« VorigeDoorgaan »
these days, when Christians speak about hell, they always mean the place of endless misery for the wicked. Now, the obvious reason of such difference between their mode of speaking and ours about hell is, that we have affixed a very different sense to this word from what they did. If we are to understand the Scriptures correctly, we must ascertain what sense the original writers attached to the words they used, without regarding the sense men may have given them, since the book of Revelation was completed. What right have we, or any one else, to alter the sense of the words used by the Holy Spirit?
2d, How the inspired writers in those days, and pious people in these, speak about hell to the wicked. Not an instance, can í find where it is intimated, that any such went to hell as a place of eternal misery. Both good and bad went to Sheol, but not a word is said, that this was such a place as people now think hell to be. If the Old Testament saints entertained the same ideas about hell, as most Christians do in our day, I wish some person would rationally and Scriplurally account to me for the following facts.
1st, If their belief was the same as in our day, why do we never find them express that belief about eternal punishment, as is now done in books, and sermons, and conference meetings, and in common conversation. No man can possibly deny the vast difference between their language, and the common language now used upon this subject. If the language is so different, is it not a presumptive proof that this in. vention of new language arose from the unscriptural doctrine that hell was a place of endless misery? An unscriptural doctrine always gives rise to unscriptur al language; for the words of Scripture are the very best which could be chosen to express the will of God to men. That doctrine is not of God, or the man who contends for it, has a wrong view of it, who thinks,
that the words of Scripture are not sufficiently definite in expressing it. "The man who can find similar ideas, and similar language in the Old Testament, as are in common use in our day about a place of eternal misery, must have read his Bible with more attention than I have done. After repeated and careful perusals of it, I frankly confess my inability to find either such ideas or language. I ask then, if the Old Testament writers had any such ideas, why did they not express them? I ask further, if they never expressed such ideas how do we know that they had them?
3d, How is it to be accounted for, that the fears and feelings of good people under the old dispensation, yea, their exertions also, were so differeni from the fears and feelings, and exertions of Christians in our day, about saving men from hell? It was no object of fear, of feeling, or of exertion in those days. In these, it is the ultimate object of the fears and feel. ings and exertions of the religious community. Let us glance at the conduct of men in those days about the subject of eternal punishment.
To begin with their fears; I do not find that they express any, and it is fair to conclude that they had none. If they had any fears, I have no doubt that on some occasion or other they would have expressed them. As I do not find them expressed, I cannot produce any examples of their fears about their children, their relations, their neighbours, or the world at large, going to eternal misery. As to their feelings, I do not find a sigh heaved, a tear shed, a groan uttered, a prayer offered, nor any exertions made, as if they believed men were exposed to endless misery in a future state. We see parents, and others, deeply affected at the loss of their children and friends by death. We see pious people deeply grieved on account of their disobedience to God's laws, but where
do we find any thing like any of the above expressions of feeling, arising from their belief, that such persons would lift up their eyes in endless misery? I find nothing of the kind expressed, either in the way of anticipation before death, or after such persons had been removed from the world. Now, is it not strange, that all this should be the state of the fears and feel. ings of good people, if they did indeed believe endless misery was to be the portion of the wicked? The whole race of mankind is swept from the earth by a flood, Noah and his family excepted; but, does ihis good man deplore, in any shape, that so many precious souls should be sent to hell ? God also destroyed the cities of the plain : Abraham intercedes that they might be spared, but uses no argument with God, that the people must go to hell to suffer eternal misery. Now suffer me to ask, if Abraham believed this doctrine, is it possible he should have failed to arge it as an argument, that all these wicked persons must go to hell, if God destroyed them? No notice is taken of the very argument, which in our day, would be most urged in prayer to God, if any thing similar was to take place. All who have read the Old Testament know, what vast numbers were cut off in a day, by war, and pestilence, and other means, yet do
you ever hear it deplored by a single individual, as it is often done in our day, that so many were sent out of the world to eternal misery? If, in short, this doctrine was then believed, a dead silence and the most stoical apathy were maintained even by good men about it.
Under the Old Testament dispensation, the sinful condition of the heathen nations, is often spoken about. But do we ever find the inspired writers representing those nations as all going to eternal misery, or did they use similar exertions to save them from it as are used in the present day? If the doctrine of eternal
misery was known and believed in those days, is it not very unaccountable, that so many ages should pass away, before God commanded the Gospel to be preached to every creature, and before those who knew their danger, should use exertions to save them from it? If the doctrine be false, we may cease to wonder at this, but if it be true, it is not easy to reconcile these things with the well known character of God, and the feelings of every good man. What an immense multitude of human beings, during four thousand years, must have lived and died ignorant that such a place of misery awaited them in a future state. It is evident, that both Jews and Gentiles, during the above period, were often threatened with, yea, suffered temporal punishment. God raised up, and sent prophets to warn them of his judgments against them. I am then totally at a stand, what to think, or what to say, in justification of God's character, the character of the prophets sent by him, yea, of all good men in those days, that, knowing eternal misery awaited every heathen, yea, every wicked Jew, that nothing should be said to them on this subject. Jonah was sent to Nineveh, and the sum of his message was,“yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown." But did he either receive, or did he deliver any message to them, that their souls were in danger of eternal misery? Nothing like this; and every one who has read the Old Testament knows, that this is only a single example from many more I might adduce. The very reason why Jonah refused to go to Nineveh was, he knew that God was a merciful God, and would spare Nineveh. After he did go, his pride was hurt, because God did not destroy the city as he had predicted. His peevish disposition was sufficiently manifested about this; but not a word escapes him that the Ninevites were exposed to endless pun. ishment. I ask, can a single instance be produced
from the Old Testament, where a prophet of the Lord, was ever sent to any people to warn them against eternal misery in a place called hell ? Yea, I go further, and ask, if any man can produce a single instance where a false prophet ever endeavoured to make gain to himself, by the doctrine of eternal misery! I do not find that either true or false prophets did so under that dispensation, or that this doctrine was known and believed by a single individual. As men were not threatened with such a punishment, so none were ever congratulated as being saved from it. As it was never held up to deter men from sin while ignorant of God, so it was never urged on believers to stimulate them to gratitude and obedience. Is it possible then, that this doctrine could be believed, yet all remain silent on the subject? If no revelation was given about it, how could men avoid such a punishment? If a revelation was given, how is it accounted for, that it is not mentioned by one of the Old Testament writers? If it is mentioned by any of them under any other name than Sheol, I am ig. norant of it; nor is this even pretended by those who believe the doctrine. I am fully aware, that there are two or three passages commonly quoted. For ex. ample, Dan. xii. 2. is perhaps the most plausible that can be adduced:-"and many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt." All I shall say of this text here, is, that were I fully convinced that the doctrine of eternal misery was true, I never could quote this passage in support of it. To assign my reasons here, would be aside from the present investigation.
5th, Another fact deserving our notice, is, that the living in speaking of their dead friends, never speak as if they were to be separated from them after death, but always as associated with them. This appears