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ON The tertMs EVERLASTING, AND ETERNAL, As applied to different subjects; and thoughts on FUTURE PUNIsh MENT. The whole deduced from, and in strict adherence to, the plain language, and the obvious meaning of the Scriptures. - *
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I have wondered to see what are called the good old worthies, and the orthodox party of the present day, so tenacious of the doctrine of endless misery: And it is remarkable, what absurdities and inconsistencies they will advance, in order to support it. The doctrine of eternal life, is most clearly and unequivocally asserted, throughout the New Testament. “It is expressed negatively, and positively, by a variety of words which admit of no misconstrustion. It is indeed written as with a sun-beam." But it is a fact, that few christians, comparatively, think much about—that the whole argument for the endless duration of hell torments, rests upon one word, and that this word does not mean eternity, in our common acceptation of the term. How this word is perverted, to suit their
purpose, the following facts will show:— “This word aionion, which is translated eternal, everlasting, and sometimes for ever, is used more than a hundred times in the Old Testament. Upon examination, it will be found, that this word," upon which the horrible fabric rests, “is only applied about nine times to punishment of any kind; and to the future punishment of the wicked, not more than sia: times.” But this is not all;-this word, upon which the whole system of never-ending misery depends, really does not mean everlasting, or eternal, but duration ; and this duration is always, in Scripture, measured by the subject to which it is applied. Why then should we not apply it in the same way, that the Scriptures authorize and teach us to do?— Eternity, when God is the subject, always signifies a real eternity. For instance, “The Lord shall reign for ever and ever.”—“I lift up my hand to heaven and say, I live for ever.”—“The eternal God is thy refuge.” In these passages, where the word in question is applied to the reign of God, the life of God, &c., its meaning must• be endless duration. But when it is said, "I will give unto thee, and to thy seed, the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession,"—" I will give it to thee and thy seed for ever;"—here, the duration measured by the very same word, is limited to the time that the Jews were to inhabit Canaan. "One generation passeth away, and another cometh; but the earth abideth for ever." Here, the creature earth, is the subject, it must, therefore, have a limited signification. "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for ever and ever."—" Even from everlasting to everlasting thou are God." These certainly mean a real eternity, as we know he is possessed of an endless life. But where God promises to make the Jews "an eternal excellency, a joy of many generations," no more is to be understood by the tenn "eternal," than the period of "many generations." It is evident, that the "everlasting mountains," mentioned in Hab. iii. 6, are not to be understood as equally durable with the everlasting ways of God, mentioned in the very same verse, and yet these are both expressed by the same word.
This word, therefore, translated eternal, everlasting, andfor ever, by which men would make the punishment of the wicked to have a never-ending duration, is equally applied to duration of various measures: And it is very evident, that to attach the meaning of never-ending duration to that term, when applied to the punishment of the wicked, is running counter both to the letter and the spirit of that gospel, that is emphatically styled, "glad tidings of great joy which shall be to all people." It is running counter to all those passages which represent Christ as "the Saviour of the toorld,"—" the Saviour of all men," &c., and these passages are almost numberless. And it is running counter also, to what every unbiased christian will acknowledge to be the genuine spirit of christian philanthropy, as experienced in his own mind and conscience. •
"The word aionion, on which the whole depends, is never used by St. Luke in iiis gospel, as connected with the punishment of the wicked; and by Mark only once, and that in a particular case (regarding the sin against the Holy Ghost, Mark iii. 29.) In the gospel by St. John, it is. not to be found at all, in connexion with punishment, nor in any of his three epistles. In the preaching of the gospel throughout the world, in the first ages of christianity, we do not find it mentioned in that light so much as once; no, not in all the sermons, and parts of sermons, which are recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. St. Paul never uses everlasting destruction, but once, in all his epistles. Neither are such words found in the epistles of James, or Peter, and but three times in the gospel by Matthew." When we see, then, that this word is so frequently, and indeed most frequently, applied to duration of various measures, how unwarrantable is it to build upon it such an awful doctrine, as the never-ending torments of the great bulk of the human race, and that too, in direct opposition both to the plain tetter, and the acknowledged spirit of the gospel!
"This word aion, as a substantive, occurs in the Greek Testament, one hundred and twenty-eight times; sixty-six times in the singular number, and sixty-two times in the plural. In our translation, it is rendered seventy-two times ever, twice eternal, thirtysix times world, seven times never, three times evermore, twice worlds, twice ages, once course, once world without end, and twice passed over, without having any word affixed as a translation of it. This is certainly taking such liberty with the sacred writings, as never was taken with the writings of any author! The knowledge of this circumstance ought, to induce any one, who is not the willing dupe of the orthodoxy, to guard against 'the craftsmen of modern divinity.' No attention has been paid to the singular or plural, nor any deference given to the parts of speech. We have the substantive, adjective, and adverb, all indiscriminately blended, in grand confusion. Had this word, and its derivative, been invariably rendered (according to its true import) in the singular, age; in the plural, ages; and the adjective aionion, agical, or age, lasting; the doctrine of endless wretchedness would have been evidently indefensible."
