By Elhanan Winchester
I am glad to meet with you, to have some farther conversation upon the very important and interesting subject of the final Restoration. Since I saw you last I have had opportunity of hearing some very capital objections made against this system, which I beg leave to state in the plainest and strongest manner.
Minister. Your frankness is well pleasing to me, and I am ready to hear whatever can be urged against my sentiments, and will do my endeavour to answer all reasonable objections; therefore propose them as soon as you think proper.
Friend. One grand objection that is very generally made against the doctrine of the Restoration is that it tends to licentiousness; that it is the doctrine that the serpent preached to Eve; for we read, (Gen. iii. 4.) "And the serpent said unto the woman, ye shall not surely die;" and that it is a doctrine calculated to give encouragement to the wicked to continue in their evil ways; that it is "saying, peace, peace, when there is no peace;" and that this doctrine is as dangerous as that of the wicked prophetesses of Ezekiel's time, of whom GOD says, "With lies ye have made the heart of the righteous sad, whom I have not made sad; and strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he should not re- turn from his wicked way, by promising him life. They say unto them that despise me, JEHOVAH hath said, ye shall have peace; and they say unto every one that walketh after the imagination of his own heart, no evil shall come upon you." Jer. viii. 11. Ezek. xiii. 22. Jer. xxiii. 17.
It is said that it is the nature of GOD to lay the highest possible restraint upon sin, and, therefore, he has threatened it with eternal, or endless punishment; and this is even found too weak to prevent the prevailing iniquity. What a flood of impiety, therefore, would overflow the world, if it should be generally believed, that after some ages of suffering, mankind should be restored to some degree of happiness? Would not the restraints be wholly taken off from the lusts and passions of the wicked, if once this doctrine should become prevalent? Will you be so kind as to give a fair and candid reply to this objection?
Minister. This objection is stated with all possible force, I shall, therefore, endeavor to answer it as well as I can; putting in this caveat, that if I shall not answer it to your satisfaction, do not imagine that no solid answer can be given; but impute it to my not being sufficiently master of my subject, or not being able to express my mind so clearly as I could wish. As this objection is frequently made, and often used, by people who mean well, but have not considered the subject thoroughly, I shall be as explicit as I possibly can upon it.
I would first observe, that the great truths, or first principles, upon which the Restoration is founded, and from which it is derived by natural and easy consequences, are far from tending to licentiousness. But in order to make this evident, it will be proper here to set them down in their order.
First principles upon which the Doctrine of the Final and Universal Restoration is founded.
1. GOD is the universal and only Creator of all; contrary to the opinion of the Manichees of old, who believed the devil to be creator of most, if not all visible beings. The Mugletonians, of the last century, and the Buchanites lately, assert nearly the same sentiments; contrary to Rev. iv. 11. Col. i. 16. Psalm c. 3. Numb. xvi. 22. Isaiah Ixiv. 8. Ezek. xviii. 4. Zech. xii. 1. and a vast number of other scriptures.
Now who can say, that this noble thought, which St. Paul enlarges upon so beautifully, (Acts, xvii. 24-30) tends, in the least, to make men wicked? Does it not tend to dignify and ennoble human nature, to be told, that GOD is our Father, Creator and First Cause; and that we were made by his power, according to his will, and for his pleasure; and that the chief end for which he made us, was, to glorify his name, and enjoy him forever? --as the Assembly's Catechism beautifully declares. This is one of the principles from which GOD himself deduces the certainty of the final end of wrath, as I have observed before:-- "For I will not contend forever, neither will I be always wroth; for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made." Isaiah, Ivii. 16,-- Those who venture to contradict their Maker, and say, that he will contend forever, and be always wroth! ought to be able at least to give as good a reason why he will, as he has assigned why he will not; and consequently prove, that he hath not made all souls; which is the true foundation upon which endless misery must be founded, and the only doctrine which is perfectly consistent with it.
The poor untutored Indians in America, argued (with a missionary that was sent from Sweden to convert them) from the universal providence of GOD, that he, who was so kind a Father as to provide for their bodies all things needful, had not wholly neglected their souls. But this I do not insist upon, though, I think, the argument has weight in it; and certainly, the providential goodness of GOD, and his long suffering, tends to lead men to repentance. Rom. ii. 4. 2 Pet. iii. 9.
