Mercy And Judgment by Canon F.W. Farrar
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MERCY AND JUDGMENT
WAS THERE NOT A CAUSE?
o pro s alhqeian adh s o tou mocqhron bio s estin, o alastwr, kai palamnaio s ,
kai pasai s arais enoco s . - PHILO.
"Patiturque suos mens conscia manes." — AUSON.
"Pure love is the only eternal fire." — MAD. DE LA MOTTE GUYON.
I will now proceed to take in succession the four points which I challenged as accretions to the Scriptural and Catholic doctrine of future retribution. It is admitted by Dr. Pusey, and by all of those who have recently written and spoken on the subject with any knowledge or authority, that as to three of these I was perfectly right; that three of these are accretions; that they are not matters of faith. They have been repeated chiefly by the least competent of theologians and preachers with that arrogant tone of infallibility which, in all ages, theologians and preachers have been too much tempted to adopt; - but they are matters of mere opinion — of opinion not binding upon any one; of opinion not more intrinsically authoritative than many other opinions of writers who have shown themselves eminently fallible, and often wholly in the wrong.
First, then, I denied any necessary validity to the opinion that the fire of hell is corporeal, that its tortures are physical tortures. I said that I rejected the belief in the "physical torments, the material agonies, the sapiens ignis of eternal punishment." The words sapicus iguis were quoted from Minucius Felix, who, in a revolting passage in which many have followed him, spoke of the fire of hell as a conscious fire which at once "burns and renews, feeds on and nourishes the limbs."*(1)
*(1) Minuc. Felix, Octav. 35.
Dr. Pusey at once and frankly concedes my point. Whatever may be his own personal belief, he says, respecting bodily torments, that "neither the Church nor any portion of it has so laid down any doctrine in regard to them as to make the acceptance of them an integral part of the doctrine itself"; and again, "with regard to the nature of the sufferings, nothing is matter of faith." He quotes passages to this effect from St. Jerome , St. Ambrose, St. Augustine , St. John Damascene, and Theophylact (A,D, 1077). He therefore not only admits all I asked for, but supports it. I was fully aware when I wrote that this notion of a bodily hell was not any part of the Catholic faith. Petavius has collected the passages of the Fathers which speak of the pains of future punishment as being mental, and for the sake of those readers who may like to read them in the original, I will record them in the note.*(1) "As to the place, manner, and kind of these sufferings," says Alban Butler, "nothing has been defined by the Church; and all who except against this doctrine on account of the circumstance of a material fire, quarrel about a mere scholastic question, in which a person is at liberty to choose either side."*(2) But if this be so, some perhaps may say that it was needless for me to speak. If theologians, alike ancient and modern, have denied that any one need believe in a bodily hell; if, as Alethinus says in his notes on Petavius, it is wiser to behave the question an open one, because it is not to be decided from Scripture, and there is no apostolic tradition or new revelation on the subject; if, as Petavius frankly admits, the Church has never laid down any decree on the subject in any Council or Synod — why was it necessary for me to plead so strongly that Christians should be emancipated from such teaching?
*(1) Petavius (De Angelis, Theol. Dogma, iii. v. 8; Opp. v. p. 103, ed. Antw.) has adduced the following among others: ouc ulikon (topur) oion to par hmin. all oion eideih d Qeo s . - JOHN DAMASC. Skwlhx de kai pur kolazonta tou s anqrwpou s h suneidhsi s estin ekastou kai n mnhmh twn pracqentwn en ty biy touty aiscrwn. - THEOPHYL. "Tormenta quae Scriptura sancta peccatoribus comminatur, non point (Origenes) in suppliciis sed in conscientia peccatorum." — JER. Ep. Lix, ad Aditum; cf. Apol. Ii. In Rufinum. "Neque corporalium stridor aliquis dentium, neque ignis aliquis perpetuus flammarum corporalium neque vermis est corporalis, sed…si quis non decoquat peccata sua…igne aduretur proprio et suis vermibus consumetur." — AMBROSE, in Luc. Xiv. So too Greg. Nyss. De Anima, p. 662; Marcarius, Hom. I. De Vis. Ezech. ? 51. (On the other side are Basil, Jerome, Lanctantius, Isidore.) So too Metrophanes Tritopulus, Confess. 20, and see Acts of Council of Florence (Harduin, ix. 19).
*(2) Lives of the Saints, Nov. 2.
For two reasons. First, because, as I have shown, this form of the doctrine, beyond all others, is so revolting and abhorrent to the human mind that the insistence in a belief on it is the main cause of the skepticism of thousands. It is a huge, a horrible, and a needless stumbling-block in the path of Christianity. It scandalizes Christ's little ones. It offends the childhood of the world. It repels and overthrows those instincts of the human heart which are sweetest and most divine. It has arisen solely from the abuse, exaggeration, and misinterpretation of metaphors; and has been founded upon the exposition of all parts alike of the Bible by those who, from stereotyped prejudices, or from the want of literacy training, and especially from their complete ignorance of the modes of Eastern expression, refuse to weigh the meanings of words, or to interpret language by the ordinary laws of historic criticism. Thousands of Western teachers have first taken metaphors literally, and then have forced them into the most extravagant inferences. I conceive that I have, by God's blessing, been enabled to render some service to the Church by helping many to see that, though they may believe in a material "hell" if they will, they have no right to enforce such a belief on others, because the Church does not require it, and, in teaching it they are teaching for doctrine the inferences and interpretations of fallible men.
II. But secondly, it was my duty to repudiate any necessity for believing in this material fire, because although it is, confessedly, not a matter of faith, it yet has been the commonest opinion of Christians; and because it has been taught for ages, and is still taught as though it were a certain truth. In other words, men have fiercely declared that we must, at the peril of our salvation, understand literally that which is obviously metaphorical.*(1)
*(1) "Inter Latinos certissimum est ignem esse corporeum." — FABER, Disput. Ii. 453.
To prove the first point I need add nothing to the testimonies which I have quoted from those who have admitted that it is this form of the doctrine which, more than any other, has made them skeptics or infidels.*(1) I need only appeal further to the experience of all who have mingled in the society of literary and scientific men, and who are aware that it is not the doctrine of a future punishment for sin, but the doctrine of endless bodily torments, which has had the chief influence in driving many of them to the rejection of Christianity.
*(1) See Eternal Hope, Exc. V., and infra, p. 120
To prove the second point it might perhaps be sufficient to quote Dr. Pusey's own admission (p. 23) that the fire of hell has been understood to be material fire "almost universally by Christians." Petavius says "that the fire of hell, in which they are tormented, is corporeal and material, all living Theologians, nay more, all Christians, are agreed"*(1); and he adds that, though the Church has never enjoined that doctrine, there were some who asserted that it was a matter of faith.
*(1) "Ceterum uti corporeum, et material constantem esse inferorum ignem quo utique illi torquentur, Theologi hodie omnes, immo et Christiani consentiunt, ita nullo Ecclesiae decreto adhuc obsignatum videtur ut recte Vasquezius observat: neque enim ulla in synodo sancitum illud est; etsi nonnulli rem esse fidei pronuntiant." — De Angelis, iii. v. 7. This was the opinion in his day, but now the German Catholic Klee, in his Dogmatik (ii. 429), says of the fire of purgatory that "Ignorance only or malice (to make room for irony) can think of common fire."
It is clear therefore that I was by no means fighting with shadows; and, however painful, it is positively necessary to show this once more. It is necessary once more to show that there was just cause openly to repudiate those hideous pictures which are due to the unlicensed reveling of human imagination, and not to the Word of God. Against the pain, even the eternal pain, of loss — against the certain truth that we shall receive according to our works — against Christ's revelation that there will, in the life to come, be degrees of punishment, light or heavy, in proportion to the degrees of guilt — that these punishments will come by the working of natural laws, the penalty being the natural result of the sin, not the arbitrary infliction of external agony — that a soul may possibly, even for ever, by its own act and its own will, shut itself out from the presence of God, and be unreclaimed even by the bitter taste of the fruit of its own doings; - these are doctrines neither unjust nor unmerciful, nor is there anything in them which revolts and maddens the conscience and the instincts of mankind. And these alone are the doctrines of Scripture, though they are often expressed in the metaphors of which all languages — and pre-eminently the literatures and languages of Semitic nations — are full.
But that souls are to be plunged into a material fire, miraculously created or kept aflame, and to be tormented with excruciating physical pangs during billions of ages for every second of sin, while saints and angels rejoice at their sufferings — these are the assertions which I wish to hear authoritatively repudiated, and which I myself repudiate with abhorrence. At present they are half asserted and half believed by some; and multitudes, especially of the poor and ignorant, who neither assert nor believe them, yet suppose that they are a part of the doctrines of the Church, and in consequence look with incredulity on many other truths which are indeed matters of Christian Faith.
