath once cast off; the contrary to which, I think, may be proved; but I am at present considering, that, in the nature of things, it is not impossible for God to restore the rich man, if he so pleases; and consequently others that are in the same situation.
Behold the rich man in another world-- He seems now to have much more true benevolence in him, than in his life time; for when he could not obtain a drop of water for his tongue, he pleads much more earnestly for Lazarus to be sent to his five brethren, to testify to them, lest they also should come into the same place of torment with himself. Here he urges the matter most earnestly; and does not seem willing to be denied. This shows him not to have been so lost to virtue as Satan; since he and his angels, though miserable themselves, seek to make all men so too, though their torments are increased thereby.
Add to all this, that Abraham called the rich man, "Son" and bade him remember, that in his life time he had his good things; and likewise Lazarus, evil things; and that therefore it was but reasonable that the scene should be changed; that Lazarus should be comforted, and he tormented. And I think, nothing can be fairly argued from this case, in favor of endless damnation: For in this case if he was doomed to suffer while God exists, there could be no proportion between the sufferings, torments and evil things of Lazarus on earth, and those which he endured in hell; whereas it is intimated in the Scriptures, that all things are determined by number, weight and measure.-- Let us hear what our Lord, has said upon the subject. St. Luke xii, 47, 48. "And that servant who knew his Lord's will and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with MANY stripes. But he that knew not and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with FEW stripes; for unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required; and to. whom men have committed much, of him, they will ask the more," But what difference,, so lauch to be noticed, could there be, if both were to be beaten to all eternity! Or how could either be said to have FEW, if there never was to be an end?-- Impossible! Rev. xviii. 7. "How much she (Babylon) hath glorified herself, and lived deliciously; so much torment and sorrow give her." All this appears just and reasonable. But to suppose a poor ignorant heathen, or a child of ten years old, will remain in misery as long as the most persecuting tyrant, or apostate Christian; seems to contradict all the ideas we have of justice and equity, as well as of goodness; for in this case, who can suppose that each one is exactly rewarded according to his works ? And especially can any think, that mercy has any hand in a reward, where there is seemingly no proportion? Whereas we read (Psal. Ixii. 12) "Also unto thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy; for thou renderest to every man according to his work."
Friend. Indeed, I could not have thought that so much could have been said upon that side of the case; and though I am not yet, wholly satisfied, I must confess, some of my great difficulties seem to he removed from what you have said; and yet there appears something very dreadful in the account. Pray, do you understand it as a parable?
Minister. I am most inclined to think it is a piece of real history, known to our Saviour, who was well acquainted with what passed in the spiritual, as well as the natural world; and who intended thereby to give an awful warning to the Pharisees, (who were covetous) of the dreadful condition of wicked rich men in the next state; and especially, of those who neglect or despise the poor.
Friend. I am inclined to think with you in this matter; and therefore, without any farther delay, I shall pass to mention another strong objection to the doctrine of the Restoration of all men; viz. the instance of Judas; of whom our Saviour says, "The Son of man goeth, as it is written of him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed; it had been good for that man, if he had not been born. St. Matt. xxvi. 24. St. Mark, xiv. 21. If Judas should ever be restored, how could the Saviour say, "Good were it for that man; if he had never been born ?" I think vou will find it difficult to remove this objection; for, if he is ever to be happy, (though after many ages) it will be good for him that he was born.
Minister. I cannot think that this is so strong an argument against the general Restitution, as most that use it imagine. It was a common proverb among the Jews, when any great misfortune happened to a man, or his family, to say, "Good were it for that man, if he had never been born." And thus our Saviour used it with great propriety respecting Judas; for who that thinks with any reason at all, would not have wished that he had never been born, rather than to have betrayed the dear Redeemer.
Friend. But can any thing less than endless damnation be sufficient to justify the expression of "Good were it for that man, that he had never been born."
