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And at the present moment even, it is probable there are as many believers in the former as the latter doctrine; and the believers in endless misery are as rapidly decreasing, in this country at least, as are those in witches, ghosts and goblins.
From these instances, to introduce no more, it is seen that the fact of a faith in any thing being general or commonly received furnishes no evidence of its truth, and we cannot therefore reason with the slightest safety from one to the other.
That it is difficult, and perhaps impossible to trace the dactrine of endless misery back to its source, I am quite willing to acknowledge; for like many other errors and superstitions, idolatry, witchcraft and the like, it undoubtedly had a pretty early origin, and an origin, too, which lies hack, perhaps I may say, beyond the pale of all profane, and entirely without the sphere of sacred history. But whenever it arose, or wherever, and for what purpose soever it was called into existence, one fact is clear and most significant; and that is, that it originally appeared in the heathen world, and took its place with the grand system of falsehood and deception which so long held its sway over the great mass of mankind. This is a fact beyond all doubt or controversy. The doctrine of endless misery is no doctrine of Old Testament Revelation. It can boast no divine origin. Bishop Warburton tells us that even the Greek writers called future punishments foreign, by which they meant Egyptian, and he says moreover that endless punishments were added to keep perverse and ungovernable dispositions in subjection. In this he is fully supported by ancient writers. Polybius, for instance, an ancient Greek historian, tells us plainly that “since the multitude is ever fickle and capricious, full of lawless passions and irrational and violent resentments, there is no way left to keep them in order, but by the terrors of future punishment and all the
pompous circumstance that attends such kind of fiction. On which account, the ancients acted, in my opinion, with great judgment and penetration, when they contrived to bring in those notions of the gods and a future state into the popular belief.” Strabo, another Greek writer, speaks to the same purpose. “It is impossible, he says, to govern women, and the gross body of the people, and to keep them pious, holy and virtuous, by the precepts of philosophy: This can only be done by the fear of the gods, which is raised and supported by ancient fictions and moderi: prodigies.” He tells us further that the “apparatus of the ancient mythologies," was “an engine which the Legislators employed as bugbears to strike a terror into the childish imagination of the multitude." Here it
be observed these authors speak of the doctrine of endless punishment, and the whole heathen system with which it stands con
nected as a device of legislators, designed to make the rabble more governable and therefore better subjects. And it is a curious and not uninstructive fact that these authors also speak of this pun. ishmet as something in which they had not the least faith, as something unreal and imaginary, what they called a fiction, a contrivance of the legislators, and its terrors mere bugbears to keep the multitude in order. But still they regarded it as a most excellent device, and one that could hardly be dispensed with, especially for women and the gross body of the people.” Some of the infidels of England during the last century, adopted the same view and denounced all who ventured to call in question the doctrine of endless torments; not because they believed it themselves ! by no means; but simply because they thought it so useful to the state !
I confess, I have my fears that many of the stoutest advocates of that doctrine at the present day profess and preach it on no better grounds. They think it useful to make men religious, and therefore maintain it. But those well acquainted with the history of the ancient heathen world, may well entertain some doubts of the efficacy of this prescription, for it never carried the heathen to any great height of religion or virtue.
It is a fact, then, that the doctrine in question had its origin in the heathen world, and the heathen world enjoyed the exclusive benefits of it for
before the Jews, God's favored people, had the slightest knowledge of it. This is virtually conceded by many most eminent theologians, as Dr. Jahn, Dr. Campbell, Bp. Warburton, Dr. Paley, etc. etc. Bp. Warburton says expressly that“ in the Jewish republic both rewards and punishments promised by Heaven were temporal only. . . . In no place in the Mosaic Institutes is there the least mention, or any intelligible hint of the rewards and punishments of another life.” Dr. Paley in like manner says, “ This dispensation dealt in temporal rewards and punishments," and that“ the blessings and curses" promised by Moses, “consisted altogether of worldly benefits and worldly punishments." Dr. Campbell and Dr. Jahn both assert that the Old Testament does not disclose a state of punishment beyond the grave. This point is a settled one. The Old Testament knows nothing even of future punishment; how much less then of a punishment that is ENDLESS?
Though, therefore, it is difficult to find the origin of the doctrine of endless misery, we can easily ascertain two most important facts in relation to it. The first is, that it is not a doctrine of divine revelation; and the second, that it took its rise in the darkness and ignorance of heathenism. And the real difficulty to be explained seems to me to be, not how the doctrine of endless torments came to prevail among the heathen, but how, if it
be true, they happened to be so highly blessed, while God's own peculiar people, the only people on earth favored with a revelation, were left in so profound ignorance of it! This is a point which has never yet been explained, and perhaps it is quite in vain to ask an explanation. Still I would distinctly and earnestly demand of our learned divines, some exposition of so remarkable a fact. Let them stand forth and tell us if they can, how it came to
that the heathen world obtained a knowledge of su grand, so important a doctrine, without a revelation, while the Jews could not discover it in one !
If one were to press me for an answer to the question how the doctrine of endless punishment, and its great prevalence in all parts of the world, and in almost all religions, is to be accounted for, I would answer, that it took its origin and found its chief aliment in the corruption and depravity of the human heart. When we consider the brutalignorance of the ancient heathen world, and the principleson which it generally acted, principles of almost unqualified selfishness and
with an utter disregard of the rights and the happiness of others; when we remember that their habitations were filled with cruelty, and their laws written in blood; when we consider well their whole character and history, we shall cease forever to wonder that this monstrous idea entered and took possession of their minds. All who thoroughly