The Inestimable Value of Souls
A sermon delivered before the Universalist Society in Medway, Massachusetts, May, 1830
What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? - Matt. 16:26
It is the design of my present discourse, not only to explain and illustrate the text, but also to show that it does not oppose the doctrine of universal restoration. The remarkable frequency and emphasis with which it has been urged against this doctrine, seems to render peculiarly necessary a critical and candid exposition of its meaning. Such an exposition I have been induced to undertake, with an humble hope of being able, through divine assistance, to remove some of the difficulties, and elicit, in their original simplicity, the most prominent truths of the subject. While, therefore, I proceed to the performance of the task thus assumed, permit me to encourage myself with the persuasion that I shall be heard, throughout, with a candor corresponding to that with which I speak.
We are all aware with what assurance the language of our text is reiterated against the faith of universal regeneration and happiness. That assurance, though unwarrantable and extravagant, appears to be, in most instances, an honest one. We doubt not that our opposers, in general, regard this, and in fact many other single passages, as alone sufficient to overturn our distinguishing hope, and compel us, if honest, to acknowledge that our doctrine is contrary to the word of God. And because, notwithstanding such passages, we still retain our hope, and steadfastly maintain our doctrine, they are ready to attribute to us exceedingly unworthy motives and feelings. One charges us with being the slave of a blind infatuation, which continually disposes us to cherish delusion, because it is most pleasing and agreeable. Another is ready to accuse us of willfully persisting in our errors; of violently smothering the secret warnings of truth within our bosoms, and obstinately hardening our minds against all divine and human reproof. We remonstrate against these ungenerous and cruel imputations. We earnestly beseech these authors to relax the severity of their censure, reconsider their hard speeches, and reflect that, however greatly we may be deceived, we are not wholly void of reason and moral principle.
I trust there are not wanting among us, men honestly determined to reject error and receive truth, whenever and wherever they can discern them; regardless, entirely, of the agreeableness or disagreeableness which may distinguish either. We make no pretensions to infallibility, and most cheerfully admit that we are liable, in common with all mankind, to think, believe, and act erroneously. If, therefore, we have mistaken the ensign of delusion for the sacred banner of truth, let us but be convinced of the fact, and we will endeavor to make an immediate correction.
What, then, and where is the standard of truth? that we may hasten to render to it the pure, unconstrained devotion of our souls. Our opposers eagerly point us to the terrible and gloomy doctrine of endless misery. In that, they direct us to behold the banner of truth. It is indeed a lofty, venerable and majestic ensign. From ancient times, through the years of many generations, it has remained exalted upon the mountains, still receiving, in every age, the homage of devoted millions. Unfurled in baleful grandeur, like some dark cloud of heaven, surcharged with thunder and the brewing tempest, it rides the air, and bedims the beams of day. Heralds, flying in every direction, summon us to abandon our positions, relinquish our weapons, and save ourselves in acceptable time from impending destruction, by an immediate, unconditional surrender! But in this is there no delusion! no false appearance? nothing but reality? Persuade us there is not, and we bow the knee with instant, unhesitating readiness - we submit without a murmur. Think us not so infatuated as to fly from the knowledge of the truth, nor so willfully obstinate as to suffocate its salutary convictions. What have we to gain by error and delusion, that we should be thought to hold them so dear? Let them be scattered, like the chaff of the threshing floor, to the winds, that we may garner up the wheat of truth into the storehouse of a good and honest heart! Why should we flatter ourselves with chimerical anticipations of universal holiness and felicity? Why should we seek to aggravate the anguish of eternity, by cherishing visions of bliss, fated to dissolve in disappointing realities of woe? Why should we plunge, self-hoodwinked, into the dismal and fathomless gulf of interminable despair? Why should we weary ourselves to intoxicate the brain, only to reel with stupid insensibility over the precipice of hell into its enduring torments? We are not so desperately mad! Unfold to our view the most appalling evils of our fate. Lift up the everlasting gates, and let the light of heaven shine upon the horrors of man's future destiny. Let us know the worst of our case. If sin and death must reign to all eternity, blasting the intelligent creation, and ravaging the works of God, let us learn to expect nothing better. If that omniscient, almighty Being, who sways the scepter of the universe, be morally capable of either ordaining or permitting the endless perpetuity of sin and sorrow - of consigning millions of sentient and intelligent creatures to the fiery regions of hell, there to wax worse and worse, more and more miserable to all eternity - unutterably terrible as is the thought, conceal it not from our minds. Let us know and appreciate the character of our God, that we may worship and serve him as he is. We would not worship and serve him in any other than his true character. We would not believe him better than he is; more benevolent than he is; more just than he is; more gracious and merciful than he is. If the Lord be God, we would follow him; and if Moloch be God, we would follow him. Away with all error, all delusion, all vain dreams of unreal good, all false hopes, and all flattering imaginations. Give us unadulterated, immutable truth, whether it be lovely or hateful, joyous or grievous, desirable or detestable.
