THE INFLUENCE OF THE DOCTRINE ON THE HAPPINESS OF ITS BELIEVERS - ILLUSTRATED BY THEIR CONFESSIONS.
It has seemed to me a fitting conclusion to this work, to show the effect of a belief in endless punishment on the generous mind and really Christian heart, in contrast with the effect of faith in the doctrines of the Gospel, as recorded in the New Testament.
It is impossible that any one, with a human heart in him, can fully believe this doctrine, with all the horrors it involves, with all the accusations it brings against the divine wisdom and goodness, and not feel that it is a terrible weight on his soul, and one from which he would gladly be relieved.
There are many shallow minds, many flippant talkers, who find no difficulty whatever in believing, who are prompt to denounce the slightest doubt on the subject as impiety or infidelity. There are many small ministers, who are ready at a moment's notice to clear up all the difficulties of the moral and scriptural arguments; who are never embarrassed, never troubled at all in regard to the matter.
But I know that the best and strongest among its believers never treat the subject in this way. Those who have looked into it most deeply and patiently, who are distinguished equally for their learning and piety, confess that, seen from any side you will, it is a fearful thing, and leads to anguish of mind, and distress of heart, and to painful questionings which cannot be answered.
The following testimonies are of this class, and they will show, better than any argument, how completely the effects of faith in this dreadful dogma are opposed to the rest, and peace, and joy, promised to the true believer.
SAURIN. This celebrated divine holds the following language: "I sink! I sink under the awful weight of my subject; and I declare, when I see my friends, my relations, the people of my charge, this whole congregation; when I think that I, that you, that we are all threatened with these torments; when I see, in the lukewarmness of my devotions, in the languor of my love, in the levity of my resolutions and designs, the least evidence, though it be presumptive only, of my future misery, yet I find in the thought a mortal poison, which diffuseth itself into every period of my life, rendering society irksome, nourishment insipid, pleasure disgustful, and life itself a cruel bitter. I cease to wonder that the fear of hell hath made some mad, and others melancholy."
Now, can any one suppose for a moment that a doctrine, producing such mental terror and distress as this, can come from Him who said, so kindly and compassionately, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light"? Matt. xi 29, 30. Besides, He expressly says that He was sent "to preach good tidings, to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, and to set at liberty them that are bruised." Luke iV
PROF. STUART. But to make the contrast still more obvious, I give the following from ReV Moses Stuart, the late distinguished professor of Andover, equally well known for his critical scholarship and Christian character:
"There are minds of a very serious cast, and prone to reasoning and inquiry, that have in some way come into such a state, that doubt on the subject of endless punishment cannot without the greatest difficulty be removed from them.
"They commence their doubts, it is probable, with some a priori reasoning on this subject. 'God is good. His tender mercy is over all the works of his hands. He has no pleasure in the death of the sinner. He has power to prevent it. He knew, before he created man and made him a free agent, that he would sin. In certain prospect of his endless misery, therefore, his benevolence would have prevented the bringing of him into existence. No father can bear to see his own children miserable without end, not even when they have been ungrateful and rebellious; and God, our heavenly Father, loves us better than an earthly parent does or can love his children.'
"Besides, our sins are temporary and finite; for they are committed by temporary and finite beings, and in a world filled with enticements both from without and from within. It is perfectly easy for Omnipotence to limit, yea, to prevent, any mischief which sin can do; so that the endless punishment of the wicked is unnecessary, in order to maintain the divine government, and keep it upon a solid basis. Above all, a punishment without end, for the sins of a few days or hours, is a proportion of misery incompatible with justice as well as mercy. And how can this be any longer necessary, when Christ has made atonement for sin, and brought in everlasting redemption from its penalty?
"The social sympathies, too, of some men are often deeply concerned with the formation of their religious opinions. They have lost a near and dear friend and relative by death; one who never made any profession of religion, or gave good reason to suppose that his mind was particularly occupied with it. What will they think of his case? Can they believe that one so dear to them has become eternally wretched - an outcast forever from God? Can they endure the thought that they are never to see or associate with him any more? Can heaven itself be a place of happiness for them, while they are conscious that a husband or a wife, a son or a daughter, a brother or a sister, is plunged into a lake of fire from which there is no escape? 'It is impossible,' they aver, 'to overcome such sympathies as these. It would be unnatural and even monstrous to suppress them.' They are, therefore, as they view the case, constrained to doubt whether the miseries of a future world can be endless.
"If there are any whose breasts are strangers to such difficulties as these, they are to be congratulated on having made attainments almost beyond the reach of humanity in the present world; or else to be pitied for ignorance, or the want of a sympathy which seems to be among the first elements of our social nature. With the great mass of thinking Christians, I am sure such thoughts as these must, unhappily for them, be acquaintances too familiar. That they agitate our breasts as the storms do the mighty deep, will be testified by every man of a tender heart, and who has a deep concern in the present and future welfare of those whom he loves."
