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Preliminary Considerations

WE are about, reader, in a serious and candid spirit I hope, to examine together the claims and pretensions of Universalism, pro and con; we wish to be honest in this business, do we not? I do, and am disposed to believe that you do also; well then, let us make a right beginning, since much depends on starting aright, and except we conduct our investigation according to some kind of system we can accomplish but little to advantage, under this persuasion I proceed to suggest some considerations, which in the task before us ought to be kept steadily in view.

l. You, will admit that the scriptures cannot support two opposite doctrines as true, without destroying their own credibility; you will also admit that the contrary to what they do teach as true must be false; consequently, if in a single instance they sanction the notion that sin and misery will be of endless duration, it must follow that Universalism is untrue -- for universalism asserts the contrary. Now if this doctrine stands contradicted by one text in the bible, we must not think of looking up other texts for the purpose of sustaining it -- that one must be admitted as proving it false. See, reader, how I shorten business to your hand; you have now, in order to refute the doctrine of universal salvation, no need to furnish a multitude of texts, one will do -- only bring one that is plainly to the purpose, and the work is accomplished. Do you fancy that the passage concerning the rich man and Lazarus is to your purpose? or that concerning the unpardonable sin? or those that relate to Christ's second coming? very well, we shall see in the course of this investigation, and if they are, or either of them, your doctrine is then established. You, of course, are willing to abide by this rule? So am I, and, remember, it works both ways equally, if I can find but one passage which clearly <page 41> proves that all misery and sin shall ultimately cease, it must follow that they cannot endure to all eternity -- and then, reader, you are bound to become a universalist, .

2. When a book is somewhat obscure in its style, a knowledge of the authors character will help to a proper understanding of it; and it is unfair so to interpret the matter written as that. it will disagree with the known mind and dispositions of the writer. For example: Suppose, reader, that you should happen on a political work claiming to have been written by the venerated Washington, and several passages in it would bear the construction, that the author approved an absolute monarchy as the best form of government; would you not, from what you knew of the writer, at once reject such construction as unworthy of him, and as unlikely to be the correct one? Certainly you would; you would try if said passages would not fairly support a different sense -- a sense corresponding with the principles which the Father of his country espoused at the risk of his fortune and life; and finding that they would, you would most readily adopt it as their true and proper meaning. Well, then, treat the bible in the same manner; read it as a revelation of the divine dispositions toward man, and, recollect, that if it be so, it will not contradict what nature and providence conspire to teach of his perfections; thus reading it, you will not, methinks' arise from its perusal in the belief that it sanctions the dogma of endless suffering.

3. The figurative part of the scriptures should not be made to support a sense plainly at variance with that of the literal part. If it is unequivocally taught in the bible, that all men shall be finally redeemed from unrighteousness and reconciled to their: Creator, it is manifestly absurd to interpret certain parables and allegories as teaching the contrary. By a mistaken acceptation of the figurative language of scripture: Jehovah is supposed to be at times angry, sorry, and grieved at heart! he is thought to hate sinners; to take vengeance on them, to laugh at their calamities, &c! This is believed of the unchangeable I am! notwithstanding that these same scriptures distinctly inform us that God is love, Good to all; that he changeth not; will not cast off forever, is kind to the unthankful and the evil, loving every man, and will have all men to be saved! By a particular observance of the foregoing rule, and by making the plain and obvious texts a <page 42> key to those which are obscure, these apparent contradictions would be avoided.

4. Some religious theories are so absurd in themselves -- so at war with all our established notions of the fitness of things -- that to suppose them supported by the bible, is to believe the bible itself unworthy of credit, as a book of mysteries, or rather absurdities, with which human reason can have no concern; and the theory of endless misery I conceive to be one of that very character. Many sensible minds have rejected the bible, because they had been taught by their religious tutors, that this dogma was therein inculcated. For, according to this theory, God either designed the most disastrous results from the work of creation, and is therefore a Being wholly devoid of benevolence; or these results will take place in opposition to his design, which must imply that he lacked the wisdom to foresee, or the power to prevent them, and is therefore short-sighted or impotent! "Shall I believe this, or discard the bible?" is the inquiry of many a mind; to which I answer, there is another, and better alternative. Cast off the influences of a false education; and bow to the simple teachings of inspiration, which are a fountain of divine truth wherein are mirrored the ineffable perfections of Jehovah; you will then find, methinks, that they are not chargeable with' the lending their countenance to a doctrine, which involves a serious arraignment of all the divine attributes.

