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ARE WE TO INFER, FROM THE OPPOSITION ENDURED BY CHRIST AND HIS APOSTLES, THAT THEY TAUGHT THE DOCTRINE OF ENDLESS MISERY ?
One thing, at least, is certain, and that is, that the saviour taught doctrines to which wicked men were extremely averse. On this point we cannot but be agreed. Was the doctrine of endless punishment one of these? It either was, or he taught the opposite; for something relative to the future states of men he unquestionably did teach : but that the subject matter of his preaching was not universalism is evident, from the virulent persecutions which met him at every step : for men would hardly, methinks, have persecuted him, in return for the good news he brought them, that they were all to go to heaven when they died ! Oh, but this would have suited them exactly! they would have hailed it with acclamations; and instead of regarding the saviour as their enemy, they would have greeted him as their benefactor. That Christ was not so received ; but, on the contrary, was opposed, vilified, hated, scoffed at, and finally murdered, is an evidencé irresistible that he did not inculcate universal salvation.
There is no doctrine to which the heart of man is more opposed, than that which tells him he must answer in a future life for the actions committed in the present; especially when it is added, that the hell to which his sins will sink him will retain him forever; its fires prove as quenchless as his immortal spirit, and escape from the aroused wrath of omnipotence as impossible as to get beyond the circumference of his power. Ah! this is not a doctrine to please the carnal heart; it is not adapted to quiet the troubled ocean of man's fears and anxieties about eternity; it 'administers no opiate to the guilty conscience: and hence, as the pious minister of Jesus knows full well, the world is arrayed in deadly hostility against it. I am persuaded that nothing but this could have aroused against the saviour the rancour which followed him all his life, and at length nailed him to the cross.
Christ foresaw this consequence from the preaching of his gospel; and he forewarned his disciples against it. “If the world hate you," said he,“ ye know that it hated me before it hated you.” “In the world ye shall have tribulation,” &c. And the apostles, accordingly, were soon called upon to verify the fact that “they that will live godly in Christ Jesus, must suffer per. secution :" but that it is “ through much tribulation we niust enter the kingdom of God." These facts and general principles can by no means be reconciled with the idea that Christ and his apostles inculcated universal salvation.
Now it is well known that this doctrine does not meet with opposition from the irreligious and the licentious: these yield it their hearty good wishes and open countenance. No; it is the humble follower of Jesus who most abhors this fatal error-the man of prayer-he who has exercised an evangelical repentance, and obtained the pardon of his sins; he views universalism as a dangerous and soul-damning delusion, and he sincerely deprecates its prevalence. Whilst on the other hand the doctrine of an endless hell for the finally impenitent, finds as little favor with sinners now as formerly. From all which I deduce the consequence, that this was the doctrine of Christ and his apostles, and that to this source principally, we must trace the opposition and persecutions which they sustained.
The first point to be settled in this inquiry is, whether Christ and his apostles were opposed by that portion of human society termed the wicked, or by that called the pious: the determining of this question must necessarily affect the conclusion of the argument. It can scarcely be requisite to prove to you, my hearers, those of you acquainted with the gospel history at least, that all the persecutions of the saviour came from men who took high grouud for sanctity of character; the priests of the Jewish church-the scribes, whose office it was to expound the law of God; and the pharisees, " who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others :" these were they from whom came all the opposition to the gospel in the infancy of its promulgation : and from men of like pretensions, and of a like spirit, I may add, have emanated all the religious persecutions which have occurred since time began. Christ himself has, I think, expressed the very same sentiment in different language: (see Mat. xxiii.) he charges the scribes and pharisees with being guilty of “ all the righteous blood that had been shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel, unto the blood of Zacharias, son of Barachias, whom they slew between the temple and the altar.” (ib. 35.) By which we undoubtedly are to understand, that all this martyr-blood had been spilt by the dark and fanatical spirit which these classes so eminently displayed.
As to the common people, those usually denominated the wicked, the world, &c., they were ever the friends of the saviour; they attended
his preaching in throngs—they followed him into the wilderness far from their villages: Christ on several occasions fed thousands of them together, which gives us an idea of the numbers by which he was usually attended ; and, we are directly informed that “the common people heard him gladly;" (Mark xii. 37.) but for them he would have fallen a victim to the malice of his foes before he did, " but they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned.” The following passage gives us a clear intimation as to the state of things in this respect.
