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people during their sojourn in the wilderness; yea, during their whole history from the earliest period down to the present time. We might cite his judgments upon the different heathen nations for their oppression of the Jews; his judgments on Babylon, Assyria, Tyre, Sidon, Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum, and Jerusalem. But the above instances are sufficient to show that mankind are sometimes, at least, rewarded and punished in this life.
Remarks on Rewards and Punishments.
The three preceding sections are designed to prove, not that there is, or will be, no retribution in the future world, but that there is a retribution in this. We have purposely omitted those threatenings contained in the Bible which, by some, are supposed to relate to a punishment to be inflicted in a future state of existence. The strongest of those passages containing them, and those most relied on by the advocates of future retribution, will be considered in the course of this work.
It appears to us that on no subject whatever have mankind so greatly and so generally erred as on the subject of rewards and punishments. And on few, if any subjects, is it more important to the well-being and happiness of man that he should have correct views and information.
The theory of rewards and punishments, which has most extensively prevailed in the world, is this: That this world is a state of probation or trial, where mankind are forming characters for eternity. That there is no such thing as retributive justice in this world; but that the reward of virtue, and punishment of vice, are reserved to be administered in a future state of existence. In opposition to this theory we urge the following objections.
1. It renders the reward of virtue, and the punishment of vice, extremely uncertain. God is unchangeable; his law is immutable, and his system of moral government is the same, yesterday, to-day, and forever. If, therefore, virtue goes unrewarded, and vice unpunished, in time, what proof have we that such will not always continue to be the case? We are aware that some writers have
asserted that "mankind are not rewarded and punished in time, therefore they will be in eternity." But what kind of logic is this? Is the conclusion embraced in the premises? So far from it the only legitimate inference or conclusion to be drawn from the premises is this: Mankind are not rewarded nor punished in time, therefore they never will be. If God is not just in this world, we have no proof that he ever will be.
2. If this theory be admitted to be true, it renders it absolutely certain that some virtuous actions will never be rewarded, and that some vicious acts will never be punished. All mankind do some good and some evil. If, therefore, some are admitted into heaven because the balance of their actions have been good, then they will receive no retribution for their sins. On the other hand if some men go to hell because the balance of their actions have been evil, then they will receive no reward for their good deeds. If mankind do not go to heaven on the ground of merit, but because they have complied with the conditions of the gospel, then those who comply with these conditions will not be punished for their sins; and those who do not comply, will not be rewarded for their virtues. If mankind go to heaven by reason of some miraculous change, which is wrought in them in this life, it amounts to precisely the same thing. Those who experience this change will not be punished for the sins which they have committed; those who do not experience it will not be rewarded for their good deeds.
3. It destroys all distinction between the effects of good and evil in this world. According to this theory, good is not good, because it produces happiness here; nor evil evil, because it produces misery. If it be admitted that the virtuous, in consequence of their virtues, are more happy than the vicious, or that the vicious, in consequence of their vices, are more miserable than the virtuous, this overthrows the theory against which we are contending, because it is an admission that there is a sort of retribution in this life. But, so far from this being admitted, it is even contended by some that, as a general thing, the righteous suffer more in this world than the wicked, and that the wicked enjoy more happiness than the righteous. The advocates of this opinion admit a distinction between the effects of good and evil, to be sure; but it is a distinction altogether in favor of evil. If this be true, then vice is rewarded with happiness, and virtue with misery! How do the
advocates of this opinion know but that such a state of things may always continue? If so, then in order to be happy we must be vicious, and in order to avoid misery we must avoid practising virtue. A theory which can be reduced to such absurdities cannot possibly be true. We know of nothing that is evil except that which lessens happiness, and produces misery; nor of anything that is good except that which produces happiness, and lessens misery. Now, if the opinion just referred to be true, then good is converted into evil, and evil into good.
4. It supposes that causes may exist, and be in operation in this world, without producing any effect whatever. It is no more true that an effect cannot exist without a cause, than it is that a cause cannot exist without producing an effect. Now, virtue and vice exist in this world, and are causes; they must, therefore, produce their effects. To suppose that the vicious enjoy more happiness than the virtuous, is to suppose that virtue is the cause of misery, and vice the cause of happiness.
5. It is contrary to analogy. It places the effects and consequences of men's actions altogether beyond the sphere in which they act, and involves the absurd idea that we can sow our seed in one field and reap the harvest in another. Mankind exercise their physical powers-eat, drink and sleep; cultivate the social relations of life-love their parents, their wives, their husbands, and their children, without expecting to be rewarded for it in a future state of existence. Why, then, can they not love God, obey his law, cultivate and exercise their intellectual and moral faculties, without expecting a reward in the future world?