5. The scriptures must not be understood as authorizing a tenet, which by its very consequences is proved to be false; try that of endless misery by this rule, and it will be found, either that said dogma is unscriptural, or that the bible is in the highest degree self-contradictory; for allowing that it is taught in the inspired volume, we must then allow that it teaches the following incongruities -- the anger of God which is but for a moment, will endure as long as his mercy, which endureth forever! -- The works of the devil will exist after being destroyed, as long as Christ shall, who is to destroy them -- "God will wipe away ALL tears from ALL faces," yet shall unnumbered intelligences weep to all eternity! -- "The pleasure of the Lord will proper in Christ's hands," nevertheless, the pleasure of the devil will so far prosper against it, that were units will be saved, scores, possibly hundreds, will be irretrievably ruined! "Christ shall <page 43> see the travail of his soul and shall be satisfied," although his blood will have been shed in vain -- his mission undertaken in his benevolent desires exercised in vain, in regard to innumerable myriads whose redemption and recovery he undertook. The duration of the devil shall be co-eternal with that of him, who took flesh and blood, "that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil!" A large portion of that same world to which the bread of God from heaven "giveth life," shall, nevertheless, to all eternity continue under the empire of death! And although the Lamb of God taketh away" its sin; it shall forever-more remain sinful! God "will not contend forever, neither", saith he, "will I be always wroth; for the spirits should fail before me, and the souls that I have made." "But be will contend, and be wrothful forever," saith the doctrine of endless misery, "without at all regarding the consequences to the souls that he has made." God's pleasure is "that all return unto him and live," and his truth is pledged that he will do ALL his pleasure, still, it will to ceaseless ages remain unaccomplished! His will is to "have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth;" but an immense majority of these all men will be endlessly damned and remain in ignorance! In the resurrection God is to abolish the last enemy -- to subdue, or reconcile, all things unto himself; and to be all in all; but he will have many foes after the last is destroyed -- millions shall continue in rebellion after all shall be reconciled; and they shall be estranged and alienated from him forever, notwithstanding he shall have become all in all. To sum up, this dogma represents that Jehovah will be disappointed; his purposes baffled; his pleasure unaccomplished; that Christ will have died in vain in regard to millions; and, therefore, that he was not equal to the undertaking upon which he entered; and in which an infinitely wise God saw fit to employ him, that the devil will prove too strong for his destroyer and conqueror; that Christ's victory over Death, will leave to the vanquished many more trophies than to the vanquisher; that the works of satan, who is finite, will co-endure with the works of God, who is infinite; sin shall exist as long as holiness; misery as long as happiness; death as long as life; error al long as truth; and hell, for the final overthrow and destruction of which the word of <page 44> Jehovah is pledged; will be equal in its duration to heaven itself, which is the throne of God. And all this in despite of scriptural assurances to the contrary; and despite also of the means which God has employed for the fulfilment of his purposes, in the gift of his Son, spirit, ministry, word, judgments, &c!!! Who can believe all -- and more than all this? Can you, reader? If not, then impute not to the bible the teaching of so absurd a system as that of which these are the consequences. If you can believe all this; why, then, God help you, reader! your credulity must be quite sufficient for the belief of any absurdities which it may suit your convenience to adopt, or the interests of priestly craft to inculcate.