It has been said of late that these pictures and descriptions come only from a few writers, and those only the most passionate and the most vulgar. It has been said — and in this I heartily agree — that the doctrine of the Church ought not to be judged by pulpit diatribes. It has been said that to quote them is only to "disfigure my pages." That they "disfigure my pages" no one can feel more than I do; for some of them fill me with shame and horror. Many times I have considered whether I might not, consistently with duty, exclude them, for to quote them is a real self-sacrifice. But it is painfully necessary to show what it is that men claiming all the infallibility of authorized teachers have taught as revelations of God. It is not true that few only have propounded such teachings. Such passages may be adduced from thousands of writers of every class, both Romanist and Protestant, both Anglican and Nonconformist, and in every age from the third century to the nineteenth. It is right that once more, and I hope finally, specimens of them should be presented as warnings against a style of appeal so fatally unwarranted. I will not quote again the famous and horrible passage of Tertullian, but I will ask the reader to meditate over the following excerpts, and to remember that they are specimens of the teaching which, throughout long and dreary centuries, has afflicted Christian souls. It is now admitted that I was right in challenging them; that they are not parts of the Christian Faith. But if so, was it not a rash and an evil thing that for centuries they should have been taught as though they were?*(1)
*(1) "We are no longer compelled to conceive of a God possessing two different natures — on earth tender and beneficent, even repaying man's ingratitude and wickedness by His mercies, but beyond the tomb unmoved by the endless torture and excruciating pain of His enemies. We read with horror the stories of the Inquisition, - of the Emperor Montezuma broiled on a gridiron over a slow fire, - of the men tortured and driven mad by drops of water falling day and night upon their foreheads; but what are these agonies of a few days or hours, hideous and revolting as they are, in comparison with a scorching fire, which, after millions of ages, shall only have begun its work?" — DR. ERNEST PETAVEL, The Struggle for Eternal Life, p. 47.
That such passages are scarcely to be found in any of the earlier Fathers is quite true, and is a significant and valuable fact. They confined themselves almost exclusively to vague and general metaphors. They did not dream, as a rule, of giving reins to the imagination in describing the torments of the damned. Even in the fierce Tertullian such a description is very exceptional. Take however these passages from one or two of the Fathers: -
ST. CYRPIAN, + 258. — "The wicked bodies of the condemned shall simmer and blaze in those living fire.
MINUCIUS FELIX, fl. 230. — "Nor to these torments will there be any measure or termination. There the sentient fire burns limbs and renews them, feeds on them and nourishes them." — Octav. xxxv.*(1)
*(1) On this pur swfronoun see Clem. Alex. Protrept. P. 35; Jer. In Dan. iii.; Tert. Adv. Gnost. 3; Paulin, Ep. Ad Sever. 9. See p. 455.
ST. AUGUSTINE , + 430. — "That fire is more deadly than any which man can suffer in this life."
ST. CAESARIUS OF ARLES , +542. — Speaking even of Purgatory, he writes of it in these terms: - "A person may say I am not much concerned how long I stay in purgatory, provided I may come to eternal life. Let no one reason thus. Purgatory fire will be more dreadful than whatever torments can be seen, imagined, or endured in this world. He who is afraid now to put his finger into the fire, does he not fear lest he be then all buried in torments for a long time?" — Hom. i. P. 5.
More passages from the Fathers might be added, but as might have been expected, it is in later ages — in ages when it was firmly believed that volcanoes were the vent-mouths of Hell, and their sound the roaring of the damned — that these descriptions and allusions become more common, until indeed they constituted the main cause of that ghastly terror which prevailed among the ignorant masses in the Mediaeval Church. They date mainly from the dialogues of Gregory the Great at the close of the sixth century.
VENERABLE BEDE, + 735, H. E. iii. 19. v. 22
VISION OF TUNDALE, + 1149. — "On lit dans la vision de Tundale. E per tolz lors members autres yssian bestias serpenticos que avaient caps ardens et bex agusatz de fer," & c. — MAURY, Legendes du Moyen Age, p. 152.
ST. THOMAS AQUINAS, + 1274. — "The same fire" (which he decides to be material) "torments the damned in hell and the just in purgatory…The least pain in purgatory exceeds the greatest in this life." — Summa Theol. Suppl. Qu. 100, act. 2, n. 3.
[I might add very many such passages, e.g., from the visions of Enus and Thurcal in Matthew Paris.]
ST. BONAVENTURA, + 1274. — "One damned soul, if he came into the world, would suffice to infect the entire of it."
FRAY LUIS DE GRANADA , + 1588. — "There will the condemned in cruel rage and despair turn their fury against God and themselves, gnawing their flesh with their mouth, breaking their teeth with gnashing, furiously tearing themselves with their nails, and everlastingly blaspheming against the judge… Oh wretched tongues that will speak no word save blasphemy! Oh miserable ears that will hear no sound but groans! Oh unhappy eyes that will see nothing but agonies! Oh tortured bodies that will have no refreshment but flames… We are terrified when we hear of executioners — scourging men, disjointing them, dismembering, tearing them in pieces, burning them with plates of red-hot metal. But these things are but a jest, a shadow compared with the torments of the next life." — Sermons, i. 72. (Translated by Rev. Orby Shipley.)
SIR THOMAS MORE, + 1535. — (Speaking only of Purgatory.) — "If ye pity the blind, there is none so blind as we, which are here in the dark save for sights unpleasant and loathsome. If ye pity the lame, there is none so lame as we, that can neither creep one foot out of the fire, nor have one hand at liberty to defend our face from the flame. Finally, if ye pity any man in pain, never knew ye pain comparable to ours, whose fire as far passeth in heat all other fires that ever burned on earth as the hottest of all that passed a feigned fire painted on a wall. If ever ye lay sick, bethink you then what a long night we sely souls endure that lie sleepless, restless, burning and broiling in the dark fire one long night or many years together. You walk peradventure and totter in sickness; we lie bound to brands, and cannot lift up our heads… Your keepers do you great ease; our keepers are such as God keep you from — cruel, doomed spirits, odious, envious, and hateful, despiteous enemies and despiteful tormentors, and their company more terrible and grievous to be in than is the pain itself; and the intolerable torment that they do us, wherewith from top to toe they cease not continually to tear us." — Supplication of Souls.
CALVIN, + 1564. — "For ever harassed by a dreadful tempest, they shall feel themselves torn asunder by an angry God, and broken by the weight of His hand, and transfixed and penetrated by mortal stings, terrified by the thunderbolt of God. So that to sink into any gulf would be more tolerable than to stand for a moment in these terrors."
ST. IGNATIUS LOYOLA, + 1548. — "Let us fancy we see hell, and imagine what is worst to behold — a horrible cavern full of black flames. Sulphur , devils, dragons, fire, swords, arrows, and innumerable damned who roar in despair. Imagine the worst you can, and then say, 'All this is nothing compared to hell'… In that voracious subterranean cavern all the filth of the world is collected and inclosed, without exhalation or air, which must produce a most foetid pestilence… The sight is tormented by frightful devils; a holy religious saw at death two so monstrous and ugly devils, that he cried out that rather than see them again he would walk till the day of judgment on fire of sulphur and melted metal." — Spiritual Exercises, Medit. Xii. (This is one of the commonest books of Roman Catholic devotion.)
JEREMY TAYLOR, + 1667. — "This temporal fire is but a painted fire in respect of that penetrating and real fire in hell."
NIEREMBERG, +1658. — "We are amazed at the inhumanity of Phalaris, who roasted men in his brazen bull; this was joy in respect of the fire of hell, which penetrates the very entrails without consuming them." — Pains of Hell. *(1)
*(1) This is a passage from Contemplations of the State of Man, often attributed to Jeremy Taylor (as by Mr. Alger, p. 514, and Mr. Lecky, European Morals, ii. 239), but proved by Archeeacon Churton to be a compilation from Nieremberg, a Spanish Jesuit.
CATECHISMUS ROMANUS. — Hell is described as "Teterrimus et obscurissimus carcer, ubi perpetuo et inextinguibli igne damnatorum animae simul cum immundis spiritibus torquentur."
ST. FRANCIS DE SALES, + 1622. — "Represent to yourself a dark city all burning and stinking with fire and brimstone. The damned are in the depth of hell within this woeful city, where they suffer unspeakable torments in all their senses and members. Consider above all the eternity of their pains, which above all things makes hell intolerable." — Garden of the Soul.
BARROW, + 1677. — "Our bodies will be afflicted continually by a sulphureous flame, piercing the inmost sinews."
JOHN BUNYAN, + 1688. — "Their bodies will be raised from the dead as vessels for the soul — vessels of wrath. The soul will breathe hell-fire, and smoke and coal will seem to hang upon its burning lips, yea the face, eyes, and ears will seem to be chimneys and vents for the flame, and the smoke of the burning which God, by His breath, hath kindled therein, and upon, them, which will be held one in another, to the great torment and distress of each other." — Works, ii. 136.
BAXTER, + 1691. — "Is it an intolerable thing to burn part of thy body by holding it in the fire? What then will it be to suffer ten thousand times more for ever in hell?" — Saints' Rest.
SOUTH, + 1716. — "Every lash which God then gives the sinner shall be with a scorpion; every pain which He inflicts shall be more eager than appetite, more cruel than revenge; every faculty both of soul and body shall have its distinct property, and peculiar torment applied to it, and be directly struck there where it has the quickest, the sharpest, and the tenderest sense of any painful impression… But I shall use no other argument to evince the greatness of their torment but only this, that the devil shall be the instrument of their execution. And surely a mortal enemy will be a dreadful executioner; and the punishment which an infinite justice inflicts by the hands of implacable malice must needs be intolerable." — Sermons, vii. 143.
