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ESSENTIAL TRUTHS AND FORMAL ERRORS OF
Eternal Punishment. The subject of this essay is the Orthodox doctrine of Eternal Punishment. • The Orthodox doctrine of Future Punishment is exceedingly simple. There is to be a judgment in the last day, universal and final. All mankind are to be collected before the judgment-seat of Christ, and there to be divided into two classes, - one on the right hand, and the other on the left. These are to go upward, to heaven, to be eternally happy; those downward, to hell, to be eternally miserable. There are no degrees of suffering; for the torments of hell are infinite in degree, as well as eternal in duration. No allowance is made for ignorance, or want of opportunity; for inherited evil, or evil resulting from force of circumstances. The purest and best of men, who does
not believe the precise Orthodox theory concerning the · Trinity, sits in hell side by side with Zingis Khan, who · murdered in cold blood hundreds of thousands of men, VOL. IV.
women, and children; marking his bloody route by pyramids of skulls. The unbaptized child, who goes to hell because of the original sin derived from Adam, is no better off than Pope Alexander VI., who outraged every law of God and man, and who, says Machiavelli,“ was followed to the tomb by the holy feet of his three dear companions, - Luxury, Simony, and Cruelty.”
Various ineffectual attempts have been made, in all ages of the Church, to soften the austerity of this doctrine. From the days of Origen (who believed in a final and universal restoration) to that of Swedenborg (who admits certain pleasures of a low kind into hell itself), these merciful doctors have always been trying to soften this austere dogma ; but ineffectually: for the dread of an eternal hell has been one of the chief motives which the Church has used in converting men from sin to holiness. Any suggestion of the possibility of future restoration, would, it is feared, cut the sinews of effective preaching. For the baptized who are not fit for heaven, the Roman-Catholic Church has established, indeed, a temporary hell, with torments of an inferior sort; for bad Catholics, there is purgatory, with the hope of ultimate escape from it; but for the unbaptized heathen, for heretics, and for excommunicated persons, there is nothing but eternal punishment.
which we have just intimated, there are also scriptural and philosophical reasons. Scripture and reason both do, in fact, seem to teach opposite doctrines on this subject. There are passages in the New Testament which appear to teach never-ending suffering, and others which appear to teach a final, universal restoration. It is written, “ These shall go away into eternal punishment;” but it is also written, that Christ “shall reign till all things are subdued unto him;"
when “the Son also himself shall be subject to Him who did put all things under him, that God may be all in all.” As the same word is used to express the way in which all enemies are to be subject to Christ, and the way in which Christ himself is to be subject to God, it follows, that the enemies, when subjected, shall be friends. It is said that the wicked shall be punished “ with everlasting destruction from the presence of God;" but it is also said, that, “in the dispensation of the fulness of times, God will gather in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and on earth ;” and “that, at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven, in earth, and under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” It is said of the wicked, that “their worm never dies, and their fire is not quenched;” but it is also said, that "it pleased the Father, having made peace through the blood of the cross, by Christ to reconcile all things unto himself, whether they be things in earth or things in heaven.” So that Scripture, at first sight, seems to teach both eternal punishment and universal restoration.
There is a similar contradiction on this subject, if considered in the light of pure reason. When looked at from the divine attributes, the unavoidable conclusion seems to be, that all men must be finally saved. For God is infinitely benevolent, and therefore must wish to save all; is infinitely wise, and therefore must know how to save all; is infinitely powerful, and therefore must be able to overcome all difficulties in the way of saving all: hence all must be saved. But, on the other hand, when we consider the subject from the position of man's nature, an opposite conclusion seems to follow. For man, being free, is able to choose either evil or good at any moment; and, as long as he continues to be essentially man, he must retain this freedom; and therefore, at any period of his future existence, however remote, he may prefer evil to good, that is, may prefer hell to heaven. But God will not compel bim to be good against his will (for unwilling goodness is not goodness); and therefore it follows, that there is no point of time in the infinite future of which we can certainly say, that then all men will be saved.
It is certain, however, that the doctrine of eternal punishment, in the common form, can only be maintained by giving up some of the infinite attributes of the Almighty. If punishment is to exist eternally; if hell is eternally to co-exist with heaven; if certain beings are to be continued for ever in existence merely as sinful sufferers, – then, it is clear, God is not omnipotent. He shares his throne for ever with Satan. Satan and God divide between them the universe. God reigns in heaven, Satan in hell. God desires that all shall be saved ; but this desire is absolutely and for ever defeated by a Fate greater than Deity. Law divorced from love — that is, nature in its old pagan aspect — is higher than God. God is not the Almighty to any one who really believes eternal punishment. God is not the Sovereign of the universe, but only of a part of it. The doctrine of eternal punishment, in its common form, does, therefore, virtually dethrone God.
It is, in fact, impossible to conceive of an eternal hell co-existing with an eternal heaven, without also seeing that it limits eternally the Divine Omnipotence; for the omnipotence of God is in carrying out his will to have all men saved by becoming holy. Unless God's laws are obeyed, God is not obeyed; and he is not Sovereign, if not obeyed. Hell is a condition of things hostile to God's will: it is a permanent and successful rebellion of a part of the universe. It is no answer to say, that it is shut up and restrained and made to suffer; for it is not conquered. God