Such a frank and full confession of the difficulties of this question, from such a man, ought to lead all believers to ask, seriously, if it is reasonable to suppose that any doctrine coming from God would lay such a burthen of doubt and suffering on the pious heart and honest mind, or so stand in the way of the perfect trust and love which He requires of us.
And it is of some consequence that those who have lost relatives and friends, giving no evidence of special conversion and regeneration, should consider the question proposed, whether heaven itself can be happiness, if a parent or child, husband or wife, brother or sister, is writhing in a lake of fire from which there is no escape? The believers of this doctrine are very ready to think that those who are dear to them will, somehow, be saved; but, if the doctrine is really true in all its phases, then they who are not truly and actually converted, must inevitably be damned! And if they are not, then the same mercy which saves them may save others, may save all.
BARNES. I add another testimony, which comes from one well known as a man of thought and of sincere piety, ReV Albert Barnes. It is enough to soften a heart of stone into sympathy and pity, to listen to the outburst of anguish with which he acknowledges the crushing effects of this doctrine on mind and heart:
"That the immortal mind should be allowed to jeopard its infinite welfare, and that trifles should be allowed to draw it away from God, and virtue, and heaven. That any should suffer forever, - lingering on in hopeless despair, and rolling amidst infinite torments without the possibility of alleviation, and without end. That since God can save men, and will save a part, he has not purposed to save all; that, on the supposition that the atonement is ample, and that the blood of Christ can cleanse from all and every sin, it is not in fact applied to all. That, in a word, a God who claims to be worthy of the confidence of the universe, and to be a being of infinite benevolence, should make such a world as this, full of sinners and sufferers; and that when an atonement had been made, he did not save all the race, and put an end to sin and woe forever:
"These, and kindred difficulties, meet the mind when we think on this great subject; and they meet us when we endeavor to urge our fellow-sinners to be reconciled to God, and to put confidence in him. On this ground they hesitate. These are real, not imaginary difficulties. They are probably felt by every mind that ever reflected on the subject; and they are unexplained, unmitigated, unremoved. I confess, for one, that I feel them, and feel them more sensibly and powerfully the more I look at them, and the longer I live. I do not understand these facts; and I make no advances towards understanding them. I do not know that I have a ray of light on this subject, which I had not when the subject first flashed across my soul. I have read, to some extent, what wise and good men have written. I have looked at their theories and explanations. I have endeavored to weigh their arguments, for my whole soul pants for light and relief on these questions. But I get neither; and, in the distress and anguish of my own spirit, I confess that I see no light whatever. I see not one ray to disclose to me the reason why sin came into the world; why the earth is strewed with the dying and the dead, and why man must suffer to all eternity.
"I have never seen a particle of light thrown on these subjects, that has given a moment's ease to my tortured mind; nor have I an explanation to offer, or a thought to suggest, which would be of relief to you. I trust other men - as they profess to do - understand this better than I do, and that they have not the anguish of spirit which I have; but I confess, when I look on a world of sinners and of sufferers; upon death-beds and grave-yards; upon the world of woe, filled with hosts to suffer forever; when I see my friends, my parents, my family, my people, my fellow-citizens; when I look upon a whole race, all involved in this sin and danger, and when I see the great mass of them wholly unconcerned, and when I feel that God only can save them, and yet he does not do it, I am struck dumb. It is all dark, dark, dark to my soul, and I cannot disguise it." 1
O, can it be that this "tortured mind," this "distress and anguish of spirit," this impenetrable gloom, this wild wail of sorrow, are the natural fruits of faith in God, in Christ, in the Bible? Can it be that a doctrine producing such dreadful effects on the mind and heart of the believer makes a part of the message of the blessed Savior, whose birth was announced by angels as "good tidings of great joy, which shall be unto all people," bringing "peace on earth, and good will toward men"? Luke ii Who can believe this? Who can fail to see the direct opposition in spirit and fact?
