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condemned alike all violations of his inhuman code to the penalty of death.-Would any Christian then, upon due reflection, ascribe to a Being, supreme in wisdom as well as goodness, in justice as well as mercy, the intention of consigning every one of His creatures, who may have done amiss, with different degrees of temptation, different means of information as to duty, and a widely different extent of fraud or of violence, of impiety or inhumanity, to one and the same sentence of everduring torment? Or can any thinking man bring himself to believe that, endless as are the diversities, and various as are the merits of human character, yet all, who have the smallest share of good predominating above the bad, shall be admitted to the same degree of reward in the future world, with the most virtuous and disinterested and benevolent persons, who have ever adorned our imperfect nature ?
We must all recollect the unsparing censure, which has been so justly directed against the well-known principle of the Stoical philosophy, that pronounced all deviations whatsoever from strict rectitude to be equally enormous in point of transgression, and equally deserving of some severe punishment. From such a principle it was likely that the enlightened and humane mind of Cicero should revolt.—The respect, he must have borne to many points in the character of Cato, could not prevent him, in opposition to such a principle, from indulging in the most pointed ridicule .-Nor was the moral reasoning of Horace
a See Cicero, Orat. pro Murena; Horace, Sat. i. 3. 115.
employed with less success in combating a position, which levelled all degrees in right and in wrong, and applied the same penalty to the lowest, as well as the highest, species of transgression.
Can we suppose for a moment that any particle of a system of legislation, so confessedly imperfect as this, should be permitted to intrude into any of the dispensations of Omniscience, still less to pervade the whole?
Nevertheless, as I have said, zealous believers sometimes express themselves in a way to detract from the excellence and importance of this most wise and consoling doctrine ; and, I am persuaded that such a loose and inadequate conception of the subject prevails very generally indeed among those, who are not accustomed to think very profoundly, or to examine any one question in all its bearings.
Now let us consider what the practical inconvenience may be, if such should be the popular impression concerning that, which is confessedly, and must necessarily be, the most practical doctrine of our religion.
That account of a future state, which divides the whole world into two classes only, and consigns one to everlasting glory, the other to everlasting shame, must have a tendency on the one hand to give security to the careless, and confidence to the bold; while, on the other, it may repress the exertions of the timid, and sink the casual offender into despair. The careless sinner, if he hears that only one penalty awaits every transgressor, will easily delude himself into the persuasion that his offence, whatever it be, cannot incur the heaviest punishment, and therefore that he may escape among the number of those, who, though they boast not much merit, yet, will be everlastingly rewarded.
The bold sinner again is assured that, sin as he may, the amount of his future doom will not be increased. He hardens himself therefore in guilt under the sullen conviction, that to such an amount he must in any case be chastised; and that no accumulation of offences will add to the dreadful reckoning that must be paid.
On the other hand, the timid Christian is led to view, in its entire aggregate of happiness, the future destiny of the “spirits of just men made perfect.” He apprehends, and with reason perhaps, that he cannot by any exertion render himself worthy of being compared with those blessed saints.—He therefore fails to make any exertion, forgetting that, in the righteous decrees of the Almighty, unto whom little is given, of him shall little be required.
He again, who, with good principles has yielded to temptation, feels himself classed under the denomination of “ the wicked," and shudders to hear a sentence of everlasting condemnation pronounced.He fears that the distance between such offenders as himself and the righteous, who are to inherit everlasting life, is marked by a gulf so broad and deep, that it can never be passed.--He yields himself a victim to despair; and either sinks completely under the agonizing feelings of remorse, or ranks himself at length in the class of presumptuous sinners, from a rash persuasion that by no efforts could he now reverse the doom he anticipates, while a further progress in guilt will not make it more terrible.
Such surely are to be ranked among the effects, which
may be expected to arise, more or less, from the greater or less confusion of ideas respecting the destiny of mankind in the world to come. I proceed however to shew, in the last place, that, when such confusion of ideas does prevail, it must originate in a very hasty and superficial view of what the Scriptures have really delivered upon this most awful question. In truth, nothing can be more conformable to the most exact notions of justice, nothing more completely forward all the purposes of law, nothing more entirely accord with the most benevolent views of the most enlightened defender of natural religion, than the assignment of reward and of punishment, as we find it shortly, but clearly, defined in the sacred code.
And here, in adverting to some passages from the Old Testament, I am well aware of the controversy, which has arisen concerning the degree, in which the notion of a future state may have been entertained in the dispensations preceding the Gospel. Even Warburton however, who most stoutly maintains the negative as to other parts of the Old Testament, acknowledges that intimations of such a doctrine are to be found in the writings of the Prophets.To avoid all dispute concerning any such passages, I shall only say, that they profess to illustrate, under the guidance of the unerring Spirit, the general principles of the Divine government; and that any position concerning God's proceedings towards the
whole human race in this life, must be considered as applicable to the administration of the life to come.
Let us turn to the book of Job. Therefore hearken unto me, ye men of understanding : far be it from God that He should do wickedness; and from the Almighty that He should commit iniquity. For the work of a man shall He render unto him, and cause every man to find according to his ways. If we allow that this passage announces the rewards and punishments of a life to come, it is scarcely possible, in the compass of so few words, to state with greater precision and strength the proposition for which I am contending; namely, that there will be the most accurate classification of moral worth, and a most perfect adjudication of recompense, in proportion to the amount or defect of claim in respect to virtue. The same principle is powerfully enforced by the Prophet Jeremiah: “I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings."
The omniscience, as well as equity, of the Judge of all the earth is finely portrayed in the following passage from the book of Proverbs. “ If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not He, that pondereth the heart, consider it? and He that keepeth thy soul, doth not He know it ? and shall not He render to every man according to his works?” c
Let us however turn to the more decisive authority
Job, xxxiv. 10, 11.
b Jer. xvii. 10. See also xxxii, 19. c Prov. xxiv. 12.