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quired of any one than to make a proper use of the talents which have been committed to him, so, if he fail in the performance of this requisition, he is justly liable to endless punishment. But let us suppose for a moment that we ourselves had been in the state of those unhappy persons who have been brought up in ignorance and vice; imagine that from our infancy we had been accustomed to associate with profligate companions, who had laughed at religion and treated moral obligation with contempt; in addition to these deplorable circumstances, suppose we had never been warned of our danger till we had advanced too far in the paths of vice to be able to recede; till our disposition was vitiated, and our sense of right and wrong almost obliterated; what would then have been our characters and conduct ? Highly as we may now stand in our own esteem, there is little reason to think that in such a case we should have been better than others. We might then, in a li. teral sense, and with the strictest propriety, have been said to be educated for destruction. It would be frivolous, on that supposition, to say that nothing more was required of us than it was in our power to perform ; for to expect us to practise virtue in such circumstances, would be quite as unreasonable as it would be to require any one to work at a mechanical trade, when he had been apprenticed to another totally different.
The case of those who persist in disobedience to the divine precepts will appear still more worthy of commiseration, if it be admitted, as most of
those who plead for eternal misery maintain, that all mankind inherit a depraved nature from our original progenitors; so that, from our infancy, we are naturally averse to good and prone to evil. And if it be farther conceded to the advocates for reputed orthodoxy, that men are not only radically depraved, but that they have likewise a malignant, subtle, and powerful spirit to contend with, who is incessantly plotting their destruction by means adapted to their depraved appetites, will it not appear to be the height of injustice and cruelty to punish them with eternal misery for not succeeding in a contest with so potent an adversary, and on terms so extremely disadvantageous ?
Nor will this difficulty be removed by alleging that the spirit of God is always ready to assist those who humbly apply for aid to the throne of grace : for are not the dispositions of men too cor. rupt, both by nature and habit, to desire this assistance ? Have they not a fixed aversion to that course of life which it would lead them to follow ? Was not this aversion contracted by means over which they could have no influence ? Did it not proceed from a cause which operated long before they were in being? Was it not confirmed and increased by concurring circumstances at too early a period for them to be aware of its consequences? Of what use then is the offer of that assistance to them which it seems they are unable to request, or even to desire ?
Whatever theory may be embraced with respect to the inherent powers of man, and the purity
or the depravity with which he is brought into the world, it cannot be denied that there is an infinite disproportion between a momentary period of transgression, and an eternal duration of punishment. On what principles of justice, then, can the latter be vindicated as the appointed consequence
of the former? With our ideas of justice and equity, it seems utterly irreconcilable. And shall we, for the sake of maintaining a favourite tenet, affirm that, according to the most accurate ideas of justice and equity which we have been able to form, it is not an attribute of the Deity ?
Nor does it diminish the force of this objection to allege that we are not competent to judge of the divine dispensations; for this is not a complex case, attended with difficulties too great for our limited understandings. It is an undeniable principle, to which every one above the state of idiocy must necessarily assent, that the punishment ought to be proportioned to the crime. And it is equally evident that between the period of human life and eternity, there is no proportion what
If then we were to conceive the Creator appealing to us, as he formerly did to the Israelites by the prophet, for the equity of his proceedings, must we not be compelled to answer in the negative?
The divine Being is not less unwilling that his creatures should be miserable, than we are to be spectators of their sufferings. But could we possibly be happy, in any circumstances whatever, while the horrible reflection must frequently occur,
that innumerable multitudes of our fellow-creatures, who began their existence on the same planet with ourselves, who possessed similar faculties, and were liable to similar impressions, with some of whom we were personally acquainted, must now be eternally groaning under the intolerable scourge of omnipotent wrath ; for ever impelled, by the extremity of their torments, to curse their existence and blaspheme their Creator? Sooner than participate in such a happiness, let me perish for ever. I should in that case “ wish that myself were accursed from Christ, for my brethren, my kinsmen, according to the flesh.”
It is acknowledged, on all sides, that the same scriptures which are supposed to teach the doctrine of endless misery, at the same time represent the Almighty as just, merciful, and gracious. Were this actually the case, as the scriptures would then evidently contradict themselves, there would be wanting no other argument to invalidate their authority. On whatever grounds we ascribe moral excellence to God, on the same grounds we are compelled to reject the idea of eternal punishment. No sentiment so dishonourable to the Deity can possibly be true ; nor ought it to be received, even though it were declared to us“ by an angel from heaven.”
But let us study the scriptures with the same candour and impartiality that we would other writ. ings of infinitely less importance; let us not sit down with a determination to discover in them ab. surdities; let us make a reasonable allowance for
the eastern phraseology which they certainly exhi. bit, and I am much deceived if we then find them to inculcate so horrible a tenet. We know that expressions are frequently hyperbolical. Can any one believe that if all the miracles which Jesus did had been recorded, “even the world itself” literally speaking, “ could not contain the books which should be written?" But it would be less extravagant to conclude that the manuscripts in which these miracles were related, without a single repetition, would cover the surface of the globe up to the highest region of the atmosphere, than that an infinitely wise and benevolent Being would inflict endless sufferings on the creatures of his own hand, weak, ignorant, inexperienced, and beset on all sides with temptations, for the offences of a moment.
I would submit it to the consideration of our unitarian societies, whether it be not an object equally worthy of their attention to vindicate the doctrine of future temporary punishment, with that of defending the unity of God. Is it not as pernicious to think the Supreme Being vindictive, revengeful, and malignant, as it is to give his worship to another ? May it not have a worse effect on our own moral character* ? Is it not as likely
* The effect of combining such opposite qualities in our ideas concerning the character of the Deity, will probably be, that, although our dispositions are morose, unrelenting, and tyrannical, we shall deceive ourselves into a belief that we are all the while acting in strict consonance with the principles of justice, mercy, and forgiveness.