THOMAS BOSTON , + 1732. — "God will hold sinners with one hand over the pit of hell, while He torments them with the other." — Fourfold State.
YOUNG, + 1765. — "How bright my prospect shines! how glorious thine! A trembling world and a devouring God! Earth but the shambles of Omnipotence!"
JONATHAN EDWARDS, + 1758. — "Here all judges have a mixture of mercy, but the wrath of God will be poured out upon the wicked without mixture. Imagine yourself to be cast into a fiery oven… and imagine also that your body were to lie there for a quarter of an hour, full of fire, as full within and without as a bright coal fire, all the while full of quick sense: what horror would you feel at the entrance of such a furnace? Oh! Then how would your heart sink if you knew that after millions and millions of ages your torment would be no nearer to an end than ever it was. But your torment in hell will be immensely greater than this illustration represents." — Works, vol. iii. 260.
"The pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive the wicked: the flames do now rage and glow. The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much in the same way as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect, abhors you and is dreadfully provoked… He will trample them beneath His feet with inexpressible fierceness; He will crush their blood out, and will make it fly, so that it will sprinkle His garment and stain all His raiment." — Works, viii. 499.
"You cannot stand before an infuriated tiger even; what then will you do when God rushes against you in all His wrath?" — Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. *(1)
*(1) Let it not be said that religious teachers have long repented of unconscious blasphemies like these, for this very sermon has been lately printed and circulated as a tract, to the delight of all who love to watch the spread of infidelity.
ALBAN BUTLER , + 1773. — "Do we think that God can find torments in nature sufficient to satisfy His provoked vengeance? No, no; He creates new instruments more violent, pains utterly inconceivable to us. A soul for one venial sin shall suffer more than all the pains of distemper, the most violent colics, gout, and stone joined in complication, - more than all the most cruel torments undergone by malefactors, or invented by the most barbarous tyrants, - more than all the tortures of the martyrs summed up together. This is the idea which the Fathers give us [even?] of Purgatory. And how long souls may have to suffer there we know not." — Lives of the Saints, November 2.
JOHN WHITAKER, + 1783. — "The bodies of the damned will all be salted with fire, so tempered and prepared as to burn more fiercely, and yet never consume." — Sermon on Death, Judgment, and Eternity.
JOHN WESLEY, + 1791. — "Is it not common to say to a child, 'Put your finger in that candle, can you bear it even for one minute?' How then will you bear Hell-fire? Surely it would be torment enough to have the flesh burnt off from only one finger; what then will it be to have the whole body plunged into a lake of fire, burning with brimstone?" — Sermon 73.
DEAN OF GLOUCESTER . — "There is the cup of trembling and of wrath. Your hands must take it, your mouth must drink it. But you can never drain it. There is no last drop. Infinite vengeance ever fills it to the brim. Eternal wrath is ever bringing more. What is the curse? It is the endless accumulation of all the miseries which God's resources can command and God's power can inflict. It is the fiery torrent from the lake of fire. It is pain which cannot be keeper, despair which cannot be blacker, and anguish which cannot be more bitter. It is eternity in the oneness of all torment." — Christ is all!
BISHOP OXENDEN — LATE METROPOLITAN OF CANADA . — "For ever! Torments for ever! Lost for ever! It would be difficult to measure the waters of the sea; but it is impossible to reckon the ages of a boundless eternity. After millions of years it will only be begun. God's wrath in hell will be always 'wrath to come.' Few are so tossed in this world but they have some rest. There are few tempests without some lull between the storm. But there is no pause in that storm which falls upon the inhabitants of hell." — Great Truths.
DR. GARDINER SPRING. — "When the omnipotent and angry God, who has access to all the avenues of distress in the corporeal frame, and all the inlets to agony in the intellectual constitution, undertakes to punish, He will convince the universe that He does not gird Himself for the work of retribution in vain."
REV. C. H. SPURGEON. — "When thou diest thy soul will be tormented alone; that will be a hell for it: but at the day of judgment thy body will join thy soul, and then thou wilt have twin-hells, thy soul sweating drops of blood, and thy body suffused with agony. In fire exactly like that which we have on earth thy body will lie, asbestos-like, for ever unconsumed, all thy veins roads for the feet of Pain to travel on, every nerve a string on which the Devil shall for ever play his diabolical tune of hell's unutterable lament!" — Sermon on the Resurrection of the Dead.
BONHOUR. — "These unhappy children of wrath not only suffer during eternity, but they suffer eternity during each moment of their existence. Eternity is engraven on the flames which torment them…..O tormenting thought! O miserable condition! To burn for ever! To weep for ever! To rage forever!" — Meditations, translated for English Roman Catholics.
CATECHISM OF THE WESLEYAN METHODISTS. *(1) —
*(1) These words have (I am told) been struck out of the Catechism since this book was written; and this is a sign of the times.
"What sort of place is hell?"
"Hell is a dark and bottomless pit full of fire and brimstone."
"How will the wicked be punished there?"
"The wicked will be punished in hell by having their bodies tormented with fire, and their souls by a sense of the wrath of God."
"How long will their torments last?"
"The torments of hell will last for ever and ever." *(1)
"Salted with fire, they seem to show
How spirits lost in endless woe
May undecaying live. *(2)
Oh, sickening thought! Yet hold it fast."
The Christian Year.
*(1) These sentences have very recently been modified.
*(2) It is needless to say that the allusion is to Mark ix. 49, and that this mysterious passage, in which the true reading seems to be almost irrecoverable, may have a very different meaning. It may indicate that the fire, like salt, is meant to preserve and purify; and if so, the expression points to a cleansing discipline, a baptism of fire. "Salt," our Lord adds, "is good." Would He have attached such an epithet to so horrible a fancy as the sapiens ignis of Tertullian and Lactantius, which Keble here reproduces and truly calls "sickening"? See infra, p. 455.
JOHN FOSTER, + 1843. — "It is infinitely beyond the highest archangel's faculty to apprehend a thousandth part of the horror of the doom to eternal damnation." *(1)
*(1) And this fact made this eminent and holy man say, with all reverence, that he was unable to reconcile such views with the divine goodness. I read with pleasure in the Record newspaper (October 20, 1880), that, "in regard to the pictures of physical horror which many morbid imaginations have delighted to draw of the world of torment, going far even beyond the terrible words of our Lord Himself, and indulging in individual pictures of agony to which the Bible gives no authority, and on which no human mind has, in its agony, any right to dwell, the answer given [by Dr. Pusey] is sound and useful.
But it is when these awful and horrible conceptions have been actually painted and designed — when, the loathly agonies of Dante's Inferno have been illustrated by the sculptor's chisel or the artist's brush, - when the sluggish imagination of men and women has been goaded well-nigh to religious monomania by paintings like that of Orcagna, by bas-reliefs like those on the doors of mediaeval abbeys, by such illuminations as those in the missals of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, by woodcuts of such abhorrent atrocity as those in the De Inferno of Antonio Rusca, the Infernus carcer of Drexelius, the Inferno aperto of Pinamonti, - it is then that these wanton excesses of the imagination assume the aspect of a deadly blasphemy against Him whose name is Love. The woodcuts of Pinamonti are before me. Even to look at them seems to leave on a mind filled with faith in God's Fatherhood the effect of a sin which needs an immediate lustration. Certainly after seeing them we can scarcely refrain from the question which one has asked, "What crimes of men can merit the endless tortures here set forth except the crime of conceiving such tortures, and ascribing the malice of their infliction to an all-wise and holy God?" To overthrow a belief in such horrors and such blasphemies is to overthrow a belief which is the worst enemy of the Faith, and which is the immediate parent of atheism, of wretchlessness, and of despair.
The date of Pinamonti's book is 1688. It might have hoped that it was no longer the custom now, as it was in the middle ages, "to stain the imagination of children by ghastly pictures of future misery, to imprint upon the virgin mind atrocious images." *(1) But alas, it is but quite recently that Father Furniss has written and Messrs. Duffy have been published, such ghastly tracts as "The Sight of Hell," "The Terrible Judgment and The Bad Child," "The Book of the Daying," &c., and thse books are published by authority. What then is still the permitted teaching of Roman Catholic priests? I hardly like to copy, even by way of specimen, such revolting horrors, - horrors which I believe must be as revolting to the love of God as to all that is loving, merciful, and tender in the soul of man. Let one or two very brief passages out of many pages suffice.
*(1) Lecky, European Morals, ii. 237.
"When a child commits a mortal sin its soul is not thrown into a den of lions, but it is thrown into a den of devils. These devils are a million times more cruel and frightful than lions, and tigers, and serpents, and address, and scorpions, and toads, and spiders, and all kinds of venomous and stinging creatures."
A child is condemned to hell. "It sees thousands and millions [of devils] on every side coming round it…..On they come more swiftly than the wind, like hungry dogs would come to a bone…..Now the foremost ranks of the devils are near at hand, close to the child. They are hissing at it, spitting fire and venom upon it. They stretch out their great claws of red-hot fire to get hold of the child."
