Thou Art weighed in the balances, and art
-- Daniel 5:27
In this discourse, I shall ask your attention to the following question, viz. -- Does the Bible teach the doctrine of endless misery? This is a question of great importance. If there is a state of ceaseless woe, all should know it, that they may see the danger to which they are exposed.
I am aware that thousands, in this city, suppose there is no doubt whatever in regard to endless suffering. So confident are they of its being a scripture doctrine, that they look upon all who differ from them as trifling with things sacred, and wilfully rejecting the truth. We do not wonder at this. We know how such persons are educated. They are deceived with respect to the words and phrases employed in the Bible to describe the punishment of sinners. They read the Bible under that deception; and, therefore, they entirely misapprehend its meaning, whenever it speaks of the consequences of iniquity. Here is one of the great errors of the church. Remove this, and no man would go to the Bible to prove the endlessness of suffering.
Do you say, it is unreasonable to suppose terms have been thus changed in their signification? I answer, such changes are very common in language. Let me give a few instances. "Knave" once signified a servant; and in early translation of the New Testament, instead of "Paul the servant," we read, "Paul the knave of Jesus Christ." "Wretch" was originally, and is now in some parts of England, used as a term of softest and fondest endearment. "Villain" originally signified simply a servant or bondsman. "Hell" meant originally, concealed or covered over. Dr. Campbell says, "at first it denoted only what was secret or concealed, and is found with precisely the same meaning in all the Teutonic dialects." Dr. A. Clarke says, "The word hell comes from the Anglo-Saxon helon, to cover or hide; hence the tiling or slating of a house is called, in some parts of England, heling, to this very day; and the covers of books (in Lancashire) by the same name."
If these words have thus changed their signification, why may not others have done the same? It is not enough, therefore, to ask how certain terms are now understood -- we must know how they were used by the writers of the Bible. Grant me your attention, and I will consider some of the terms on which the doctrine of endless misery is supposed to rest.
I. Everlasting, Eternal, Ever, &c.
If we turn to the Old Testament, we find that these words are often used in a limited sense. "He shall serve his master forever." -- (Exod. 21:6) Here forever means during life. David says, he asked life of God, and he gave it to him, even length of days forever and ever. -- (Ps. 21:4) This phrase signifies only a long life. Jeremiah, speaking of the calamities to come upon his enemies says, they shall stumble; they shall not prevail; they shall be greatly ashamed; for they shall not prosper; their everlasting confusion shall never be forgotten. -- (Jer. 20:11) Now unless this was a limited confusion, how could the prophet say, It shall never be forgotten? To forget refers to what is passed. Jonah says, "I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; to the earth with her bars was about me forever." -- (Jonah 2:6) Here forever means three days and three nights.
If we pass from the Old Testament to the New, we find the word used in the same sense. Thus the Savior, alluding to the homes of the rich, called them everlasting habitations; and urged his disciples to seek the friendship of such, that they might be received to those homes. Recollect, these everlasting habitations were earthly houses. -- (Luke 16:9) The following expressions may be quoted without comment. "Such as was not, no, nor ever shall be." -- (Matt. 24:21) "Desire him to do as he had ever done." -- (Mark 15:8) "Son, thou art ever with me." -- (Luke 15:31 "A man told me all things that ever I did." -- (John 4:29) (See also John 8:35; 10:8; 8:20; Acts 23:15; Eph. 5:29; 1 Thes. 5:15; 2 Tim. 3:17; Mark 11:14; Philemon 16) In all these places, the terms ever and forever, signify human life, or part of life.