6. It is admitted that if a doctrine be of bad practical tendency, however plausible in itself, the divine sanction must not be claimed for it. This is a sound rule, reader, and I am willing to abide by it, are you? That the doctrine of endless suffering does not, on the whole, exert a beneficial influence upon mankind, is evident from reasoning a priori, and from facts. First from reason. This doctrine familiarizes the mind to scenes of horror and wretchedness more dreadful than words can portray, and must therefore harden the heart in the proportion in which it is believed; for it is an established fact that the constant or frequent contemplation of suffering tends to blunt the sensibilities, and to generate cruelty. Hence where public executions are common, they are witnessed with indifference. Hence too, the butcher laughs while in the act of slaughtering a lamb -- a sight at which those who are unaccustomed to it will weep; and hence, I may further add, the most frightful denunciations of almighty wrath, are listened to with perfect unconcern, even by those who believe, that millions of the human family, including neighbors, friends, possibly immediate kindred, will to all eternity experience its dreadful weight. It is also true, that cruel laws serve to degrade and brutalize those who are subject to them; hence in proportion to the sanguinary character of a government, are the barbarousness and viciousness of the governed; an on the other hand, a mild and free government will give birth to a virtuous and generous people. Now the doctrine of endless suffering represents the sovereign of the universe as a tyrant, who seeks to rule his subjects through their fears. "Serve me or I will <page 45> burn you," is the language it puts into his mouth, "for your finite offences I will be infinitely angry, and for your disobedience of a moment, I will punish you with the pains of an eternity." Is it to be wondered at, that such a system has generated so much driveling superstition? so much morose and gloomy fanaticism? so many whining, cringing, abject, self-degrading sycophants; who lie at the feet of an almighty power, professing to adore its every act, however unintelligible the object -- for the contemptible purpose of screening themselves from the weight of its apprehended wrath? Such, it must be conceded, have in all ages been the influences of this God-dishonoring tenet, and such, a priori, we should judge they would be. At the same time it is cheerfully admitted, that very many, by reason of their native excellency of disposition, have proved superior to these evil influences. These exceptions, however, do not affect the general truth of the rule.

Second, from facts. The world has experimented with the dogma of ceaseless woe for fifteen centuries. What has been the result? The founders and agents of the lnquisition in Spain, Portugal, and Portuguese-India believed in it; so did the relentless persecutors of the Waldenses and Albigenses; and the perpetrators of the St. Bartholomew massacre; wherein 40,000 were murdered in one day. And those also who lighted the fires of Smithfield. It was believed in, too, by Mohomet, who laid the foundation of his system in blood: and by his followers it was implicitly adopted, together with the principle that it si lawful to propagate religion by the sword. The worshipers of Juggernaut believe in it, and it lies at the bottom of all their degradations. And it is sacredly cherished by the Bedouins of the desert; with whom the power to plunder, constitutes the right to do so., What beneficial influence has the doctrine of endless misery exerted upon these? Scarcely a murderer expiates his crimes upon the gallows but he avows a belief in the dogma.

[Note: See for proof ninety and nine out of a hundred of the printed confessions of executed criminals. Such was the belief of Washburn, Hoover and Davis, recently executed in Cincinnati; and of Cowan, who butchered his wife and two children. An attempt was made in some religious party prints to deceive the public as to the opinions of the last named person; but unluckily for the publishers it was made too soon, i.e. before he was executed; and, therefore, there was opportunity for getting at the truth of the matter from his own lips. Being waited upon by several respectable citizens, and questioned as to his belief on this head, he stated that he had never entertained doubts as to the truth of the notion of endless suffering; he had for fourteen years belonged to a church, which makes this an essential article of faith.]

<page 46> And it has been ascertained that the inmates of our penitentiaries are nearly all of them the subjects of that faith.

[Note: A few years since the newspaper vituperations against universalism, on the ground of its supposed vitiating tendencies, provoked an examination among the state convicts of Auburn and Sing Sing penitentiaries, in order to ascertain whether this system of religion had influenced them in their choice of a criminal course of life. The result of the investigation was, that not a single universalist was found in either of these establishments. The author of this work visited the prison at Auburn two years ago; this is in the heart of a country abounding with universalists, and yet among its 800 convicts not one believer in this doctrine was included!!]

Surely if this dogma possessed the practical virtues which its advocates claim for it, we should not find a people vicious in proportion to the prevalency of its belief amongst them; but it is incontrovertible, that we do so find them, and therefore it has no such virtues.

7. "But in a matter of this sort," does the reader say? "it is a maxim of prudence to choose the safe side. Supposing it is; is it safer to doubt the divine goodness than to trust in it? Will God be angry with those who ascribe to him more benevolence than (according to your system) he actually possesses? And will he punish them for such an ascription? This hacknied maxim of prudence, has, after all, no prudence about it; we have no right nor power of choice in the matter of our belief -- we are bound by conscience, and compelled by necessity to believe according to the decisions of evidence, and, so far as it respects our eternal state, one belief must be just as safe as another. The catholic is deterred from embracing protestant principles by the consideration, that though the latter may be better -- i.e. more reasonable and scriptural -- his own are more safe. "You cannot be saved out of my church if my faith is true," saith he, "whereas, by your own confession, I can be saved out of yours; prudence then cautions me to choose the safe side." The Jew, and the Mahomedan, use precisely the same argument, each considering salvation sure in his own church, and uncertain out of it; and its foundation in all cases is the weak supposition that a dependence on the divine mercy alone is insecure. "God may be as good as you say; but then he may not; and it is the more prudent course to prepare for the worst, that in any event we may be safe." Shame on such distrust of the divine goodness! and on the systems of theology which tend to beget them!