If these be set down as the coarse ravings of a vulgar imagination, we are met by the two sad and startling words, that they are all taught to children and disseminated among children, permissu superiorum. And the sermons of Jonathan Edwards, which put the same fancies into words, are still reprinted and sold as cheap tracts in England and America . And to show that I have not misrepresented the ordinary views need I go further than the teachings of JOHN WESLEY, of which I have already quoted one specimen, and some of which still form the standard of the Wesleyan Methodists? In Sermon 15 he says that the wicked "will gnaw their tongues for anguish and pain; they will curse God and look upwards. There the dogs of hell, pride, malice, revenge, rage, horror, despair, continually devour them." And in the Sermon 73, "Consider that all these torments of body and soul are without intermission. Be their suffering ever so extreme, be their pain ever so intense, there is no possibility of their fainting away, no, not for one moment…..They are all eye, all ear, all sense. Every instant of their duration it may be said of their whole frame that they are
'Trembling alive all o'er, and smart and agonise at every pore.'
And of this duration there is no end…..Neither the pain of body nor of soul is any nearer an end than it was millions of ages ago." *(1) And similar views of Hell are in the Catechism which is taught to young children.
*(1) It was perhaps a consequence of their pledge to teach endless punishment that of the seventeen authors — chiefly eminent divines — who reviews my Eternal Hope in the Contemporary Review (1878), almost the only two who even approximately held to the popular view were two Wesleyans. But signs are not wanting that some Wesleyan ministers are beginning to groan under the yoke. It was on this ground that the Rev. W. Impey, Chairman and Superintendent of the Graham's Town District , South Africa , and for forty uninterrupted years a missionary in their connexion, was obliged to leave them in 1878. I do not believe that one-twentieth part of our English clergy could honestly say they accept the teaching of these passages which I have quoted. There is not one single word which resembles them in all our Thirty-nine Articles, and I feel convinced from Wesley's own reasonings on other subjects that he would have given up these views had he been living now. For  he, like Paley, believed in numberless degrees of future rewards and punishments, which went far to remove the sharp distinction between "lost" and "saved" (see Hunt, Rel. Thought in England , iii. 291).  He rejected Calvinism on grounds of a' priori morality, saying that "if such a doctrine could be found in Scripture it would be a sure proof that we had mistaken the meaning of Scripture."  He argued that you could not expound the doctrine of some texts, "more or fewer, it matters not," which were "contrary to the whole scope and tenor of Scripture." "Whatever that Scripture proves," he said, "it can never prove this. Whatever its true meaning, this can not be its true meaning. Do you ask, "what is its true meaning then?' If I say, 'I know not,' you have gained nothing, for there are many Scriptures, the true sense whereof neither you nor I shall know till death is swallowed up in victory. But this I know, better it were to say it had no sense at all than to say it had such a sense as this…Let it mean what it will, it cannot mean that the Judge of all the world is unjust. No Scripture can mean that God is not Love, or that His mercy is not over all His works."
But if these be the teachings which are common to this day, and if the Church has never and nowhere required an acceptance of such teachings, I ask, Are they a part of the Christian religion, or are they not? And if they are not, that answer should be very clearly and authoritatively given. Respecting what I said, therefore, in repudiation of such accretions to the doctrine of future judgment, I ask, Was there not a cause? And I submit that such passages, and myriads more, are to be utterly and unsparingly reprobated; that, however innocently intended, they are instances of use of the imagination which nothing in Scripture sanctions; that they are teachings which hinder the cause of Christianity; which invest with the sanctity of doctrine the dreams of men; which needlessly agonise the hearts of the compassionate and merciful; which have no higher warrant than a total misappreciation of Oriental phraseology accepted in a sense which was never intended. I submit further that such teaching is worse than ineffectual to further the cause of God by waking the terrors of those whom it should most affect. For they disbelieve it, and, in consequence, reject with it that Scriptural doctrine of just retribution which God intended as one of His provisions against the fascination of seductive sins.
And, unauthorized as these descriptions of hell-torments certainly are, - false as I believe most of them to be, - have they done no harm to humanity?
To me it seems that they have done deadly harm.
1. In the first place they have made it very difficult for multitudes to accept any part of a religion which comes to them enveloped in such a lurid glare. They have raised in many faithful minds an almost insuperable difficulty in accepting the real revelation as to the world beyond the grave. They have created the perfect fear which casts out all love. "The incredibility of this doctrine," says the author of the Dissertation on Future Punishment, printed with Sermons of Barrow, "hath made some persons desperately doubt the whole truth of that religion whereof this is supposed to be a fundamental article; which shows it to be a great scandal to human reason."*(1)
*(1) "No one who even dips into current literature can help perceiving that this is one of the main causes of the alienation from Christianity of the educated mind." — Church Quarterly Review.
2. Again, they have made good men despair of humanity, despair of life. God said to man, "Be fruitful and multiply"; but if these doctrines be true they make this the most cruel of all commands, *(1) and the animals are transcendently happier, and have a lot to be unspeakably envied by millions of mankind. Bunyan may well say, "I blessed the condition of the dog or toad, because they had no soul to perish under the everlasting weight of hell." "I fancy," said the pious and able Henry Rogers, "I should not grief if the whole race of mankind died in its fourth year. As far as we can see, I do not know that it would be a thing much to be lamented." Thus, the belief in these false representations has driven holy Christian men to conclusions differing but little from those of the most advanced and infidel materialism, which declares the existence of mankind to be a miserable mistake. It makes a Christian apologist admit with a sigh that he can but faintly oppose even the most despairing and blasphemous of the conclusions of a Schopenhauer.
*(1) "O voice once heard, Delightfully, Increase and multiply!
Now death to hear! For what can we increase or multiply but woe, crime, penury?"
MILTON , Paradise Lost.
And Young sings —
"Father of mercies, why from silent earth
Didst Thou awake and curse me into birth?
Call into being a reverse of Thee,
And animate a clod with misery?"
3. Again, they have had a most hardening effect upon the souls of men, making many of them ready to rejoice in the anguish and ruin of their fellow men. It is still a common thing for men hardened by the spirit of theological hatred to speak with complacency of the future retribution of those who differ from them. I have traced this feeling in not a few letters and pamphlets and religious newspapers. Grey-headed clergymen have declared in the pulpit that they feel it right deliberately to cherish a feeling of resentment and indignation against those who have been led to place a deeper trust than they themselves have done in the endless Love of God. Not long ago the Bishop of St. Andrews wrote a letter to the Courant on the question of war. Next day he received the following post-card: "Your letter…is quite a scandal…Why you make Christian people rejoice that there is in God's providence a place of retribution reserved for workers of evil like you." That "horrible caricature of the Gospel" by the preacher whom Dr. Guthrie heard declare "that he had a bad opinion of those who did not rejoice that God's enemies were destroyed without remedy," is by no means extinct or even rare. It was once a commonplace of theology that "the joys of the blessed were to be deepened and sharpened by constant contrast with the sufferings of the damned."*(1) Here, for instance, is the assertion of no less a theologian than St. Thomas Aquinum: -
*(1) One of its ultimate sources may have been the fourth book of Esdras (Bensley, Missing Fragments, p. 67); another, a monstrous perversion and misinterpretation of an intense Apocalyptic metaphor, which has no connexion with the matter.
"That the saints may enjoy their beatitude more thoroughly, and give more abundant thanks to God for it (ut beatitudo sanctorum magis eis complaceat et de ea liberiores gratias Deo agant), a perfect sight of the punishment of the damned is granted to them." — Summa iii. Suppl. Qu. 93, i.
So too Peter Lombard, the Master of the Sentences, "Therefore the elect shall go forth…..to see the torments of the impious, seeing which they will not be grieved, but will be satiated with joy (non dolore efficientur, sed lactitia satiabuntur), at the sight of the unutterable calamity of the impious."*(1)
*(1) Sentent. Iv. 50, ad fin.
It is not wonderful that hosts of minor theologians should have repeated a sentiment for which they had such high authority.
Thus the German theologians of the "dogmatic" epoch all accept it. Luther, to the question whether the Blessed will not be saddened by seeing their nearest and dearest (conjunctissimos) tortured, answers, "Not the least in the world"; and Gerhard says that "the Blessed will see their friends and relations among the damned as often as they like (quoties cunque voluerint!) but without the least compassion."
"The view of the misery of the damned," said Jonathan Edwards, "will double the ardour of the love and gratitude of the saints in heaven."*(1) Boldicke, in his Versuch einer Theodicee, argued that eternal torments proved the beneficence of the Deity, because they would so greatly heighten the happiness of the elect!*(2) Andrew Welwood speaks of the saints as "overjoyed in beholding the vengeance of God," and their beholding of the smoke of the torment of the wicked as "a passing delectation."
*(1) Works, vol. iv. Serm. xiii.
*(2) It is to me perfectly astonishing that writers (like one in the Church Quarterly Review) can continue to repeat such conventional nonsense as that if there were no endless Hell there could be no God and no Love.
"This display of the divine character," said Samuel Hopkins, "will be most entertaining to all who love God, will give them the highest and most ineffable pleasure. Should the fire of this eternal punishment cease, it would in a great measure obscure the light of heaven, and put an end to a great part of the happiness and glory of the blessed." "The door of mercy will be shut," said Newcome in his Catechetical Sermons, "and all bowels of compassion denied, by God, who will laugh at their destruction; by angels and saints, who will rejoice when they see the vengeance; by their fellow-sufferer the devil, and the damned rejoicing over their misery.