If we turn to lexicographers, we shall find that their definitions fully accord with the foregoing view. Take what they say of (aion) ever and forever. Phavorinus says, it means, life, existence, eternity. Grove: eternity,; an age; life; duration or continuance of time; a period; a revolution of ages; a dispensation of Providence; this world, or life; the world or life to come. Parkhurst defines it: duration or continuance of time, but with great variety. He then gives seven senses in which it is used, two signifying eternity and five a limited period. Jones is equally as favorable; he says, it means, everlasting; age; eternity; eis ton aiona, forever; a period of time; age, life, the present world; the Jewish dispensation. Donnegan says: time; a space of time; life time. Odyss. 5, 152, and 160 life. Iliad, 22.58, Hes. Seut. 331, the ordinary period of a man's life. Homer and Pindar frequently, the age of man, man's estate, Iliad, 24, 725, a long period of time; eternity. Schweighaeuser defines it: aevum, vita, age, life. Valpey: age; length of time. Hincks: a period of time; life; and age; the world, eternity; same as Latin aevum, which was formed from it, by means of the digamma. Hedericus says, it means, aevum, aeternitas, or age, eternity. Pickering: an age; a long period of time; indefinite duration; time whether longer or shorter, past, present or future. Schrevilius gives the following: aevum, mundas, saeculum, vita, or age, world, life.
This view of these words is confirmed by the fact, that the primitive Universalists, in speaking of punishment, used the words everlasting, eternal and ever, just as they are used in the New Testament. They threatened sinners with everlasting punishment, the same as Jesus and the apostles did. Now, would they have done this, if the words eternal, everlasting, &c., signified endless? Surely we must not charge such a man as Origen with dishonesty.
There is another fact. In Maclaine's Mosheim, we find a note which states that the original signification of eternal, ever, &c., was life, age, &c., but not eternity. "The word aion or aeon is commonly used among Greek writers, but in different senses: its signification in the Gnostic system is not very evident, and several learned men have despaired of finding out its true meaning. Aionor aeon among the ancients was used to signify the age of man, or the duration of human life. In after times, it was employed by philosophers to express the duration of spiritual and invisible beings." Hence the circumstance that punishment is called everlasting and eternal is no proof whatever that it is endless. The same rule which would prove that Jesus and Paul taught endless misery by this word, would prove that Origen taught it. And yet, that he was a Universalist, is unquestionable. Here, then, is a key by which to explain all the texts where eternal and everlasting are applied to misery. Late as the year 250 these words were used by Universalists to describe the duration of punishment. Consequently, not till after that period, were they employed to teach endless misery. Therefore, they could not have been so used by Jesus and the Apostles; and those passages in which they are coupled with punishment, can be no proof of its eternity. This argument, in our opinion, amounts to demonstration.
"Besides, those Greek fathers, who, on the contrary, did not believe in Universal salvation, and who began at length zealously to oppose that doctrine, never quoted the terms now in questions, against their opponents, but resorted to other arguments. I speak of the most ancient Greek Christians; those who lived before the fifth century.
The controversy between Universalists and Partialists, in regard to what the Scriptures teach concerning hell, has been reduced to a small compass. The principal texts on which they differ about this word are, "Thy whole body be cast into hell." -- (Matt. 5:29-30) "Able to destroy both soul and body in hell." -- (Matt. 10:28) "be cast into hell fire." -- (Mark 9:47) "How can ye escape the damnation of hell?" -- (Matt. 23:33) The word (gehenna) which in these verses is rendered hell, is the only one about which any controversy remains. The words found in Psalm 9:17, Luke 16:23, 2 Peter 2:4, are admitted not to teach endless woe. Our remarks, therefore, will be confined to the word first mentioned, (gehenna.)
This was originally employed to signify the valley of Hinnom, a place near Jerusalem. Here the Jews sacrificed their children to Moloch." (Josh. 15:8) The good king Josiah defiled Tophet, the valley of the son of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or daughter pass through the fire to Moloch. -- (2 Kings 23:10) He defiled it by having the offals of the city thrown into it, and burned there. It was also a custom of the Jews to burn alive there, the worst offenders against their laws. Those less criminal were thrown into the valley and left unburied. This was considered a great disgrace, and dreaded much by all the people.