2. The universal benevolence of the Deity, or the love of GOD to his creatures, is one of the first principles from which the general Restoration is deduced: and who can say, that this leads to licentiousness? If those who believe that GOD loves them, in particular, find that consideration the strongest obligation on them to love him again, and to obey his will; by the same rule, if all the individuals of the whole human race, were to believe that GOD loved each one of them, would not the same cause produce the same effect? And if so, can this be charged as a licentious doctrine, which is expressly grounded upon a cause which powerfully operates to produce holiness? Is there any thing like argument in this reasoning? I know that GOD loves me, and seeks to do me good; therefore, I must hate him. What should we think of a woman who should leave her husband; and do all in her power against him, and should be able to give no better reason for it than the following: "My husband loves me, and I know it, and he has always loved me, and always will; and therefore I am determined to hate, ridicule, despise, and contemn him, and have left him for this very cause, and am determined never to love or obey him more." Bad as human nature is, I question whether such instances often occur. We commonly say, that love begets love. "We love him because he first loved us;" says the apostle, 1 John, iv. 19. Therefore, the doctrine of GOD's universal benevolence, cannot lead to licentiousness, in any light in which it can be viewed; for, if he really loves us, he will do all in his power to bring us to love him again, and to be like him; and I am sure the consideration of his love to us, goes as far as moral persuasion can go, to induce us to love him again, nay, the belief of it is acknowledged to be one of the strongest motives to obedience; and the love of GOD, shed abroad in the heart, produces the best effects, and is the most powerful principle, and spring, of good and virtuous actions, that we are acquainted with. This being a first principle, from which the universal Restoration is concluded, we are happy to find, that "GOD is love:" and that he "so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life: For, GOD sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world, through him might be saved." See 1 John, iv. 16. St. John, iii. 16, 17. But it is not so much my business now to shew, that the sentiment ia scriptural, as to shew that it is not of a dangerous tendency. The following words, however, are so beautiful, that I take the liberty to mention them:-- "but thou hast mercy upon all; for thou canst do all things, and winkest at the sins of men, because they should amend. For thou lovest all the things that are, and abhorrest nothing which thou hast made; for never wouldest thou have made any thing, if thou hadst hated it. And how could any thing have endured, if it had not been thy will; or been preserved, if not called by thee? But thou sparest all; for they are thine, O Lord, thou lover of souls. For thine incorruptible Spirit is in all things: therefore chasteneth thou them, by little and little, that offend, and warnest them, by putting them in remembrance wherein they have offended, that leaving their wickedness, they may believe on thee, O Lord. For thy power is the beginning of righteousness; and because thou art the Lord of all, it maketh thee to be gracious unto all. But thou, O GOD, art gracious and true; long suffering, and in mercy ordering all things. For if we sin, we are thine, knowing thy power; but we will not sin, knowing that we. are counted thine:" Wisdom of Solomon, xi. 23, 26. xii. 1,2, 16. xv. 1,2. "JEHOVAH is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and of great mercy. JEHOVAH is good to all; and his tender mercies are over all his works. All thy works shall praise thee, O JEHOVAH; and thy saints shall bless thee." Psal. cxlv. 8, 9, 10.
3. Another great principle upon which the Restoration depends, is, that Christ died for all; "We see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he, by the grace of GOD, should taste death for every man." (or all) Heb. ii. 9. "If any man sin we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous. And he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." 1 John, ii. 1,2. "For there is one GOD, and one Mediator between GOD and men, the Man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time." I Tim. ii. 5, 6.
I need not multiply passages to prove that Christ died for all; for though the universality of his death is not expressly asserted, in every text where it is mentioned that he died, it must always be understood; because it is never denied in any place, and is plainly, and pointedly declared in those I have quoted. And, besides, it is evident that in the apostles' time, the universality of the death of Christ was a first principle, universally acknowledged, and therefore, St. Paul reasons from it as such; which it would have been highly preposterous for him to do, if that had not been the case: as, for example, "For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all," (which is not disputed by any, and which we know to be a truth) "then were all dead: and that he died for all; that they who live, should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him that died for them, and rose again." 2 Cor. v. 14, 15.
Friend. But have you never heard it argued that Christ did not die for all, because he did not pray for all?
Minister. I remember, when a lad, I was sent to a neighbor's house, and overheard the good man, the master of the family, read in a book after this manner: "Christ did not die for all, because he did not pray for all; I pray for them; I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me, for they are thine." St. John, xvii. 9. And I then thought the argument conclusive; but I am now at a loss whether the author of that book meant to deceive his readers; or, whether he had never read the chapter through critically. For had he read the 20th verse, he would have found these words, which would have overthrown his hypothesis:-- "Neither pray I for these alone; but for them also, who shall believe on me through their word." If Christ had prayed for all, in the 9th verse, for whom he died, he could not have enlarged his prayer so much in the 20th verse, as to take in not them only, but all who should believe on him through their word. Neither does he stop here, but goes on to pray for those that believe in these words: "That they all may be one; as thou, Father art in me, and I in thee: that they also may be one in us:"-- And why is all this unity prayed for among unbelievers? Surely, it hath never been accomplished; but itshall be, for this great and admirable purpose: viz. "That the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me, I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them and thou in me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me." v. 21, 22,23.
Friend. But when shall the world believe, and know that Christ is sent from GOD?
Minister. When all that believe shall be one, as the Father and Son are one. When the great marriage of the Lamb shall be celebrated, and his bride shall be one, in the bond of universal love and fellowship, as the Father and Son now are: when the church shall be perfected in one; shall dwell in love, and dwell in GOD, as the Father dwells in the Son, and the Son in the Father: when Zion's watchmen shall see eye to eye: when all believers shall speak the same thing; when there shall be no more divisions among them; when they shall be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment.