What is this but to attribute to saints and angels that delight and exultation in the spectacle of horror, defeat, and anguish, which one would have thought more worthy of the hearts of fiends?*(1) Nero and Caligula were regarded as exceptional monsters because they liked to look on for a few moments at the tortures of their victims, and Phalaris as a prodigy of detestable wickedness because he loved to hear them howl in his brazen bull; but in these writings of Christian men the howlings of the lost are described as a part of the very music of heaven, and their anguish unutterable and inconceivable, not for a time, but for ever, is set forth as giving a fresh thrill of bliss to the beatitude of heaven. God has said that one of the three things which He alone requires of us is "to love mercy." Will any honest man who is not entirely sophisticated by system say that such language as this is accordant with a love of mercy? Our Lord said, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." Is that beatitude to be obsolete in heaven? Does God cease there to be the God who declareth His Almighty power most chiefly in showing mercy and pity?
"Is Heaven so high that pity cannot breathe its air?
Its happy eyes for ever dry, it's holy lips without a prayer?
My God! My God! If thither led, By Thy free grace unmerited,
No palm or crown be mine, but let me keep A heart that still can feel,
And eyes that still can weep!"
*(1) "We leave it to the disciple of Mohammed, lying on his couch of sensuality, to look down with cruel delight upon a scene of unutterable and endless mercy. Koran, lxxxiii." — CONSTABLE, Future Punishment, p. 42.
4. But these are not by any means the only evils caused by trying to claim the sanction of revelation for the most inhuman and unwarrantable errors and misinterpretations of men.
They make sad the hearts which God has not made sad. "While I read such things," said the great Johannes Scotus Erigena  — the greatest and acutest of all the schoolmen — "I waver in amazement, and I totter smitten with the utmost horror."
It is said that Jonathan Edwards himself — who has been one of the worst offenders in this direction, - Jonathan Edwards, the descendants of whose own con greg ation (as I am informed by his successor) cannot now read or listen to what he said without indignant astonishment — Jonathan Edwards, whose con greg ation used to listen to him with groans, and tears, and sighs, and beating of the breast, in sheer horror at his representations, - was himself filled with lively anguish at the pictures of hell-torments which he conceived it to be his duty to set forth. "I sink under the weight of this subject," exclaimed Saurin in his famous Sermon on Hell, "and I find in the thought a mortal poison which diffuseth itself into every period of my life, rendering society tiresome, nourishment insipid, pleasure disgustful, and life itself a cruel bitter." "In the distress and anguish of my spirit," writes the excellent Albert Barnes, "I confess I see not one ray to disclose to me why man should suffer to all eternity. I have never seen a particle of light thrown on these subjects that has given a moment's ease to my tortured mind. It is all dark — dark — dark to my soul, and I cannot disguise it." "Far be it from us," said John Foster, "to make light of the demerit of sin. But endless punishment — I admit my inability (I would say it reverently) to admit this belief together with a belief in the Divine Goodness — the belief that 'God is Love,' that 'His tender mercies are over all His works.'"*(1) "The same Gospel," says Issac Taylor, "which penetrates our souls with warm emotions dispersive of selfishness, tempts us often to wish that itself were not true, or that it had not taught us so to feel."*(2) "Oh, Dr. Emmons, Dr. Emmons," shrieked a woman on hearing a sermon of that terrible divine, "has God then no pity at all?"*(3)
*(1) John Foster, On Future Punishment.
*(2) Restoration of Belief, p. 367.
*(3) It is but a natural Nemesis on such teaching that the site of Dr. Emmons' church is now covered by one of the largest Universalist churches in America .
5. Again, they have filled the hearts of thousands, perhaps millions, with defiant, and ignoble thoughts of God.*(1) Here, for instance, are the words of a true and noble-hearted woman, - one of the most devout and self-sacrificing women whom this age, or any age, has seen. "Is it not a simple impertinence," says Miss Florence Nightingale, "for preachers and schoolmasters, literally ex cathedra, to be always inculcating….what they call the commands of God….and often representing Him as worse than a devil? Alas! For mankind might easily answer — 'I cannot love because I am ordered. Lease of all can I love One who seems only to make me miserable here to torture me hereafter. Show me that He is lovable, and I shall love Him without being told.' But does any preacher show us this? He may say that God is Love, but he shows Him to be hate, worse than any hate of man. As the Persian poet says, 'If God punishes me for doing evil by doing me evil, how is He better than I?' And it is hard to answer. For certainly the worst man would hardly torture his enemy, if he could, for ever. All good men would save others if they could." There is more, and stronger. I do not, of course, endorse all that she says; but is it not an "awful responsibility" to teach in a manner which leads such a woman to use such words as these?
*(1) "Pisistratus was once advised to put to death a youth who had aspired to his daughter's love; but he ordered him to be set at liberty. 'For,' said he, 'if I punish those who love my daughter, what can I do to those who hate her?' Our modern religion," says Professor David Swing of Chicago , "should learn a lesson here; for if we talk about God as Jonathan Edwards did, there is no form of cruelty left to ascribe to Satan."
6. But, further, these pictures of hell, - these human additions to and fancies concerning the future state of retribution, have been the chief cause of religious persecution. It is the opinion of a modern critic that the two words in the Vulgate "et ardent" — "and they are burned" — spoken actually dead boughs, and metaphorically of the state of souls so long as they are severed from Christ — kindled all the infamous fires of the Inquisition. It was these doctrines which made men think that they did God service by thrusting martyrs to gasp out their souls in the flames of Toledo and of Smithfield . "As the souls of heretics are hereafter to be eternally burning in hell," — such was the reasoning of Queen Mary Tudor in defence of her awful persecution, - "there can be nothing more proper than for me to imitate the Divine Vengeance by burning them on earth."*(1)
*(1) "The burning of heretics had also a semblance of everlasting burning to which they adjudged their souls, as well as their bodies were condemned to the fire; but with this signal difference that they could find no effectual way to oblige God to execute their sentences, as they contrived against the civil magistrate." — Burnet, Hist. Of the Reformation, i. 58 (ed. Pocock. See also vol. ii. Passim).
The popular belief in the inconceivable brutalities, which (as they were told) went on in hell, made men indifferent to the guilt and shame of inflicting torments on the bodies of their fellow men. The feeling comes out repeatedly in the twelfth Meditation of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. He imagines that a king, while asleep, has been stung by a scorpion, and the scorpion is "cut, crushed, trampled, burnt to ashes; all is nothing to satisfy for that great crime. The sinner is a most vile worm….By sinning he acted in a hostile manner to God. What punishment shall be given him in hell to repair this great outrage? Flames, swords, devils? All is little, all is nothing." He then proceeds to tell us that the assassin of William, Prince of Orange, was hung up by the ends of his thumbs with 100 lb. Of lead attached to his toes; then beaten with iron rods; then he had needles driven under his nails and skin; the next day his hairs were pulled out one by one; he was exposed to a slow fire, impaled, and during this agony his hand burnt with plates of iron; - and he adds, "If such pain was adjudged to him who had presumed to wound a prince, what torments could be given in hell to him who outraged and crucified God?"
7. And besides all this there is overwhelming proof that the degrading falsehoods embodied in these unwarrantable accretions to the faith are the most fruitful source of infidelity. If it involve an "awful responsibility" to try to restore the true faith on this subject, it involves a far more awful responsibility to preach the popular error. "All who teach it," says one, "are morally responsible for the atheism, suicide, madness, and gloom thereby produced." They are preaching inferences, and indulging in descriptions, which tend to array against them and against religion much that is noblest and most Christlike in the heart of man. There is nothing in which Secularists so much delight as in attempts to buttress up the current views of endless vengeance in such forms as those which I have denounced. They know that a religion which identifies itself with evil and fallible inferences dishonouring to the nature of God, and false to the drift of His revelation, can never retain ins hold on the heart of man. The Church is no longer guilty of the unwisdom which once enlisted so many of her teachers against the advance of science, but she will suffer reverses yet more deadly if she continues to represent her doctrines of the future life in forms which are the mere inventions of scholasticizing theology, and which outrage the noblest instincts of mankind.
Mankind will humbly admit the cogency of the proof that there is a future retribution for sin, and that the retribution will continue as long as the soul continues to live in guilty selfishness — to hate the good and love the evil. But mankind recognizes a divine element in the teaching by which all that is noblest in its own feelings is being led more and more to detest all disproportionate vengeance and all aimless cruelty. Not long ago a Roman Catholic Archbishop in a Paris conference advised his clergy to avoid preaching upon hell. "This question," he said, "will rather repel men's minds from the faith than win them to accept it."*(1) He showed a wise insight into the human heart.
*(1) Mgr. Chalandon, Archbishop of Aix.
