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does not require any future punishment, or that God will, in divers instances, fail to do what his justice requires." How well qualified is Mr. W. to point out the mistakes of others! I believe neither he, nor any other man, will undertake to prove, that it would be unjust in God to punish those who die in sin according to the strict demerit of their conduct.
"I will inquire," says Mr. W., "if we have any proof "that eternal punishment would be just? If it would be "just, I know of but three ways in which the justice of "it can be discoverable by us :
"1. From its being perceivable, by reason, that the "demerit of sin is unbounded; and, consequently, that "it is reasonable to conclude, that the sinner ought, in "justice, to be punished with inexpressible torments to "all eternity; but to.assert this, would be to contradict "the most evident facts, the clearest perceptions of the "human mind, that man is a creature whose powers are "limited, consequently, whose virtues and vices must be "limited; that there are degrees in sin, and ought, in "justice, to be degrees in punishment. The reason "which God hath given us must revolt at the idea of the "crimes of a few years, perhaps of a few days, being punished with the most exquisite misery, so long as "God himself exists. Such a doctrine outrages all our "feelings."*
I will not undertake to prove merely by unassisted reason that punishment must be eternal, since the question involves in it the consideration of a variety of subjects too deep for the most penetrating human mind to develope, without the aid of divine revelation: it will be quite sufficient to show that punishment may be eternal. But, it seems, "the most evident facts, and the clearest "perceptions of the human mind," are against its possibility. We may inquire, however, what those facts and perceptions are? Why, one is, "The powers of man
* Examination, p. 31, 32.
are limited." Very well; and what then? "quently his virtues and vices must be limited.” This A man may
is not so clear a perception as the former.
injure his body to such a degree, by cutting off an arm, or plucking out an eye, that nothing in the material world can make it perfect again; and since Mr. W. will allow that the soul may be injured, he cannot be sure that the injury may not be so great, in some cases, that nothing in the spiritual world can restore it to its former state. So that if man's powers be limited, yet the effects of his vices may be infinite. As to man's virtues, I think even the Universalists will allow that they are not limited in their effects. It will not be pretended to be contrary either to reason or revelation, that a man who has lived virtuously in this world should be happy for ever hereafter; and Mr. W., I dare say, thinks it is not contrary to reason, that the restored should have a degree of bliss inferior to that of the saved.* It cannot therefore be denied that the virtues performed by our limited powers in this life, are the cause of our enjoying a degree of happiness for ever, which, without those virtues, we should be deprived of. And if the effects of virtue may be happiness infinite in duration, then, for any thing which our reason can perceive to the contrary, the effects of vice may be misery infinite in duration also.
But, "there are degrees in sin, and ought, in justice, "to be degrees in punishment. Reason revolts at the "idea of the crimes of a few years, perhaps of a few "days, being punished for ever." Mr. W. here pleads for two rules of proportion, first, between the degrees of sin and the degrees of punishment; second, between the time of sinning, and the time of suffering. To the first I have no objection; for it is as easy to suppose the degree of punishment in hell to be proportioned to the degree of moral pravity in sinners, though the duration of punishment be endless, as it is to suppose the degree of *Examination, p. 44.
glory in heaven to be proportioned to the degree of moral virtue in the saints, whose happiness, Mr. W. believes, will be eternal. Now before I proceed to the other rule, I wish to ask Mr. W. whether a sinner will receive twenty degrees of punishment for ten degrees of sin? I know Mr. W. will revolt at such an idea: he will plead for an equal proportion, ten degrees of punishment for ten degrees of sin. I beg leave then to remind him, that reason requires his second rule should be calculated in an equal proportion also; thus, for ten years of sin, a man ought to receive ten years of punishment. I know Mr. W. will not plead for an equal proportion being applied to his second rule; but I know also, that any reason which he can assign for a different proportion will serve to overturn the rule. Should he say that a longer season of suffering is necessary to restrain sin, by operating as a warning to others; I then answer, that the duration of suffering is not proportioned to the time of sinning, but to the restraint necessary to be laid upon sinners and since Mr. W. cannot show that the threatening of everlasting punishment is more than a necessary warning, he cannot show that justice does not require endless misery. If he say, that a longer term of suffering is necessary to correct the moral pravity of sinners; then I reply again, that the duration of punishment is not proportioned to the time of sinning, but to the strength of sin; and as we have seen above, that the wound which sin gives to the soul may be incurable, it follows, that punishment may be eternal.
Once more, "Such a doctrine outrages all our feelings." True; but that is no new thing. Criminals are often outrageous under their sufferings, though, according to the reason of sober men, they are not too severe. The damned are outrageous enough, God knows! They are represented as gnashing their teeth with rage. But if our feelings are to settle the controversy, why does Mr. W, appeal to our reason?
My reason leads me to the following reflections upon the subject. Suppose a man to live in sin for "threescore years and ten," and then to go into another world. Since he continually abused his mercies in this world, it is just that they should be diminished, if not withheld in the next. Among the chief of our mercies we place our religious advantages: justice would therefore require a diminution of these. But if he went into the other world more sinful than he came into this, and if he there enjoyed fewer helps to virtue than when here, it is not only possible, but extremely probable, if not morally certain, that he would grow worse and worse. But his mercies might justly be diminished in proportion to his abuse of them. He might therefore sin them all away, and so be for ever unholy and since we perceive that, by the constitution of nature, sin and misery are inseparably connected together, he must, in such a case, be eternally miserable.
"2. If the justice of eternal punishment be discover"able by us, it must be by our perceiving that some principle exists in the Deity, which will render con"sistent with his character, the infliction of infinite punishment upon his offending creatures, for finite "offences. But from what part of his works, or of his "word, can we perceive that such a principle exists in "God? To impute infinite vindictiveness and implacability to the Father of mercies, who is good to all, and "whose tender mercies are over all his works, and who "will ever be what he is, seeing he is incapable of "changing, would be to suppose him transformed into "the veriest monster in the universe."*
If God cannot punish sinners for ever without being infinitely vindictive and implacable, then he cannot punish them for an age, without being for that age vindictive and implacable; but if God be also incapable of changing;
* Examination, p. 32.
and will ever be what he is, then he must either punish sin for ever, or not at all.
Mr. W. proceeds, "To assert that it will comport "with that justice which emanates from him who is love, "for him to be infinitely revengeful, and glut his vin"dictive fury with the inexpressible miseries of his "rational offspring so long as himself exists :-that infi"nite wisdom will please itself with breaking a fly upon "the wheel to all eternity, would be to belie every "thing which God hath been graciously pleased to "reveal concerning himself, and to utter the grossest "possible libel upon HIM who is worthy of universal ado"ration and praise.'
I think it would be scarcely possible to utter a grosser libel upon God than to assert, that he could be pleased with breaking a fly upon the wheel for a day; if we can think, therefore, that the cases of the innocent fly and of obstinate sinners are parallel, we may very safely infer, that sinners ought not to be punished either in this world, or in that which is to come. It is rather remarkable that Mr. W. has kept guilt and depravity out of sight in this paragraph. Perhaps he might think an erroneous and passionate address to the feelings of his readers would answer his purpose better than a fair statement of the fact, and calm argument.
I think we may "perceive that some principle exists "in the Deity which will render consistent with his cha"racter the infliction of infinite punishment.' Mr. W. "conceives that the justice of God consists in his doing, "in every case, that which is most right to be done by "infinite wisdom, power, and goodness, for the preser"vation of eternal order throughout the universe." And again, p. 35, "justice is the rectitude of infinite wisdom "and goodness." Now I am not without hope that I can reconcile infinite punishment with this representation.
* Examination, pp. 32, 33.