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made in our inquiry, but in corroborating and illustrating it with many new observations of great moment; especially in what you have done towards relieving the Gospel from the imputation of holding forth the doctrine of everlasting torments of the wicked, a millstone which some mistaken Christians had hung about it, and thereby alienated the minds
I persuade myself, continued Photinus, that it would have been impossible for Christians to put such a construction upon the words of their great Master, so repugnant to every idea we can form of the divine Being, that men would be condemned to endless sufferings for the crimes of this brief passing state, if their understandings had not been quite overawed and overpowered by taking for granted that the language and words used by Christ on the subject, eternal, everlasting, for ever, and the like, implied an endless duration so directly and absolutely, as to forbid all further inquiry or doubt about their meaning. Where
in fact, the terms generally signify periods of duration, more or less extended, and have at no time this signification, unless when determined to it by the subject to which they are applied; viz. God, his mercy or goodness, and the like.
So that our Saviour, in using this language, intended only to express, that the sufferings of the future state would be of an exceeding long duration ; thereby to inculcate and enforce the necessity and vast im
portance of the attention of mankind to the divine laws, and the most dreadful danger of violating them; of going out of the world under the power of evil, malignant, ungodly dispositions and habits ; and this from the most benevolent motive, that they might be powerfully excited to avoid those exquisite sufferings and miseries of the next state, which although they will have an end, as we have been shewing, yet it will be then only, when their evil dispositions shall be changed and amended.
It is of importance here to be noted, that in that fine affecting description of the day of judgment, at the conclusion of Matt. xxv. the everlasting punishment expressly denounced against those who opposed the spread of the Gospel, was necessary for their own good and that of all the world, this being the means appointed by the divine Being for the reformation, virtue, and final happiness of the human race for ever. Wherefore an opposition to it was of so heinous a. nature, that no threatening could be too strong to deter men from it.
But we are not to conclude that everlasting punishment means punishment without end, but only such as was to remain till the evil was done away by repentance : for neither the language used, nor the reason of the thing, admits of
The phrase, everlasting fire, not literally such, but a form of expression adopted to keep men from that hardness of heart, and insensibility to the temporal
and eternal good of others, which, while it lasts, incapacitates for pure happiness both in this world and in the next.
And now in conclusion, what has frequently satisfied my own mind on this momentous concluding point, the final happiness of all mankind, I cannot help proposing to your consideration, from the second volume of Dr. Hartley's works; a writer of such compass of mental discernment, and true christian philosophy, as has no competitor. And I shall in his words close our conversation.
“ Can it be supposed that an infinitely merciful Father will cast off his son entirely, and doom him to eternal misery, without farther trials than what this life affords? We see numberless instances of persons at present abandoned to vice, who yet, according to all probable appearances, might be reformed by a proper'mixture of correction, instruction, hope, and fear. And what man is neither able nor willing to do, may and must, as should seem, be both possible to God, and actually effected by him. He must have future discipline of a severe kind for those whom the chastisements of this life did not bring to themselves. Yet still they will all be fatherly chastisements, intended to amend and perfect, not to be final and vindictive. That the bulk of sinners are not utterly incorrigible, even common observation shews, but the History of Association makes it still more evident and it seems very repugnant to analogy to suppose that any sinners, even the very worst that ever lived,
Conversations on the
should be hardened beyond the reach of all suffering, of all selfishness, hope, fear, good-will, gratitude, &c. For we are all alike in kind, and do not differ greatly in degree here. We have each of us passions of all sorts, and lie open to influences of all sorts ; so as that the persons A. and B. in whatever different proportionstheir intellectual affections now exist, may, by a suitable set of impressions, become hereafter alike.
“ These, and many such like reasonings, must occur to attentive persons upon this subject, so as to make it highly unsuitable to the benevolence of the Deity, or to the relation which he bears to us, according to the mere light of nature, that infinite irreversible misery, to commence at death, should be the punishment of the sins of this life. And by pursuing this method of reasoning, we shall be led first to exclude misery upon the balance, and then to hope for the ultimate unlimited happiness of all mankind.”
CONVERSATION THE LAST:
The subjects of the former conversations occupied the attention of the company for some time at the next meeting, when it was observed to Marcellinus, that in a former conversation *, when he was point
* Page 88.
ing to the causes of the great misery and wickedness which are complained of in the world, he had named one with which Revelation alone acquaints us, viz. the baneful influence and interference of an Evil Being, called the Devil or Satan, in the affairs of men ; but had since been wholly silent about it, as if it were a thing deserving no consideration.
It seems to me, observed here Syncsius, that it is not to be thus slightly passed over. For although you, Marcellinus, have satisfactorily proved, that nature rightly understood holds fórth only good ; that the pains and sufferings, at which we murmur so loudly, are kindly intended, and in general beneficial to us, and we should not be so happy as we are at present without them; and even sin and wickedness are by the divine wisdom and mercy converted to good : nevertheless, as revelation is generally understood to teach, and the gospel in particular by many asserted to be founded upon the reality of such an Evil Being, and such unquestionably has the appear ance of being a principal agent throughout the New Testament; how much soever the thing may be made light of by some as utterly improbable and inconsistent with every idea we can form of the divine goodness, your vindication of that goodness will be Jame and defective, unless you can shew the insufficiency of these presumed divine authorities to prove
the existence of such a foul malignant fiend, which not a few Christians with great earnéstness inaintain. As therefore you have done me the favour to take