Minister. I am of opinion that even worldly troubles (short as they are) may sufficiently justify the expression. There are a thousand circumstances into which the children of Adam fall, that make their case infinitely worse than though they had never been born, even without supposing a state of future punishment at all. I had rather, a thousand times, never have been born, than to have betrayed Christ, even upon the supposition that I had never been doomed to suffer for it beyond this life.-- Job, When he had lost his substance, his children, and his ease, opened his mouth, and, through excess of grief cursed the day of his birth; though it does not appear that he had any fear of future damnation, but the reverse.
And Job spake, and said, "Let the day perish wherein I was born; and the night in which it was said, there is a man-child conceived. Let that day be darkness; let not God regard it from above; neither let the light shine upon it. Let darkness and the shadow of death stain it; let a cloud dwell upon it; let the blackness of day terrify it. As for that night, let darkness seize upon it; let it not be joined unto the days of the year; let it not come into the number of months. Lo! let that night be solitary; let no joyful voice come therein. Let them curse it that curse the day, who are ready to raise up in their mourning.-- Let the stars of the twilight thereof be dark; let it look for light, but have none; neither let it sec the dawning of the day; because it shut not up the doors of my mother's womb, nor hid sorrow irom mine eyes. Why died I not from the womb? Why did not I give up the ghost, when I came out of the belly? Why did the knees prevent me? or, why the breast that I should suck? For now should I have been still, and been quiet; I should have slept; then had I been at rest, with kings and counsellors of the earth, who built desolate places for themselves; or with princes, that had gold, who rilled their houses with silver: or, as an hidden, untimely birth, I had not been; as infants, who never saw light. There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest. There the prisoners rest together; they hear not the voice of the oppressor. The small and great are there; and the servant is free from his master." See Job, iii. 2--10.
From this discourse, it seems, that Job thought it would have been better for him never to have been born than to have fallen into such sore troubles in this present life, without taking the other into his account;, but if he had known that he had been doomed to suffer the amazing torments of the second death, in the lake of fire and brimstone, what would he have said; Even upon the supposition that it was only to last for ages, he would have thought that his being bora into this world to be fitted for such a punishment, would have been the greatest curse that could have befallen him.
If Job, who could say, "I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth. And, though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God; whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me. He knoweth the way that I take; and when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold. My foot hath held his steps; his way have I kept, and not declined; neither have I gone back from the commandment of his lips; I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food. Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him; but I will maintain mine own ways before him. He also shall be my salvation. My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go; my heart shall not reproach me so long as I live." (See Job, xix. 25, 26, 27. xxiii. 10, II, 12. xiii. 15, 16. xxvii. 6.) And who could make such a solemn protestation of his innocence and uprightness, before God and man, as we find in the xxix. xxx. xxxi. chapters of that book. If such a man had reason to say, "Wherefore then, hast thou brought me forth out of the womb? Oh! that I had given up the ghost and no eye had seen me! I should have been as though I had not been; I should have been carried from the womb to the grave." (See Job, x. 18, 19) with what amazing propriety might Christ say of Judas, the traitor, who sinned in such a dreadful manner, and had such horrible guilt on his conscience; who died in black despair, perished in such an awful situation, in his sins, and, probably, by his own hands; who suffered the most violent agitations of mind, died under the power of the horrid suggestions of the great enemy of men, without one smile, or look of forgiveness, from Jesus, or even daring to seek it; whose sorrow in this life far exceeded Job's, (for Job had no sense of guilt, treason, and ingratitude; nor was he filled with rage, blasphemy, and despair)-- and who must probably have his portion in the second death;-- "Good were it for that man, if he had never been born! even upon the supposition that his torments are not designed to continue while God exists.