But not only is this word perverted from its true meaning in the Scriptures, but even translated as it is, to suit their damnatory views; it is, as already observed, of rare occurrence on the side of damnation, compared to its occurrence on the side of mercy. On consulting the Concordance, I find the word Eternal, only thrice, in all the Bible, as it respects punishment,—viz., "eternal damnation," Mark iii. 29.—" eternal judgement," Heb. vi. 2 and
"eternal fire," Jude 7. Now, besides the term "eternal glory," —" eternal salvation,"—" eternal weight of glory,"—" eternal redemption,"—" eternal inheritance," &c. I find the term "eternal life," alone, no less than twenty-nine times in the New Testament. Again; I find the word Ever Lasting, forty-five time* in the Old, and twenty-one time9 in the New Testament. Many of these do I find connected with life and glory; and but four times in the Old Testament, and four in the New, can I find it wearing any other aspect to mankind, than that of love and benevolence. But the term "everlasting life" alone, occurs no less than fifteen times. Eternal misery, on the score of divine justice, is an absurdity. For if justice required it (as we are taught to believe), justice would require a satisfaction, which it never could receive. For when millions of ages should have revolved over poor miserable sinners, jusice would then be as far from being satisfied, as at the commencement of their sufferings. Nay, we are even told, that the accumulation of their guilt, will increase with the duration of their punishment! In this case, the proposed satisfaction never can be complete.
I do admit, that "the wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God," and also that they shall be punished with "everlasting destruction," in the scripture acceptation of the term, and all other passages of a similar import. But if these "wicked," and these "nations," are to remain in heH throughout eternity, how will you reconcile this with the following scriptures? "Thou shalt inherit all nations,"—" AH nations whom thou hast made, shall come and worship before thee."—" All the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him;" and many other passages, to the same extent and meaning.
I freely grant,. I say, to all those passages that relate to future punishment, their full and legitimate force and weight. I admit, in the scripture sense and meaning of the passages (and their meaning can only be ascertained by comparing scripture with scripture), all the denunciations that are aimed against the wicked; but when I have admitted these, and every other passage of a similar aspect, they cannot possibly overthrow the doctrine of the final " restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began." This doctrine, so clearly expressed, throughout the scriptures, remains the same, and God will be faithful to his word and promises. That there are very strong expressions in scripture, in reference to punishment, and the apparent endless duration of it, is readily granted: And were it not that the scriptures, so fully, and with less ambiguity, proclaim pardon and salvation to all mankind, without exception,—and were it not that we are warranted, by numberless passages, not to attach the meaning of proper eternity, to these denunciations; the advocates of the awful doctrine would have much weight on their side, notwithstanding the inconsistency, and fiend-like nature of it. But, taking the scriptures, as a whole, while they doom the unbeliever to damnation, they also represent God as the Saviour of "a}l flesh," (1 Tim. iv. 10.) When we are told that "the wicked shall be turned into hell," (Psal. ix. vii.), we are also told that " by the blood of his covenant, he shall send forth his prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water," (Zech. ix. 11.), which certainly refers to hell. We are assured that "the righteous shall be saved, and the wicked shall be damned," (Mat. xxv. 46.) But the Bible also tells us of a time, when " there shall be no more death, sorrow, or pain, for the former things are passed away,"—that the Saviour "gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time,"—that he will vanquish hell itself; and "swallow up death in victory, and wipe away tears from off all faces"
There are no passages to be found, in all the Bible, in reference either to the severity of future punishment, or the endless duration of it, that are expressed in language more strong and awful, than the following;—let us, therefore, understand all those to have a similar meaning, which refer to the future punishment of the wicked. "My fury shall be poured out upon this place, and it shall• burn, and shall not be quenched," (Jer. vii. 20.) Now we know, from the event, that nothing more was meant here, than the rain of Jerusalem, by the Chaldean army, and the captivity of the Jews. And when we read in chap. xvii. 27., "I will make a fire to'kindle in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched," it is evident, from the restoration of the Jews, which afterwards took place, that the burning here mentioned, refers to their temporal calamities; and the time of its duration, was only until it should accomplish the work of consuming, and purifying, for which it was intended. But farther :—r..• . *,. io ji&4,
In Isaiah's prophecy, chap. 34., we have similar judgements thus represented, "And the streams thereof (Idumea) shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch. It shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up for ever—none shall pass through it for ever and ever." Now, let me again ask,—are not the above expressions fully as strong, if not stronger, than any thing used by