« AnteriorContinuar »
sis, and argues upon it as literally true, that, according to this account, all the posterity of Adam, the whole human race without exception, were victims to mortality, in consequence of the fall of their first parents in Paradisethat, according to the same account, as all were sufferers through him, so all shall be raised to life, and restored to that state of dignity and happiness from which Adam unhappily fell-that thus Christ shall amply repair the ruins of the fall, and, the second Adam completely efface the dishonour and misery entailed by the first.'
lowers, shall be transformed into the likeness of his glorious person, and shall enter with him into the joy of their Lord.'
From the remaining part of this passage, although it may not be possible to ascertain with certainty and precision what is meant by the kingdom with which Christ is entrusted, and which he shall ultimately deliver up to the Father, nor in what sense he shall become subject to him who subjected all things to him-yet we may safely deduce the following conclusions: that, after the resurrection of the just, Christ will be invested by the Father with authority and power to accomplish some great purpose with regard to mankind—that that purpose can be nothing but the completion of the wise and benevolent design of the divine government, in the total abolition of the calamities introduced by the fall-that the ac
Mr. Belsham, in his excellent commentary on this passage, further remarks, that it is very plain, that the resurrection of which the apostle treats in this celebrated chapter is the resurrection, not of a chosen few, of a select number, whether greater or less, but that of the whole human race. The apostle's lan-complishment of this gracious purpose alone guage is so clear and full, with respect to the constitutes the end, the grand consummation of final happiness of those who are thus raised, all things, and that, though this consummaand that their resurrection to life will be ulti- tion will be opposed by numerous and potent mately a blessing, that the generality of enemies, yet that Christ will exert the power Christians have supposed that he is here with which he is invested, until he has uttertreating of the resurrection of the virtuously subdued them, when, having completed the only. But this is not the fact. He evident- end for which authority was delegated to him, ly speaks of the restoration of the whole hu- he will willingly resign it into the hand of man race-All who die by Adam shall be the Gracious Parent, the Universal Sovereign, raised by Christ-otherwise the apostle's as- from whom he received it, who shall then be sertion would be untrue. The case, then, come forever all things to all his creatures. would have been this: As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall a select number, a small proportion, be made alive. But this is not the apostle's doctrine. His expressions are equal-lence of immortality, virtue, and happiness, is ly universal in each clause. ALL die in Adam. thus plainly disclosed, and asserted with all The same ALL, without any exception, with- the energy and dignity worthy of the exalted out any restriction, shall by Christ be restor- theme. It is thus evident, that the power with ed to life, and ultimately to holiness and ever- which Christ is invested is not given him lasting happiness. And, to guard against the in vain, but will be completely effectualabuse of this doctrine, he proceeds to declare, that his triumph will be perfect-that there that all will not be admitted at the same time is no rule, no authority, no power which is to the participation of final happiness; for, opposed to him, which he will not utterly though all men will be restored to life, and abolish, no enemy which he will not put unraised to happiness, all will not be made hap- der his feet. But the enemies with which he py at once, but each will be advanced as he is at war, the enemies which it was the labour becomes qualified for his reward, till in the of his life, the object of his death, and the end end the enemies of Christ shall all be sub- of his present exaltation, to exterminate, are, dued, and his authority shall be universally sin and misery, and death, the consequence acknowledged and obeyed-but every one in of sin. And over these we are assured by his proper class, not all at once. There will this passage that he will completely triumph. be a gradation in the introduction to final The consequence is certain. The conclusion blessedness, depending upon the characters is inevitable. Immortality, holiness, and hapof those who are to partake of it, "Christ, piness, must in the end universally prevail. the first-fruits." He is already raised to life, How else is it possible that these declarations and his virtues, his labours, and his sufferings, can be accomplished? How can Christ put have received their reward. He is the glori- down all the rule, all the authority which is ous first-fruits, the specimen and the pledge of opposed to him, if a malignant and omnipotent the final and universal harvest. "Afterwards, spirit (called the devil) succeed in making the they who are Christ's at his coming." The great majority of mankind his victims, and true disciples and community of Jesus, all the through the ages of eternity exercise all unupright and virtuous in every age and country, controlled dominion over them? How can will next be raised to life and happiness, and Christ subdue all things unto himself, if this this joyful event will next take place at that malevolent being and his agents eternally long expected period, when Jesus shall ap- counteract and oppose him? How can God pear again in his own and in his Father's be all in all, if the greater number of his creaglory, invested with the high commission to tures incessantly execrate his name, and vent raise the dead and to judge the world, when the most horrid blasphemies against him? the dead in Christ shall rise first, and, being How can death, the last enemy with which he acknowledged by him as his friends and fol- conflicts, be destroyed, if it succeed in blotting
This appears to be the clear and express doctrine of the passage, and if it be so it is decisive. The ultimate and universal preva
out of existence for ever millions of millions of human beings? The only idea it is possible to annex to the destruction of death is the prevalence of life; but, if (to repeat what has already been said) death effect the total and eternal extinction of the conscious existence of the great majority of mankind, it is not vanquished-it is the victor; it is not destroyed-it triumphs.