This was the state that St. Paul besought the Corinthians to press after, and wished them to attain; but he had the mortification to see them fall short of it, as all the Christian churches have, from that day to this. But when Christ shall give that glory and honor to his bride, which the Father gave to him, and shall thus unite her to himself, in an indissoluble union, and the several members of his body the Church, shall be as much united one to another, as the members of the natural body are; or, to express it in his own words, "As thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee." When thus the church shall be one, in spirit, love, design, judgement, &c. as the Father and Son are; then shall the world believe, and believing, have life; then shall the world know him, whom to know is life eternal. See verses 2 and 3. But as this great cause has never yet existed, the effect has not yet followed; but when the first shall be, the last shall take place in consequence.
The petitions in that most excellent prayer, that may, with great propriety be called the LORD'S prayer, may be divided into four classes. 1. For himself, verses 1st and 5th. 2. For his apostles, 9, 19. 3. For them that should believe through their word, 20, 21, 22, 23. And 4. for the world, verses 21, 23: as I have just observed, and need not add any more upon so plain a matter.
Friend. Proceed, if you please, to show, that the doctrine of the universality of the death of Christ does not lead to licentiousness.
Minister. It is evident that it doth not; but on the contrary, it is the strongest motive to all who believe it, to love and live to him who died for them, and rose again. We are not our own, but are bought with a price; therefore, we are exerted not to be the servants of sin, slaves to our passions, and servants to men; but to glorify GOD in our bodies and spirits, which are his; and the apostle beseeches us by the mercies of GOD, to present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto GOD; which is our reasonable service. Forasmuch, as we know that we were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver & gold; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a Lamb without blemish, and without spot. See 2 Cor. v. 15. Rom. vi. 12, 13. 1 Cor. vii. 23. vi. 19,20. Rom. xii. 1, 1 Pet. i. 18, 19.
What a horrid thought would it be, that Christ should be the minister of sin, and that his blood- shedding should cause wickedness to abound! The love of GOD in giving his Son to die, is enough to move a heart of stone. "For when we were yet without strength, in due time, Christ died for the ungodly, for, scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet peradventure, fora good ( kind, benevolent, generous) man some would even dare to die. But GOD commendeth his love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more being now justified through his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if when we were enemies, we were reconciled to GOD by the death of his Son; much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life." Rom. v. 6, 10.
Here the death of the Lord Jesus is laid as the ground and the salvation of men inferred from it, with the greatest possible certainty; yet, will any one say, that because Christ hath died for him, therefore he will indulge himself in sin? GOD forbid. Some say that if they believed this doctrine, they would live in sin; and indulge themselves in their lusts and passions: but then it may be observed, that those who say so are its enemies, and those who oppose the view, and not those who receive it.
There is something so brutish and unaccountable in such dispositions, as would lead men to hate their best friends, merely because they are so; that would lead them to hate GOD, because he loved them; despise Christ, merely because he died for them; that for the honor of human nature, I would hope these instances are rare. But to the point; I have conversed with many who believe that Christ died for them in particular; and yet I never heard them say, that they hated him for it; but, on the contrary, that they loved him exceedingly. Now, is not the same cause likely to produce the same effect? If a thousand persons, for instance, all believing that Christ died for them, find their hearts constrained to love him for it, would it not have the same effect upon ten thousand, ten millions, or ten millions of millions?-- And if it would cause licentiousness to abound in the world, to preach that Christ died for all, if it was universally believed; by the same rule it must cause it to prevail, in a lesser degree, to preach that he died for a small part, at least, among those who believe themselves to be of the number; and, therefore, it must not be preached at all, that he died for any?--Who can deny the consequence? It seems to be evident, that Christ has done and suffered too much for those that he died for, to lose them finally; and thus the universal Restoration stands connected necessarily with the universality of the death of Christ, and is deduced therefrom, in the easiest manner; therefore, the doctrine of the former cannot tend to licentiousness, as it stands upon the ground of the latter, which hath been demonstrated to have no such tendency.
4. Another principle upon which the universal doctrine depends, is the unchangeableness of GOD: whom he loves once, he also loves; he loved his creatures when he made them, as none can well deny; their sins he never loved, nor ever will; he hath declared, that he loved us when sinners, but never as sinners. His eternal and constant hatred of all sin, and his unchangeable love of all his creatures, are of the nature of primary truths from which the doctrine of the general Restoration may be easily and plainly inferred. In this view we may understand those many dreadful threatenings and gracious promises, made to the same people and persons: both shall be fulfilled; the first, while they continue as rebels, which are designed to humble and subdue them; the last, when they shall have accepted of the punishment of their iniquity; when their uncircumcised hearts are humble, when their stubborn knees shall bow to JEHOVAH, and their former rebellious tongues shall swear allegiance to him.