HENRY WARD BEECHER. The reader will be interested in the following. It is from one known at home and abroad as one of the most able, eloquent, and wonderful preachers of the present day; and its singular accord with the last, from Barnes, in spirit and in its revelation of anguish and suffering consequent upon belief in this horrible dogma, is worthy of note. It is marvelous that a man of Mr. Beecher's intelligence should allow such passages as that which makes his text to blot out that beautiful and memorable Sermon on the Mount; strange beyond measure that he should suffer such doubtful phraseology to overshadow the Savior's tender invitation to those in sorrow and distress, - "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for MY yoke is easy and MY burden is light, and ye shall find REST unto your souls." Is it Christ's yoke and Christ's burden that Mr. Beecher is bearing? Has he found the promised rest? Let the following painful confession answer: -
"I have felt every difficulty that any man has ever felt. In my thought I walk around about the terrific fact of the future. I, too, take into account the Fatherhood of God, and I look upon the unpitied nations of the globe, and with inexpressible longing and anguish for which there is no word, I have sought relief. But there is the plain, simple testimony of Jesus Christ. I cannot get around that, nor get over it. There it is. I have nothing to say. I cannot fathom the matter. A child can ask me questions that I cannot answer. I find my soul aching. As it were drops of blood flow for tears. But after all I do believe in the Lord Jesus Christ; and I do not believe he would deceive me nor deceive you. And if you ask me for the reason of the faith that is in me, I simply say this, "Jesus says so:" that is all. And I cannot give up his testimony. I preach the love of God, and I do not know what the scope of that love is; I do not know where it would logically lead. But I am sure that I am right in preaching that all punitive elements are under the control of love. I am perfectly sure that love will bring every thing right in the end. I therefore preach without qualification, and almost without limitation, on that side. But I am not to be understood on that account, as not believing what Christ himself deliberately says in respect to the peril of sin, or in regard to punishment in the life which is to come...
"It goes to my heart to say these things. This is not the side that I seem to myself called to preach. Yet it is there; and, if I am faithful to my whole duty, I must preach it. As a surgeon does things that are most uncongenial to himself, so sometimes I do. And I do this with tears and with sorrow. It makes me sick.
"There is not another teaching of the Bible that comes home to us as does this truth of punishment in the future life. On this subject men cannot keep down the heart while they are coolly weighing the evidence...My brethren, it is one thing to read in the Bible the chapter as I read it in your hearing this morning, and other such passages, and another thing to ponder them in the face of a dead child. It may not be difficult for a theologian to sit in his chair and reason abstractly, rebutting and counter-thrusting in argument; but when he is called to follow his own son, who through a doubtful or an openly-ignominious career has gone out of life, it is not in human nature any longer to reason in the same calm mood. To apply this truth in the intensity of agonized love following its lost companion, like another Orpheus seeking Eurydice, - these are things that bring this question home as almost no other is ever brought home to us.
"If to be born again, if to begin to love, if to hate selfishness, if to begin a separation from our animal nature, are the conditions of joy in the future life, then how few of all the existing people on the globe have met those conditions! And yet I will defy any man to look with a sympathetic heart out upon the masses that are moving more than all the leaves of the forests of the continent, and let the conviction pass his mind as even the shadow of a shade, without being utterly overwhelmed. A man cannot have the susceptibility which is cultivated by the gospel of Christ, and then look boldly in the face the terrific application of this simple truth to the outlaying masses of mankind, and not shiver and tremble with sensibility.
"The eternity of punishment, when any thing like a conception of its signification and meaning seizes the mind, seems to paralyze many with grief. The eternity of future punishment is the point where almost all agonizing doubts and struggles of Christian theologians have arisen. And of what are called the insoluble mysteries of divine government, it seems to me, that, if the doctrine of the eternity of punishment were removed, nine out of ten would disappear of themselves; for I believe that they result simply from that one term, 'suffering eternity.'"
Such is the confession of this eminent man, and it is equally honorable to his head and his heart. He has the courage to say what, no doubt, thousands of his brethren feel without ever giving it utterance. And Mr. Beecher also has the candor and manliness - speaking of those who have been forced to abandon the awful doctrine as the only way of vindicating the divine character and government, the only way to peace of mind - to bear the following witness: -
"We cannot meet this anguish of men's hearts on cold, exegetical grounds. We may not believe with them; but we cannot denounce them. We may think that they have taken an evasive line of reasoning, or that they have gone off on a fancy, rather than a true line of fact; or we may say that it is contrary to the testimony of Scripture: but when great natures, in the anguish of their souls, and with their sympathies enkindled for their fellow-men, have taken one or the other of these grounds, they are to be respected, and not persecuted...I do not say that they are right or wrong; but this I declare, that, if there is any one point on which we are to be tolerant and charitable and forbearing in our constructions of men's beliefs, it is on this."
DR. PATTON. A single testimony more will close this chapter. "Do you imagine that only Universalists shudder at the idea of eternal ruin of lost souls? All thoughtful men share your dread of the fact, and would gladly reject the doctrine if they honestly could. Nothing prevents me personally from welcoming the doctrine that all will finally be saved, but the want of evidence for it. The Orthodox generally have the same feeling. It pains us to think so many of our fellow-men are living in sin, and dying without hope.
"We have had neighbors, friends, and dear relatives, who have died, giving no evidence of Christian character, but of quite the opposite; and we should be overjoyed, that at last we should all meet above, holy and happy. I frankly acknowledge that it would lift a dark cloud from the world and a heavy load from my heart, could I believe the doctrine.