If men cannot be restrained from vice by the apprehension of a reasonable and just degree of punishment; it is vain to hope to deter them by menaces, which they are satisfied are both unreasonable and impossible. To suppose that they will encourage themselves in sin, from a persuasion that the misery which they must inevitably bring upon themselves in consequence of it will terminate in their reformation, is to imagine that they are insane as well as vicious, and to betray the baseness of our own hearts, by showing that we form a worse opinion of mankind than the worst of men deserve.
Indeed, it is hardly conceivable, that the reasonable and just, the solemn and impressive sanctions which the Christian religion gives to the Christian law would be attended with no greater moral benefit than it is to be feared they are, were they always scripturally enforced. It requires, however, but little acquaintance with human nature, to know, that, in order to render the fear of punishment availing in the hour of temptation, it is absolutely necessary to satisfy the mind both of its equity and certainty. The passions of the heart never were, and never can be, counteracted, either by actual injustice, or by unreasonable menaces; and to teach that an eternity of suffering will be the consequence of the slightest offence, is to open the floodgates of sin, to deprive the mind of the most powerful motives to struggle against its improper inclinations, and even to stimulate it to the pursuit of the unhallowed objects of its desire, by forcing it to suspect the weakness, if not to doubt the reality of the checks by which it is attempted to restrain it. Were there, therefore, no other argument against the doctrines of Endless Misery and of Total Destruction, than that afforded by their tendency to lessen the sanctions of morality, by destroying the fear of punishment, this alone would be sufficient to justify a distrust of their truth.
If any one should fear that its inculcation may lesson the dread of future punishment, and thus operate to the disadvantage of piety and virtue, the apprehension must originate The effects of the unamiable doctrine of in a misconception of the doctrine, or an igno- Endless Misery, and of its kindred opinions, rance of human nature. To teach men that on the temper and conduct, have been strikingthey will be visited with a just degree of pun- ly depicted by an able advocate of the doctrine ishment for the sins they commit-that every of destruction. According to men's sentiments deviation from rectitude, even the slightest of God, and of the designs and measures of his and the most secret, that every improper feel-government,' observes Mr. Bourn, in his Dising and thought which is cherished, must course on the Gospel Doctrine of Fature punishbring with it a proportionate degree of suffering, ment, such hath been the influence of religion must inevitably do so, unless the constitution on their temper and conduct. And, if they have of the mind and the whole frame of nature be not framed to themselves a God after their changed that those who indulge in the least own evil hearts, they have framed their own degree in vice must necessarily, in all situa- hearts agreeable to that false and evil charactions and at all seasons, be the worse for it, ter which they were taught to ascribe to God. and that, if they continue in a vicious course And when they have believed the Deity to to the end of life, both the nature of the case, love and hate, to elect and reprobate, nations, and the repeated and solemn declarations of parties, or individuals, without reason or regard scripture assure us that the pain they will be to the ends of good government, they themselves made to suffer in a future world will be most have become more arbitrary, bigoted, fierce, severe and lasting-to suppose that such doc- unmerciful, and more addicted to hate and trine will encourage sin, is to imagine that persecute their fellow-creatures, all who are men can be enamoured of misery, and that, not of their own church, and whom they supto excite them to any particular course of con- posed to be reprobated of God.