8. We must be careful how we adopt mere arbitrary interpretations of scriptural terms and phrases, or we shall easily be <page 47> deceived as to the doctrines of the bible. For example; Walker defines the word redemption, "The purchase of God's favour by the death of Christ." Could anything be more absurd than the idea, that the infinite Being sells his favors and sells them for the blood of suffering innocence?! The scriptures everywhere represent the grace of God as being free, or gratuitous; but purchased grace can scarcely be termed free. Webster gives us as the meaning of damnation, "A sentence to eternal torment;" and he even refers us for his authority to Mark xvi. 16. Now it happens that said passage is entirely silent about "eternal torment; and that there is nothing in the connection which necessarily implies anything of the kind; consequently, both his definition and his reference are a sheer assumption. Three words in the original tongues, which are wide of each other in their signification, (I mean sheol, tartarus, and gehenna,) are represented in our common version by the one English word hell; and, until lately, it was not known that even this term has now a different signification from what it had formerly; insomuch that Christ could be said to have descended into hell." (See what is miscalled "the apostles creed,") without its being thereby meant that he went down to a region of torment, which is the idea now conveyed by the phrase. The English words eternal, everlasting, forever, etc. most commonly signify endless duration. The reader must bear it in mind that the scriptures were not originally written in English; the original terms which in our version these are made to represent, often to misrepresent, are not equivalent in their meaning, but require to be understood in each case according to the connection in which they stand; hence these terms cannot be relied on as sufficient, of themselves, to settle such questions concerning duration as may arise in the course of this investigation. But of these things in their proper place. For the present the reader is only requested to bear in mind, that his religious education has led him to associate with every biblical term a particular idea, and that this association is often incorrect, having grown out of interpretations entirely arbitrary; and, therefore that it is in such cases likely to lead; him to wrong results in his inquiries into the meaning of the scriptures. He is requested as far as possible to guard against the influence of this circumstance and, instead of leaning too much upon any authority aside from <page 48> the scriptures, to prefer making them in all possible cases the interpreters of themselves.

Lastly. Although it is freely confessed that mere human authority is insufficient for the settling of a question like the one before us, yet should it be found, that a doctrine now received as true, was not known by christians in the early ages of the church, the fact would warrant the conclusion, that said doctrine is not taught in the scriptures. What should we think of a politician who should set up certain principles as belonging to the Jeffersonian school in politics, and on enquiry it should be found, that none of the immediate successors of that statesman had ever held them? We should conclude with certainty that said politician was mistaken. In like manner, when a theologian starts a theory in religion, and we find it to have unknown by those who immediately succeeded Christ and his apostles in the gospel ministry, we are compelled to conclude against the truth of said theory.

It must not, however, be inferred from the above, that the mere age of an opinion entitles it to respectful consideration; for the early converts to christianity from the Jewish and heathen churches, brought many strange whims with them, which they were fond of incorporating with their new faith: and the notion of a dark infernum, populated with doomed spirits, which is the basis of our present theory of hell, was, without doubt, one of said whims. Whilst, then, the entire novelty of a doctrine is proof presumptive of its untruth, the mere antiquity of a doctrine affords no presumption in its favor. That the belief of universal salvation is not a new thing in christendom is evident from ecclesiastical history. Origen, in the third century, a distinguished father in the church, maintained this opinion distinctly; and although several of his tenets were subsequently condemned as heretical, this was not included among them, which goes to show that even at that early time, this doctrine was not regarded as a novelty. The fact of its not being then considered a heresy is of great weight in its favor, for, unlike the doctrine of endless misery, it cannot be show to have been derived from any system of heathen mythology; but, on the contrary, must be regarded as a tenet peculiar to christianity. Whereas the opposite doctrine, whilst it forms a part and parcel of most of the pagan codes of faith, was entirely unrecognized by the Jewish religion, which claims its origin from God himself.

<page 49> Many other important considerations, reader, might be suggested here on the threshold of this investigation, serving to show how very small is the probability, that the dogma of ceaseless suffering can in the issue be regarded as of scriptural authority: but the above, it is believed, are quite sufficient for this purpose. Of this, however, you must be judge for your self. "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good."