I now recur to the language of my text: "What is a man profited, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" I propose to consider, distinctly, the following particulars: (1) The soul; (2) The worth of the soul; (3) The loss of the soul; and (4) Whether all lost souls will not finally be restored.
The word soul in the text, and the word life in the context, are only different translations of the same original word, psuche; which, to avoid the vulgar misapprehension, we should be careful to remember. When, therefore, we read: "for whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever loseth his life for my sake shall find it; For what is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" - we must entirely disregard the difference of sound in the words life and soul, so as to give to both the same meaning, which they derive from the original word, as it proceeded from the lips of the divine Teacher. Those people, who understood our Savior to have meant one thing by life, and another by soul, are misled by the double rendering of the original word; but all the candid will, I trust, upon better information, correct this error, and accustom themselves to attach a common meaning to both words.
It is proper that I should now refer to the parallels of the text, and remark that in these also, the translators have rendered the Greek word sometimes life, and sometimes soul. They are: Mark 8:35-37; Luke 9:24-25; John 12:25. In Luke 12:15-21, and I know not how many other passages, we find repetitions of the same example. I have been thus particular in noticing these facts, not with a view to deduce from them any important argument, but in order to guide the mind of the hearer in safety between erroneous extremes, to an enlightened conclusion.
In expounding the language of these portions of scripture, some have mentioned that the soul spoken of is the intelligent, immortal spirit of man; but that the life mentioned is mere animal sensation. Others, properly applying the same meaning to both these words, maintain that they signify only animal life. Both these expositions appear to me more or less erroneous. I perceive no foundation whatever for supposing that Christ used one and the same word several times in quick succession, to signify two entirely different things. Neither can I perceive any sufficient authority for believing that he was speaking of mere animal life. Animal life, wholly disconnected with intelligence, is something of which I have no knowledge - concerning which I can conceive no distinct ideas, and which, therefore, I am obliged to consider foreign to my speculations. Within the scope of my observation, so far as I can trace the scale of being, wherever I find animal sensation or life, there also I find a greater or less portion of intelligence. Nor can I doubt, that from the glowing seraph of heaven, down to the most sluggish insect of the earth, the animating and intelligent principles are inseparably blended. In fact, I am strongly inclined to consider animating life and conscious intelligence as associated properties of one great principle, dispersed in various and innumerable degrees by the infinitely good and wise God to all his creatures. And if to some he has given much, and to others little, as none can dispute, the difference is not in the nature or principle, but only in degree. Human beings are the lowest order of moral intelligences of whom we have any satisfactory conceptions; but though moral agency descends no lower, we cannot confine the principle of intelligence within any limits short of the whole animated creation. Setting aside, therefore, the notion of mere animal life as a something wholly disconnected with conscious intelligence, I proceed to show what I consider to be the soul of man.