There appears to be no reason whatever for restricting the application of this passage solely to the righteous, as with a view of avoiding the force of the preceding observations, some have contended, because the context does not require this limitation-because the expressions which the apostle employs are of too universal a signification to admit of it, and because it is difficult to conceive that any thing but the wish to support a system could have suggested the idea, or indicated the necessity of it.
duct, it is only necessary to convince them that it will terminate in their ruin.
Such is the scriptural evidence in favour of the ultimate and universal prevalence of holiness and happiness. All the passages which have been cited appear necessarily to imply the truth of this opinion; to some of them it seems impossible to affix any other meaning. There is not a single passage in the Old or New Testament which does not perfectly harmonize with this doctrine; but several of the most striking, impressive, and cheering assurances of scripture are totally incompatible with the opinions which oppose it. With the highest and noblest conceptions we can form of the nature and dispensations of the Deity, with the nature of man and the nature of punishment-in a word, with all that natural and revealed religion teach concerning God, concerning his human offspring, and concerning a future state, it perfectly accords. With this body of evidence in its favour, and with no real counter-evidence of any kind to oppose it, it may surely be considered as established.
"It is hardly credible, that inhumanity and cruelty would ever have been carried to such excess in the Christian world as they actually have been, had they not derived countenance and support from these antichristian and barbarous notions. Tyrants and persecutors, if they have not invented these doctrines, yet have applied them to excuse to their own consciences, and to vindicate to others, the most iniquitous and cruel proceedings; and when they had made the very worst use of their power, in persecuting good men-at least men who deserved no such punishment -they have persuaded themselves and others, that they were acting like the Deity, espoushis cause, and maintaining his character and his glory.
The court of inquisition, as established in many countries, and as far as it differs from civil courts of judicature, is declared by the authors and maintainers of it to be the nearest imitation of the divine tribunal, and it is avowedly founded upon and justified by the doctrines of reprobation and of eternal torments. Jews, infidels, and heretics, are judged in that court to be criminals, and are condemned. And how do they vindicate this procedure, but by supposing them to be all reprobated and abhorred of God? And they execute them, not by a quick despatch, but by the most lingering torments. And what do they plead for this cruelty, but that it is an act of faith-that they are doing the work of God, and that he will expose those wretches to the like torments for ever? Thus they conquer nature by faith, as they express it; that is, they extinguish all sense of justice and relentings of mercy in their own nature, and harden themselves in iniquity and barbarity, by the belief of those very doctrines we are exposing, and by them they defend themselves in the face of the world, and give a colour and sanction of religion to the most enormous wickedness.' • The doctrine, on the other hand, which it is the object of the preceding pages to establish, discloses a principle which is more benevolent in its tendency, and which, were it properly felt, and invariably regarded in the affairs of life, would have a happier effect on society than any other opinion which has ever engaged the attention of men. It leads to a distinction which is but beginning to be observed, even by the intelligent and enlightened, and which, when it shall come to be general, will alter astonishingly the moral condition of the world. It leads to an exact discrimination between the criminal and the crime. While it inspires us with abhorrence of the offence, it softens the heart with compassion for the unhappy condition of the offender, induces us to do every thing in our power to change it, to give him better views and better feelings. When we hear of the perpetration of a crime, we are too apt to think only of punishment. What suffering can be too great for such a wretch? is the exclamation which bursts from almost every lip. The sentiment is worthy of the unlovely doctrines which produce and cherish it. A more benevolent Bystem would excite a different feeling. What
can be done to reclaim the unhappy offender? What means can be taken to enlighten his mind and meliorate his heart? What discipline is best adapted to his mental and moral disorder? What will lead him back to virtue and to happiness most speedily, and with least pain? Such is the feeling of the mind enlightened by the generous doctrine we have endeavoured to establish. Could it but enter the heart of every legislator-did it but guide the hand that constructs the cell of the poor captive-did it apportion his pallet of straw and his scanty meal-did it determine the completeness and the duration of his exclusion from the light of day and the pure breeze of heaven-did it apply his manacles, (if, disdaining to treat a human being with more indignity than is practised towards the most savage brutes,' it did not dash his chains to the earth,) what a different aspect would these miserable mansions soon assume! What different inhabitants would they contain! Prisons would not then be the hotbeds of vice, in which the youthful offender grows into the hardened criminal, and the want of shame succeeds the abolition of principle, but hospitals of the mind, in which its moral disorder is removed by the application of effectual remedies.