Does this idea lead to licentiousness, that GOD hates sin, and determines to pursue it to entire destruction, and never to put up his sword so long as there is a rebel in the universe; yet, at the same time, has no positive hatred to the souls which he has made, but only wishes them to return to order?-- This idea appears to me, equally to check presumption and despair; and tends to put an end to licentiousness, rather than to encourage it: for if rebels are assured that their rightful sovereign hates them, and will never suffer them to be reconciled to him, it naturally causes them to fight with tenfold rage, as all warriors will testify: as on the other hand if they believe he is too weak, or undetermined, to conquer them, they will be presumptuous, and continue the war. It cannot, therefore, be affirmed, by any person of reason, that the declaration that GOD will destroy sin tends to promote it; or, that his love of order, and hatred of evil, being compatible with his love to the creatures he has made, is a doctrine that encourages men to rebel; the contrary is evident; and yet these are the very grounds of the Universal Restoration; which cannot therefore be licentious.
5. Another of the first principles of the Restoration is, the immutability of GOD's counsels; which he hath confirmed by an oath, "That by two immutable things (viz. his word and oath) in which it was impossible for GOD to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge, to lay hold upon the hope set before us." Heb vi. 17,18. "GOD hath abounded towards us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself. That in the dispensation of the fulness of times, he might gather together (or rehead) in one, all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth even in him; in whom we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of him who worketh all things according to the counsel of his own will." Ephes i. 8, 9, 10, 11. God is our Saviour (or Soteros, Restorer) who will have all men to be saved, (solhenai, restored) and to come unto the knowledgeof the truth." 1 Tim. ii. 3,4. This is the will and counsel of that God, who "Doth according to his will in the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, what doest thou ?" Dan. iv. 35. He hath sworn by himself, the word is gone out of his mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, that unto him "every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear." Isaiah, xlv. 23. The counsel of GOD shall stand; he will perform his pleasure, notwithstanding all the opposition that men can make; GOD is not a man, that he should lie, neither the son of man, that he should repent. Hath he said, and shall he not do it? or, hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?" Numb, xxiii. 19. If GOD will have all men to be saved & restored, and to come to the knowledge of the truth, if it is his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself, in the dispensation of the fulness of times, to rehead all things in Christ, both in heaven and on earth; if he hath sworn that unto him every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall swear; and if he worketh all things after the counsel of his own will, and is determined to perform all his pleasure, which he is able to do; and with him nothing that he pleases is impossible. I say if all these things are true, (as who, that believes the Scriptures, can deny;) then, is not the doctrine of the Restoration true? And who will venture to charge that with licentiousness, which GOD, in the counsel of his will hath purposed, and is determined to perform? We know, that the will of GOD is a will to all goodness, and that he cannot do any thing unjust or contrary to his holy nature, or inconsistent with his plan of moral government, or that shall tend to promote rebellion; therefore, if GOD had seen that this great work had been, in any respect injurious to his perfections, character, government, &c. he would not have proposed it; and if he had foreseen that the knowledge of it would have been hurtful to mankind, he would not have revealed it: but since he hath done both, we may certainly argue that it is not a licentious doctrine to declare, that GOD will finally make all his intelligent creatures happy; by making them all his subjects, by destroying their sins, and making them holy, in a way perfectly consistent with all his perfectionsand attributes; without doing the least injury to his character, or rendering his moral governmentweak, or making any of his words void, whether threatenings or promises, or in the least setting aside the sanctions of his law or gospel, or a future state of rewards and punishments; without derogating at all from the glory of the Mediator, but rather exalting it to the highest possible pitch without saddening the hearts of the righteous, or diminishing in the least, from the happiness of Heaven, but rather causing it to increase; for if there is joy in Heaven over one sinner that repenteth, there must be more over many, in exact proportion; and as GOD will certainly give greater possible joy to his chosen, &. there is no doubt but it will receive addition from every one that is restored, or brought home to himself; therefore, it can only be brought to its highest possible pitch by the universal Restoration; which doctrine cannot, therefore, be licentious, as GOD has appointed and revealed it, and all holy beings (except some weak good men on earth) rejoice therein exceedingly.
6. Another of the principles on which the general Restoration is founded is, that GOD hath given all things into the hand of Christ, who hath declared, that it is the Father's will, that of all that he gave him he should lose nothing; and that power was given him over all, that he should give the knowledge of GOD, even eternal life, to all that the Father had given him; and that all, without exception, whom the Father hath given, shall come in such a manner as not to be cast out: But as all these scriptures have been recited, and reasoned upon before, I shall only now observe that as GOD the FATHER hath given all things to CHRIST, and as he hath engaged to bring all back, without exception, and hath both will and power to perform this work, and came into the world on purpose to accomplish it, it must of consequence, he finally performed; yet it cannot tend to licentiousness, or the GOD of Heaven, and the Lord Jesus Christ, would never have planned it, approved it, or sought to execute it.
Many more first principles, on which the doctrine of the Restoration is founded, might be mentioned, and shewnto be far from tending to licentiousness. But I shall mention but one more; and that is-- The Scriptures must be fulfilled; the Scriptures cannot be broken: None of the words of GOD can fail of being accomplished; and he hath not only denounced dreadful threatenings, but made many gracious promises to the same people. These cannot be fulfilled together;-- and if there is no truth in the Restoration, I cannot see how the latter will ever be fulfilled at all; and if sins are not punished in the persons who commit them, I am equally at a loss what sense or truth there can be in the former. It would be a great task to collect all the texts which justify remark, that threatenings and promises belong to the same people in different periods, some specimens of which have been given in the course of these dialogues. Now, it cannot lead to licentiousness, to suppose that the Scriptures shall all be fulfilled; but it must lead to infidelity, and all kinds of evil to suppose the contrary.