The passages which I adduced from skeptical writers in Eternal Hope sufficiently prove that the popular errors concerning hell, and the revolting manner in which it has been preached, are the stronghold of modern irreligion. Such views have imperiled a thousand souls for every one which they have startled and aroused. Mankind will not reject the doctrine of a just and certain punishment; they will adore the Justice which only punishes in the desire to purify and save; but they can never worship a God who is presented to them in a guise entirely alien from the whole tenor of His revelations, with no excuse beyond the unreasoning perversion of a few isolated phrases. They will give their hearts to a Heavenly Father, awful in the holiness of a merciful, because remedial, severity; they cannot give their hearts to One who is invested by loveless religionism with the attributes of a more relentless Moloch. "They think," as Mr. Fowle says, "that hell [I should say the vulgar and unwarranted misrepresentations of hell] is fatal to all religion."*(1)
*(1) Rev. T. Fowle, An Essay on the Right Translation of aiwn, p. 4.
But then it is said you need the doctrine to arouse the wicked. That was the argument of St. Chrysostom, of St. Augustine , of St. Jerome , and it even misled Origen into an unfaithful "oeconomy." But it is an argument wholly mistaken; and it is even immoral to regard the supposed usefulness of the doctrine, and not its truth. Any falsehood must be injurious, and those falsehoods are most injurious which distort an underlying truth. But the notion that the vulgar errors about hell — the false additions to the teachings of Scripture respecting it — are "useful," is belied by all experience. It has been asserted by those who well know what they are saying, that the kind of Hell which has been described to them is "the standing joke of the multitude." "As to the worldly whom you hope to arouse by it," says Mr. Minton, *(1) "I doubt if there is a single doctrine that has anything like its power to lull them to sleep." "The dogma of hell," says the Rev. Rudolph Suffield, after wide experience as Apostolic Misionary in England and Ireland, "did no moral or spiritual good, but rather the reverse…..It frightened, nay tortured, innocent young women and virtuous boys. It never (except in the rarest cases) deterred from the commission of sin. It caused unceasing mental and moral difficulties, lowered the idea of God, and drove devout persons from the God of hell to Mary. It always influenced the wrong people, and in a wrong way, and caused infidelity to some, temptations to others, and misery without virtue to most." Men will believe with trembling the salutary truth that, neither in this world nor in the next, will the wicked go unpunished; they simply will not believe the unscriptural horrors which I have quoted.
*(1) The Way Everlasting, p. 73.
For centuries the coarse human enginery of such unwarranted fancies has been tried in vain. *(1)
*(1) "Give some tract about hell fire to one or the wild boys in a large town, and instead of being startled by it, he will laugh at it as something frightfully ridiculous." — DR. NEWMAN, Grammar of Assent, p. 453. He adds that the doctrine only angers the multitude and make them blaspheme.
A few passages will suffice to prove that the false and unscriptural hell of revivalists is the chief hindrance to the spread of religion.
"The sceptic believes in his heart that there is a God, and the wicked shall be punished; but he crushes the idea of divine justice in his soul, because he has always been taught to associate it with raging flames and endless cruelties, which would soften the heart of a tiger, and make stones weep over the fate of the lost." — AUG. CALLET, L'Enfer, p. 340.
"Compared with this, every other objection to Christianity sinks into insignificance." —
J. S. MILL, Autobiography, p. 41; Three Essays, p. 114.
"L'Eglise Romaine s'est porte' le dernier coup: elle a consomme' son suicide le jour ou elle a fait Dieu implacable et la damnation eternelle." — GEORGE SAND, Spiridion, p. 301.
"If this be the logical result of accepting theories better believe in no God at all." — LESLIE STPHEN, English Thought in Eigthteenth Century.
"The incredibility of this doctrine hath made some persons desperately doubt the truth of the whole body of that religion, whereof this is supposed to be a fundamental article, which shows it to be a great scandal to human reason." — Future Punishment (printed with Barrow's works).
Of those who really believed that such passages as I have quoted represented the revelation of God, "I cease to wonder," says the great French preacher, Saurin, "that the fear of hell has made some mad, and others melancholy." "The world would be one vast madhouse," says the American scholar, Hallsted*(1), "if a realizing and continued pressure of such a belief was present." "Such a belief, if realized," says Archer Butler, "would scorch and wither up the powers of man." But for this very reason these pictures are rejected by the instinct of mankind, and all belief is undermined because they cannot accept the adjuncts of human invention by which it has been defaced.
*(1) Theology of the Bible, p. 326.
Such, then, are some of the consequences which result from engrafting upon religion the accretions which it does not own. If they were really supported by Scripture the Church would have insisted on them, whereas she has not, by a single decree, or by a single article in her ancient Creeds, so much as sanctioned them. If they could certainly be deduced from Scripture there would not have been the immense divergence of opinion respecting the state of the dead, which has not only existed in all ages, but been permitted and recognized. If all the pages and volumes about never-ending agonies had been an expression of revealed truth, it would not be possible for such a multitude of earnest and holy men, deeply convinced of the inspiration of Scripture, to have arrived at the doctrine of conditional immortality; nor would it have been possible (to take but one instance out of hundreds) for a man so learned and so holy as Dr. Issac Watts, "the flower of Nonconformist orthodoxy," to have said, "We go beyond what we are authorized to do when we say that the punishment of the wicked will be as long as the duration of God," and that he could not recall a single passage in Scripture which proved that the second death meant duration in endless torments.
But I have been charged again and again with "mawkish sentimentality" because my soul revolts at the though of these material horrors. It does so, not as some of these writers have so charitably supposed, because I am "bribed" to believe in their mitigation by my personal dread of them; nor, again, because I think physical horrors necessarily worse than mental ones; but because such scenes and pictures of hell as those to which I have alluded could never be the natural consequence of a sinful life*(1), but could only result from what theologians represent as "the implacable vengeance" of God, to whom — by virtue of snatching out of Scripture a phrase here and there, regardless of its due meaning and perspective they are not afraid to attribute an intensity and a permanence of cruel wrath, such as would be thought inconceivable in the vilest of wicked men. For the world has been unanimous in regarding the prolongation of needless suffering, together with a refinement in the application of torture, as the last worst phase of degradation in a Nabis or Caligula; and this feeling of horror is deepest in souls trained in the love of God, and in the tender precepts of the Sermon on the Mount. But each souls see no difficulty in believing that the moral penalty of sin, when unrepented of, is to shut us out from God's presence; that the punishment of sin is the congruous result of its own working; that we receive hereafter according to our deeds, and reap as we have sown.
*(1) I was sorry that Dr. Salmon (Cont. Rev. xxxii. P. 186) should talk "of the different ways in which mental and physical pain impress my imagination." He says that I can contemplate "with moderate uneasiness the sinner suffering from the agonies of remorse or the pain of loss; but that he should endure any pain of sense is a thought too dreadful to entertain." Yes, but why "too dreadful"? Because to my mind it would degrade the conception of God. Sin might produce mental remorse by a natural and beneficent law; material fire and material worms, to burn and gnaw for ever, could only be created by awful vengeance.
"Mawkish sentimentality" — the phrase so applied is deeply instructive! It reveals the depth of that abyss of selfishness and unreality which yawns in the heart of the loveless religionist. It shows what can be the influence of an unworthy dogma, no less than of an immoral life, in that
"It hardens all within, and petrified the feeling."
1. Let me try to illustrate the real significance of the phrase. Mr. Alger tells us how the proprietor of a great foundry in Germany, while he was talking one day to a workman who was feeding the furnace, accidentally stepped back, and fell headlong into a vat of glowing, molten iron. The thought of that awful end horrified the imagination. I do not envy the man who can even read of it without a thrill of pity, or shudder of sympathetic horror. Yet he truly adds, "Multiply the individual instance by unnumbered millions, stretch the agony to temporal infinity, and we confront the 'orthodox' idea of hell."*(1)
*(1) Doctrines of a Future Life, 10 th ed. Pref.
He may well add that if an all-powerful despot could stretch but one man on the rack for fifty years, and everybody, day and night, could hear his shrieks, the whole human race, though themselves blessed with all happiness, would from Spitzbergen to Tierra del Fuego, rise as one man to go and implore mercy for that single offender; and that through all the spaces of heaven, from Sirius to Alcyone, would tingle a cry of pity and of horror for that one sufferer's sake.
2. Three years ago one or two poor Welsh miners and a boy were suddenly cut off in their retreat from the explosion of firedamp in a colliery. After a little time it was discovered that they were yet alive, and the heart of all England was bowed like the heart of one man, as morning after morning we read of the heroic efforts by which their rescue was attempted. And if all England had had but one arm, that arm would have been wielded with all its might to hew at the barrier which separated those poor prisoners from life and light. And when at last they were drawn up out of the darkness, weak, and faint, and pale, and half dead, first there was a hush of awful pity, and then the whole of the vast rude multitude burst as with one touch of sympathy into sobs and tears of joy for the rescue of those poor men, because they had been saved from darkness and hunger which at the longest would have killed them in a day or two. And such peril can touch the hearts of a nation with trembling sympathy, and yet (oh God of mercy!) it is a mawkish sentimentality to feel pity for the unutterable and endless torture of which Christian teachers have written so calmly and elaborately as certain to be the fate of countless millions of our brother souls in hell!
