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Their enjoyment, therefore, is merely of a sensual, earthly, animal kind. They enjoy themselves in the same manner as do the brutes; in the same manner as does the horse, the ox, or the swine. Reader, is this the greatest good of life? Is this the highest happiness allotted to human beings? We tell you, nay. And, if you think it is, we tell you, you have made a sad and most fatal mistake, which, sooner or later, and before you leave this earthly clime, you will learn to your sorrow.
. But some will say, perhaps, “We know the doctrine of retribution in this life is not true, for we have practised virtue, and have received no reward.” If you have received no reward, it must be for some of the following reasons. Either you are not what you profess to be, or you have made a false estimate of what constitutes virtue; or you practise it from wrong motives; or, in looking for an imaginary reward in a future world, you have overlooked the real one, and trampled it under your feet. If it is for either of these reasons, your case forms no objection to our theory. You receive no reward, for the reason that you do not deserve any.
3. Another objection is, " The theory of retribution in this life is of bad moral tendency.”. Of bad moral tendency! Why? How? “O!” it is said, “ this theory makes all reward and punishment limited, and confines both to this world. Consequently, the inducements presented to the mind of man, for him to practise virtue and refrain from vice, are not great enough.” • Man," it is said, " is greatly influenced by appeals to his hopes and fears. Hence, the greater the reward promised, and punishment threatened, the greater the influence.”
This theory, then, “makes all reward and punishment limited.” Well, suppose it does. Is not man a finite being ? Is he not exceedingly limited in all his capacities, capabilities, and powers? Is he not a frail child of humanity, and extremely liable to err? No man can dispute that he is. Should he not, then, be the subject of limited rewards and punishments ? How absurd to suppose the contrary! The very fact, then, on which this objection is based, that this theory makes rewards and punishments limited, is a strong confirmation of its truth. But, “it confines rewards and punishments to this world.” Very well. Where does man do his deeds of virtue and vice? Is it not in this world ? Most certainly it is. Well, what time and place more suitable to reward and punish him,
than at the time when, and in the place where, he deserves it? But, “the inducements are not sufficient.” Are not? But do men love their wives, parents, brothers, sisters, or children, because they expect to be rewarded for it in another world? Or do they refrain from hating them for fear of being punished in another world if they do? If such be the fact, then our sentiments of respect for human nature must sink into nothing; and all men may exclaim with Brutus: “O virtue, I have worshipped you as a god, but have found thou art but an empty name!” Again, does the farmer labor and toil to cultivate his farm, sow his seed, and gather his crops, thinking that he will be rewarded for it in eternity ? Does the mechanic pursue his daily avocation for the sake of any other reward than that which he receives here? Will a man perform a day's labor with any more faithfulness or cheerfulness, under the promise of a reward however great in eternity, than he will under the promise of a dollar at the close of his day's labor ? Once
Do the wicked practise sin in this world with the expectation of being rewarded for it in another ? No. All these are actuated solely and simply by present motives. If, then, the wicked can be induced to practise sin for the sake of the pleasure which they imagine is connected therewith in this life, cannot the virtuous be induced to practise.virtue for the sake of that happiness which is the certain and sure reward of it here? But suppose those whom we denominate the virtuous are actuated by the motives which the objector would present, are they worthy of the appellation, virtuous, which we bestow upon them? Suppose you see a man administer to the wants and necessities of his fellow-men. You ask him why he does it. He replies : “For the sake of obtaining heaven.” You ask him if he has no sympathies for human kind; no benevolence of heart; no humanity to man. And he tells you “no, he is actuated by higher motives than these, his object is to secure his own happiness in the paradise above.” What would you think of such a warm-hearted philanthropist as this? Or, suppose you see a man tempted to do evil, to steal, rob, or murder, as the case may be, but he resists. You ask him why he did not commit the act. He replies: “I most certainly should have done it, bad I not been afraid of going to hell if I did.” What would you think of a man of such strong virtuous principle as this ? Would you think either of these characters meritorious, or deserving of any reward what
ever ? Certainly not. No. Barbarians practise on better principles than these ; and the veriest heathen on earth would scout such morality and virtue.
“But man is a being actuated by hope and fear.” So he is. But does it follow that we are to make unreal representations to his hopes and fears? We know this plan has been adopted. Parents sometimes adopt it in the government of their children. They will tell them of ghosts and hobgoblins, of immortal devils, and bears in the cellar. But what rational man ever supposed that children were ever made any better by such a course of treatment? The fears of mankind have been appealed to too much. Past history proves that sanguinary laws and cruel penalties have always defeated their own object. The fear of an endless hell may perhaps restrain the outward actions of some, but it never made one single soul any better. It has no power to purify the human heart.
