Page images

similar complexion, would be to maintain, that as no frail mortals have been found worthy to open the seals of this mysterious book, there is much danger in trusting to their interpretations of its peculiar phraseology, in support of any peculiar dogmata. Its language is confessedly figurative beyond example, containing the very caricature of imagery, if we may be allowed the expression. We might attempt to erect an edifice upon a whirlwind, as successfully as to establish a theological question upon such a basis. Since this book itself requires an explanation, it is impossible to deduce an argument from it, upon the present question, that can be supposed to convince a doubtful mind. The terms, the beast, his image, to drink of the wine of the wrath of God, fire and brimstone, day and night, are figurative. Nor can any man, who is not, we had almost said, supersaturated with his system, really suppose that the holy angels and the lamb, will be eternal spectators of eternal scenes of misery! We are, therefore, authorized to enter a protest against the literal interpretation of particular parts of this figurative scenery, as long as the genuine sense of the passages themselves remains in perfect obscurity.

But lest this answer should appear evasive

and unsatisfactory, we shall remind our opponents, that synonymous expressións are used in the Old Testament, in a connection which would render the idea of eternal existence in misery, incongruous and absurd; and, consequently, the words translated everlasting in such passages, must lose the dreadful emphasis, which is so arbitrarily given to it.

It will be sufficient to transcribe the following sublime passages from the prophet Isaiah.*

"Come near ye nations to hear, and hearken ye people, let the earth hear, and all that is therein; the world, and all things that come forth of it. For the indignation of the Lord is upon all nations, and his fury upon all their armies. He hath utterly destroyed them; he hath delivered them to the slaughter. Their slain also shall be cast out, and their stink shall come up out of their carcasses, and the mountains shall be melted with their blood. For my sword shall be bathed in heaven; behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment, &c. For it is the day of the Lord's vengeance, and the year of recompences for the controversy of Zion. And

* See ch. xxxiv.

[ocr errors]

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."

Let us now consider this subject in another point of view.

It is acknowledged, by every Christian, that in the Jewish religion, the manifestations of the divine goodness were not so uniformly or conspicuously displayed, as in the gospel of Christ; and yet under that dispensation all the Pious exultingly acknowledged, that the mercy of the Lord endureth for ever.

At the solemnity of placing the ark in the temple of Solomon, the musicians lifted up their voices with the trumpets and cymbals, and instruments of music, and praised the Lord, saying, for he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever." Upon the dedication of the temple, when Solomon had made an end of prayer, the children of Israel bowed themselves with their faces to the ground, and worshipped and praised the Lord, saying, "for he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever." Sing unto the Lord,"


says David, "Oh ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness, for his anger endureth but for a moment." In many of the Psalms of this divine poet, the everlasting goodness of God is the subject of his rapturous devotion. "O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever." "Oh give thanks unto the God of Gods, for his mercy endureth for ever, &c."* If the manifestations of this mercy were confined to the distinguished favour shewn to the chosen people, which was to terminate with the termination of their political state, the words for ever must be confined to a very limited duration. If they are to be understood as expressive of the essential benignity of the divine character, there must be a termination to the misery of all his creatures, or his mercy cannot endure for ever. For what are we to understand by mercy, if not a kindly disposition towards offenders; being slow to anger, and ready to forgive? Is it decent to interpret these words in the most absolute sense, when connected with the infliction of punishment, and ascribe to them such narrow limits when they refer to his pardoning mercy?

The above considerations must surely evince, that we are not under the painful necessity of

* See the whole of the 136th Psalm.

explaining those solemn declarations occasionally used, respecting the punishment of the wicked, according to the prevailing sentiments attached to them. The eternal misery of the reprobate was no part of the ministry given to the apostles, when they were sent forth to preach the gospel. They warned sinners, that if they continued impenitent they would aggravate their guilt; but they were not commissioned to proclaim the eternal misery of all those who should neglect the gospel. Their threats were occasional and indefinite; their promises absolute and intelligible; LIFE, IMMORTALITY. Their more acceptable office was to proclaim the glad tidings of salvation, and to assure the human race that the Son of God was not sent into the world to condemn the world, by proclaiming the horrid tidings of damnation into irremediable woe, to the multitude, but to call men to repentance and salvation.

The next hypothesis we shall consider, respects the absolute annihilation of the Wicked and Impenitent, which its advocates maintain to be more consonant with reason and justice, than the preceding; as well as with the explicit and current language of Scripture. They urge that, since Life is uniformly considered as a

« PreviousContinue »