6. It is of exceedingly pernicious moral tendency. The very idea of retribution in another world for deeds performed in this, presupposes that virtue is not rewarded, nor vice punished, here. Now, to promulgate such a sentiment to the world is directly calculated to produce the following impressions upon the minds of Some will be led to conclude that, as neither virtue nor vice are rewarded now, they never will be; and, therefore, it is a mat ter of perfect indifference which of them is practised. Others will be led to conclude that happiness and misery are not at all dependent upon men's actions, but that all the evils of this world are a kind of matter of course, and unescapable and unavoidable. Hence they will make no exertions to secure happiness on the one hand
nor to avoid evil or misery on the other. Again, others will come to the conclusion, that the reward of virtue, and the punishment of vice, are extraneous, entirely separate and abstract from the deeds performed, and that, therefore, virtue is not to be loved and practised for its own intrinsic value, nor vice shunned and detested for its own intrinsic odiousness. Hence they will suppose that the reward of the virtuous, in a future state, is a sort of offset, or compensation, to them for the trials, and deprivations, and sufferings, which they have endured in the practice of virtue; and the punishment of the wicked an offset to the happiness they have enjoyed in the practice of sin. This view of the subject is directly calculated to frighten and drive men from virtue, and disincline them to its practice.
If, in addition to the doctrine of no retribution in this life, you add to it that the wicked enjoy themselves the best in this world, then you increase its demoralizing tendency in a tenfold degree; because this is not only calculated to make men hate virtue, but it is directly calculated to make them love vice. happiness; this is "his being's end and aim." this law of our nature "fast in fate." He has so constituted us that we have an instinctive desire of happiness, and dread of misery. Men will pursue that course which they think will yield the greatest amount of happiness. Tell them, then, that to be virtuous they will be miserable, and that to be vicious they will be happy, and they will cling to vice with a death-like grasp, and avoid virtue as they would avoid the jaws of death.
If, in addition to this, you add that the retributions of eternity may be easily escaped by a timely repentance, then you have got the old serpent's doctrine in complete perfection. "Ye shall not surely die." That it is by no means certain. Some way of escape will be provided, by which the threatened calamity will not come upon you. Under the influence of this doctrine, thousands have come to the conclusion to secure the happiness of this life by a course of sin, and then by a timely repentance escape the threatened punishment, and secure the happiness of eternity into the bargain. If there is any doctrine on earth which gives man a complete license to sin, this is the very one. We know of no doctrine which can possibly be worse. Atheism promises no reward to the vicious. Deism promises not the exemption of punishment to the wicked
Now, man loves
but this doctrine promises happiness to the wicked, and assures them there is a way to escape all just retribution. But this doctrine is as false as it is pernicious. It deceived our first parents. It has deceived millions of the human race, and led them the downward way to shame, misery, disgrace and death. The siren song is still ringing in the ears of men, and deceiving thousands. It is high time it was banished from the world. May God speed the day!
7. It is contrary to human observation. Even some of the advocates of future retribution admit that the virtuous are most happy, and the vicious most miserable, in this world. The ancient heathen philosophers admitted this. A certain leading divine, of New England, who taught future retribution, was heard to say:
If there was no God, no heaven, no hell, no future state of existence, he would practise virtue for its own intrinsic value, and for its present reward." This is the true doctrine. When this sentiment prevails among men the world will be reformed, and not before. Let us now look over our own country, our own state, our own town, our own neighborhood, and ask ourselves what class of men, of all those with whom we are acquainted, are the most happy Are they the idle, the dissolute, the abandoned, the vicious? That man's powers of perception must be exceedingly small, and out of order, who cannot see that such is not the case. Again, let us ask ourselves what class are the most miserable. Are they the industrious, the prudent, the virtuous? Are they those who deal their bread to the hungry, who clothe the naked, visit the sick, rejoice with those who do rejoice, and weep with those that weep? So far from it, if we find a truly happy man, he is one in whose heart virtue reigns triumphant.
8. It is contrary to human experience. Who has not experi enced the pleasure and satisfaction derived from the consciousness of having done his duty? Who has not experienced the reward of virtue? Surely no one who has ever practised it. Virtue tends to misery, does it? No. If all the children of virtue could speak out on this subject, their united testimony would be, without one dissenting voice, it is not so; the reverse is the fact. The natural tendency of virtue is to happiness. Why is it that the wicked are miserable? Why is it that the greatest criminals, in the last hour of their earthly existence, invariably certify that their whole life has