These are the first principles upon which the doctrine of the Restoration stands, and by which it is supported; and as these have all been considered, and proved to have no tendency to encourage sin, separately, much less can they have any such tendency, jointly; and then it evidently follows, that a doctrine which seems necessarily deduced, or inferred by undeniable consequences, from all these considerations united, cannot be false, or have any evil tendency.
But I shall next proceed to shew, that all true, experimental, and practical religion, seems so consistent with the universal Restoration, that it may be reckoned a wonder, that all who have tasted that the Lord is gracious, and have diligently practised his commands, have not in all ages been fully convinced of the truth of it.
Friend. Is it possible that you can do this? If so, I hope your reasoning will be attended to; and I must confess, that you have cleared your way so well, by considering the first principles of the doctrine, and shewing that they are very far from tending to licentiousness, that I am half inclined to think you will be able to answer this objection, formidable as it has been considered hitherto.
Minister. As I trust you have been made acquainted with experimental religion, I need only appeal to your own experience, for the truth of what I advance; and I am apt to think, if you will answer me candidly, to a few questions, you must acknowledge either that the Restoration is true, or that your experience is false.
Friend. I am willing to give you as plain and candid answers as I can; for it will be of no use to deny what the Lord has done for my soul.
Minister. Let me then ask you in the first place, did you not see yourself lost and undone; and that you were vile before GOD, unworthy of his mercy, and totally unable to deliver yourself from your sin and misery?
Friend. I certainly did; and I was sometimes ready to think there was hardly such a sinner on earth as myself, all circumstances considered; for I had sinned against such light and love, that I thought all the world might be forgiven sooner than myself.
Minister. And were you not brought by the power of GOD, to resign yourself into his hands, without reserve, to do with you, and dispose of you, according to his will and pleasure; being convinced, that he neither would nor could do you any injustice?
Friend. O yes; and then I found peace; my rebellion against GOD ceased; I looked upon him quite differently from what I did before; I saw that he was wholly right and just, and that I was entirely to blame. My murmurings against him ceased; I viewed him as such a holy, good, merciful, and yet righteous GOD, that I could trust my soul in his hands, with the most entire satisfaction.
Minister. And when Christ was revealed to you as a Saviour, how did he appear?
Friend. As one able and mighty to save, even to the uttermost; and I thought there was not only a sufficiency in him for me, the vilest of all, but for the whole world, yea for a thousand worlds, had there been so many. His blood seemed to me so precious, his obedience and sufferings so meritorious, his power so great, his love so rich, boundless and tree, that I was overcome with the transporting view. And as I saw in him a fullness for all, so I found in him an infinite willingness to save all: for how could I think otherwise? I knew myself to be most unworthy, and that he had graciously pitied me: I beheld his love, like a river, flowing down to me as free as water; and I was amazed that I had not beheld it before, in the same light. I saw that the love of GOD to me, did not now begin, but was now manifested to my soul. I saw that there was no change in GOD, but all in myself. These words were precious to my heart at that time. "Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love;--therefore with loving kindness have I drawn thee." Jer. xxxi. 3. As alsa these; "Son be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee." St. Matth. ix. 2.
Minister. You have brought my own experience to my mind: It pleased GOD, by an incident too trifling to mention, to bring me to seek earnestly for an unfading treasure; and by a train of circumstances, fixed the concern deeply upon my mind; and I labored night and day, but could obtain no rest, till one morning--a time never to be forgotten!--as I was walking on a journey, under great distress, and when deliverance seemed farther from me than ever, all at once I was brought to resign my soul into the hands of GOD, and thus I expressed myself: "Lord, here I am: a poor helpless sinner: I resign myself into thine hands; take me, and deal with me just as thou pleasest. I know thou canst do me no injustice." Immediately these words came into my mind, with great power and sweetness. "In an acceptable time have I heard thee; and in a day of salvation have I helped thee."- Isa. xlix. 8. and I had then such a view of CHRIST, as to make me cry out "Glory to GOD in the highest! This is salvation; I know this is salvation!" Then those passages which you have mentioned, came into my mind with great energy; and I saw the fulness, sufficiency, and willingness of CHRIST to save me and all men, in such a manner as constrained me to venture my soul into his arms; and if I had ten thousand souls, I could have trusted them all in his hands. And O how did I long, that every soul of Adam's race might come to know the love of GOD in Christ Jesus! And I thought I could not be willing to live any longer on earth, unless it might please GOD to make me useful to my fellow creatures.
"What peaceful hours I then enjoyed!"
"How sweet their memory still!"
"But they have left an aching void"
"The world can never fill."