If I do not misinterpret the divine word, nor misconceive human nature, the soul of man is that conscious, intelligent life, or rational spirit, which animates the corporeal body, and in it enjoys, suffers, hopes, fears, thinks, remembers, contrives, chooses, wills and determines. The body is naturally inert; the soul naturally active. The body is a curiously complicated, wonderful machine, moved by the soul within it, but in the absence of the soul is an inanimate, motionless mass. The soul is the life of the body; and whether in the body or out of it will continually exist. It is, strictly speaking, the man himself, considered as a sensitive, conscious, intelligent being. The soul, the internal or real man, is the only human moral agent, and is accountable to God for the deeds done in the body, according to the knowledge and ability possessed to do right and avoid wrong.
It is written that God breathed into the formed body of Adam "the breath of life, and he became a living soul." That breath of life constituted Adam a living soul. Elijah, when raising the widow's son, prayed, saying "O Lord my God, I pray thee, let this child's soul come into him again. And the Lord heard the voice of Elijah, and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived" (1 Kings 17:21-22). Solomon, in allusion to death, said, "Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return to God who gave it" (Eccles. 12:7). Our Lord said, "Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt. 10:28). Again, "my soul is [or I am] exceeding sorrowful even unto death." Again, to the penitent thief on the cross: "This day shalt thou be with me in paradise," which is the same as to have said, this day shall thy soul be with mine in paradise. Lastly, "What is a man advantaged if he gain the whole world and lose himself, or be cast away?"
From these passages, and a hundred others, all directly or indirectly teaching the same truths, I feel authorized to conclude that the soul of man is that conscious, intelligent life, or rational spirit, which animates and directs the corporeal body; and which most strictly speaking is the man himself. In accordance with these views, St. Paul said, "For we that are in this tabernacle [the body] do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord (for we walk by faith, not by sight): we are confident, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. Wherefore we labor, that whether present or absent we may be accepted of him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad" (2 Cor. 4-10).
I now pass to consider -
The worth of the soul
The soul is a pearl of inestimable and priceless value. Its worth consists in its capacity to enjoy happiness, and in the excellency of its native faculties. The soul is naturally capable of enjoying great and ever increasing degrees of happiness. The faculties of its nature are ambitious and susceptible of everlasting expansion, progress, and improvement. Its grand end and aim is happiness. To this end it exists, delights to exist, and prays to exist forever. To this end it nerves up all its powers, and puts forth to vigorous exertion its utmost abilities. Nor till overwhelmed by the dark waves of despair, and lost to the prospect of happiness, does it ever welcome or even endure the thought of annihilation. Then, indeed, when worn down with the fatigue of fruitless endeavors, baffled by adverse circumstances, and apprehending nothing but ever augmenting misery, it droops with exhaustion, and fain would find relief in nonentity. Till then, a thousand worlds would no sooner bribe it to quit existence, than the meanest straw. In the same point of view, we discern that the soul, if destined to perpetual existence, must profoundly dread all possible prospective misery, and recoil from its endurance. What soul would accept even the empire of the universe, if, as an equivalent for that throne, it must resign happiness forever, and submit to immerse itself in everlasting misery. Happiness to the soul is its all; which, ravished from its enjoyment, all else becomes a curse. "What is a man advantaged if he gain the whole world and lose himself, or be cast away?" Surely nothing!
But the soul is not only inestimably valuable to itself - it is precious in the sight of its adorable Creator, its heavenly Father. He, who created nothing worthless, who made nothing in vain, cannot look with indifference upon human souls. That they should exist and flourish in the enjoyment of happiness, and rise from knowledge to knowledge, and from bliss to bliss through endless ages, is his sovereign pleasure, his eternal glory. To this end he created them. To this end he covers them with the mantle of his paternal providence, continually disposes, governs and blesses them. To this end he has furnished them with all the means of enjoyment, tutors them in the school of his moral government, rewards their righteousness, punishes their sin, meets their penitence with pardon, reveals the purposes of his grace, and plants within them the glorious hope of immortal bliss. All the dispensations of his providence, government and grace are evidences of the high estimation in which he holds the souls of his creatures. All that he has done, or promised to do, through the medium of his holy angels, prophets, apostles, and above all his only begotten Son, in behalf of mankind, proclaims that souls are infinitely precious in his sight.
