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OF THE GROUNDS OF THE DOCTRINE OF ENDLESS
I propose in the present article to examine, with some degree of care, the various grounds on which the advocates of Endless Punishment are pleased to rest that tremendous doctrine. By grounds here, I mean something quite distinct from the “ proof texts” usually quoted, something indeed that lie back of these, and on which their popular interpretation is made to stand. Perhaps I might say in a single word that I propose an examination of the rationale of endless punishment; but
my object will be better understood as I proceed, and fully comprehended, I trust, in the sequel.
It cannot be necessary for me to suggest to any thoughtful and candid reader that the doctrine of endless punishment is one of a most peculiar, and indeed, a most momentous character. It stands apart from all the other doctrines of revelation, and, both from its nature and the awful consequences it involves, demands a more than ordinaa ry consideration. To pass it over lightly would
be, perhaps, to do it injustice; to receive it with out the most conclusive, the most irresistible proofs, would certainly be to do far grosser injustice to ourselves, and to throw contempt upon that great and good Being whom we all acknowledge as our Creator and our Judge. Endless Punishment! I beg my readers to reflect upon it for one moment. Inconceivable, never ceasing misery! What a thought; and what a doctrine to be preached and believed by those who confess the moral world to be under the perfect government of an all-wise, almighty and all-merciful God! Were it not for the well known fact of its prevalence, one could hardly think it possible for such a doctrine to find a resting-place in any human heart or head, and least of all in the heart or head of a christian.
But before entering directly upon the proposed examination it may be profitable to consider briefly the place of this terrific punishment, and some of the circumstances that combine to make
its horrors, and also the number of our fellow beings who, it is believed, will suffer it. This will enable us to form a better conception of the doctrine in question, to appreciate its claims, and perhaps prepare us to enter upon an examination of its grounds with a more earnest spirit than we should otherwise be able to bring to its investigation. I cannot be mistaken in thinking that thousands and thousands of christians believe in endless punish
ment, not because they have examined it and been convinced of its truth, but simply because they have never thought of it, never have reflected upon its awfulness even for a single hour! They may
have heard much of it, and talked, and even preached about it for years; they may have argued and speculated upon its proofs, and grown angry in its defence, but still, I repeat they have never thought of it. Let us first begin, then, by considering what is the place of erdless punishment; what are the means by which this punishment is to be inflicted; and finally who they are, and how many, who are to suffer its torments.And first of its PLACE.
The place of endless punishment is in the English language popularly called Hell. This word was anciently very innocent, signifying properly nothing more than a covered or concealed place, and by special application the invisible or unseen state, the place or state of the dead. Thus it accurately corresponded to the Hebrew Sheol and the Greek Hades, which it was often employed to translate into our common English version
They were all used as the name of an imaginary place supposed by the ancient Hebrews to lie deep under the earth, and to be the common receptacle and abode of all departed spirits, whether good or bad. But in process of time hell has gradually become the most fearful word in human language. It is now the proper name of what has been euphoniously called “ the world of wo," the everlasting abode of damned souls, the scene of future indescribable and interminable torments!
Some have curiously, though perhaps unwisely, inquired when this place was made. It is not mentioned among the other works of creation, and seems to have formed no part of “the heavens and the earth" created by God in the beginning. But no argument against its existence, surely can be inferred from this silence, though we might perhaps be justified in concluding from this circumstance that it does not belong to this system, Some have supposed that hell was made at a very early period. There are those among the learned Jews who tell us that “there were seven things which were made before the creation of the world,” and among these they reckon hell. Indefinite as this piece of information is, and suspicious as its authority may be, it is unfortunately all that we have on the subject, and all probably that, in our present state of ignorance and im. perfection, we have any reason to expect.
Others have been far more seriously puzzled by the inquiry where hell is located. On this point there have been very various and conflicting opinions. The more ancient doctrine was that hell is under the earth. This notion is obviously to be traced to the Scripture representations of Sheol and Hades, which were uniformly spoken of as beneath, or down deep under the surface of the earth. This doctrine was somewhat disturbed by the discovery that the earth is a globe, and many very sincere believers in hell were grievously distressed about its locality. Some of the astronomers, among whom was Whiston, if I mistake not, conjectured that hell might be found in one of the comets. Others, among whom was the Rev. Tobias Swinden, believed that hell is. located in the sun. Modern geological inquiries, which render it probable that the interior of the earth is in a state of fusion and of a very high degree of heat, seem to be bringing some orthodox minds back to the ancient faith, and are persuading them that hell is after all in the centre of our earth. Milton, who is the highest authority on points connected with this subject, has been rather indefinite, and his geography of hell, to say the best of it, is far from being satisfactory. All that we learn from him respecting the locality of hell is that it is at an immeasurable distance downward from "heaven and earth,” from which it is separated by the realm of Chaos and Old Night,