By such means Hinnom became terribly obnoxious to the Jews; and, therefore, the prophets very naturally chose it as a figure of temporal judgment. They could have selected nothing more appropriate. And as the punishments connected with this valley were more dreadful than any other, it was natural that Hinnom should have been chosen as a figure of that great judgment by which the Jewish nation was to be destroyed. Accordingly, we find the prophets representing the destruction of the Jews by a figure drawn form this valley. Thus Jeremiah says -- "Cut of thine hair, O Jerusalem, and cast it away, and take up a lamentation on high places; for the Lord hath rejected and forsaken the generation of his wrath. For the children of Judah have done evil in my sight, saith the Lord: they have set their abominations in the house which is called by my name, to pollute it. And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart. Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that it shall no more be called Tophet, nor the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of slaughter: for they shall bury in Tophet, till there be no place. And the carcasses of the people shall be meat for the fowls of the heaven, and for the beasts of the earth; and none shall fray them away. Then will I cause to cease from the cities of Judah, and from the streets of Jerusalem, the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride: for the land shall be desolate." -- (Jeremiah 7:29-34)
Such are the two senses which gehenna has in the Old Testament. Here all critics are agreed. Let us pass now to the New Testament, and inquire whether it is there used in any different sense. The plan of our sermon will not allow us to take up the several texts where it occurs, and show from their connection, that they can have no reference to futurity. We have marked out a briefer course, and one which we think will be equally as convincing and satisfactory. What word had not acquired its present signification till after the New testament was written. And,
It is not used in the Apocrypha -- writings composed just before the Christian era. Its allusions to future punishment are made by a different word, (hades,) which shows that this word (gehenna) was not hen used in its present popular sense.
In all the writings extant in the period between the Old and New Testaments, future punishment is never represented by fire, but always by darkness, night, and death. This shows, therefore, that the word we are considering was not then used in its present sense; for all those writers that in after times employ it to represent hell, always speak of the place as an abode of fire.
Josephus, whose writings bear date between the year A.D. 70 and A.D. 100, never introduces this word (gehenna) in those passages where he speaks of the state of the wicked after death, nor in any other part of his works. This brings us down to A.D. 100; and we find that the word we are considering had acquired no new signification. Its meaning was the same at this time as among the Jews. Consequently, it has the same signification in the New Testament that it has in the Old Testament. [These facts are gathered from the writings or Rev. H. Ballou, 2d.]
Perhaps it will be argued that Christ gave it a new meaning. But I ask, on what occasion did he say -- "I use this word differently from what the prophets did. I mean by it endless punishment?" Such a statement was essential to prevent his being misunderstood; and, therefore, unless we are willing to accuse him of dishonesty, we must allow that he did not apply the word to the future state.
But I have another class of reasons to sustain my conclusions.
No person, in the New Testament, except our Lord, ever threatened the punishment of gehenna. We find nothing of it in the writings of Paul, Peter or John. They do not even warn sinners against it. James uses the word, but not with reference to punishment. Now, why this silence? Why withhold this great truth, if there be such a place of fire? Why not dwell upon it as preachers do now? Let the candid answer.
If the word denoted endless misery, why were only the Jews threatened with it? Why were not the Gentiles asked how they could escape the damnation of hell? Paul's ministry was chiefly confined to this class; and yet he says nothing of (gehenna) hell! Shall we say the apostles shrunk from declaring the whole truth? Why, according to the popular opinion, the doctrine we oppose is the chief means by which to convert sinners and yet the Gentiles heard nothing of it!!!
In all the passages where our Lord threatened the punishment of hell, (gehenna,) except in one instance, he addressed himself to his disciples. Why was this? Why not urge this punishment chiefly upon the attention of sinners? How unlike his course is that of the terrific preachers of the present day!
These facts are unanswerable. They show beyond all question, that (gehenna) hell did not mean, in the days of the apostles, a place of endless suffering. If it did, all the apostles would have preached it. They would have preached it to Gentiles ans well as Jews; and chiefly to sinners rather than saints.
The Truth is, this word retained its primitive signification, and was used by the Savior to describe the calamities to come upon the Jews at the end of their dispensation. Here is the reason why the Gentiles were not threatened with this punishment. It was not an evil to which they were in any manner exposed; and hence nothing was said to them respecting it. If therefore, any ever speak to you of (gehenna) hell, tell them that no word was used by Jesus or the apostles to denote a place of endless misery. Hell (gehenna) has acquired its present signification since their day.
