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THE JUSTICE OF FUTURE PUNISHMENT.
ROMANS iii. 5.
Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance ?
THE Conclusions to which we have arrived in the preceding lectures, are asserted to be inconsistent with the justice of God. The grounds on which this opinion rests, shall be examined after some direct evidence is offered in opposition to the objection itself.
1. Eternal punishment cannot be pronounced unjust, because it is impossible to show that the wicked can be made to submit to the government of God. None will deny, that so long as they persevere in opposition to their Maker, their condemnation is perfectly equitable. It is only on the supposition that they will imbibe a better spirit, that their sentence can be considered too severe. It therefore devolves
upon the objector to prove that the sufferings of hell are disciplinary, and better adapted than any means here enjoyed to subdue the heart to the love and fear of God, and that this will actually be the effect. This he cannot do. So far as we understand the tendency of punishment, it affords no reason to expect repentance after death. The soul is never terrified into obedience. It is indeed often induced to seek security by the apprehension of danger. But though there may be a commencement of serious solicitude and inquiry in consequence of the threatenings of God against transgressors, there never was and there never can be a mind softened and subdued by fear. If a person finds himself subjected to excruciating sufferings, and involved in the fear of greater in consequence of his sins, his heart rises against God, he feels indignant that he should be so severely, and as he thinks, so injuriously treated. However powerful may be his convictions of guilt, and however real the danger may appear, it is not till he has seen the Lamb of God, that the stubbornness of his mind begins to yield. He must have a view of the love and compassion of Christ,
before he will humbly acknowledge his sinfulness and accept of mercy. We know from these facts, that persons dying in their sins will have no more disposition to repent afterwards than they had in this life, nor probably as much. They may then feel what they here anticipated, with as little beneficial effect, and with more virulent opposition. Their sinful preferences will probably continue with unabated strength through every step of existence. It would be of no avail to proffer them pardon under the condition of reconciliation to God with which they will never comply. But can that punishment be otherwise than just, which is rendered necessary by the obstinate perversity of the sufferer?
2. Eternal punishment cannot be pronounced unjust, since it is impossible to show, that the interests which sin tends to destroy and which such a penalty alone can protect, are not of corresponding importance. The punishment which God inflicts is always exactly proportioned to the guilt of the sufferer, which is ascertained by the damage done to the universe by transgression. We have no measure of the evil of sin, excepting so far as we are acquainted with the interest which it threatens to annihilate.
But it is impossible to decide, that these interests are not of a nature to justify eternal punishment, and that their protection does not demand it. The welfare of the universe is to be principally considered, in all the measures of the divine sovereignty. Minds little accustomed to think, do not always perceive how essential it is to intelligent creatures at large, that transgressions be noticed by exemplary punishments. Moral beings are so under the control of what they consider desirable or otherwise, that unless the apparent value of unlawful pleasures is overbalanced by penalties against them, they will transgress. How unsuccessfully would God endeavor to secure their obedience were they left without one personal inducement to keep his commandments! Had the sanctions of the law never been executed, the rebellion which is now limited might have become co extensive with the rational creation. We may confidently assert, that no reformation would take place, that where apostacy once began it would be perpetual. Not an individual could be redeemed by Jesus Christ, for no one would acknowledge his guilt, no one would feel his necessities, no one would sue for mercy.
Since disobedience to the law of God is destructive of such incalculable interests, producing of itself everlasting degradation and misery, and threatening to carry ruin throughout the universe, it seems indubitable that eternal punishment is only an equitable vindication of the law. The objector will certainly find it a fruitless attempt to show, that sin does not tend to destroy a greater degree of happiness, than is sacrificed in the eternal misery of incorrigible offenders. If by breaking the laws of God, we endanger interests which are more valuable than our individual happiness, and which eternal punishment can alone secure, sin merits such a penalty. This supposition cannot be shown unfounded, and consequently it is impossible to pronounce the doctrine which we have established, untrue.
3. Eternal punishment is just, because God will execute it. It is on this ground that the apostle replies to the interrogation;-“Is God unrighteous, who taketh vengeance? God forbid, for how then shall God judge the world." He assumes it for granted, that the wicked will be punished. The obvious inference is