The person who habitually contemplates all mankind as children of one common Father, and appointed to one common destiny, cannot be a persecutor or a bigot. He may see much error which he may lament, and much misconduct which he may pity; but a generous affection towards the whole human race will dilate his heart. To the utmost of his ability, he will enlighten the ignorant, correct the erring, sustain the weak, bear with the prejudiced, and reclaim the vicious. Firm to his own principles, he will not trench on the liberty of others. He will not harshly censure, nor suspect an evil motive where integrity and conscience obviously direct the conduct. Mildness will be on his lips, forbearance will mark his actions, and universal
arity will connect him with the wise and good of all climes, and of all religions.
He who believes that a Being of almighty power, unerring wisdom, and unbounded love, is seated at the helm of affairs, and is making every event promote, in its appointed measure, the highest happiness of all intelligent creatures, must possess perpetual serenity and peace. The storm of adversity may gather above him and burst upon his head, but he is prepared against it, and it cannot dismay him. He knows that the evils which encompass
are only blessings in disguise. The fair face of nature smiles upon him with a brighter radiance. The boundless expanse of hea ven above him, the painted plain beneath him, the glorious sun which diffuses light and life over the ample and beautiful creation, are magnificent gifts of his Father, on which his enlightened eye beholds engraven the promise of his higher destiny. The narrow precincts of the tomb can neither bound nor obstruct his enlarged view. It extends beyond the circle of the earth, and reaches to that celestial world, where progression in excellence is infi
nite, and happiness is unchanging and immortal. Nothing can disturb his steady confidence. In the most awful moment of his earthly existence, his feeling is sublime as his destiny is glorious. Even while he is partially subdued by death, and dragged to the confines of the tomb-while he is sinking, into it, and it closes over him, he can exclaim in triumph, O, death, where is thy sting? O, grave, where is thy victory? Thanks be to God who giveth me the victory, through Jesus Christ, my Lord!'
Such are the effects of an enlightened and scriptural view of the perfections and government of God, and the nature and destiny of man. Indeed, a firm persuasion, that our Creator is possessed of every possible excellence, that he is our constant and best Friend, that we are entirely at his merciful disposal, that he is conducting us, and all our brethren of mankind, by the wisest means, to the highest happiness, and that the natural and moral disorders which afflict us are the instruments by which he will eventually establish the universal and eternal reign of purity and bliss, cannot but tend to expand the heart, to cherish the benevolent affections, to soften the manners, and to unite the whole human race in the tenderest bands of friendship and affection. Were it right to judge of the general effect universal and everlasting reign of Purity and which the frequent and serious contemplation | Happiness hasten his own attainment of both!
of these sublime and cheering truths would have on the mind, by the feeling of which he who has made this humble attempt to illustrate and establish them has been conscious while engaged in the pleasing task, with sincerity he might say, that it would be highly favourable to benevolence and to happiness. A more ardent love of the Supreme Being, a purer and warmer attachment to his fellowcreatures, a more anxious desire to promote the attainment of genuine excellence, both in himself and others, has glowed in his heart, while meditating on these delightful subjects. Uniformly has he seemed to himself to rise from the contemplation more deeply affected than before with the emotions of piety and benevolence. May the perusal of these pages produce the same happy effect on the mind of the reader. May it inspire him with a fervent love of God. May it cherish in his bosom an ardent and generous attachment to the whole family of mankind. May it enable him to enjoy with a more reasonable, pure, and socia! satisfaction, the blessings of existence, and to sustain, in a manner worthy of a man and a Christian, the affliction which may await him. May it continually cheer him with the most glorious hopes, and fit him to realize them. And may the anticipation of the