But I proceed to consider -
The loss of the soul
The soul may be lost (1) in unreconciliation to God in trespasses and sins; (2) in ignorance, unbelief, and mental darkness; (3) in the endurance of natural death by the hands of persecuting violence, or in the endurance of excessive trials, sufferings, perils and miseries, incurred for the sake of any good principle, cause or motive; and (4) in the endurance of grievous condemnation and punishment for sin, either in the present or future state.
Souls lost in trespasses and sins are spoken of in scripture under the similitude of lost sheep, lost pieces of silver, etc. Hence, Christ testified that he had "come to seek and to save that which was lost." Souls lost in ignorance, unbelief and mental darkness are alluded to by St. Paul, when he says, "But if your gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost. In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, but the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them" (2 Cor. 4:3-4). Of the soul lost in the third and fourth mentioned senses, our Savior appears to be speaking when he says, "He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world, shall keep it unto life eternal" (John 12:25). "Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell … Whoever, therefore, shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven … He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake, shall find it." (Matt. 10:28,32-33,39).
"For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake, shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? [In Luke, lose himself or be cast away.] Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then shall he reward every man according to his works. [In Mark, whosoever, therefore, shall be ashamed of me and of my words, in this adulterous generation, of him also shall the Son of Man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.]"
Whatever may be the opinions of others, I am constrained to interpret this language as holding forth the doctrine of future rewards and punishments. Our Lord, to my apprehension, evidently teaches that those who, in this world, for his, the gospel's and truth's sake, expose themselves to tribulation, persecution, perils, loss of worldly ease, wealth and reputation; who trusting in God, jeopardize their lives, and shrink not even from death itself, shall hereafter, in his heavenly kingdom, be set forth illustriously, by the divine approbation, and rewarded with honor, and glory and bliss, such as shall cause to appear trifling and momentary, every good of the present state. But, on the other hand, that those who in this world are too proud or politic to confess Christ; to maintain the cause of the gospel, of truth and good principle; who love the praise of men more than the praise of God; who are wrapt up in love of ease, reputation, wealth, honor and happiness; whose great end is to avoid present tribulation and evil, for the sake of prolonging their earthly ties, regardless of the commands of heaven and the solemn dictates of principle, shall be set forth in the day of judgment, no less illustriously, by the divine condemnation, to shame, contempt and punishment -shall be denied, and cast away into a state of tribulation and anguish; in view of which, the evils suffered for righteousness' sake in this world, become mere motes.
Holding these things up in contrast, to the minds of his disciples, the Savior admonished them to put away the selfishness of their worldly feelings. He instructed them that his kingdom was not of this evil world; that they must contemn mere momentary, trifling good, and set their very lives at naught in the faithful discharge of their duty - looking to that eternal weight of glory, that immortal joy, reserved for them in the presence of God, in the kingdom of his Father. He showed them that to lose their souls in the perils of this world, or in temporal death, grievous as it might seem for the present, should be no loss in the end, but an unspeakable gain. And he also showed them that to keep and preserve their souls by every contrivance, from losses, crosses, woes, afflictions and premature death, and to make the most of present gratification at the expense of duty and principle, however it might seem desirable and advantageous now, would ultimately prove a great and fearful loss, in as much as it would plunge the soul into future shame and remorse. Hence, he asks, emphatically, "What is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?" For when he shall judge the secrets of men, and reward every man according to his works, the beggar and the king shall stand before him upon a common level, and he will distinguish between their moral characters alone. Naked as all came into this world, shall all appear before their Judge. Names, and titles and persons will not be respected; he will look only upon the heart and conduct.
Such I do most sincerely believe to be the doctrine of Christ and the apostles upon this particular point, inculcated throughout the writings of the New Testament. To me it is a pure and sublime doctrine - a doctrine against which benevolence, wisdom and truth cannot revolt.
