« VorigeDoorgaan »
ITS NATURE, ENDS, AND CERTAINTY, HARMONIZED WITH THE
SCRIPTURE DOCTRINE OF FORGIVENESS.
6. One of the most absurd features of the Universalian system," (once remarked a respectable minister to me, in a conversation on these subjects,) " is the notion, that in the divine economy, sin is never forgiven, in the sense implying an exemption from deserved punishment! You nevertheless (continued he) affect to believe in the scripture doctrine of pardon upon the term of repentance; but how sin can be pardoned, and at the same time punished, I confess, surpasses my comprehension !" And yet, reader, there is no real solecism in this case. We are constantly witnessing facts which confirm the theory, that to pardon an offence, and yet to punish it, are acts not incompatible with each other. The case of Mr. B. is in point: gambling was his besetting vice; he lost at the gaming table the whole of his once large estate; but he has become a christian, and of course abjured his former evil practices; he has experienced forgiveness. But has the property he lost been restored to him ? By no means : this penalty of his former sinfulness he must continue still to endure-hence it is plain that, though pardoned, he has not escaped punishment. Mr. S. is another instance to the same effect: he used to indulge a violent propensity for strife; the lightest occasion would excite his combativeness, and a fight was his first impulse. He lost an eye in one of his quarrels, which led him to reflect on the madness of his conduct. He is now, after many struggles, entirely cured of his pugnacious propensities he is a reformed man, and enjoys the consciousness that his sins are remitted. Still, he has not regained his lost eye; he must continue to abide the deprivation as a penalty of his past folly. A hundred cases of the kind might be instanced, if necessary, to show that forgiveness, or a liberation from sin, does not imply an exemption from the penalty due to it. The reformed debauchee, for example, who by years of indulgence had wasted his bodily and mental energies, and contracted diseases which either must shorten his days, or render them days of suffering to him; when he became a christian, did he find repentance
to expel from his system these deleterious effects of a mispent life ? No: but it proved a means of preventing an increase of those effects ; for when the cause ceased, it ceased to produce results.
Exactly accordant with fact, as above illustrated, is the teaching of inspiration upon this head. Speaking of the divine dealings with the rebellious Israelites during their sojourn in the wilderness, David says, “ Thou wast a God that forgavest them, though thou tookest vengeance of their inventions.” (Ps. xc. 8.) In the psalmist's estimation, therefore, the forgiving of sin was not held to be incompatible with the taking vengeance of it. “I will certainly chastise you for that act, my son,” (said father C.) “it must not be allowed to pass with impunity.” And father C. did chastise his son accordingly. The boy was subdued; he saw the evil of his conduct-sought his father's forgiveness, and obtained it. The old man kissed the tears from the cheek of his child, and pressed him to his bosom. See you now how the punishment of sin is reconeileable with its pardon ? If you do, you understand the philosophy of forgiveness as it is exhibited in the scriptures. " Wherein, then, (you will ask) consisteth the advantages of pardon upon this scheme?" They are great, my dear reader, and manifold; the pardoned are freed from their former vices, and, of course, from the effects that would follow from a continuance in them. They are recovered to virtue. Mr. B. no longer feels that fever of the soul arising from solicitude about the chances of the game. He is not startled from his nightly dreams by the phantoms of wretches whom his arts have reduced to penury, and their families to want of bread. By honest industry he is now repairing his own wrecked fortunes, and he therefore looks upon his wife and children with the satisfaction of knowing that he is no longer sporting with their interests and happiness for life. Such is the improvement in the condition of Mr. B. As to Mr. S., he is subject no more to bodily wounds and bruises ; nor to agitations of spirit such as he experienced while a slave to angry passions. He is not now perpetually making to himself enemies of his neighbors, nor exposing himself to expensive and mortifying litigations--he lives in peace within himself, and with all around him. Would to God that the whole of the two classes of sinners whom these gentlemen are designed to represent, would, by a like
amendment, secure to themselves a similar change of condition ! I have said nothing of their spiritual enjoyments, arising from a religious life: these are incalculable. Oh! the exquisite happiness of knowing that conscience, and God, and all the good of mankind, approve them! Both these gentlemen, you perceive, reader, have experienced forgiveness ; but who can say that they have not also been punished ?
Errors in relation to punishment have naturally led to errors in relation to forgiveness. Those who have supposed the former to be arbitrary in their nature, have also well supposed that when God pleases, they can be dispensed with without injury to any body, or the contravention of any eternal principle; and that forgiveness actually implies the setting aside these punishments. By the same class of theologians it is even gravely affirmed, that divine punishments are not designed for good to those upon whom they operate ! proceeding as they do from infinite goodness, and operating as they do upon creatures who are the subjects of that goodness, (for “the Lord is good unto all,”) yet they are not designed for good to them! I am at a loss whether to term this false philosophy, or no philosophy at all.
