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The next people of whom we read, that had become exceedingly wicked, were the Sodomites. There were not ten righteous persons among them: (and probably not one.) If Abraham, when he interceded for them, had believed, that if they were so suddenly destroyed, not having time to repent, they would all go to a place, or state of everlasting punishment, he must have considered this vastly more dreadful, than their momentary suffering, by being destroyed by fire; and it is reasonable to conclude, that he would have interceded for them on that account, that peradventure they might repent: but not the least intimation do we read about their suffering hereafter. It is certain, from the scriptures thus far, (upwards of 2000 years from the creation,) that God had not revealed or given the least intimation of punishment for sin after this life. And farther,
In all the exhortations of Moses, to the Israelites to be obedient to the Lord their God, and in all his warnings of consequences of disobedience and sin, he never once gave them the 7 least intimation of punishment after this life. If any such punishment for sin had been revealed to Moses, or he had believed any thing of it, it is wonderful he did not preach it to his disobedient people. He again and again, exhorts them to obedience and warns them of the consequences of their sins. In the xxviiith chapter of Deuteronomy, he enumerates all the judgements that would come upon them, all of which exactly came to pass as he predicted.* But in all that
* See the exact accomplishment of his predictions in my History of the Jews, pp. 224-232, &c.
he told them, of what they would suffer, we do not read of the least intimation of eternal punishment. Nay, so far from that, we cannot find the least intimation of any punishment for sin, after this life. Neither has there yet, (about 2500 years,) been any law given, the penalty for the transgression of which, should be eternal punishment. The penalty threatened for disobedience, was temporal sufferings, and not a word more is mentioned.
Although the Jews in general, and the nations. around them, were very wicked, yet no fears were expressed, nothing is said by any of the prophets about their being punished for ever, which doctrine is thought to be so necessary in this day, to deter men from sin. God raised up. prophets from time to time to warn the Jews, and other nations, of the judgements that awaited them, for their sins. If they believed in eternal punishment, is not their total silence on this subject, and their not warning the wicked of it, most unaccountable?
The great city Nineveh, said to have been 50 miles in circumference, (the metropolis of the Assyrian empire, containing 120,000 inhabitants that did not know their right hand from their left; which is understood of infants, therefore it must have been a city of vast population. This great city had become very wicked, Jonah was directed, (A. M. 3197.) to "go and preach unto it the preaching, (said the Lord,) that I shall bid thee." After entering into the city a day's journey, he proclaimed, (in the streets no doubt,) Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown.". Though this be the substance, of his mission,
and judgment denounced, yet undoubtedly he preached more than barely this. Both for conviction, by laying open their sins to manifest the justness of the judgment denounced,and for exhortation, to bring them to repentance. And we read, Mat. xii. 39.) that they repented at the preaching of Jonah. God in his abundant goodness and mercy gave them hearts to repent, and averted the threatened evil. Poor Jonah was in a sad plight. (If he had had the billionthpart of the mercy that God has, he would never have been sorry that the whole city was not destroyed.) Because the clemency of God in sparing it, would, he thought, subject him to the censure of having been a false prophet. Thus he stood more upon his reputation as a prophet, than he did upon the lives of the whole city.
But is it possible that Jonah could have believed, that if they had not repented, and had all been destroyed, that they would have gone to an endless hell of torment and had rather they should be miserable forever, than that he should be censured as being a false prophet? This is hardly possible. If some of our preachers of the present day, or one like them had been sent, he would, to such a wicked people, have roared hell and damnation if they did not repent; as we know they would do in this day if sent to such a wicked people. I do not mean if sent by him who sent Jonah; but according to the common way in this day of sending out preachers.
But we have not the least cause to believe that Jonah said a single word, either directly or indirectly, or gave them the least intimation that their souls would be in danger of eternal pun
ishment, no, not even the least intimation of punishment at all after this life. Nor can a single instance be produced from the Old Testament, where a prophet was ever sent to any people to warn them of the danger of going to hell, after the brittle thread of life was cut, as false prophets have long done, and do now preach.
I wish here to notice the following from a late writer,* as very pertinent to my subject. "Iask," says he, "If any man can produce a single instance where a false prophet ever endeavoured to make gain to himself, by the doctrine of eternal misery from any being in the universe of God. I do not find that neither true nor false prophets, did so under that dispensation, or that this doctrine was known and believed by a single individual. As men were not threatened with such a punishment, so none were ever congratulated as being saved from it. As it was never held to deter men from sin while ignorant of God, so it was never urged on any to stimulate them to obedience and gratitude to God in delivering them from it. Is it possible then, that this doctrine of eternal misery could be believed; yet all remain silent on the subject? If true, and no revlation was given about it, how could men avoid such a punishment? If a revelation was given, how is it to be accounted for, that it is not mentioned by one of the Old Testament writers ?If it is mentioned by any one of them under any other name than Sheol, (i. e. the state of the dead,) I am ignorant of it; nor is it even pretended by those who believe the doctrine."
Throughout Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the prophets, to the end of the Old Testament, in all their warnings and threatenings of punishment, and predictions of judgments that should come upon the Jews, and other people for their sins, there is not one sentence of everlasting misery. There are a few texts that are construed so to mean, by the advocates of the doctrine of endless misery. But even admitting these few do appear to carry that meaning, is it reasonable to contend for these few in support of the horrid doctrine of eternal torment, (enough only the thought of it to make one's blood run cold, as it has in reality many a one's, so that it has run no more for ever,) against as many as I have ted, and such texts that are so plain, that they need no explanation, a child may understand them, as "the Lord will not cast off forever. For, though he cause grief, yet he will have compassion, according to the multitude of his mercies." It is a droll disposition that most people possess for damnation, (but it is each one the damnation, of his neighbour, not himself,) that they will strain every text they can to support it and overlook so many that support the doctrine of the salvation of all men. As I have intimated before, if men did but love their neighbour as themselves, they would be more ready to believe the doctrine. And this is as true a sentence as ever was written. For then they would be as loth that their neighbour or any other fellow creature should go to hell, as they would be to go themselves.