I now come to consider -
Whether all lost souls will not be finally restored
Our thoughts have passed beyond the shores of time; they have followed the souls of men into the rewards and punishments of future general judgment. They now contemplate the destiny of those lost souls; whom the sentence of the Great Judge has consigned to the anguish of just and necessary punishment. They sink down in the destruction and perdition with which God overwhelmed them. Their state is represented by various figures of speech, by bold and glaring metaphors, to the sense of which, and not the sound, we must have respect: thus it was foretold of them that they should "be cast into everlasting fire, where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched" - "into unquenchable fire" - "into a furnace of fire, where shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth" - "into outer darkness" - "into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels" - "into everlasting punishment" - "into everlasting destruction" - "into the lake of fire and brimstone." These are glowing figures of speech, which no rational man will undertake to contend are to be understood literally. But they show the extreme wretchedness of those lost, or cast away souls, whose final destiny we are now considering. They show the absolute certainty, and positive efficacy with which God will inflict future punishments.
The great question to be solved is, will these lost souls remain lost and miserable to all eternity? Are they never to be restored? Are they to remain in sin and torment world without end? I answer. They will ALL BE RESTORED, in the fullness of time, to holiness, happiness and heavenly glory. What reasons and what proof can you offer, says the hearer, whereby to justify your answer? The following, viz.
(1) The great and inestimable worth of these souls to their Creator, forbids the thought that he will suffer them to remain forever lost. They are exceedingly precious in his sight. He created them not to be forever sinful, but holy; not to be forever miserable, but happy. This end alone was worthy of an infinitely good God, such as he is. He will not be frustrated in the attainment of his grand object; therefore, all lost souls will be finally restored. All admit that lost souls in this world are precious in the sight of God, and that it is owing to his great love for them, that he sent his Son to save them. Will they become utterly worthless in another world? or will he become utterly merciless and indifferent? Neither.
(2) There is but one end worthy of an infinitely good and wise God in subjecting those souls to such anguish, i.e. to purge away sin and the love of sin, to humble, subdue and reconcile them to himself; that, being corrected efficaciously, they may love, glorify and enjoy him forever. To make them worse and worse, more and more miserable to all eternity, would be as malevolent as it would be useless. It would be the part of an omnipotent fiend, not of Jehovah. Therefore, all souls will be finally restored.
(3) To perpetuate the sin and misery of these lost souls would weaken the divine moral government, and diminish the glory of its Head. The strength of all good governments consists essentially in the willing submission and obedience of the governed, to its good and wholesome laws. When a large portion of the subjects rise in rebellion against the established government of any State, though they might be quelled and imprisoned, yet in watching against them, the public authorities, as well as the peaceable part of the community, must of necessity be greatly weakened. Now God either cannot or will not, as some think, reduce all his creatures to cheerful obedience. If he cannot, there is no security to his throne. If he can, but will not, he is not the guardian of righteousness, nor the friend of his creatures; since sin, the cause of their misery, will freely be permitted to ravage his works. But God can and will subdue to willing obedience all intelligences, through the medium of his Son, and become finally "all in all." The subjugation of all - the perfect reconciliation of all, will be his glory. To reign forever over a single rebel whose heart cursed him, would derogate from true glory. Therefore, to strengthen completely his government and to secure his own true glory, God will finally restore all lost souls.
(4) God hates sin, and, therefore, will certainly employ effectual means to purge it from among his creatures. He will not employ means to destroy it which must operate to invigorate and nourish it forever -therefore, when sin has been put away, all lost souls will be restored.
(5) It is an established principle of his moral government, that "he will not cast off forever: but though he cause grief yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies" (Lam. 3:31-32). Or as he himself hath said by the mouth of Isaiah, his prophet: "I will not contend forever, neither will I be always wroth; for the spirit should fail before me and the souls I have made" (Isa. 57:16). Therefore all lost souls will be finally restored.
(6) It is the purpose of God, in and through Christ Jesus, to restore all souls to holiness and bliss. "For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell; and having made peace though the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven" (Col. 1:19-20). "Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:9-10). "Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure, which he hath purposed in himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of times, he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are in earth: even in him" (Ephes. 1:9-10). "And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be ALL IN ALL" (1 Cor. 15:28). Now if the counsel of God shall stand, and he will do all his pleasure, as there is no reason to doubt, and if all things are reconciled to God, subdued under Christ, and gathered together in Christ, so as that God shall truly be all in all, it is certain that all lost souls will be ultimately restored.