This is a little abstract of what GOD did then graciously teach me by hisSpirit; but I had been brought up in that particular system and in the course of a few years came to be so firmly attached to it, as to refuse, in my preaching, to make general invitations to mankind at large; rightly reasoning with myself, that if provision was only made for a small part, I had no warrant to call or invite the whole to come and partake; and therefore only pressed the duty on such and such characters, as hungry, thirsty, weary, heavy laden, such as were without money, sensible sinners, &c. all of which I concluded to be of the elect, because I judged the Spirit had begun to operate savingly upon their hearts; and that to these, and these only, the Scriptures directed invitations to be made; never considering that text-- "Hearken unto me, ye stout hearted, that are far from righteousness. I bring near my righteousness; and it shall not be far off, and my salvation shall not tarry." Isa. xlvi. 12, 13. During the time that I remained in this close hearted system, laboring with all my might to maintain it, I chanced to cometo a house where, as far as I can judge, was a very sensible and pious young woman, whom I never saw before or since. She gave a very judicious account of the work of grace upon her heart; but when she came to that part, where she said she beheld an infinite fulness in CHRIST for ALL the world, I interrupted her, and told her, that could not be; for there was no provision made for all, and therefore it was impossible that she could have any such discoveries made to her by the Spirit of GOD. This I insisted upon, according to my system, contrary to my experimental knowledge; (O the mischiefs of bigotry, prejudice, and vain attachment to system!) she, on the contrary, maintained, that she clearly viewed matters in that light; and that she certainly was taught to believe, that in Christ there was a fulness & freeness for all. This I denied; & she was thereby prevented from finishing what she had begun. I can never forgive myself, for the opposition I made to what I knew to be truth by experience; and as I did not inquire the name of the person, I have had no opportunity of making a recantation by letter, as I ought to have done; and having never been in the place since, and it being highly improbable that ever I shall again, I feel myself extremely hurt, whenever I think of it.
Friend. I can but admire the agreement between us in matters of experience; for I found the same dispositions of mind that you mentioned, when it pleased GOD to reveal his Son in me.
Minister. I never found an experienced Christian in my life, but would give much the same account, provided that his system was not in sight; and I have found some, that though they were violently attached to the contrary system, and knew my intention in asking the questions; yet answered the following affirmatively. Did you not see and feel yourselves the vilest of sinners?
Did you not view the love of GOD infinitely full, free and unmerited?
Did you not behold in Christ an infinite fulness, sufficiency and willingness, to save all, without exception.
Did you not love all, and wish all might come and partake of his grace?
Did you not earnestly desire the salvation of all, not only of your family, friends, neighbors and nation; but also of your enemies, and of all mankind?--Could not you embrace the whole human race in the arms of benevolence?
Did you not find it in your heart to pray for the salvation of all mankind, as for your own? If you had as much power as good will, would you not bring all to bow to the sceptre of grace, and to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ?
Friend. I do not see how an experienced, person can refuse to say yes, to all these questions; they are so agreeable to the very tempers of the new born soul; and, I am sure, I found them in my heart, at the very time when I first tasted of the love of God.
Minister, Well then, my friend, let me ask you, from whence did these tempers and dispositions proceed?
Friend. To be candid, I think they were given me from above, and came down from the Father of lights, from whence, every good and perfect gift cometh; and I am the more apt to think so, because I found contrary dispositions in my heart before; and the more I am sensible of the forgiving love of God, the more I find these affections which you have described, and these desires for the good of others.
Minister. Then let me ask you, can a small
drop be larger than the unfathomed abyss, and ocean of love? Have you more compassion
towards your fellow creatures than the God that made them? Can any effect be greater than
its cause? Would you bring all to submit to God, and be happy, if you could? And will not
he, to whom nothing that he pleases to do is impossible, bring all his creatures to be
reconciled to himself at last? He has infinitely more love to his creatures, than all the
saints and angels in glory have; he is possessed of infinite power and wisdom, as well as
love; all means to accomplish the work are known to him; he can do it in a way that shall
cause his praise to abound exceedingly, in a way perfectly consistent with all his
perfections, and the whole of his glorious character; it is his will and purpose so to
do, as has been proved at large. What, then, can hinder him from fulfilling
Friend. I am not able to gainsay this reasoning; it seems almost undeniable. But can you shew that the doctrine of the Restoration stands connected with practical religion, or the keeping of the commandments of GOD?
Minister. I can very easily do that, in every instance; but shall only attend to the following, as a specimen.
1. Our Lord has commanded us to love all mankind; not our brethren and friends only, but even our greatest enemies; and all for this purpose, that we may be the children of our Father who is in Heaven, whose love is universal, and whose tender mercies are over all his works: See St. Matth. v. 44, 48. St. Luke, vi. 27, 36. But if GOD doth not love all himself, Christ hath commanded us to be more perfect, in that respect, than our Father, who is in Heaven; which to suppose, is highly absurd. What shall we say to that doctrine that teaches us, that GOD hates with a perfect hatred, many of those whom ho hath commanded us to love as ourselves?
Therefore, there is nothing in the doctrine of the Restoration, contrary to the love of our neighbor; which on the contrary is promoted thereby.
2. We are commanded to do good to all men, as we have opportunity. This is recommended to us by the example of our heavenly Father, who maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust; and no person can say, that the belief of this doctrine tends, in the least, to hinder us from doing good to our fellow creatures; but rather encourages us so to do, from the consideration that GOD loves them all, and does good to all, and is determined to make them all the subjects of his kingdom at last.