These remarks upon the words everlasting, eternal, ever and hell, are sufficient to show the importance of going back to the primitive use of terms. We have found, by our examination, that the terms on which our opposers rely to prove the eternity of suffering, were not used by the authors of the Bible in any such manner. The authors of this book used the words just as Universalists do. With these facts before us, how easy it would be to take up all the texts in which these words occur, and show that they are misapplied when employed to prove endless suffering. But I have no time for this labor. Besides, it appears wholly unnecessary; for in the texts which read -- "These shall go away into everlasting punishment," and "How can you escape the damnation of hell," the proof of endless woe is thought to be in the words everlasting and hell; and, consequently, if those words were never used by Jesus in their present popular signification, the texts afford no proof against that salvation of all men.
There is another method by which we can show that the Scriptures give no proof of the eternity of suffering; and to this I will ask your attention for a few moments.
III. The Penalty of God's Law Is Not Endless Misery.
In deciding what the penalty of God's law is, we must look at those portions of his statute book where his law is published, and its penalties are stated.
A law was given to Adam and a penalty annexed. Now as Adam was the first man, and as to him God first revealed his law, it is natural to suppose that, if the penalty was endless misery, it would have been distinctly stated to him, in order that he and his posterity might know the consequence of transgression. But what was the penalty made know to Adam? "In the day thou eatest of the fruit thereof thou shalt surely die." Here is the penalty. In the day. Hence the penalty of the law is not endless misery in the future world; because it was immediately to follow transgression, whereas Adam lived many hundred years after this. Neither is the penalty of the law temporal death; for, in that case, God did not execute his threatening. It is, therefore, moral death, such as Adam suffered on the day he transgressed. We are told he was guilty, and hid himself from the Divine presence. This guilt is death. The sinner is morally dead. Moral death, then, was the only one which Adam experienced on the day he offended.
Cain was a great sinner. Without the least provocation, he slew his brother. What was the punishment denounced upon him? Turn to God's statute book, and you have the answer -- "And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel, thy brother? And he said, I know not: am I my brother's keeper? And he said, What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground. And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand. When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength. A fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth." Here is the penalty. Does it afford any proof that Cain was doomed to endless woe? Does it favor the common opinion respecting the penalty of God's law? Not the least. A vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.
When God was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, he said, "Shall I hide from my servant Abraham the thing which I do?" No; he would make him fully acquainted with the judgment he was preparing to inflict. But were did he inform Abraham that he would send those guilty people to endless suffering? Look at what he says: "And the men turned their faces from thence, and went toward Sodom: but Abraham stood yet before the Lord. And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked? Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked; and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee. Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? And the Lord said, If I find in Sodom fifty righteous withing the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes." -- Gen 18:22-26. Destroy the righteous with the wicked -- destroy the city. Does this favor the idea of endless suffering in the future state?
The penalty of God's law is thus stated by Moses: "But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes, which I command thee this day, that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee. Cursed shalt thou be in the city, and cursed shalt thou be in the field. Cursed shall be thy basket and thy store. Cursed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy land, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep. Cursed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and cursed shalt thou be when thou goest out. The LORD shall send upon thee cursing, vexation, and rebuke, in all that thou settest thine hand unto for to do, until thou be destroyed, and until thou perish quickly; because of the wickedness of thy doings, whereby thou hast forsaken me. The LORD shall make the pestilence cleave unto thee, until he have consumed thee from off the land, whither thou goest to possess it. The LORD shall smite thee with a consumption, and with a fever, and with an inflammation, and with an extreme burning, and with the sword, and with blasting, and with mildew; and they shall pursue thee until thou perish. And thy heaven that is over thy head shall be brass, and the earth that is under thee shall be iron. The LORD shall make the rain of thy land powder and dust: from heaven shall it come down upon thee, until thou be destroyed. The LORD shall cause thee to be smitten before thine enemies: thou shalt go out one way against them, and flee seven ways before them: and shalt be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth. And thy carcase shall be meat unto all fowls of the air, and unto the beasts of the earth, and no man shall fray them away." -- Deut. 28:15-26. Here is an enumeration of curses, but where is the curse of endless woe? It is not here! No man would ever adduce these curses as any evidence against Universalism. But why was nothing said of the great curse of all curses? Why was it not said God intended to punish these offenders with endless woe? Would it be right and good to withhold a knowledge of such a curse, when it was laid up in store for them?