The reward which the objector would offer is greater than the one we offer, to be sure; but it is more remote, and by thousands would not be judged to be very certain. The punishment which the objector would threaten is greater than that we threaten. But the objector himself provides a way by which it may be easily escaped. Timely repentance will wipe off the stain, and exonerate from the penalty. Hence, there is no certainty about it. Now, it appears to us that it must be obvious to every man of sense, that the preaching of rewards and punishments which are absolutely certain and sure, will exert a more powerful influence upon man, than the preaching of rewards and punishments which are uncertain, even although the latter may be much greater than the former. Is the doctrine of present rewards and punishments, then, of bad moral tendency? Is it dangerous to inform mankind that happiness is connected with virtue, and misery with vice ? Does not man love happiness, and dread misery? Is it wrong, then, to tell him that if he practises virtue, he will be happy ? that if he practises sin, he will certainly and inevitably be miserable? Is it because mankind have believed this doctrine in past ages, that licentiousness has abounded and sin so extensively prevailed ? No. God knows it is not so. It is because they have believed that there is pleasure in sin, and that virtue and religion were designed to make their pleasures less on earth. The world can never be reformed until this wicked, and abominable, and pernicious error, is rooted out.
When mankind are brought to believe, firmly and sincerely, that there is a reward for virtue this side of a located heaven, and a recompense for vice this side of a located hell, then virtue will reign triumphant, and a more powerful, thorough, and general reformation will take place than the world ever yet saw.
4. It has been objected that “ This is the same doctrine that was held by the ancient Sadducees.” We know the Sadducees believed in the doctrine of present rewards and punishments. In this we agree with them.
But they also held that death was the last end From this we dissent. We are not, therefore, Sadducees, because we happen to agree with them on the doctrine of rewards and punishments. We believe in the existence of one God. So does the objector; so did the Pharisees ; so did the Sadducees. But is the objector a Universalist, Pharisee, or Sadducee, because he agrees with them in believing in one God? The Sadducees believed implicitly in the five books of Moses, and received them as a rule of faith and practice. They could not find the doctrine of future retribution in them; but they did find the doctrine of retribution in this life; hence they rejected the former, and embraced the latter. And this is one of our reasons for doing the same. The Sadducees held other doctrines, which in a great degree nullified the influence of their views respecting rewards and punishments upon them; but, notwithstanding this, they were a much more moral, virtuous, and respectable sect than their neighbors the Pharisees, although the latter believed in the (supposed to be) purifying doctrine of future retribution. They never received half the censures, nor half the condemnatory denunciations, from Jesus Christ, that the Pharisees did. Jesus frequently spoke of the Pharisees as “hypocrites, whited sepulchres, serpents, generation of vipers," &c.; but he never bestowed these appellations upon the Sadducees. And although he warned his disciples to beware of the doctrine of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, yet we are not informed that the views of the Sadducees respecting rewards and punishments was the doctrine referred to. It is far more probable that it was their doctrine respecting a future state.
5. It is said " That there is no mercy in this system of rewards and punishments." No mercy in it! Is it so, then, that God cannot be just, and at the same time be merciful? If so, then to those who are punished God is not merciful, and to those who are
saved, h3 is not just. This impeaches both the justice and mercy of the divine Being. The highest exercise of mercy consists in withholding uñnecessary or unjust punishment. Hence, God can punish his creatures all that justice requires, and at the same time be merciful to them. He can be both just and merciful at the same time. Cannot a parent chastise his children all they deserve, and do it in mercy? So can God. Hence the Psalmist says, “ Unto thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy; for thou renderest to every man according to his works.” Ps. 62: 12.
6. But it is also said “ There is no grace in this system.” “ Mankind,” it is said, “according to this system, are punished all they deserve; and, therefore, there is no room for the exercise of grace.” Indeed! But are not these rewards and punishments limited ? And is there not room enough for the exercise of grace after the dispensation of rewards and punishments has ceased ? Cannot a father punish and reward his children all they merit, and, after they arrive to the age of twenty-one years, give them each a farm as an act of grace ? And cannot God reward and punish his creatures all they merit in time, and in eternity bestow upon them immortality, as his gift to them through grace ? Certainly, the fact of our having been justly dealt by in time gives us no claim on God for any benefits to be extended to us in another world. But we have shown it to be the doctrine of the Bible that “ God will render to every man according to his works.” If, therefore, the objector thinks there is no mercy nor grace in this theory, we leave him to settle the dispute with the Bible.
7. It is objected that “ This theory gives no rational account of what, or in what, the punishment of sin consists." We think we have been sufficiently plain and definite on this subject; but, if the objector is not satisfied, we will now try to make ourselves understood. The nature of the punishment of sin depends altogether upon the nature of the sin committed. If it is a neglect of the physical laws, then it is a deprivation of the enjoyment which flows from the exercise of the physical powers. If a violation of these laws, it is the physical pain and misery which is the necessary consequence. If it is a neglect of the intellectual laws, it is a deprivation of the pleasure derived from the exercise of these faculties ; and, besides, the individual must be deplorably ignorant, and, in point of intellect, sink to a level with the brute creation.