3. We are commanded to forgive all men their trespasses, and to pray, saying, "Forgive us our trespasses(or debts), as we forgive them that trespass against us (or, our debtors);" St. Matth. vi. 12. St. Luke, xi. 4. And our Lord says, "For, if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses;" St. Matth. vi. 14, 15. See also, xviii. 21, 35. St. Mark, xi. 25, 23. St. Luke, vi. 37.
Now, is it possible to suppose, with any degree of reason, that our Lord would command us, upon pain of his highest displeasure, to forgive those whom he hated, and determined to punish while he should exist, without having the least desire or design to do them good? Has he promised us the greatest blessings, if we will forgive all men; and will he never forgive them? He that can believe this, let him believe it. However, since forgiving all men is a plain command, which none can deny; I trust, no one will venture to say, that believing the final Restoration of all men, at last, will have any tendency to make us break this precept of our Saviour's, upon which he lays so much stress; but, I think, the contrary is evident.
4. We are commanded to pray for all men. St. Paul says, "I exhort, therefore, that, first of all supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for this is good and acceptable in the sight of GOD, or Saviour ( or Restorer) who will have all men to be saved (or Restored) and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one GOD, and one Mediator between GOD and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time." This is the great doctrine of the Gospel, the very foundation of Christianity:--" Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle; (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity." The apostle not only believed, but taught; not only taught, but commanded others to teach and preach this great doctrine, of GOD's being the Saviour, or Restorer of all men. In this he glorified, saying, "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation. For therefore we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living GOD, who is the Saviour (or Restorer) of all men, especially of those that believe. These things command and teach."
Upon this grand foundation, St. Paul recommends prayer to all men; saying, "I will therefore, that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting." 1 Tim. ii. 1, 8. iv. 9, 10, 11.
Observe, the apostle recommends prayer for all men; and wills, that men should pray every where, at all times, and in all places, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. How nearly forgiving all men, and praying for all men, stand connected! and both are plainly and peremptorily recommended by our Lord, who says, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you."
We are commanded to pray for all men, because it is the will of GOD that all men should be saved (or Restored) because Christ hath given himself a ransom for all. And we are bid to pray without doubting. O what a world is this! May we, ought we, to pray, for the salvation of all men, without doubting? Surely, GOD would never have commanded us to do this, unless it was his purpose to restore all men, in his own time; and no man can say, that the belief of the Restoration will prevent our praying for all men.
I was once on a journey, and called in at the house of one of my former good friends. Several religious persons were there; and, after some time, my sentiments came to be spoken of, and they seemed to wonder how I could embrace the opinion, that all men, finally, would be saved! I told them, however many might preach against it, that no person, under the influence of the Divine Spirit, could pray against it; but, on the contrary, we could pray for it in faith, nothing wavering, as GOD had commanded, and as his Spirit naturally inspired; that no person could pray GOD not to save or restore all mankind, without being shocked at the blasphemy and impiety of such a prayer; but that our Lord had said, that all things whatsoever we asked in prayer, believing that we should receive, should be granted, let them be things seemingly ever so impossible; that if we asked any thing according to his will, it should be done; and that it was his positive and declared will, that all men should be saved (or restored) and come to the knowledge of the truth; that we were ordered to pray for it in faith, without doubting; and, therefore, it was as evident as the nature of things required, that it would be done; since GOD had never ordered us to pray for any thing that he was not able and willing to do. This, and much more, I said, and they seemed exceedingly well satisfied; especially, when I informed them, that it was through the blood of Christ, the blood of the covenant, that the prisoners should be sent forth out of the pit wherein is no water, and that all should be restored through his mediation.
Friend. Then you hold that even the damned shall be finally restored and delivered by the power of Jesus, and through his blood shedding. I have heard it objected against your scheme, that it tended to set at nought the whole mediatorial plan, and to depreciate the blood of Jesus, which he had shed to purge our sins away; though I never observed any thing like this in your discourses, either in public or in private.
Minister. No; God forbid that I should ever set aside the blood that cleanseth from all sin; nor can I be charged with it, unless having a much higher idea of its merit than my opposers, may be looked upon as tending to depreciate it. They bold that it shall cleanse a small number from their sins; I believe that it shall cleanse, heal, and restore the whole human race. They believe that its virtue endures for a little season; I maintain that it shall continue to all ages, until all evil shall be destroyed out of the universe.
Friend. I am satisfied that you do not mean to set at nought the powerful blood of the dear Redeemer, but on the contrary, you suppose that your views tend more to exalt it. Pray proceed in your discourse.
