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We will now consider several objections which you make to a future retribution, not so much because we consider them of weight, as because they are so frequently made use of by the abettors of your system. As I regard these objections of but little consequence, I shall treat them with brevity.
You sometimes object to future punishment in these words: "If we reason correctly, when we argue that there must be a future state of retribution in order to cure the crimes committed in this state, why will it not be necessary that a state of retribution beyond the next, be instituted to cure the crimes committed in the next? And why do we not in this way, prove the doctrine of endless sin and misery ?"* This objection briefly stated is this: If men are punished in a future state for crimes committed in this, they must be punished in a third state, for the crimes committed in the second, and so on to eternity. Now the whole strength of this objection rests upon this principle, viz. that punishment is not salutary, but vindictive; a principle in which neither of us believe. Hence you cannot urge this objection without rejecting your own favorite opinion. Besides, this objection weighs as much against your theory as against mine. You believe that men are punished in this world during a period of time, for crimes committed in a preceding period. Hence this objection can be urged against you, thus: If men are punished during one period for crimes committed in a preceding period, they must be punished a third period for crimes committed in the second, and a fourth, for crimes committed in the third, and so on to eternity. Now, sir, when you can reconcile this objection with your own system, you will then have exploded your own objection.
Again; you object to future punishment on the
ground that civil government and human laws are ordained by God, and still the penalties of human laws are confined to this world. After stating that human laws are ordained by God, and the penalties are confined to this state, you say, "Now if all this, which is as plain as any thing in the scriptures, be granted, what room is there for the supposition that the penalty due to transgression, is punishment in the future eternal world ?" Though this objection has, in principle, been answered in a preceding Letter, I will in addition offer the following. Human governments are either a perfect transcript of the divine government, or they are not. If they are not, then the circumstance that human penalties are confined to this world, is nothing to your purpose. For though human governments do not punish men after death, the divine government may. But if human governments are a perfect transcript of the divine, as they must be to answer your purpose, then some men under the divine government will assuredly escape all punishment, and others will be punished unjustly; for you will acknowledge that this is frequently the case under human governments. Besides, if human governments are a perfect transcript of the divine, then human governments supersede the necessity of the divine; then there is no government but human, so when anarchy prevails in any nation, there is no government at all to take cognizance of the actions of men!! Thus is your argument false in principle, and dangerous in its influence. But as weak and corrupt as it is, we find you frequently bringing it forward. Thus you say, “Let us look around us, and see if prisons, dungeons, and gallows, are not a sufficient argument to prove that the wicked are recompensed in the earth." According to this statement, if men are not confined in prison, hung upon the gallows, or punished in any other way by civil + Lect. p. 304.
*Lectures, p. 9.
power, they are not punished at all, how guilty soever they may be.
Again; you tell us that temporal rewards are suffi... cient to stimulate us to religion and virtue.* But how are they sufficient? Do they actually produce this effect? Are all men religious and virtuous? No one will pretend this. And to say that any cause is sufficient to produce an effect, which it does not produce, looks a little like a contradiction.
Again; You object to a future retribution by saying, "That Christ came into this world, to save us in another, is contrary to all the representations which are found in the scripture." A few remarks will show, that this statement is hasty and unfounded. You will admit that Christ came into this world to save us from sin. But is this salvation effected in this world? You will not even pretend it. You frequently assert, as we have already seen, that men are saved by the resurrection. But does the resurrection to immortality take place in this life? The absurdity of the supposition is manifest. So it is evident, that Christ saves sinners in a future state. Now if Christ does not save men in another state, some will not be saved at all. The heathen who never hear of Christ, cannot be saved by him in this world. They must therefore be saved by Christ in a future state, if they are saved at all. You must then give up your belief in Universal Salvation, or acknowledge that this objection has no weight.
Another objection to a future retribution is contained in these words "If one sows grain in a field in NewEngland, it follows of natural consequence that the harvest will be gathered from the same field; but there appears to be no natural connexion, as between cause and effect, between sowing grain in this country, and gathering a harvest from it in Europe. St. Paul says,
*Lect. p. 301.
'He that soweth to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption.' This seems perfectly natural, because 'whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.' But to argue that corruption may be gathered from an incorruptible state, is to argue against the very nature of things."
This passage seems to present several distinct ideas. One is, that immortality cannot suffer, which has been already examined. Another distinct part of the argument is contained in the passage of scripture, "he that soweth to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption." Because this passage says that they shall reap corruption of the flesh, you conclude that it must be in this state of existence. Now if all this should be granted, it would not oppose our views. Because men are punished in this world, it does not follow that they will not be in the future. But it is not certain that the term flesh, is here used literally. The word flesh is frequently used to signify sin or sinful dispositions. This is probably its meaning in this passage. But your argument requires that the word flesh should be used literally to signify the corporeal body. Now the word flesh in this passage must be used figuratively, or it must not. If it is used figuratively, the passage is nothing to your purpose. For the text would then read in sentiment, if men are sinful, they shall reap their reward from sin. The passage would then teach that sin shall be punished without any reference to time or place. But if the word flesh is used literally to signify the corporeal body, then sowing to the flesh, is doing things in obedience to the wants and necessities of the body; then any thing which is done to satisfy the wants of the body, is sinful, and will be punished. Even if we labor industriously to clothe our bodies, or to procure food for their subsistence, we sow to the flesh; we commit sin, and shall
Lect. p. 369.
surely be punished. Thus, Sir, you reap absurdity rather than advantage from your argument.
You attempt to support your interpretation of the passage, by saying, "There appears to be no connexion between sowing grain in this country, and reaping a harvest from it in Europe. But if we sow grain in a field in New England, we shall of natural consequence reap the harvest from the same field."-Now this statement, though true relative to agriculture, does not justly apply to the case before us. You say there is no connexion between sowing grain in this country, and reaping the harvest in Europe. True-and for this good reason; the field in this country and the field in Europe are not one and the same identical field. They are two distinct and separate fields, having no relation to each other. But will you say the same relative to present and future existence ? Will you admit that an individual in this life, and the same individual in a future life, are as distinct from each other, as one field in America, and another in Europe ? that they are two distinct intelligent beings? Dare you assert that Paul, for instance, in a future state, is another being totally distinct from what he was here, having no more relation to what he was in this world, than there is between the two fields abovementioned? If you will not admit this, you acknowledge that your argument is foreign to the point, and so amounts to nothing. And if you do admit it, you espouse a cause which is no other than infidelity in disguise.
Since you have borrowed your figures from agriculture, and since the apostle uses sowing and reaping to represent our actions and their reward, let us for a moment look at the process of raising grain. Do we, as your system requires, sow grain, and reap the harvest in the very act of sowing? Or do we not, as our system requires, sow the grain, and then wait a period for the