These reasons are to my satisfaction abundantly sufficient to justify the position assumed in my answer to the grand question before us. I have other and important reasons drawn from divine revelation, which I will not now present. What have you to object against my conclusion? Is it not a fair, just, consistent and glorious conclusion? Does it not accord with the desires and prayers of all holy beings? Is it not worthy of the God of love, and justice, of benevolence and truth? Can you overthrow either of the reasons already assigned? I am certain you cannot. But you rise up with that great, general objection, which has been so long and so universally urged against the doctrine of universal restoration, viz. - That the language of the divine threatenings certainly signifies that future punishment shall be without end, and, therefore, those who suffer it can never be restored. This is the only plausible and important plea which can be made in favor of endless misery. It is the basis of all arguments in support of that doctrine, and of all objections against the doctrine for which I am now contending. It is, with the advocates of interminable misery, the Alpha and Omega of all their reasoning. Take it away and scarcely a straw remains at which to catch. But while they can persuade themselves it remains, it outweighs in their estimation ten thousand opposing reasons. I shall briefly answer this capital objection.
I deny the premises altogether, that the language of the divine threatenings certainly signifies that future punishment will be without end. In what passage is there language of such necessary signification? "They shall be cast into a furnace of fire where shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth." True; but nothing is here said concerning how long they shall remain there. This passage is not to the point. "Be cast into hell, into unquenchable fire, where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched." What is this unquenchable fire and this undying worm? That, certainly, which as a causing principle inflicts the pain of punishment upon the sinner. The fire and the worm represent the same causing principle of punishment. This must be an eternal, unchangeable principle of the divine government. It consists in that wrath or opposition of God toward sin, which is denominated a consuming fire. God himself is therefore called a consuming fire; because the moral perfections of his nature are eternally opposed to sin. This is the grand causing principle of all punishment. It is the breath of his mouth, the spirit of eternal judgment and burning. It is the everlasting unquenchable fire, which kindles up the flames of hell, and which can no more cease to be, than God himself can cease to be.
But how long lost souls are to suffer pain from this unquenchable consuming fire, is another and very different question. The fire certainly existed before they were cast into it, or they could not have been cast into it. It was just as unquenchable before they were cast in, as while they were actually in it, and should they come out of it, would be the same fire still. This passage is, therefore, not opposed to the final restoration. But again: "Depart ye cursed into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels." "And these shall go away into everlasting punishment." The fire and the punishment here spoken of, certainly are the same with the everlasting unquenchable fire just considered. The word punishment must here signify the causing principle or element, which inflicts the pain of punishment, rather than the mere suffering itself. It is contrasted with eternal life, which is the approbation and communion with God, enjoyed by the righteous. On the one hand, they are said to go INTO everlasting punishment [fire that immediately causes punishment]; and on the other, to go INTO everlasting life. Consequently, both principles existed before either of the parties could go into them, to suffer or enjoy. The going in, or coming out, would make neither of them a whit the more or less everlasting. Therefore, if lost souls may go away into everlasting fire, they may come out of it, without annihilating or quenching it in the least. Before they go in, while they are in, and after they come out, the divine causing principle is the same. Therefore, neither of these passages sustain the objection to which I am replying.
Again: "who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and the glory of his power." This is to take place when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven in flaming fire, etc. This is the very same fire of which we have been speaking, and is that everlasting destruction with which the wicked are to be punished, according to the text. It is to come from the presence of the Lord and the glory of his power. This destroying, everlasting, unquenchable fire is but one and the same in all these texts. And viewing it as it is described, we find no violence done to language by the conclusion that all lost souls will be restored.
