Page images



Since it is evident that the terms eternal, everlasting, for ever, and for ever and ever, denote a limited duration, and therefore that their application to future punishment cannot prove its absolute eternity, it is farther urged in support of the doctrines of Endless Misery, and of Limited Punishment terminated by Destruction, that the same word is applied, both to the happiness of the righteous and the punishment of the wicked; and that, as in the one case this term is always supposed to convey the idea of happiness without end, so in the other it must in all fair and reasonable construction be allowed to denote endless loss or suffering.

The proper and full reply to this objection is, that the application of awwios, to the happines of the righteous, and the punishment of the wicked, cannot of itself prove the absolute eternity of either. If the endless duration of the happiness

of the righteous be established beyond doubt, the proof is derived from other sources, and does not depend upon this term.

The passage on which the present objection is chiefly founded, occurs in Matt. xxv. 46: “ And these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal." Although the same word is here employed to express the duration both of future reward and punishment, yet the difference between the nature of the two subjects, the difference between the substantives to which the adjective is applied, and the clear testimony of other passages of scripture, which relate to the final destiny of mankind, all concur to shew that in the former case it signifies an endless, and in the latter a limited duration.

There is the greatest possible difference between the nature of the subjects to which the term is applied. When an everlasting life of happiness is promised to the righteous, the subject naturally leads us to believe, that its duration will be without end, because we can conceive of nothing which should bring it to a termination. There is every reason to believe that the same motive which induced the Deity to impart it for a very protracted period, will lead him to render it endless. The happiness of which the pious will be in possession in a future state is the attainment of the object for which they were created, the completion of the design of their existence: as long as they continue to enjoy, they promote the benevolent purpose of their Creator, and therefore their felicity has in itself the promise of immortality. Happi. ness, too, is an eternal principle; it is coeyal with the Deity, and will be lasting as himself. But misery is in every respect the reverse. It is not the object for which mankind were brought into being ; its prevalence is not the fulfilment of the designs of the Deity: as long as it exists, his purposes cannot be completed; it is not itself an end, it is only the means to an end, which alone is sufficient to prove that it cannot be eternal, but must cease as soon as it has accom, plished its allotted work. There is, therefore, such a difference between the nature of happiness and misery, as necessarily leads to the conclusion, that their duration will be different. The term, dwyios, applied to the first, derives from it the signification of endless duration; applied to the second, it is restricted by it to a limited period.

There is an equal difference between the nature of the substantives to which this word is applied. Thus, in this very passage, when it relates to the righteous, it is connected with con, a substantive which signifies life; when it respects the wicked, it is joined with xocLOIS, a term which invariably denotes corrective punish, ment. * That the phrase everlasting, or continual life, when applied to the pious, may signify an immortal existence, it is reasonable to believe, because the nature of the subject countenances the opinion, and it is favored by many passages of Scripture: that the expression everlasting punishment, or lasting correction, when applied to the wicked, denotes a limited punishment, it is impossible to deny, becouse a corrective cannot be an endless punishment; because the very hypothesis is incompatible with the design of the Divine government; because it is contrary to the general tenor of the New Testament, and because it deprives many of its most striking and animating expressions of all their beauty and truth.

Nor does the affixing of a different meaning to the same word, occurring twice in the same sentence, afford any objection to this interpretation. The difference in the subject in the one case and the other is so manifest, as clearly to point out its different signification; so that if the Scriptures afforded no example of a similar repetition of the same word in a twofold sense, it ought not to induce the least doubt of the validity of the principle upon which the distinction in the present passage is established. But the fact is, that there are several places in which the same word is applied twice in the same sentence, with a dissimilarity as to the extent of duration denoted by it, exactly similar to this. For example,

* “ The word here rendered punishment, properly signifies correction for the benefit of the offender. And the word translated everlasting, is often used to express a long but indefinite duration. This text, therefore, so far from giving countenance to the harsh doctrine of eternal misery, is rather favorable to the more pleasing and more probable hypothesis of the ultimate restitution of the wicked to virtue and to happiness." Improved Version, note in loc.

Hab. iii, 6: “And the everlasting mountains were scattered, and the perpetual hills did bow; his ways are everlasting." In this passage the same word is applied to the duration of mountains, and to the duration of the


of God: in the latter part of the sentence it signifies absolute eternity; in the former it must denote limited duration. This passage affords another striking illustration of the principle, that it is the nature of the subject in relation to which the term alwvios is used, that determines the length of duration it must be understood to denote. When it relates to the Deity, it derives from his nature the sense of absolute eternity: when it expresses the duration of mountains, it is restricted by their nature to a limited signification.

Rom. xvi. 25, 26: “ According to the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret, Xgovous

« PreviousContinue »