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A METAPHYSICAL ARGUMENT FOR ENDLESS MISERY
Sometime since I attended divine service at the Second Presbyterian church, Cincinnati, and heard a discourse from the pastor, Dr. Beecher. Its subject was the reasonableness of endless misery, and its consistency with the divine goodness. Dr. B. is president of the Lane Seminary, and an ecclesiastic of very high reputation for learning and talents. Let us see what a gentleman of his calibre can do in a case of such difficulty. The following are the strong points in the discourse referred to.
"1st. God had a right to create minds, and it was benevolent in him to do so." Granted. "2nd. God had a right to institute laws for the government of minds so created." This too is granted. "3d. He had a right to guard his law by retributive sanctions." Very good. "4th. The system of government so instituted must last forever, for the same reasons will operate to keep it up which led at the first to its institution; and as its rewards and punishments are an essential part of the system, they must endure to eternity. Endless misery results of course." And if it does, endless reward results of course also, and what then becomes of the scriptural doctrine of salvation by grace? It goes by the root before this metaphysical axe of the Doctor's; eternal life, instead of being the gift of God, will be but a legal consequence of obedience to the divine government! But endless misery does not result; the Doctor's logic is purblind here. Suppose the criminal code of a land to last for a thousand years; does it follow that each transgressor under it must endure its penal inflictions for so long? That judge would be thought a whimsical expounder of the law, I fancy, who, finding the legal punishment for theft to be imprisonment, should, upon that ground, take it into his head that the culprit must be confined for so long as that statute should remain unaltered, if even to a hundred centuries! Moreover, if we allow the Doctor's consequence, on what basis will rest his own hopes of eternal blessedness? He has violated the law-its penalties are irrevocable, and therefore, (as he thinks,) eternal! We call a man a good logician who can prove all he wishes to prove; what may we call him who can prove a great deal more?
To reconcile endless misery with the divine benevolence, the Doctor had recourse to two illustrations; the first was to the following effect. A legislative body compose a code of laws for a particular realm; all their enactments are made with express reference to the public welfare; but in order to effect a result which shall be best on the whole, and for the generality, they find it absolutely necessary to append the penalties of perpetual imprisonment, and even a forfeiture of life in certain cases; whereupon an individual among them remonstrates—“Take care what you do, (he exclaims,) these penalties may come to bear upon some of yourselves, your children, or your children's children; therefore, be cautious how you proceed, for by this act you may possibly be sealing your own doom, or theirs." "What shall be done now?” (enquired the Doctor.) "Either the good of the whole public must be left unguarded through an overweening tenderness toward a comparatively few abandoned individuals, or they must be sacrificed to the general interest; which shall we prefer ?"
This comparison betwixt a legislature and the deity is far more plausible than just; for no difficulties of the kind here supposed arise in God's way; he is never reduced to a choice between two or more evils; it is as perfectly in his power to secure the ultimate good of the whole as of a part; if I doubted this in regard to every individual part composing that whole, I should equally doubt it in regard to any. I wish our opponents would tell us at once whether they do or do not deny the divine omnipotence; for if they do not, why are they perpetually nibbling at it with this species of sophistry? But why do I speak of his power? His wisdom and benevolence are equally crippled by this sort of comparisons. He cannot frame a system of government, it would seem, which will not subject him to the hard necessity of foregoing the claims of benevolence with regard to some of his creatures, out of respect to the well-being of the greater numher!
The Doctor's other illustration was less hacknied; I know not but it originated with himself. It was, in substance, as follows: "Suppose that before the work of creation was begun, the Almighty had anticipated it, by at once calling into momentary existence all the intelligences whom he contemplated ever to create, in order to obtain their vote upon the question whether they would prefer to be, (subject to all the liabilities of being, which are contemplated
by the doctrine of endless misery,) or to return to non-existence, and to remain non-existent forever." "I foresee (the Creator tells them,) that some of you will violate my laws, and subject yourselves to my eternal displeasure; but this will result from no decree or purpose of mine, but from the incurable perverseness of such individuals themselves, in despite of all the efforts of my goodness to prevent it. Will you, then, that I prosecute my purpose of creating you, to live forever, and subject to the risk (which shall only be realized in regard to a comparative few) that your being shall be rendered eternally miserable by disobedience; or shall I abandon my purpose, forgo my benevolent plan, with all the incalculable amount of enjoyment to millions of millions which shall result therefrom, merely out of regard to the relatively small quantity of misery which is unavoidably incident to it?" The universal vote in such a case we have been, (as the Doctor thinks,) "Create us; we will prefer to exist and take the risk, rather than to continue in eternal nothingness; and if any of us shall be so ungrateful as to violate our obligations to thy goodness, and so perverse as to rush through every obstacle of thy grace down to final ruin, we shall deserve the result, and we consent to abide it-let us live!"