3. A few years ago a youth named George Ebers was caught in the rapids above Niagara , and his boat was dashed to pieces on a rock just over the awful cataract. He saved himself by clutching the rock; and for hours together tends of thousands of spectators stood upon the shore, while every effort that thought or skill could suggest was made to save him. And there was not one of those spectators who did not feel a profound agitation, an almost breathless compassion for that poor boy. And when at last a raft was conveyed within reach of him, and he sprang forward and missed it, and was carried in their sight over the horrible precipice, one groan of agony was wrung from thousands of lips and hearts. Can the death — the probably painless and instantaneous death — of one poor fisher lad thus wring with compassion the souls of a multitude, and is it to be set down to a "mawkish sentimentality" if we are unable to think, without a weight of horror, of the millions who (as we are told) are suffering and are yet to suffer, and of the myriads who are daily being sent to suffer, an unendurable and unending torment?
4. Once more: Two years ago an attempt was made to assassinate the Emperor of Germany. He was not very seriously wounded, but he is an old man, and it was known that the nervous shock might endanger his life, and that the chief condition of his safety was perfect quiet. Myriads of men and women were eager from hour to hour to know the chances of life or death, and thousands assembled hour by hour in the great square before his palace in Berlin . And because they knew the need that the old man should rest undisturbed, those thousands hushed even a murmur. They stood there in deepest silence waiting for tidings. There must have been many among them who were men of rough nature. And yet the thought of their Emperor's illness was enough to strike pity into all those hearts, and to fill them with considerate tenderness. Shall the chance multitudes of a city be thus swayed by thoughtful regard for the living, and shall it be for bidden us to be overwhelmed with pity when we are told of the inconceivable torments of millions of the dead, and among them it may be of some whom we have loved; - who, imperfect as they were (it may be) and sinful even to the last, and having been cut off with no time for repentance, in the very midst of their ordinary lives, are doomed by the common voice of religious teaching to endless anguish, and yet were not daring rebels against God, and were very kind, and loving, and true to us?
And as regards the difference between mental and physical anguish, let those try to estimate it who can. I for one am not inclined to say that the former, though so unlike in kind, may not be even less easy to endure than the other. In his great Sistine picture of the "Last Judgment," the genius of Michael Angelo has subtly indicated this terrible truth. A fiend is dragging down a lost soul into the abyss, and has driven his fangs into the fleshly part of the leg. But the lost soul is wholly unconscious of the anguish. It is looking upwards at the wrathful avenging Figure in the clouds, conscious not of physical agony but only of spiritual loss.
Yet even as regards that worm which, as Theophylact says*(1), is the conscience of each, and that fire which is the burning memory of unrepented and unforgiven sins, I think it unwise for theological writers to give the reins to their imagination.
*(1) See supra, p. 92
Take these three pictures by contemporary divines of the mental agonies of hell.
DR. PUSEY. — "Apart from all those terrific physical miseries of which our Lord speaks…the society of the damned were misery unutterable. Gather in one in your mind an assembly of all those men and women, from whom, whether in history or in fiction, your memory most shrinks; father in mind all which is most loathsome, most revolting. Conceive the fierce fiery eyes of hate, spite, frenzied rage were fixed on thee, looking thee through and through with hate…hear those yells of blaspheming concentrated hate as they echo along the lurid vault of hell; every one hating every one." — Parochial Sermons.
CARDINAL NEWMAN. — "O terrible moment for the soul…when the Judge speaks and consigns it to the jailers till it shall pay the endless debt which lies against it. Impossible! I a lost soul? I separated from hope and from peace for ever? It is not I of whom the Judge so spake! There is a mistake somewhere! Christ, Saviour, hold my hand one minute to explain it; my name is Demas; I am but Demas, not Judas…What! Eternal pain for me? Impossible! It shall not be so! And the poor soul struggles and wrestles in the grasp of the mighty demon which has hold of it, and whose every touch is torment. Oh, atrocious! It shrieks in agony, and in anger too, as if the very keenness of the infliction were a proof of its injustice. A second and a third, I can bear no more! Stop horrible fiend! Give over! I am a man, and not such as thou! I am not food for thee and sport for thee! I have been taught religion; I have had a conscience; I have cultivated mind; I am well versed in science and art, I am a philosopher, or a poet, or a hero. Nay, I have received the grace of the Redeemer; I have attended the sacraments for years; I have been a Catholic from a child; I died in communion with the Church; nothing, nothing which I have ever been, which I have ever seen, bears any resemblance to thee, and to the flame and stench which exhale from thee; so I defy thee, and abjure thee, O enemy of man! Alas! Poor soul! And whilst it thus fights with that destiny which it has brought upon itself, and those companions which it has chosen, the man's name perhaps is solemnly chanted forth…among his friends on earth. Men…appeal to his authority — quote his words — write his history. So comprehensive a mind, never was his equal in society. So great a benefactor to his kind, his philosophy so profound. Oh vanity! Vanity of vanities! All is vanity! What profiteth it? What profiteth it? His soul is in hell, oh ye children of men! While thus ye speak his soul is in the beginnings of those torments in which his body will soon have part, and which will never die."*(1)
*(1) Sermon on Neglect of Divine Calls and Warnings. See too sermons on The Individuality of the Soul.
BISHOP WILBERFORCE. — "In her short life" (he was speaking of a little schoolgirl) "she had not seldom played truant, had told some lies, had been obstinate and disobedient; now she had to bid farewell to heaven and hope, to her parents, her brother, and her sisters. What was her agony of grief that she would never again look on their faces…Henceforth she must dwell among beings on whom there is no check or restraint. The worst of men are there, with every spark of human feeling extinguished, without any care to moderate the fury of their desperate rage."
This latter passage exactly resembles one from Mr. Moody's sermon on hell, who in speaking of the way in which a "young lady" would be shocked if on her way home she were accosted by a drunken man, goes on to say, that if she does not "find Christ," "libertines, and drunkards, and murderers will be her endless companions in hell," describing a hell of brutal anarchy and chaotic riot. Thus do extremes meet, and the great bishop uses language as unwarranted by Scripture as the revivalist. But I am told on very high authority that before he died, Bishop Wilberforce, like other great and learned bishops whom I could name, had come to repudiate all such treatment of the subject, and to lean his heart to the larger hope which is preached by his distinguished son.*(1)
*(1) On similarly high authority I am told the same thing of the late eminent American Bishop McIlvaine.
Now no one will deny that these pictures of hell are less revolting, more refined, than the "Tartarean drench" with which other writers have steeped their pages. Nor will any one be surprised that this is the case. And yet, in all these fierce fiery eyes, and blaspheming yells, and lurid vaults, and mutual hatreds, and mighty demons, and brutal rioting drunkards, and unchecked debauchees, whose every touch is torment, have we not language which differs widely from the language of Scripture? Are not both passages full of conceptions which either find no direct warrant in the Word of God, or are, at the best, only an expansion of metaphors which are not so expanded in Scripture, and are themselves capable, in many instances, of a widely different interpretation?
"I believe in the Holy Ghost," is one of the articles of the Apostles' Creed; and surely we may believe that the Holy Ghost is still teaching us — teaching nations as well as individual men, teaching us to interpret Scripture by nature, and by history, and by science, and by experience, and by the wider thoughts of men. And Christ said, "Lo I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." Is He not then with nations, with mankind, no less than with individual men? Is Toleration a divine duty? Is He or is He not revealing Himself in the human heart, in the human conscience, in the human intellect, in the common charities, the common justice, and the common humanities of life? Is it true, as the Emperor Maximilian said, that "to offer violence to the conscience is to assail the very citadel of heaven"? Is it always, and under all circumstances, a sin to put men to death, or to inflict anguish upon them for their conscientious opinions? Were the deeds of the Inquisition justifiable or unjustifiable? Were the fires of Smithfield a glory to those who kindled them, or a shame? If intolerance and religious persecution be crimes, how long have we learnt the lesson? And is the spirit which has taught these lessons to us a divine or a deceiving spirit? But if we have learnt these lessons, is it not a certain fact that the main difficulty in learning them arose form theological interpretations of Scripture; and that the main obstacle to their acceptance was found in the sense put on half-a-dozen Scripture texts? If the Church and the world were unanimously wrong in interpreting these — if their prima facie sense has been proved not to be their real sense; if, whatever be their real sense, we see that, at any rate, God has now taught us the sacred duty of tolerance — ought not divines to learn that, in their fancied certainty in explaining Scripture they are liable to the danger of most deadly misinterpretation? How often, when Churchmen have used texts to support tyranny, and maintain slavery, and oppose science, and justify assassination, and sanction massacres, and murder poor old women as witches, and kindle the flames of persecution, how often might the indignant world have exclaimed:
"Foul shame and scorn be on ye all, who turn the good to evil;
Who steal the Bible from the Lord, and give it to the devil.
"Than garbled text and parchment law I own a statute higher;
And God is true — were every book and every man a liar."
Nothing has more shaken men's faith in that holy Book than this most erroneous and unwarranted parade of "Scriptural" support for doctrines fatal to the progress, or abhorrent to the moral sense of mankind. Then shall the Scriptures do all their full and blessed work for the heart of men, when an ignorant literalism has ceased to teach that texts are to be interpreted "as if they had been written yesterday," and that the daring hyperboles of Semitic poetry, and the vague generalities of Semitic metaphor — scattered here and there, amid many of a very different significance, over the literature of a thousand years — are susceptible of no meaning except such as they derived from the rules of modern grammar and Western thought.