"The thought is attractive to our reason, that the universe will be in complete harmony with itself; that God will use methods, in the lapse of ages, by which sin and misery shall be terminated, and holiness and happiness characterize all his rational creatures. We can hardly conceive that a good man should be without sympathy with such longings and hopes...Not a few Christians lean decidedly towards this belief. John Frederic Oberlin and John Foster entertained it, after an examination of the subject in the light of reason and the Word of God; while the contrary view is accepted by others only with painful doubt and a sense of conflict."
We commend to Dr. Patton the comforting assurances of the evangelical prophet, which Paul applies directly to the redemption in Christ, in 1 Cor. xv: "And in this mountain (the gospel) shall the Lord make unto all people a feast of fat things;...and he will destroy in this mountain (through the gospel) the covering cast over the face of all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the Lord hath spoken it. And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad, and rejoice in his salvation" (Isa. xxv 6-9).
When this grand prophecy is fulfilled, the "dark cloud" of which Dr. Patton speaks will be "lifted from the world;" and, when he believes this testimony of the Lord, he will throw off the "heavy load from his heart," and realize the truth of the Savior's words, "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
Let us contrast these records of personal experience with some found in the New Testament, and we shall see the opposition more clearly.
Among the first accounts we have in the book of Acts, it is written, that "all who believed were together, continuing daily with one accord in the temple; and, breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all people." Chapter ii
When Philip went down to Samaria, and preached Christ and the Gospel to them, and wrought miracles of mercy in the divine name, "the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing, and seeing the miracles which he did; and there was great joy in that city."
So the Eunuch, whom Philip instructed, when he believed and understood the doctrine, "went on his way rejoicing." Chapter viiI
And so among the heathen; when the Gospel is preached to them, "they are glad, and glorify the word of the Lord;" "the disciples are filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost," &c. Chapter xiiI
Add to these the often joyous exclamations of the apostles: "We that have believed do enter into rest;" "We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, and grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in the hope of God's glory;" "Believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory;" "Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say, rejoice;" "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!...For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory forever!" "And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever!" Heb. iV; Rom. V; 1 Peter I; Rom. xi; ReV V
Now, how marked the opposition between these passages, and those from Stuart and Barnes, as regards the effects of faith! Is it possible to believe that the faith is the same in both cases, when the effects are so different? In the one case, we have rest, peace, joy, rejoicing, and religious exultation overflowing the hearts of those who believe; in the other, doubts, anxieties, torture of mind, anguish of heart, and settled religious gloom.
"Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet waters and bitter?" We have here, plainly enough, sweet waters and bitter waters, and there must be two fountains. No argument can make this fact more obvious than these manifest contrasts of the effects of faith.
The simple truth is, the doctrine of endless punishment, really believed, understood, and felt in all its horrors, is enough to crush the brain and heart of any man; and we do not wonder that those who allow themselves to think of it, who begin to look into its awful depths, cry out in despair, "It is all dark, dark, DARK to my soul, and I cannot disguise it."
Take the single fact, separated from all its concomitants, stripped of all its disguises, and exhibited in its naked and revolting deformity, - the single fact of a human soul made immortal for suffering, kept in being endlessly only that it may be endlessly tormented; compelled to remain in sin, shut out from all possibility of repentance and deliverance, - this is too absolutely horrible for belief, thorough, intelligent belief, without drifting to the very verge of insanity, unless the heart is made of cast-iron.
And, then, when it is remembered that this is under the government of a God who has all resources of wisdom, power, and spiritual influences to prevent it; and who, while permitting and doing this, requires us to adore and love Him with all the heart and soul, it is not possible to keep down a feeling of horror and loathing. It is not possible to love such a God, to worship Him in spirit and in truth, to pray to Him, or praise Him. The whole being revolts at the thought of it. Reason, reverence, affection, all shrink away from Him with undisguised terror and disgust; and, instead of the light and joy of Christian faith, there is nothing for the soul but the darkness of doubt, perpetual unrest, and the agony of despair.
From all this there is but one refuge; and that is, the utter rejection of a doctrine so plainly opposed to the spirit of the Gospel, and to the commandment of faith and love, and the full and hearty reception of the divine truth that God is the Father of all, Christ the Savior of all, and Heaven the final home of all; that all sin and evil shall perish, and good and holiness and happiness be triumphant forever.
"One adequate support
1 Barnes' Practical Sermons, pp. 123-125; Biblical Repository for July, 1840; Saurin's Sermons. See, also, the difficulties and painful struggles created by this doctrine, as they appear in Beecher's Conflict of Ages, and John Foster's celebrated Letter on the subject. Life and Correspondence, Letter 226. Beecher's Sermon on Future Punishment, Sunday, Oct. 16, 1870.
ADDITIONAL TESTIMONIES ON THE QUESTIONS DISCUSSED IN THE PRECEDING CHAPTERS.