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But though this word, when applied to future punishment, does not denote duration without end, yet it is expressive of a period, to the length of which we can set no limits, and which no thoughtful mind can contemplate without dismay. To the impenitent and obdurate sinner, who, in the midst of light and knowledge, with clear conceptions of his duty, and strong convictions of his obligations to obey it, has lived without God in the world, violated the laws of morality and religion, outraged the best affections of the heart, and trampled on the dearest interests of mankind, there must be a day of awful retribution. Though we cannot conceive more nobly of the Deity than to suppose that benignity constitutes the essence of his nature, yet from this very circumstance, he must punish the wicked with a necessary degreee of severity. They carry in their own breast the sentence of condemnation; they feel within themselves a terrible consciousness that they must suffer the just judgment of their crimes, and the dictate of their heart is the voice of God, announcing to them their future destiny. They cannot be happy. Were a seat prepared for them at the right hand of God, were angels and archangels, and the spirits of the just made perfect to encircle them, and were the most rapturous joys of heaven offered to their acceptance, they would still be wretched. The very bosom of enjoyment would be to them
a thorny pillow ; for the turbulence of malignant passion would even there disturb their repose : like those miserable pageants of grandeur, who live in gorgeous palaces, and whom mirth and joy encircle, while some foul crime weighs heavy on their conscience, the paleness of whose cheek the surrounding splendor does but deepen, and whose quivering lip moves but the more tremulously for the pleasure which invites their participation : anguish and despair are in their hearts.
Every fault we commit must involve us in suffering. Misconduct and misery are connected together by a law as steady and invariable in its operation, as that which regulates the motions of the planets. If we die without having acquired virtuous and pious habits, and with hearts attached to criminal pleasures, there is no alternative; we must necessarily suffer an anguish, which both reason and revelation assure us must in every case be dreadful, but the degree and the duration of which can be determined only by the nature, the number, and the aggravation of our sins.
With an evidence which no reasonable mind can resist, and with deep and impressive solemnity, the Scriptures assure us that after death cometh the judgment; that all mankind must appear before the tribunal of Jesus Christ; that they must be judged according to the deeds done in the body, whether they have been good
or evil ; that the virtuous of every nation, kindred, people, and religion, shall be admitted to a state of pure and exalted happiness, where all their faculties shall be enlarged, where every object calculated to exercise and satisfy them shall abound, where every natural and moral imperfection, and therefore every painful sensation, shall be for ever excluded, and where, existing in immortal vigor, they shall be continually rising higher and higher in the scale of excellence and enjoyment, till they attain a measure of both, which at present we can neither calculate nor comprehend. But they assure us too, that the wicked shall be doomed to a state of suffering, awful in its nature, and lasting in its duration ; that they shall be excluded from the habitations of the just; that between them and the virtuous a great gulph shall be fixed ; that no song of joy shall be heard in these regions of remorse;
that weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth, shall be there ; and that the recollection of the sins they have committed, the mercies they have abused, and the privileges they have lost, shall fill them with intolerable anguish.
The doctrine of Universal Restoration not only teaches these solemn and momentous truths, but inculcates them in a manner the best adapted to convince the understanding, and to affect the heart. It is not this doctrine, therefore, which cries to those who are at ease in Zion, “ Peace,
peace, when there is no peace ;" it is not this doctrine which says to the wicked, “Ye shall not surely die;" which relaxes the ties of moral obligation, or promises an exemption from punishment, whatever dispositions are indulged, or whatever crimes are committed.
With a solemnity peculiar to itself, it assures the wicked that they can enjoy no rest; that they must be miserable as long as they are criminal; and if there be any thing affecting in tenderness, or persuasive in benignity, that doctrine must have a peculiarly moral tendency which inculcates that the suffering they endure will induce an abhorrence of its cause, and that, purified from sin, repentant and reclaimed, in love with holiness and goodness, and looking with humble, penitent and supplicating hearts to the Father of mercies for forgiveness, he will have compassion upon them, speak to them the words of peace, and take them to his bosom as his children; that even as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord will have compassion upon them that fear him, knowing their frame, and remembering that they are but dust.
“ I have taken no pleasure in your suffering,” may we conceive our heavenly Father to say to his penitent children, when the discipline under which he will place them shall have accomplished its design. “ I have chastised you only with a view to correct the evil which was in you, You feel and deplore your error. You are fitted to partake of true happiness : come, then, for there is room ; . This my son was dead and is alive, was lost and is found !'"
If at that moment this reclaimed child should have the feelings of a man, and testify in human language the sensations of his soul, will he not fall down before this most lovely Being, and, in a rapture of adoring gratitude, exclaim“ Thy wisdom and thy goodness have prevailed! With penitence I return unto thee, from whom I ought never to have departed ! Father, receive thy child. The eternity of happiness thou givest me shall speak thy praise !
What a memorable and affecting spectacle must such a reconciliation afford to the whole rational creation! How great must be its moral influence! How much better must it answer all the purposes of justice as well as benevolence, than the condemnation of millions of millions of rational beings to a total loss of conscious existence, or to the endurance of the most excrucia. ting torments, which can accomplish no possible end, except that of sinking the unhappy victims deeper and deeper in sin and misery! Which spectacle is most worthy of the God of love, and in which is most apparent the finger of infinite wisdom, power, and benevolence ?