CHAPTER 33

ANSWERS TO INQUIRIES

 

While the articles of which this volume mainly consists were coming out in the Christian Union, and subsequently, there came to me letters containing inquiries as to my own views, and I was requested to declare them. To these communications I replied that I had undertaken to give an impartial history, and not to state my own views. I relied also on the fact that, in two works of mine, “The Conflict of Ages” and “The Concord of Ages,” there is a full statement of my views up to the date of the last of those publications, 1860. But, as in one respect I have changed my views, a brief statement may be necessary to indicate my position, and to throw light on what I may proceed to say. I do not indeed attach any weight to my opinions as authority, and I confide in intelligent readers to draw their own inferences impartially from historical facts, established by competent evidence. Yet my views in this history can be better understood in view of a few facts. 

In the year 1827, being then pastor of the Park Street Church, in Boston, and in the midst of the great Unitarian controversy of New England, I became satisfied of two things: in the first place, that the true and Scriptural doctrine of original sin and human depravity, and a thorough doctrine of regeneration, could not be sustained on any form of the doctrine of the fall of the human race in Adam, but that on the ground of preexistence they could be maintained, in a form honorable to God and salutary to men. 

I was satisfied that things were tending, by reason of the power of well-founded objections to the common doctrine of the Fall and its consequences, to such concessions as would finally explain away the true doctrine of original sin and human depravity, and introduce in its place one light and superficial.

I also believed, in the second place, that, as a result of this development, the doctrine of future eternal punishment would be given up, and a system of universal restoration take its place.

In writing those two books, after a study of more than twenty years, I aimed to prevent these results.

One sentence from “The Conflict of Ages” will show this as to future eternal punishment. In the fifteenth chapter of the fifth book, I stated eleven arguments for the truth of a system based on preexistence. Of these, the eighth was as follows:

“It alone leads to such an understanding of the doctrine of future eternal punishments as, connected with the previous suffering of God, shall properly throw the sympathies of all holy minds on the side of God, and put an end to that reaction which tends so fatally to destroy the true and indispensable power of that doctrine.”

In the sixth chapter of the fifth book of “The Concord of Ages,” I set forth at length and defended that view of eternal punishment. I did not, however, enter into the scriptural proof of it, but assumed it.

At that time I was under the power of a full belief that aionios means endless. In coming to this belief, I had been greatly influenced by the elaborate treatise of Prof. Stuart on aion, olam, and other words connected with the doctrine of retribution. I was also influenced by the article “Aion,” in the “Religious Encyclopaedia,” in which an appeal was made to the supposed testimony of Aristotle. I then supposed that it was correctly translated. But, as this work shows, my opinion on the import of those words has undergone a change. This was originated by reading the profound essays of Prof. Tayler Lewis, in Lange’s “Commentaries,” to which I have referred, and by the subsequent extensive investigations which I felt it to be my duty to make.

My views, also, on another point have been changed. Like Prof. Shedd, I had been too much influenced by Hagenbach’s statements. The statements, also, of Munscher, in his “Elements of Dogmatic History,” translated by Dr. Murdock, had exerted a great influence on me. I had heard of “faint intimations” and “feeble glimmerings” of hope of future restoration by authors in whom, on examination of their original writings, I found the full assurance of hope. In like manner, their numbers, Christian character, and power, I found to be undervalued. It was not until I had gone to the original sources, and read the ancient restorationists themselves, that I understood their history in its relations and full extent. The same was true of my conceptions as to the ancient believers in annihilation. The results of those investigations I have given.

On one point I have undergone no change, and that is, in the belief that the doctrine of eternal punishment cannot be sustained or defended on the ground on which it is placed by the orthodox generally; that is, the doctrine of the fall in Adam, as it is explained either by Dr. Hodge, of Princeton, or Dr. Shedd, of New York, or Dr. Woods, of Andover, or any other orthodox man whom I have ever read. I believe that to punish endlessly men born as any form of that system represents, and placed in this world as men are, under satanic delusions and powerful evil social influences, would be an extreme of injustice and cruelty that would entirely transform the character of God. My views on that point have been published, and generally known, over twenty years, and I have seen no cause to change them.

If, therefore, I were called on to choose between the doctrine of eternal punishment as generally held by the orthodox, and some form of universal restoration, I should decidedly choose the latter. I regard the doctrine of future eternal punishment on the basis of the fall in Adam, as an impossibility with God. What God’s nature is, we know. He has so fully revealed it in Christ that we cannot misunderstand it. We know, too, that it cannot produce effects contrary to itself. And the facts alleged as to eternal punishment, on the basis of the fall in Adam, are contrary to the essential nature and character of God.

I do not propose now to enter into this argument. I have done it fully in the works which I have mentioned. I did this as required by a sacred sense of duty. I felt called on to testify for God before men, that I did not impute such acts to him. I did it, also, to fulfill a duty to my fellow-Christians, and to all men; that is, to let them know that, though I still continued to preach the doctrine of eternal punishment, I did not do it on a ground dishonorable to God, and injurious to man.

Notwithstanding my testimony, and arguments, the leaders of the Church have, as a general fact, declined to accept the basis on which alone I believe the doctrine of endless punishment can be defended. It follows, of necessity, that as between them and the restorationists – if I were shut up to that choice – my sympathies and convictions would be with the restorationists. But I am not shut up to that alternative. I can take another position. But, as things are, in the controversy between the orthodox, who base the doctrine on Adam’s fall, and Evangelical restorationists, my sympathies are with the restorationists. Still I do not hold that the doctrine of preexistence necessarily results in future endless punishment. In the case of Origen it did not. But if endless punishment is declared in the word of God, then that is the only basis on which it can be defended. The great question then is, “Is it so declared in the word of God?”

It appears, however, that one of the Scriptural proofs of the endlessness of punishment on which I mainly relied is fallacious. The words of Christ do not expressly declare it. Neither do they deny it. Nor do the opinions of the ancient restorationists disprove it. They are not infallible.

But the question still arises, “Does not the general system of the Bible imply it, and other statements prove it?” On this point the Scriptures ought to be more profoundly examined than they ever have been, and I claim the right to reserve my opinion until I have reexamined them, and listened to the arguments of candid and impartial Christian men. At a proper time I shall not hesitate to speak freely and fully.

I will only say that, if the doctrine is to be sustained, I have given, in the books mentioned, the only basis on which in my opinion it can be done.

With regard to these books I may be excused for saying that, although there have been many judicial opinions pronounced against them, yet the arguments contained in them have never been fairly stated, considered, and answered. If the Church desire universal restoration in some form, or even annihilation, to prevail, they have taken, in my opinion, the most effectual course to product that result. On the common basis the doctrine of endless punishment, in my judgment, admits of no defense.

It is in vain to say that we are incompetent to reason from the attributes of God what he can or cannot do.

This is not the doctrine of the Bible. It teaches us not only that we can know god, but that we can know him intimately and certainly. Indeed, it was the main end of Christ to bring men to such a knowledge of God. He has revealed himself as sympathetic, self-denying, and self-sacrificing: “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world that we might live through him;” and again, “Hereby we perceive the love of God, because he laid down his life for us.” Such God always has been, and we can know that there are some things which such a God cannot do, and among them are the things ascribed to him by the doctrine of the fall in Adam. On this subject I refer to the works in which I have considered this point at large.

FORWARD>> (Next Chapter: GENERAL COUNCILS ON FUTURE RETRIBUTION)

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