“But if for good” (do you say, reader ?) " then it were better to commit the more sin, in order to experience the more punish-, ment; the more of a good thing the better.” Why, my most shrewd reader, it would be a good act in one to help you out of a quagmire ; but you would not therefore jump into a quagmire for the sake of being helped out! Should we not deem a man an idiot if he broke a limb, for the mere sake of having it set by a benevolent surgeon ? Now this will well illustrate the case ; for the setting of a fractured limb, although a beneficial operation, is yet a painful one ; and the same is true of the divine corrections. It is better, therefore, to avoid them by well-doing; yet, when they are demerited, it is better that they be experienced, how painful soever, since, coming as they do from a Being who is infinitely wise, just, and merciful, they cannot but be productive of merciful results. “ And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with Vol. I.-V
you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore, we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them réverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure ; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now, no chastening for the present secmeth to be joyous, but grievous : nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.” (Heb. xii. 5–11.) Thus we find the bible to speak very intelligibly as to the ends of divine punishment.
“But is this theory-plausible in itself, and accordant with scripture teaching—is it sustained by matter of fact? Have punishments a reforming tendency ?" If they have not, then must it be admitted that they are useless : for they cannot repair the injury done by the offender; they do not prevent others from committing the same offence : and to say that they vindicate the honor of the law, is to put words together which have no intelligible meaning. They, then, are but retaliatory; their object is revenge-sheer ra
“ But why does not the punishment of an offence more generally operate to prevent others from committing it?" An examination into the nature of punishment will explain this. Punishment is of two kinds, as to its nature several, as to its objects. One kind may be termed arbitrary-the other necessary. Arbitrary punishment is such as results from the mere will of the punisher ; it has no natural connexion with the offence. Necessary punishment is such as necessarily proceeds from the sin itself; it is an unavoidable consequence of it. In the one, an outward executioner is required; in the other, sin is its own executioner. The stroke of the one may therefore be dodged; the stroke of the other is as inevitable as fate. To illustrate. Tell a man that murder will bring him to the gallows, and his mind will respond Yes, provided, 1st, that I am detected : 2nd, that I am convicted : 3rd, that I am not pardon ed: 4th, that I do not break jail and escape : 5th, or die a natural death before the day of execution : 6th, or do not despatch myself in some other way: 7th, or am not forcibly rescued.” Now it is certain that either of these accidents may prevent the catastrophe.
Hence it will be seen, that between murder and hanging there is no natural connexion. The connexion is arbitrary, hence its un certianty. Here then is the reason why, in all countries, sanguinary laws have failed to diminish the number of crimes. Now let us see whether divine punishments can be thus evaded. What is the natural penalty of murder ? It is remorse-fierce, unremitting, dreadful remorse. Is there any escape from these effects ? None. The wretch may traverse oceans; may fly to remotest lands; may seek to hide himself in trackless deserts, or the inaccessible wilds of nature-vain, all his efforts ! the voice of his brother's blood crieth out against him from the ground. No outward judicatory is needed here : no judge, nor jurors, nor witnesses. He has all within himself. He dares not to enter a plea o not guilty ; conscience, if he did, would overwhelm him with its thunders. No mockery of the kind is admissible in the court with which he has to do. How many a wretch thus hunted down, although no clue existed by which man could trace the crime of blood-guiltiness to his skirts, has voluntarily surrendered himself to the action of the law, preferring to die an ignominious death rather than to suffer longer from the goadings of remorse ? You may tell me, that in some countries murder, in some cases, is not held to be a crime, and is therefore not productive of the consequences described. Very well-where it is not known to be a crime, no guilt can be incurred in the commission of it; yet,'even then, as a wrong, its evil effects are not the less certain. The savage who deems revenge a duty, and buries his hatchet in the skull of an enemy, is in constant fear of a reaction of the same law of revenge upon himself. Even pirates, and bandits, who, by custom, havo learned to set small value on the life of a fellow-being, have the greater reason, from that very cause, to dread falling victims to the avarice, or the bloodthirstiness of each other. In the government of God, there is, there can be, no escape from deserved punishment.
“ Not even by repentance ?" No, not even by repentance. Jehovah has himself declared, that he “will by no means clear the guilty.” (Ex. xxxiv. 7.) “Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap.” (Gal. vi. 7.) “Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished.” (Prov. xi. 1.) If God will clear the guilty by the means of repentance, will he not be clearing them by some means ? According to Paul, he will render unto every