Jeremiah is another instance much to my purpose; who wished he had never been born, even at the very time when he knew that the Lord was his helper; only because he had been put in the stocks by Pashur, and had suffered a little pain and shame in a good cause. He was not afraid of endless damnation, nor yet of any future punishment; for he thus expressed himself, in all the language of full assurance: "But JEHOVAH is with me, as a mighty terrible one; therefore," my persecutors shall stumble, and they shall not prevail: they shall be greatly ashamed, for they shall not prosper; their everlasting confusion shall never be forgotten. But, O JEHOVAH of Hosts, that triest the righteous, and seest the reins and the heart, let me see thy vengeance on them (or, thou wilt let me see, &c.) for unto thee have I opened my cause. Sing unto JEHOVAH, praise ye JEHOVAH, for he hath delivered the soul of the poor from the hand of evil doers. How strong his faith! how full his assurance! Yet it is evident, that he thought it would have been much better for him personally, never to have been born; for he immediately adds, "cursed be the day wherein I was born; let not the day wherein my mother bare me, be blessed. Cursed be the man who brought tidings to my father, saying, a man-child is born unto thee, making him very glad. And let that man be as the cities which JEHOVAH overthrew, and repented not. And let him hear the cry in the morning, and the shouting at noontide; because he slew me not from the womb; or that my mother might have been my grave; and her womb to be always great with me. Wherefore o came I out of the womb, to see labor and sorrow, that my days should be consumed with shame?" See Jer. xx. 11--18.
Here is not a word about a state of future punishment, much less endless damnation, and yet the good prophet Jeremiah thought, that if he had never been born, it would have been far better for him.
Friend. I must confess, I never before considered it possible to answer this objection; you have done much towards solving it; but you must consider, that both Job and Jeremiah passionately exclaimed, and, through sorrow, uttered such words, as, in their cooler moments they repented of; and therefore, what they spake of themselves cannot wholly set aside the objection. Had they delivered those expressions as general truths, and declared, that man had much better never have been born, than to have suffered such degrees of worldly sorrow, it would have more than answered the objection; but, when men under grief exclaim in such a manner,we cannot ground a matter of such importance upon what they say respecting themselves; as their minds, being overwhelmed with trouble, and the immediate sensations of pain, are biased, and cannot utter the calm dictates of sober reason. But Christ, though under great sorrows himself, saw the case of Judas so deplorable, that he expressed himself thus respecting him; which was the sober truth, without exaggeration; and could this be said of him, or if any other of the human race, upon the supposition that misery is not absolutely endless?
Minister. We do not find that Job or Jeremiah ever recanted, in their cooler moments, what they uttered in their sorrows; and our Lord, speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem says; "And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days," See St. Matth. xxiv. 19, St. Mark, xiii. 17. Not because of their future, endless damnation, in distinction from others; but on account of their present trouble and sorrow; as is explained, Luke xxi. 23. "But woe to them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days; for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people." And when the Saviour was led to death, we read, "And there followed him a great company of people, and of women, who also bewailed and lamented him. But Jesus, turning unto them, said, daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but for yourselves, and for your children. For behold the days are coming, in the which they shall say, blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck. Then shall they say to the mountains, fall on us; and to the hills, cover us.-- For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?" St. Luke, xxii. 27, 31.
And who would not, a thousand times, choose rather never to have been born than even to see, far less experience, the miseries which came tip- on Jerusalem and its inhabitants? Would it not have been better for mothers never to have been born, than to have killed and eaten their own children in the siege?-- and would it not have been better for the children never to have been born, than to have been food for their mothers?
But Solomon not only represents a state of great misery and affliction in this life, as worse than not to have been born, but also, a state of the greatest prosperity, if it ends in disgrace; for he says, "If a man beget an hundred children, and live many years, so that the days of his years be many, and his soul be not filled with good; and also that he have no burial; I say that an untimely birth is better than he. For he (the untimely birth) cometh in with vanity, and departeth in darkness; and his name shall be covered with darkness. Moreover, he hath not seen the sun, nor known anything: this hath more rest than the other. Yea, though he live a thousand years twice told, yet hath he seen no good!" (i.e. no equivalent good, to balance his disgrace.) "Do not all go to one place?" All came from dust, and turn to dust again. Eccl. vi. 3, 4, 5, 6.
The state here described by Solomon, is not only infinitely better than the damnation of hell, though limited by certain periods; but far preferable to many, if not to most situations of men in this life; and yet he prefers an untimely birth to a man who lives more than twice the age of Methuselah, and has an hundred children of his own, if he has not his soul filled or satisfied with good! and that he hath no burial, or has not honor, (credit, or reputation) at his death.