My dear reader, I trust you are not such a dolt as to be unable to perceive the fallacy in the above case; it consists, you must see, in supposing Jehovah reducee the alternative of either creating some beings for final misery, or not creating them at all! If this is not absurdity, essential, quintessential absurdity, then is there no such thing in the universe. Moreover, it is very doubtful if that assemblage of intelligences would, in the case supposed, have rendered any such vote, even allowing the proposition to have been presented in the soft and guarded terms which the Doctor has employed. But how, according to his doctrine, stands the reality? Certainly far less favorably than here represented. From the state of human society since the lapse of our first parents down to present times, (6000 years) I am warranted in saying, that if the notion of endless misery be true, ninety-nine hundredth's of mankind will be eternally lost! Would a multitude of beings deserve to be called intelligent, who should consent to accept of existence in view of any result approximating this? Would the Doctor himself consent to be the parent of any
given number of children, out of which a proportion, answering to that of the human family which shall sink to eternal woe, should certainly be lost, ruined, abandoned to suffering and to infamy, forever and ever? Let him deliberately and conscientiously respond to this question, ere he again depicts his Creator's character in the hues of his dark and repulsive theology.
Oh Zion, arise! in thy glory appear,
Thy garments of beauty put on,
For the time of the singing of birds now is near,
Thy winter is over and gone.
Too long have the harps of thine exiles been mute,
For they said, "in the land of the stranger-pollute-
But the time long foretold by thy prophets is near,
When thine exiles, redeem'd, shall in Zion appear,
No more, then, forever thy sun shall go down,
Already the Gentiles are flocking to thee,
From the ends of the earth, from the isles of the sea;
Oh hail, thou blest season! thou era of gold!
ITS NATURE, ENDS, AND CERTAINTY, HARMONIZED WITH THE SCRIPTURE DOCTRINE OF FORGIVENESS.
"One of the most absurd features of the Universalian system," (once remarked a respectable minister to me, in a conversation on these subjects,) "is the notion, that in the divine economy, sin.is never forgiven, in the sense implying an exemption from deserved punishment! You nevertheless (continued he) affect to believe in the scripture doctrine of pardon upon the term of repentance; but how sin can be pardoned, and at the same time punished, I confess, surpasses my comprehension!" And yet, reader, there is no real solecism in this case. We are constantly witnessing facts which confirm the theory, that to pardon an offence, and yet to punish it, are acts not incompatible with each other. The case of Mr. B. is in point: gambling was his besetting vice; he lost at the gaming table the whole of his once large estate; but he has become a christian, and of course abjured his former evil practices; he has experienced forgiveness. But has the property he lost been restored to him? By no means: this penalty of his former sinfulness he must continue still to endure-hence it is plain that, though pardoned, he has not escaped punishment. Mr. S. is another instance to the same effect: he used to indulge a violent propensity for strife; the lightest occasion would excite his combativeness, and a fight was his first impulse. He lost an eye in one of his quarrels, which led him to reflect on the madness of his conduct. He is now, after many struggles, entirely cured of his pugnacious propensities-he is a reformed man, and enjoys the consciousness that his sins are remitted. Still, he has not regained his lost eye; he must continue to abide the deprivation as a penalty of his past folly. A hundred cases of the kind might be instanced, if necessary, to show that forgiveness, or a liberation from sin, does not imply an exemption from the penalty due to it. The reformed debauchee, for example, who by years of indulgence had wasted his bodily and mental energies, and contracted diseases⠀⠀: which either must shorten his days, or render them days of suffer ing to him; when he became a christian, did he find repentance