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will not suffer themselves to be moved by it, he imagines, "will hardly ever be moved by the Sup“posal of this absolute, but, to a free Reasoner, “perfectly incredible eternal Duration of that Punishment.” (p. 141.) And thus far we agree, that where eternal Punishment is not believed, it is not likely to influence. His free Reasoners therefore are out of the question: Unless their free living may serve to shew the natural Tendency of such Principles, and in what they generally end. However, this Point must not be decided merely by Practice. Many who pretend to believe, or at least do not profess to deny, a miserable Eternity, do by no means act agreeably to that Persuasion. Want of Consideration, as well as Want of Faith, may defeat the just Influence which it ought, and otherwise would have upon them. The Question is, which of the two Opinions is best calculated in its own Nature to secure Obedience ? A Question, one would think, which can admit of no Dispute. For sure the Duration of any Punishment is a matter of some weight. The longer this Duration is likely to be, the more is the Punishment to be feared, and avoided : And consequently, eternal Punishment is more to be feared, than any other Punishment whatsoever. It is for this Reason, we say, that eternal Punishment is threatened in Scripture: None other is so well adapted to Obedience to the Divine Laws. And admitting the Premises, which I have proved before, viz. that eternal Punishment is threatened, it follows demonstrably from the Wisdom of God, that it is the likeliest Means to answer the End proposed. This Point of
1 Et revera nisi magis abhorruisset Natura humana à summa Miseria et æterno Cruciatu, quam ab Insensibilitate aut Annihilatione, Deus minatus fuisset improbis Annihilationem, non
the Importance then will rest after all on the Point of the Truth; and if This has been established, we need be in no pain about the former.
There is however another Writer, to whom I must pay my Respects once more before I conclude. The French Letter-writer is confident that the Doctrine he opposes is so very incredible, that no Man can believe it. “We only imagine we believe it ;” and he“ dares “ be positive, that no Man is really persuaded of it.” In this View it is an easy thing for him to prove, that it is not likely to produce any great Effects. “Nothing " that is over-strained, or seems exaggerated, strikes “the Mind. Let a Schoolmaster tell his Scholar that “his Father will hang him if he doth not study; he “ laughs at the Menace : It is too much disproportion’d 'both to his own Demerits, and the Idea he enter
tains of his Father's Equity.” 1 All this appears to me to be a way of reasoning very singular and surprizing. Whether God has revealed the Doctrine of eternal Punishment in the Scriptures, and whether Christians do, and ever did, believe it, seem to me to be Enquiries of Fact. But this Gentleman proves à priori as it were, if he proves any thing, that neither of these can be the Case. For a Being of infinite Wisdom can never propose That, as a Motive of Fear and Obedience, which is so incredible in itself, that no Man can really believe it. Instead therefore of following this Writer in his Reveries and à priori Reasonings, it is sufficient to appeal to Scripture for the Determination of one of these Enquiries, and to Fact and Experience for the other. Only I would æternum Cruciatum, atque eo modo homines à vitiis magis deterruisset. Burnet. ubi sup.
1 Letters, &c. p. 404.
take notice that his case of the School-master and the Scholar, is so far from being a parallel one, or any Illustration at all of the Case in hand, that it comes not up to it in one Circumstance. Put the Case thus; a Father threatens his Son, that if he will persist in his Course of most obstinate Disobedience and Rebellion, he must, and will, disinherit him; the Consequence of which will be all imaginable Misery and Distress. Will the Son have any Reason to laugh at the Menace ? He may indeed, through Self-flattery and Self-deceit, think it too much disproportion'd to his own Demerits, or he may hope, from the Weakness and fond Indulgence of a human Parent, that his Father will be better than his Word. And thus as to the Threats of eternal Misery, Sinners may deceive themselves; -may entertain too low Thoughts of the Evil, Guilt, and Malignity of Sin in general, or of their own in particular ;-or may have some mistaken Notions concerning the Mercy of God. But all this is their own Act, and their own Fault; and does not follow from the Doctrine itself, but is owing to their Abuse or Disbelief of it. And this is Answer enough to what this Writer farther suggests, viz. that our Doctrine is of ill Consequence to the Morals of Men. For, says he, “if they are not professed Highway
men, Traitors, Blasphemers, &c. they cannot conceive “that God will condemn them to frightful and endless “ Torments.” Nay, “not only these Persons flatter
themselves with Impunity, but even Sinners of the "first Magnitude, Traitors, and the Perjured, &c. all " of them to a Man hope to escape Hell, either by repenting, as they propose to do, sooner or later; or " through the infinite Mercy of God, that will get the “ better of Justice, as they speak.” (p. 291.) And so truly because Men are hardened through the Deceit
fulness of Sin, because they flatter and impose upon themselves, and disbelieve the Word of God, because Wickedness alters their Understandings, and Deceit beguiles their Souls; therefore the Doctrine of eternal Torments is of ill consequence.
Come then, let us change it at once, and introduce this Author's System of a Purification and Restoration. See the wonderful Effects of this new System! The Highwaymen and Traitors, the perjured Persons, and Sinners of the first magnitude, are converted, and become good Christians! But seriously, what reason is there to expect such Effects from such a Cause? May not this Doctrine be abused, and made an Encouragement to continue in Sin, as well as our's ? Is it not easy for a Sinner of this Persuasion to delude himself, and think that a small Share of purifying Punishment will serve his Turn; after which he shail be restored to Happiness, and the Favour of God? The Author suggests in another place, (p. 173.) that “the Ap
prenticeship, which they must serve in the other “World, will prove harder than it would have been in
this.” Be it so ; yet Men attached to their Vices, would trust the Event. They would willingly believe that it would not be very long, or very severe ; and they would enjoy the Pleasures and Profits of Sin during this Life, since they could redeem Matters in the next. In short, our Lord and his Apostles have plainly told us, what sort of Men shall not inherit the Kingdom of God. If any such Sinners flatter themselves with the Hopes of Impunity, it is only a Proof of the Deceitfulness, or Infidelity, of their own evil Hearts; and the Consequence be to themselves. The Doctrine of everlasting Punishment is not to be blamed for it, which has only This in common with other Truths of Religion, that it may be perverted, and made an ill Use of, by particular Men. And if this once be made the Rule of our rejecting them, it is hard to say what we shall be able to retain.
There is another thing intimated to shew the ill Consequence of this Doctrine, which is this; that it prejudices Men against the Christian Religion, and hinders them from embracing it. And supposing the Fact, how would the Gentlemen who give us this Intimation, have us behave in the Case ? All that can reasonably be done, is to search the Scriptures, and examine whether this Doctrine be really contained in them. If it be, we have no warrant either to conceal, or disguise it. We are to take our Religion as we find it in the Bible, and not model a new one for ourselves. Nor would such Conduct, if it were allowable, be prudent. It would neither pass undetected, nor uncensured. The Persons who now pretend that they cannot digest Christianity with this hard Article in it, would be ready to expose any thing that look'd like handling the Word of God deceitfully. They would reproach Christians for not understanding, or not believing, the very Charter of their Religion. Your Gospel, would they say, plainly teaches the Eternity of Hell-Torments; a Point which none of you believe, and which your Preachers are ashamed to teach. This would be the Language of Infidelity; and Men inclined that way, would still retain their Prejudices against Christianity.
In a word, this Point must be determined by the Merits of the Cause. If the Doctrine here asserted be any real Doctrine of the New Testament at all, it is a Doctrine of considerable Weight, and ought, so far from being concealed or disguised, frequently to be