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in every age, the gay and thoughtless have affored to each other encouragement, and communicated a vicious contagion. One generation of thoughtless sinners is swept off to that state, from which they are not permitted to return and give warning to survivors. The latter follow their predecessors both in character and destiny. In this connexion, one cannot avoid being struck with the following thought recently presented in a popular work. Speaking of a celebrated actor, delivering, before a crowded theatre, the soliloquy of Hamlet on death, and on the dreadful uncertain. ty of those scenes, which follow,“ He was one man," says the author," among two thousand silent spectators, interrogating thought concerning the destiny of mortals.” It is added, “In a few years, all that was there, will exist no longer; but others will assist in their turn, at the same uncertainties, and will plunge in like manner into the abyss, without knowing its depth.”
That youth affords any security against the invasion of death, is an opinion, which no person can deliberately entertain. At some times, and under certain circumstances, such a thought would be peculiarly absurd. The providence of God, in regard to this seminary, has been so ordered, as to prevent, one would think, the possibility of an imagination so groundless. Could you have attended the dying beds of those, who either as members, or graduates of this College, have closed their probationary state, would it have appeared to you, either that youth is invulnerable, or that it cancels the obligations of religion? You once knew them ;-you once conversed familiarly with them;you have seen some of them gradually wasted by disease; but you will see them no more. In what light did they view that alicnation from God, which you seem to claim, as a rich immunity? Is life more at your command, than it was at theirs? And do you know, that, within a single year, your own death will not be held up as a warning to others ?
And, now, to use the words of one, who himself knew
the value of religion, and earnestly labored, that others might experience both its influence and rewards. “I beseech you by the affection, with which all, who love our Lord Jesus Christ, in sincerity, long to see you brought back to him; I beseech you by the friendship of the living, and by the memory of the dead; by the ruin of those, who have trifled away their days, and have perished in their sins; and by the happiness of those, who have embraced the Gospel and are saved by it; I besech you by the great expectation of that important day, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven; by the terrors of a dissolving world; by the sound of the Arch-angel's trumpet; and by that infinitely more awful sentence, Come ye blessed, and depart ye cursed, with which that grand solemnity shall close; “I beseech you finally by your own precious and immortal souls; by the sure prospect of a dying bed, or of a sudden surprise into the invisible state; and as you would feel one ray of comfort in your departing spirit, when your flesh and your heart are failing; I beseech you by your own personal appearance before the tribunal of Christ; by all the transports of the blessed, and by all the agonies of the damned, the one or other of which must be your everlasting portion ; I affectionately beseech and entreat you, in the strength of all these united considerations, as you will answer it to your conscience, as you will answer it to the Eternal Judge, that you dismiss not these thoughts, these meditations, and these cares, till you have brought the matter to a happy issue; till you have made a resolute choice of Christ, and his appointed way of salvation, and till you have solemnly devoted yourselves to God in the bonds of an everlasting covenant.” (Doddridge.)
It is my design, in submission to divine providence, to deliver, during the present term, a few lectures on the duration of future punishment.
In our inquiries, whether this duration be temporary or endless, few persons, accustomed to contemplate the subject, will deny, that the scriptures are the chief source, from which arguments are to be obtained. The reason is obvious. By the light of nature we are left in great uncertainty, as to the general doctrine of a future state. Without reveals ed religion, it could never be placed beyond reasonable doubt, that the soul of man survives the body. I do not deny the plausibility, and the real value of those arguments independent of revelation, which have been brought in fav of this doctrine. I do not question their sufficiency to ren. der the doctrine in a good degree probable, and clearly to show, that the contrary is not certain. But, to render a doctrine probable, is one thing, and clearly to prove it is another. Now, if the future existence of the soul cannot be clearly proved without revelation, much less can its eternal exisfence. If eternal existence could be proved, it would not
hence follow, that there will be any happiness; as all claims to this are forfeited by sin. But were the future existence of happiness ascertained, the terms, on which it might be secured, would still be unknown. While all these questions remain unanswered without supernatural instruction, it can hardly be imagined, that the light of nature will enable us to ascertain, either the degree, or duration of future punishment. Nothing, therefore, can be more absurd, than to discard the scriptures, with a view to support the doctrine of universal salvation. If that doctrine be not found in the bible, it is found no where. Many inquiries of extreme importance and difficulty must be settled by the unbeliever in revelation, before he comes to the question of eternal, and universal happiness, r I would further observe, that the subject in hand is far too important and solemn to be treated with declamation, instead of argument. If the doctrine of endless punishment be evidently false, as those, who declaim against it, would have us believe, to prove its falsity by argument can surely require no great labor. When this is done. declamation will be more in season. An additional remark is this, should the doctrine of eternal punishment appear supported by scripture, it will, by no means, be a sufficient reason for rejecting it, that the idea, which it suggests, is gloomy; or that we may not be able to see the good purposes, which it will accomplish under the divine government. I readily grant, that the thought of endless existence in misery is terriffic and overwhelming. But it must be remembered, that many events in the present state, the existence of which cannot be denied, are extremely different from the ideas, which human creatures would have previously formed. To our limited intellects it would appear, that from a system, produced by an infinitely powerful, and benevolent God, all natural and moral evil ought to have been excluded. Yet the lives of some individuals appear to be an unbroken series of disappoint
ment, disaster, and suffering. Cities are sometimes desolated by pestilence, ingulfed by an earthquake, or overwhelmed by inundation. Wars have, within a few years, laid waste the fairest countries of Europe. Collect in your inagination all the evil, which has resulted to the human race, in the different ages and nations of the world, from poverty, sickness, wounds, fear, anger, despair, malice, and revenge ; from more general calamities, such as tyranny, anarchy, famines, contagious diseases, and national feuds; you perceive at once what an immense mass of wretchedness might thus be formed. No person, I think, will hesitate to grant, that authentic history presents to the mind, a vast variety of gloomy ideas; and that the actual state of the world is, and ever has been extremely different from what might have been anticipated, considering the character of its author. But notwithstanding this, no theist imagines, that there is, in truth, any inconsistency between the present seemingly disjointed state of things, and the natural and moral perfections of God. No one doubts, that in some way or other, the permission of moral, and the positive infliction of natural evil, is reconcileable with perfect wisdom, benevolence, and power; and, by consequence, that the only reason, why these things appear to us inconsistent with supreme benevolence and wisdom, is our ignorance of the divine system of government, and our inability to see the connexion between its various parts.
Few, it is believed, deny the endless duration of future punishment from finding any deficiency of scripture evidence on the subject. Allowing, that there is, independently of revelation, no improbability in the doctrine, few per. sons, I should imagine none, would deny, that the scriptures teach it. But if there is previously a rational, and strong presumption against it, it must also, doubtless, be presumed, that those passages, which have been thought to establish the doctrine, have been incorrectly explained. On this supposition, two things would demand considera