These are important facts, and they lead irresistibly to the conclusion, that the Bible does not contain the penalty which we are considering. And so far as the Old Testament is concerned, this is the opinion of many learned orthodox writers. Thus, Bishop Warburton says: "Both rewards and punishments promised by Heaven were temporal only." Dr. Paley says: "This dispensation dealt altogether in temporal rewards and punishments." The same opinion was entertained by Grotius, Episcopius, Dr. Campbell, Bishop Burnett, Dr. Burnett, Dr. Hey, and Mr. Ludliem.
That we are right, then, seems perfectly evident. I wish now to ask, whether God could justly inflict a curse never threatened. Let us hear President Fiske in regard to this point. He says, "The curse cannot be more than is threatened, for more would charge upon God the injustice of inflicting sufferings upon his children beyond what his law requires." Hence, all who lived under the old dispensation are sure of salvation, for God is not so unjust as to inflict a punishment never threatened.
Do I hear an objector say, "The New Testament contains the penalty in question?" I reply, before admitting that, it may be will to ask, why a penalty, so essential, should never have been revealed before? Why was it withheld for four thousand years? Did God first attempt the plan of limited punishment, and find it necessary to change that for endless punishment? We should be truly glad to have an answer to these queries. Those who attempt an answer are requested to bear in mind the following facts.
Christ is said to have brought life and immortality to light; but never said to have brought a state of endless woe to light.
He is said to be the Savior of the world, the Savior of the lost; but never the destroyer of any portion of mankind.
His dispensation is said to be better than the old, and the covenant he established to have better promises than the Jewish. But how could this be, if he taught the eternity of suffering, while the prophets taught only limited punishment? Is endless misery better than limited misery?
When the Savior was born, the angel who announced it declared that it was a joyful event for all people. But why describe it thus? Why not call it sorrowful, if he was to publish the awful doctrine of endless torture? Surely, if he was the first messenger from God who proclaimed the eternity of suffering, we should think it would have been more suitable to say, Behold, I bring you bad news of great misery which shall be to a vast proportion of the world!
Why is it said that grace came by Jesus Christ, if he was the first to preach the doctrine of endless woe, on divine authority? Would it not be more just to say wrath and torture came by Jesus Christ?
IV. The Silence of the Bible With Regard To a Place of Endless Misery.
Having shown that the words rendered hell do not signify a place of ceaseless suffering, I wish to call your attention to the fact, that no allusions are made, in any part of the Bible, which warrant us in concluding that there is such a place. The allusions to a state of blessedness are very frequent. Thus we read -- "In the resurrection we shall neither marry nor be given in marriage, but be as the angels of God." There, too, we shall be children of God, being children of the resurrection. That this is a description of our state in the resurrection, is unquestionable; and we learn from it the happy condition of the soul there. St. Paul describes it in the same manner. He says, we shall be incorruptible, immortal, glorious, and blessed. He represents the kingdom of God as a state of perfect purity and joy. And the Savior, when taking a farewell leave of his disciples, said -- "In my Father's house are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you."
From these references we have a distinct idea of heaven or the resurrection state. It is a place of immortal life, of uninterrupted joy, of perfect purity, and of endless blessedness.
"There sickness never comes;
There grief no more complains;
Health triumphs in immortal bloom,
And purest pleasure reigns.
No strife nor envy there
The sons of peace molest,
But harmony and love sincere
Fill every happy breast.
No cloud those regions know,
Forever bright and fair;
For sin, the source of mortal woe,
Can never enter there."