"But," say you, "none of these texts intimate final restoration - if they do not absolutely forbid such an expectation, they certainly do not encourage it." It is enough that they do not forbid or preclude this expectation. We can refer to other testimonies to prove the positive. We do not expect to find authority for releasing a condemned criminal incorporated in his sentence of condemnation. It is enough that we can find it anywhere, provided it comport with the ends of good government. I think I am able to show that this very consuming, everlasting, unquenchable fire will work the purification of lost souls, and assist in their restoration. "Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work, of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire" (1 Cor. 3:13-15). If, therefore, this fire operate to the good of the sufferer, by consuming all in his works and character that is sinful and evil, if it work the destruction and consumption of everything in and about lost souls, which has ruined them, and if, notwithstanding all their losses, they are finally saved so as by fire, the objection is removed root and branch forever. I consider it fairly silenced.
One more objection, however, comes up in place of the one disposed of - not indeed of much real weight, but of considerable supposed importance. It is, that there can be no change, repentance or reformation of sinners after death - that the door of divine mercy is open to no soul after death. To this I reply that it is not only without proof from either scripture or reason, but contrary to both. I know not of a single text in the whole Bible, which, without a forced and unnatural construction, affords the least intimation that, in the future state, sinners may not repent, reform, be reconciled to God, and experience his mercy, as well as in the present. And certainly reason teaches no such thing. Why should it not be as necessary, as proper, and as desirable that sinners should repent and reform in one world as in another? God cannot be opposed to it hereafter, any more than here. It must be always equally acceptable to him, for sinners to return and throw themselves at his feet. And, unless he be a changeable God, he will exercise the same mercy, on the same principles, in all worlds, to all moral creatures. He has ordained certain spaces of repentance, and certain seasons of positive punishment in which he will not accept repentance, for the time being, but leaves the sinner to melt down in the fire of his judgment. But this feature in the administration of his moral government is seen in the present world. It may be seen in the future; but neither here nor anywhere else, does it, or will it exclude any being forever from his mercy. Reason is decidedly opposed to the notion of confining repentance, reformation and salvation entirely to their momentary state. The scriptures are on the same side; and maintain that great and glorious revolutions will be carried on beyond the grave, in favor of the intelligent creation.
The apostle Peter, so far from making this life the only probationary state, plainly declares that the gospel has been preached to the dead, to the spirits in prison. He says, "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the spirit; by which also he went and preached to the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient, when once the long suffering of God waited in the days of Noah while the ark was preparing," etc. (1 Peter 3:18-20) "For this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit" (1 Peter 4:6). What was the use of this preaching to the spirits of the dead in prison, if there can be no change after death? If souls cannot be converted and saved after, as well as before death? No man can tell. I am aware of the pains at which many divines, both orthodox and heterodox, have put themselves to make it appear that these texts have no reference to a future state; but they have tortured language to no other purpose than to show their ingenuity. They have not gained their point. While this epistle of Peter remains in the New Testament collection, its meaning must be plain to every unbiased and candid reader.
But at once to silence all further objections, and close this interesting subject, permit me to direct the attention of this audience to the solemn and joyful testimony of God through his servant John. "And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead small and great stand before God; and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things written in the books, according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life, was cast into the lake of fire."
Here is the last general judgment and punishment of sinful souls; and here we perceive their last lost state. Let us proceed with the revelator in his further vision, and ascertain whether beyond all this there will not be a universal restoration of lost souls. "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven. And I heard a great voice out of heaven, saying behold the tabernacle of God is with MEN, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away ALL tears from their eyes; and there shall be NO MORE DEATH, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the FORMER things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, BEHOLD I MAKE ALL THINGS NEW. And he said unto me, write, for these words are true and faithful."
Glorious climax of the works and purposes and testimony of God! Yes all lost souls shall be finally restored - all things shall be made new; and then, O then, there shall be no more death, neither first nor second; no more sorrow; no more pain - no more tears, no more sin, no more unreconciliation; but God himself forever all in all. O blissful, glorious consummation! Let every creature in heaven, in earth, and under the earth, ascribe blessing, and honor, and glory to HIM that sitteth on the Throne, and unto the LAMB forever. Amen.