66 Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.” (Luke xv. 1, 2.) This drew out of the saviour the beautiful parables of the lost sheep, lost piece of money, and prodigal son; in which he vindicates his attentions to those whom his pharisaic opposers so self-complacently denominated sinners.
Having settled the fact that the opposition to the saviour proceeded mainly from the classes denominated the pious, and chiefly from the straitest of them called the pharisees with their priests at their head; we may now I think account for that opposition on different grounds from those assumed by my opponent.
These classes themselves believed in endless misery; they had bor rowed this dogma from heathen nations, for assuredly and by consent of even the highest orthodox authorities, they had no warrant for it in their own canonized scriptures : it cannot be rationally supposed, then, that Christ excited their rancor, by teaching endless misery. No, no! that it proceeded from an oppo site cause is far more probable: Christ taught that God is ar
aniversal Father, and benefactor to mankind : whereas they supposed him a partial Being, and (as a matter of course) that they were the subjects of his partiality-Christ's teaching went to prove that even enemies, despised publicans, and harlots, are comprised within the range of heavenly beneficence; whereas they would fain have had it thought that God's goodness was restricted to an inconsiderable moiety of our race. The extremes of north and south are not wider apart than were the sentiments inculcated by the saviour, and those entertained by these narrow and bigoted sectarists. In view of these facts we may easily understand what kind of a world it was against which Christ cautioned his disciples-it was the same that had hated him from which had proceeded all his own bitter and unrelenting persecutions-it was, in short, the (so called) religious WORLD: from the same source have issued all the murders, tortures, confiscations, proscriptions, exactions, &c., which, sanctified by godly pretexts, have, in all ages, and in all climes, drenched in blood our groaning earth : the common people have never (save in the capacity of tools) been engaged in this horrid business : all history agrees in tracing it to a fanatical spirit in religion.
Neither is it true, my friends, that the doctrine of universal salvation is generally pleasing to men: it is indeed true that it ought to be so; and it is also true that if men's hearts were less selfish and less sophisticated with corrupting creeds, it would be so : but it is undeniable that the dogma of endless suffering is much better adapted to flatter the vanity and self-love of man than the contrary, and hence, probably, we may account for its more general prevalence in the world. This doctrine tells us there will be an eternal distinction between us and others; this pleases us, for we are sure to think the distinction will be in our favor; it tells that God loves some and hates others; this pleases us also, for we are sure to think ourselves the party loved : it tells us that some are to go to heaven at death and some to hell; and with this likewise we are suited, for we think there ought to be a hell for somebody, and there are always certain somebodies whom we dislike heartily enough to wish there ; but as to ourselves oh! no danger in the world to ourselves—hell could not have been made for such promising folk!
Doctrines of cruelty have ever met with a better reception
among men than have those of benevolence; for the reason that the mass of mankind are in gross ignorance, and their conceptions of the deity are low and grovelling : when intelligence and refinement become more general in the world, doctrines of benevolence will be better received. Paul labored and suffered reproach for exhibiting God as an universal saviour: (1 Tim. iv. 10.) and the same teaching would have ensured him a like experience in every subsequent age to the present time. My opponent tells us how opposed to the doctrine of an endless hell the pious minister of Jesus finds the world ; but the truth is utterly to the contrary. I put it to your own observation, whether the opposite to this is not the fact ! knew you ever of a case of persecution against an individual, for his preaching an endless hell? Never, surely! As already said, this doctrine is by far too convenient, and too well suited to the vanity and selfishness of men, to be a subject of opposition : it is a point which the interests of all false and corrupt religions will unite to guard, as the main secret, and allpotent engine of their dominion over mankind.
Nor can I allow to my friend's objection to universalism the weight he claims for it, that it is generally disapproved, and its propagation deprecated, by men of prayer. Possibly it is; possibly too the preaching of it by the apostle was opposed by this class of persons : we know with certainty that it was principally such that composed the number of haters and crucifiers of the saviour! I should be sorry to endorse a millionth part of the doctrines and doings of praying men; for many and many a dark deed of crime, God knows, has sought to sanctify itself by prayer. The simple fact, therefore, of a doctrine being loved or hated by praying men proves nothing either as to its truth or falsity.
On the whole, then, I ask, how can we rationally infer from the opposition encountered by Christ and his apostles, that thej taught the doctrine of endless misery? On the contrary, when it is considered that his opponents themselves believed this doctrine, is not an opposite inference the more rational ? You, my hearers, may decide these questions for yourselves. I pretend not to say that they were persecuted for the one of these causes or the other, but only that if for either, the latter is the more probable.