Long life and many children, were formerly esteemed as the greatest of blessings; but as the things of this life cannot fill the soul with good; so a man had better never have been born, than to have enjoyed the good things of this world in the greatest profusion, if he dies in disgrace, and has no burial, or is not honored at his death. Yet this is not worthy to be named in the same day with the damnation of hell! yet is frequently threatened as a great and terrible judgement; which if it falls upon a man, however he may have enjoyed long life, health, wealth, and all kinds of prosperity; it makes it worse for him than if he had never been born, according to the decision of God himself; and, therefore, no wonder that Christ said of wicked Judas, "Good were it for that man if he had never been born."
Though I have answered you so largely, yet one word might have sufficed to have answered the whole objection at first; viz. had Judas died before he had been born, and perished from his mother's womb, he would never have sinned, far less betrayed Christ; he would have entered into peace immediately, "where the wicked cease from troubling, and where the weary are at rest." In that case, he would have escaped the judgment that came upon him, and would have had more rest than those who should live in all the affluence of life two thousand years, and beget each an hundred children, and yet should not be honored at their death.
Some would have answered the objection shorter, by saying, Christ promised twelve thrones to his twelve apostles, among whom Judas was one; and therefore, he must be restored, or the promise cannot be fulfilled; See St. Matth. xix. 28. But this I do not insist upon; nevertheless, those who answer the objection this way, make an observation that may be worth attention: viz. that Peter, speaking of Judas saith, "Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein:" that is, let his mansion be reserved for him, let no man take possession of it: but "His bishopric, or office, let another take." See Acts, i. 20, compared with Psalm Ixix. 25. cix. 8. But I am rather of opinion that the desolation of the habitation of the wicked, and the want of inhabitants in their tents, respects this state, and is part of the curse pronounced upon all traitors: and may therefore, in an eminent sense, be applied to Judas, and also to the rebellious nation of the Jews at large: and therefore, as these words do not intend their Restoration, so neither are they any objection to it: for St. Paul applies part of the 69th Ps. to the Jews,as truly as St. Peter applies it to Judas: See Rom. x. 9,10. And yet he says, "I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: But rather, through their fall, salvation is come unto the Gentiles, to provoke them to jealousy. Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fullness? And thus, from the 11th verse to the end of the chapter, goes on to speak of their being again received, reconciled, and grafted again into their own olive tree; and that their blindness is only for a time: "And so all Israel shall be saved: There shall come out of Sion a deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:" That God's covenant, or promise, is to take their sins away; that they are beloved for the Father's sake; that the gifts and calling of God are without repentance: that, therefore, they shall obtain mercy at last: that for this very purpose God hath included them all (or shut them up in unbelief) that he might not only punish them thereby for their transgressions, and also, through their unbelief, cause the Gentiles to obtain mercy and salvation; but also, that he might have mercy upon all those, whom he had thus shut up in unbelief, without exception. See the whole chapter.
Here, then, are three designs worthy of a God of infinite wisdom, power and goodness, in this one dark dispensation, the rejection of the Jewish church and nation:-- 1. That he might punish them for their iniquity:-- 2. That others might come in their room, stand in their office, and be made partakers of their privileges; and 3. That they may be reserved to mercy and forgiveness at last. And what happened to a whole nation of traitors, might happen to an individual of that nation; and vice versa.
Friend. This is a subject of great importance, and if you can maintain the system you have espoused, and answer the remaining objections that may be brought against it, it will most certainly give me pleasure, and relieve my mind from great anxiety. I am a father of many children, and God knows the tears I have shed on their account, but could I receive your views with what pleasure should I look upon them!
But I have many remaining difficulties and objections still to propose; may God preserve me from error and false doctrine, I wish to know what is really the truth in this matter, for above all things I dread deception.
Minister. I assure you my friend that I should be as loathe to deceive you as you are to be deceived, and had I not the surest confidence through the Lord of the truth and reality of this most glorious system, and did I not find the highest satisfaction in it myself, I should never presume to hold it forth to others. But as I have an engagement that calls me elsewhere just now, I must beg you to excuse me, hoping that in a little time I shall have another opportunity of hearing the remainder of your objections; and in the mean time I advise you to search the scriptures, and pray God to lead you into all truth.