While such are the distinct views given of heaven, we find no language descriptive of a state of endless suffering. We never read that such a place was created or prepared, and in no instance is it said, when sinners die, they go there. We are told of Ahitophel, who hung himself, and of Saul, who slew himself; but nothing is said of their going to endless perdition. We have accounts of the grief of mourners, and of parents weeping over the death of profligate children; but no allusion is made to any hopeless sorrow. Now, why is this, if the inspired writers believed in a place of endless torture? Look at those who now believe it. They can tell you all about it, they know its dimensions, and can give you a better geographical description of it than of the state in which they live. They know who has gone there, and who is going, and will even doom to it those whom they never saw, and of whose Christian character they are entirely ignorant. We demand the scriptural authority for this. We demand a single passage which says any man, after death, was doomed to endless woe.
Am I pointed to the rich man in hell? I reply, the learned, as I have already shown, admit that the hell in which he was suffering was not a place of endless misery. Dr. Allen, of Bangor, admits this; Professor Stuart of Andover admits this; Dr. Campbell admits it. The word, therefore, is no proof that when a wicked man dies he is doomed to a state of endless misery.
The doctrine we oppose teaches that for the sins of this life some will be sent, at death, to such a state of torture. But in the account of the rich man there is nothing like this. Admit that the account is a literal history, and it only proves a limited future punishment; for if the hell was limited where he was suffering, it could not certainly teach anything more than a limited punishment.
But we deny that the account is a literal history; we maintain that it is a parable; and that the story of the rich man was introduced, not for the purpose of recognizing its truth, but to illustrate the national death of the Jews, and the evils they were bringing upon themselves.
In ascertaining the meaning of the parable, we have no more to do with the story on which it is founded, than we have with the story about a conversation between the trees, the vine and the bramble, in the parable of Jotham. -- (Judges 9:7-16) The truth conveyed is in the thing signified, and not in the figure or story chosen as an illustration. It matters not, therefore, if the Jews had a story among them about a rich man that died and went to hell, and that Jesus chose it as the foundation of a parable. By founding a parable upon it, he did not declare the story true; he merely employed it to illustrate and enforce truth. I say, therefore, again, we have no instance where any are said to have gone to endless woe; and that the Bible is entirely silent in regard to such a place. I do not say that the Bible teaches a perfect equality at death; but I say that it reveals no place where a portion are to be tortured without end. Indeed, it is explicit in saying, "all go to one place;" that "the dust returneth to the earth as it was, and the spirit to God who gave it." Not only does the Bible teach that all go to one place, but that, in the resurrection, all shall be in the kingdom of God, and rejoice together in the possession of endless life.
We have many other considerations on which we should be glad to dwell at length; but our limits forbid, and we must be content with a brief allusion to the most important of them. They may all be classed under the following head, viz.
V. The Strongest Terms Employed to Express the Evil of Sin Are Applied to Sufferings Which We Know Are Limited.
Unquenchable fire. This term is thus used by Jeremiah -- But if you will not hearken unto me, . . . . then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched." -- (Jer. 17:27) Here we have the phrase -- not be quenched. But the fire to which it refers ceased to burn when the temple at Jerusalem was consumed. The term, therefore, does not imply endless burning.
Worm dieth not. Isaiah thus uses this expression -- "And they shall go forth and look upon the carcasses 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." -- (Isa. 66:24) Here the prophet alludes to the worms which preyed upon the dead carcasses, that were left unburied in the valley of Hinnom, when Jerusalem was destroyed. Those worms wee not more than any of our own day; and were said to die not, because worms were always preying there. The expression, therefore, does not denote endless suffering.
Destruction. God says -- I will sweep Babylon with the besom of destruction. -- (Isa. 14:23) This refers to the overthrow of that city; so hat destruction gives no evidence of endless woe. Men are said to be destroyed when their integrity is gone, or their habits become bad. The word if often applied to temporal evils. (See Esth. 8:6; 9:5; Job 5:23; 21:27; Ps. 35:8; Prov. 16:18)
Utterly destroyed. "They utterly destroyed the Canaanites." -- (Numb. 21:23) "We utterly destroyed Sihon and his people." -- (Deut. 2:34) "We utterly destroyed the cities of Og." -- (Deut. 3:6) These cases show that the expression simply signifies being reduced to a state of extreme dependence and wretchedness, or being cut off from the earth.