Again, WHO has taught us the lesson of pity? There can be no question that the sense of pity for human sufferings, of sympathy for human wrongs, of solidarity with all who are in pain or sorrow, has been developed in this age to an extent not known at any previous period of the world's history.
It is an historic fact that this age is pre-eminently a merciful age: an age which feels a sense of horror for all needless anguish, a sense of indignation against all who inflict it, or who have no compassion for those on whom it falls. We could not tolerate for a moment the infliction of the tortures which were daily inflicted in past centuries, which are still daily inflicted in barbarous and heathen lands. The foul dungeons, and awful implements of the dark ages — dungeons which were then habitually filled with prisoners, implements with which the human body was then constantly wrenched and torn — make our blood freeze with horror *(1). Were it known in these days that even the most atrocious malefactor had been stretched on the rack or broken on the wheel, the prison in which such a deed was done would be stormed and burnt to ashes to-morrow by the honest fury of the multitude. We have abolished not only the rack and the pillory, but even the treadmill and the stocks. Public opinion can now but barely tolerate that punishment of the lash, even for the most atrocious outrages, which in the days of our fathers was an every-day incident of naval and military life, and was then the penalty of the most venial offences. Whence have we learnt this sense of pity? It is a shame to us or an honour? And does it show growth or degeneracy in the knowledge of God's will to man? And if it be a diving thing, is there any human being who can doubt that it is this sense of pity, and of mercy, and of brotherhood, which has worked more powerfully than any other cause to make men reconsider, whether by their unwarranted amplifications of Scripture, and their fallible inferences from it, they had not attributed to God that which would be — humanly speaking — impossible to reconcile with all that He Himself has taught us about Himself in His own Word, and still more in the life and death and passion of the Son whom He sent to die for us? Is it not a sense of pity — is it not faith in God as a God of love — is it not a conviction that "Mercy boasteth over Judgment" — which would make most modern con greg ations reject with horror the sermons which were once heard from Puritan and mediaeval pulpits, and utterly refuse to sing such hymns as,
"His nostrils breathe out fiery streams, and from His awful tongue
A sovereign voice divides the flames, and thunder rolls along.
"Think, oh! My soul, the dreadful day, when this incensed God
Shall rend the sky, and burn the sea, and fling His wrath abroad.
"Tempests of angry fire shall roll, to blast the rebel worm,
And beat upon his naked soul in one eternal storm."
*(1) The reader may be reminded of the punishment of John of Leyden and (two centuries later) of Damiens. For the treatment of the Anabaptist leaders see Karl Hase, Neue Propheten. See supra, p. 117. K 2
How many of our readers are there who would not blush with hot shame if they were invited to "praise God by singing" such words as those? Yet is not the feeling which rejects such utterances the very same feeling which has made life more tender and more tolerable than it has been in any previous epoch of the world? And does not the feeling come — as all the world's amelioration has come — from entering more deeply into the heart of Christ?
And yet, though this universal sense of pity be among us, a feeling almost of yesterday; though even women would once tolerate to be present at scenes of cruelty to men and animals which would stir us to passion of indignation; though they calmly sanctioned institutions of the most horrible cruelty; yet even in ages when cruelty was common — when the value of human life was lightly esteemed — when no man could live exempt from the possibility of torture, at the very thought of which our blood curdles — the sense of pity did wake again and again to modify or to repudiate what men had taught respecting hell.
Take these two legends of the middle ages as instances. It is said that St. Christina, a Virgin *(1), was suffered to pass (like Dante) through hell, purgatory, and paradise. In God's presence she was then allowed to choose whether she would stay in heaven or return to earth in order to aid the souls in purgatory by her penitence and prayers. She chose to return, and angels conveyed her soul back to her body, which then arose from its coffin. Her pity for even temporary sufferers was strong enough to make her give up the joys of heaven.
*(1) Bollandist, Acta Sanctorum, Aug. 21.
Again, we are told in the works of the pseudo-Dionysius, that St. Carpus after his martyrdom in the reign of Decius, saw the Lord Christ surrounded by angels in the clouds, while at the bottom of a gulf below, he saw the heathen who had despises His preaching, and who were being beaten by demons with whips and serpents, and pushed into flames. Carpus was about to curse them; but having lefted up his eyes, he saw the Saviour stretching forth His hands to these miserable ones, and saying, "Carpus, it is I whom thou wouldst smite; for I am still ready to suffer for men." *(1)
*(1) Dionys. Areop. Ep. Vii. See Ozanam, Poetes Franciscains, p. 426.
And why is it that the whole nations of Chritendom have embraced a passionate Mariolatry? Is it not mainly because they naturally turn to the heart of a human Mother, because they feel convinced that in it must reign a pity, which popular teaching has made them despair of finding in Him who has never been really represented to them as the God of love? Is it not, as Roman Catholic priests have told us, because they naturally turn to her whom they regard as the saver from purgatory, rather than to Him of whom human ignorance has taught them to think mainly as the God of hell?
What were the thoughts which lay deep in the hearts of those who dreamt these legends? Perhaps the modern poets may help to interpret them. For the poets are they who feel most, and whose feelings are very deep and true, and who have been ever among the best teachers of mankind.
"The wish, that of the living whole, no life may fail beyond the grave,
Derives it not from what we have, the likest God within the soul?:"
So sings the great poet who, more perhaps than any living man, has taught us, not at any rate to be afraid of the wish and hope — even if it can never amount to a tenet of faith —
"That somehow good will be the final goal of ill,
To pangs of nature, sins of will, defects of doubt, and taints of blood;
"That nothing walks with aimless feet; that not one life shall be destroy'd,
Or cast as rubbish to the void, when God hath made the pile complete:
"That not a worm is cloven in vain; that not a moth with vain desire
Is shrivel'd in a fruitless fire, or but subserves another's gain.
"Behold, we know not anything; I can but trust that good shall fall
At last — far off — at last, to all, and every winter change to spring."
It is the same thought which gives such tenderness and passion and fiery yearning to so many verses of the great American poet, John Greenleaf Whittier —
"For awed by Sinai's mount of Law, the trembling faith alone suffice,
That through its cloud and flame he saw the sweet sad face of Christ.
"And listening with his forehead bowed, heard the Divine compassion fill
The pauses of the thunder-cloud with whispers small and still."
And to take but one other instance, we find the same thought very prominent in the pages of the learned clergyman who is the author of Olrig Grange and other very striking poems.
"Should I be nearer Christ, she said, by pitying less
The sinful living or woeful dead in their helplessness?
And the angels all were silent.
"Should I be liker Christ were I to love no more
The loved, who in their anguish lie outside the door?
And the angels all were silent.
"Did He not hang on the cursed tree, and bear its shame?
And clasp to His heart, for love of me, my guilt and blame?
And the angels all were silent.
"The Lord Himself stood by the gate, and heard her speak
Those tender words compassionate, gentle and meek;
And the angels all were silent.
"Now pity is the touch of God in human hearts,
And from that way He ever trod He ne'er departs;
And the angels all were silent."
I will not quote any more of the poem. It is bolder than anything which I dare, or have it granted me, to endorse; but of this I feel sure — that the pity which breathes through it, if it be not the voice of the multitude of teachers, is yet the deepest voice of the loving human soul.
But when the reader has thought of what men have said, and how theologians have written, in century after century, about "this rain-storm of agonized drops of immortality to feed and freshen the quenchless fire of damnation"; when he has seen the proofs of the extent to which these descriptions have alienated men's hearts from God and from Christ; when he has asked himself whether he really believes the assertions of those passages, knowing what it is that he believes; when he learns that such statements are now declared, on the highest authority, to be "opinions" only, and not matter of faith; when he is made acquainted, perhaps for the first time, with the historic fact that the Church has never, either in her earliest or her latest ages, required a belief in these material horrors which yet have been, and perhaps until a few years ago still were, the common opinion of Christians: let him ask whether the charge of "coarse and violently-coloured rhetoric" was to be brought against me, when I endeavoured to show that in a material fire and a material agony no Christian is required to believe, = or whether that charge lies rather at the door of those who have obscured the brightness of God's image in the hearts of men by the ignorance of a fallible exegesis which rejected the whole tenor of that revelation which tells us that "God is Love," while it based its system of Eschatology on the sand of metaphorical expressions of which it had never understood the true significance, and of which it terribly exaggerated the right perspective? If I spoke to repudiate the material horrors of Dante and Jeremy Taylor, and modern preachers, together with those frightful woodcuts of Pinamonti, which, with many like them, are still enormously circulated in Roman Catholic countries, - was there not a cause? It is said that St. Bernard, having seen a vision of hell, never laughed again. Without having seen such a place, even in vision, it would be strange if a real intelligential belief of all that men have written respecting it would not drive all laughter from the hearts of all good and merciful men for ever. But since such things are not of faith —
"What can we do o'er whom the unbeholden
Hangs in a light wherewith we dare not cope?
What but look sunward, and with faces golden,
Speak to each other softly of a hope?
*** END OF CHAPTER IV ***