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general view of all its parts, and scan its uture operations, and the new forms it may assume, till the purposes of infinite wisdom are consummated, we would, no doubt, see the whole scene resulting in the supreme good of the universe.
After I had concluded my sermon, I retired alone, as was my custom at that time, to reflect on what I had been preaching to the people, to see what errors I might correct, or what improvements I might make in my mode of preaching. After taking a retrospective view of the ideas and reasonings noticed above, I felt well satisfied with my remarks, not only because I discovered much originality in them, but more especially, because I discovered my arguments and reasonings to be conclusive and well arranged.
After ruminating on what I had been preaching to the people, a thought passed my mind as if some one had asked me the question, “If the Almighty possessed that foresight of his work, which you have just declared to the people he did possess, did he not know when in the act of giving laws to human nature, that if he brought mankind into existence under all those peculiar circumstances his infinite wisdom foresaw would result from that order of things he was about to establish, the greater portion of his rational creatures would be endlessly miserable, as a consequence of that existence he was about to give them?” My mind replied, "Yes, he certain ly did know; or creation would only have been an experiment upon the awful hazard of a total miscarriage.” Another question then offered itself to my mind:
“If the Almighty possesses those perfections which you have ascribed to him, if he is almighty in power, could he not have brought his creatures into existence under circumstances more favourable to their interest, and more to his glory, than to have forced them into existence under circumstances which he foresaw would terminate in the greatest possible state of endless misery and wretchedness, with regard to the greater part of them? Here again I was compelled to answer in the affirmative. Another question now presented itself to my mind as a matter of course: "If God is supremely good, would he have brought millions of millions of unoffending beings into existence, when he knew that such would be the consequence of his creating act? would it not have been better not to have created them at all ?” My mind had already become somewhat agitated, but this question threw me into the greatest confusion; I clearly saw I had got on new ground where I had never been before. I was too far advanced to retreat without
taking a minute survey of the ground on which I stood. My mind again run over the arguments advanced in my sermon; I carefully examined the premises I had laid down, and the more I examined them the more certain I was of their correctness. I clearly saw that to admit God did not possess those perfections which I had ascribed to him, at once amounted to atheism. And if he did possess infinite wisdom, almighty power, and was supremely good, the conclusion was irresistible--the doctrine of future and endless punishment was false! an idea which had never even offered itself to my inspection before! Yet I had been preaching the doctrine of future and endless punishment for seven years and more!-Yes; without ever examining the evidences on which it was predicated! A new field now lay before me!
The reader is no doubt ready to conclude that I was converted to the doctrine of universalism: but this was not the case. It is true, from that time to this, I have never believed in the doctrine of future and endless punishment, not for one moment: but I still believed the Bible taught it: this was my greatest difficulty; I did not know how to reconcile my feelings to that book I had been taught to reverence as the word of God, which I now believed taught a doctrine so repugnant to all the divine perfections of that God whose word I had supposed it to be.
My mind remained in this state of confusion for several days, but I dared not express my difficulty to my best friends. At length I hecame more tranquil, but had nothing more than a negative faith. I believed the doctrine of future and endless punishment to be false. Having made my arrangements to remove from where I then resided, I took a letter of dismission from the methodist church, without ever intimating the change of opinion which had taken place, although at that time I was completely a skeptic.
In fine, I became so disgusted with the Bible, on the supposition that it taught the doctrine of future and endless punishment, I could no longer bear to read it. Having some other books of the orthodox cast, I sold them all with my Bible; and never had a book in my house, nor read a chapter in the Bible for something like three years. As this part of the history of my life is never called to mind without the most painful sensations, I would fajn cast that part of the picture into the shade. However, even this part of my life was not without some useful reflections. Although I neither read books, nor conversed with men of information on the subject of my
difficulties. I spent much of my time in contemplating the works of nature. I saw su much design, and so much harmony, order, and correspondency in the laws of nature, I could not relinquish the idea of a supreme intelligence who ruled and governed in the universe: but in all his works of creation and providence I saw the most evident display of goodness in the designs of that ruling intelligence, which still strengthened my prejudices against the Bible, as I still supposed it taught the doctrine of endless and unmerciful punishment.And while I entertained such exalted ideas of the wisdom, power, and goodness of the supreme being, I could not have believed in any book that taught that doctrine, if I had even seen it fąll from heaven: for, said I in my reflections on the subject, not only nature itself manifests that God is good, but even the Bible declares it. And no good being would be the author of so much misery and wretchedness, when he could have ordered it otherwise, if he had thought proper to do so. If his creatures abuse his mercies and render themselves unworthy of the blessings of existence, why not take away that existence he gave them? Why preserve them in existence merely to glut his vengeance on those worms of the dust who have done no more than he knew they would do when he made them? These reflections were often passing through my mind, and I knew not where to settle. I had heard it said, that some people in the world believed in the final salvation of all men; but I was told they still retained in their system of faith the common notion of a place called hell, where bad folks were to be qualified for heaven. This damning of souls to save them,did not comport with my views of the character of the Supreme, no more than the system I had already revolted at.