Fierceness of his anger, wrath and indignation. These strong terms were employed by David to represent the temporal evils which God sent upon Egypt. (Ps. 78:49) Paul, speaking of those Jews who would not allow the Gospel to be carried to the Gentiles, said, wrath is come upon them to the uttermost; not shall, but is come to the uttermost. (1 Thess. 2:16)
Cursed. Joshua said, "Now, therefore, are ye cursed, and there shall none of you be freed from being bondsmen, and hewers of wood and drawers of water." -- (Josh. 9:23) Thus, cursed is used to signify a state of degrading servitude and great suffering, but not endless woe.
Lost. This represents the condition of all sinners. They are lost to usefulness and happiness; but they are not irrecoverably lost, for Jesus came to seek and save them, and the Bible says, "This my son was lost and is found."
The foregoing expressions, which are relied upon to prove the eternity of suffering, are among the strongest which the Bible contains; and yet, they are all used with reference to limited evils. This is a fact which cannot be disputed; and it proves, beyond all question, that in these expressions there is no evidence of endless torture.
What, then, if the Bible speaks of unquenchable fire, of a worm which dieth not, of destruction, of being utterly destroyed, of a fierce anger, of the curse of sinners, and of their being lost; unless it can be shown that these expressions denote a suffering which never ends, they are no proof against us. But how can that be proved, when we find them used to denote sufferings which we know are limited?
I have one topic more which I wish to introduce, and that is,
VI. The Kind of Evidence Necessary to Prove Endless Suffering.
Blackstone, in treating of the nature of crimes and their punishment presents six considerations which claim attention. 1. The general nature of crimes and punishments. 2. The persons capable of committing crimes. 3. The several degrees of guilt as principals or accessories. 4. The several species of crimes, with the punishment annexed to each. 5. The means of preventing their perpetration. 6. The method of inflicting those punishments which the law has annexed to each several crime and misdemeanor.
Here you see what this distinguished man deemed requisite in regard to human laws. But if such distinct views on each of these points are requisite, how much more necessary are distinct views in regard to sin against God, and the punishment which it deserves. We ought, at least, to know,
What the punishment of sin is. This should be expressed in terms which admit of no dispute. Such terms might be found. We have no doubt about the meaning of the language employed by our present advocates of endless misery. God, then, could have expressed himself equally as plain and strong. That he has not, is a fact which is undisputed. He has nowhere said when a man dies his spirit goes to a place of endless torture.
We do not know in what endless punishment is to consist. Is it to be literal fire? Is it horror of conscience? Is it banishment from God? Is it confinement in a prison? Is it being in a place where we shall be alternately exposed to the extremes of heat and cold? Some say one thing, some another. In what consists the punishment of those who transgress the laws of our land? God to the statute book, and there you have the answer. But would not God be as plain as earthly lawgivers are?
We do not know who are capable of committing crimes which expose to endless misery. Are children? Are idiots? Are the heathen? Some say, yes -- some, no. But human laws define who are capable of violating them.
We do not know what degree of sin will subject us to endless misery. There are none without sin -- none without some unbelief, some unreconciliation. How much of this is requisite to justify God in cutting us off? Now I ask, if we can believe that matters, involving infinite consequences, are thus loosely and indefinitely stated? The idea charges injustice upon God and makes him cruel and unmerciful. The only evidence which should be admitted in a case like this, is that of the most positive and distinct character, and which defines particularly the punishment, its nature, its degree, its duration, the causes for which inflicted, and on whom it will be inflicted.
But we have no such evidence. You see this in the fact that there is no agreement in regard to these points. Some entertain one view, and some another. The views are vastly more various than the opposing Christian sects.
Thus, when weighed in the balances of candid investigation, the doctrine of endless misery is seen to be without any support from the Bible.