Having read Alexander Pope's essay, the following lines were often in
What can we reason but from what we know ?” Being unwilling to relinquish the idea of a future existence, and having been taught that heaven and happiness were only to be obtained by those who merited them, I sat my wits to work in order to determine what rule of conduct a good being would pursue towards other beings, on whom he wished to confer benefits, if they rendered themselves altogether unworthy of his intended favours, by acts of ingratitude and despite. . Hence, to judge of God above," I inferred from
man below," I thought within myself if I stood in the relation of a creator and benefactor to any set of beings, and I could not prevail on them to accept my favours and be happy, I would only withhold my favours-not render them more miserable than their follies had rendered them, because I could not make them more happy than they were. Hence I concluded God, who was supremely good, would not display more malice and wrath than his sinful creatures, and that it would comport better with his character to deprive his rebellious creatures of existence, than to retain them in existence for the express purpose of rendering them miserable throughout eternity. I therefore concluded that none but the virtuous would be raised to a future life, and the vicious would lose their existence. I expressed myself to this effect to one of my brothers, who at that time was class leader among the methodists. I had taken greater liberties in conversing with him on the subject of the change of opinion which had taken place in my mind, than any other individual; but had never been able to know the state of his mind on the subject. We had both been rather reserved on some points. I now expressed my mind in full, and informed him I had discovered a system which I considered was more consistent with the perfections of God than the doctrine of future and endless punishment taught in the Bible. He replied, “The Bible does not teach the doctrine of endless punishment." I was no little surprised at his answer; and finding he was inflexible in the opinion that the Bible did not teach the doctrine for which I had refused it house room: I began to recite those passages where the doctrine is supposed to be taught, where the duration of punishment is expressed by the terms everlasting, eternal, &c. He, in his turn, recited to me passages where the same terms were used and applied to things which had their beginning and end in this life. This set the subject in a new light, although I had read the same passages more than a score of times: however, as I had once been deceived, and had a come to a firm resolution never to take any thing on trust again, it was impossible for me to determine whether I or my brother was mistaken in this matter. I informed him that it appeared to me I had read the Bible too much to be mistaken in that matter. I knew there were many fine things in the book, and if I could only believe that it did not teach the blasphemous doctrine in question, it would afford me inespressible pleasure, and remove all my prejudices wbich I
had imbibed against reading the Bible. He stated to me, as he had bought my books, if I would consent to read the Bible, once more, I should have them back again “without money and without price.” As he appeared to be certain we had both been mistaken in supposing the Bible taught the doctrine of endless punishment, I was too anxious to know whether he or myself was mistaken at that time, to need much persuasion to look at the contents of the old book once more. When he handed me my old Bible he observed "Now if you will read this Bible with attention, forget as much as possible all you. have preached about it, all you have heard preached, all commentaries you have read on it, and understand it by the force of language and common sense, as you would any other book, if you find the doctrine of endless punishment taught in it, why then you may burn it.” I took it home, with a mind hovering between hope and despair, resolved at all hazards to give the subject a fair trial.
My Bible having excellent marginal notes, 1 soon ran through its contents, and examined all those passages which I supposed to have a bearing on the question; read the connexion of the subjects in which they stood, traced them in all their relations and bearings; examined the terms and peculiar phrases, and the manner in which they were used and applied by the sacred writers; and when I had gone through with the subject, I was pleasingly surprised to find my old Bible no longer taught the doctrine of endless punishment, and that my disgust at the Bible had originated from my utter ignorance of its contents, and the fact that I had only been "teaching for doctrine the commandments of men”—the very thing I thought I had so carefully avoided; and I can truly say, from that day to this, I have not been able to find one solitary passage in the bible which holds forth the most distant idea of a future and endless punishment; and I am yel astonished to think that many learned and able divines still believe it to be the doctrine of the Bible.
This new discovery still left me in possession of nothing more than a negative faith; but my mind was greatly relieved from my former embarrassments about the Bible; it now appeared to me as a new book; and I read it with much pleasure. However, it was more for the purpose of finding out what it did not teach, than to know what system of doctrine it did contain. I still retained my philosophical views of a futare state, that the wicked would lose their existence through