Minister. I need not say much more upon this matter. Our Saviour has said, "If any man will do his (the Father's) will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself." St. John, vii. 17. This is the surest rule; practice religion; love, revere, and serve God; love all men, even your enemies; do good to all, forgive all, and pray for all; and then ask, is the doctrine of final Restoration contrary to this manner of life? If it be, reject it; for these commands are plain; and if these principles are inconsistent with the observation of these precepts, then avoid them, as you would death and hell. But, I trust, it hat been shown that they have no such tendency; but the contrary. For instance, does this doctrine tend to make us hate GOD, and his character? Does it naturally fill our minds with selfishness, and prevent benevolence from ruling within us? Does it fill us with pride, and cause us to look down with contempt upon those that are beneath us in life, and banish humility from our hearts? Does the belief of this, cause our breasts to swell with pale envy, and rancorous malice, at the happiness of others? Does it cause us to burn with hellish rage, fury and madness, against mankind? Does it tend to destroy meekness, and increase wrath? If these questions require (either from the nature of things, or from known facts) the answers to be in the affirmative; then I would abhor such a system, and wish it to be universally detested: but, if on the contrary, the candid inquirer must answer in the negative, and say, that the doctrine of the final Restoration does not tend to produce selfishness, envy, pride, or wrath; but, on the contrary, "Glory to GOD in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men;" that it causes benevolence, meekness, humility, forbearance, forgiveness, charity, and all goodness, to abound and increase; then it cannot be a licentious doctrine, and is not to be discarded on that account; for it is a maxim with St. John, that "He that loveth his brother, abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him." 1 John, ii. 10. That is, he cannot receive, hold, maintain, or do, any thing essentially or materially wrong; and, therefore, can give no just occasion of offence. "For, all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. For he that loveth another, hath fulfilled the law. For this, thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet: and if there be any other commandments, it is briefly comprehended in this saying: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law." Gal. v. 14. Rom. xiii. 8, 9, 10.
But it is not only from reasoning, but from facts, that I am able to prove that the belief of the doctrine of the Universal Restoration, does not lead men to sin. The Tunkers, or German Baptists, in Pennsylvania, and the states adjacent, who take the Scriptures as their only guide, in matters both of faith and practice, have always (as far as I know) received, and universally, at present, hold these sentiments: but such Christians, I have never seen as they are; so averse are they to all sin, and to many things that other Christians esteem lawful, that they not only refuse to swear, to go to war, &c. but are so afraid of doing any thing contrary to the commands of Christ, that no temptation would prevail upon them even to sue any person at law, for either name, character, estate, or any debt, be it ever so just. They are industrious, sober, temperate, kind, charitable people; envying not the great, nor despising the mean: They read much, they sing and pray much, they are constant attendants upon the worship of GOD; their dwelling houses are all houses of prayer; they walk in the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless, both in public and private. They bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. No noise of rudeness, shameless mirth, loud, vain laughter, is heard within their doors. The law of kindness is in their mouths; no sourness or moroseness, disgraces their religion; and whatsoever they believe their Saviour commands, they practice, without inquiring or regarding what others do.
I remember the Rev. Morgan Edwards, formerly minister of the Baptist church in Philadelphia, once said to me, "GOD always will have a visible people on earth; and these are his people at present, above any other in the world." And in his history of the Baptists in Pennsylvania, speaking of these people, he says: "General redemption they certainly held, and, withal, general salvation; which tenets (though wrong) are consistent. In a word, they are meek and pious christians; and have justly acquired the character of the harmless Tunkers."
Thus have I proved that this doctrine is not licentious; both from the first principles on which it is founded, from the nature of experimental and practical religion, and from facts. As to that part of the objection, which supposes this doctrine to be the same that the serpent preached to Eve, saying, "Ye shall not surely die;" it seems almost unworthy of notice. But as it has been glorified in by some writers, as unanswerable, merely because it was passed over unnoticed, as being nothing to the purpose; I shall make a few remarks upon it.
1. I say, that Satan was a liar, and GOD was true.--For man and woman did die, in a moral sense, on the very day that they sinned; they became dead in trespasses and sins; they lost the divine life, and became earthly, sensible, devilish; darkness in their understandings, stubornness in their wills, and disorder in their effections, rendered them unfit, unable and unworthy to have fellowship with their GOD. But do they contradict JEHOVAH, and join with the serpent who assert, that Jesus, the second Adam, hath quickened, and is able to quicken, those who are dead in trespasses and sins? If so, St. Paul joined with the serpent, in Ephes. ii. 1.
2. The sentence of death was pronounced upon man, even the death of the body, in those words; "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken; for dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return."--Gen. iii. 19. But, would it be just and right for any one to say, that those who believed the resurrection of the body, contradicted God, and joining with the serpent, declared that men should not die; merely, because they asserted according to the promises, that they should rise again? Would not those who preach Jesus and the resurrection, have a right to look upon it as a vile and wilful slander, if any one should so misrepresent the matter? What! must I be accused of saying that no man ever died, because I believe and teach that some have risen, and that all shall be raised at last; when the very idea of a resurrection pre-supposes a state of death?
3. I confess, that GOD has threatened sinners with the second death; but do I say that they shall never taste of the second death, because I declare, that the time will come when it shall exist no more? This is curious reasoning, indeed. As well may I say that no man ever lived on earth, because so many have died; that no one sleeps in the night who wakes in the morning; or that no fish was ever in the water, that was caught and taken out.
Did St. Paul join with the serpent, when he said, "For as in Adam all die, even so in CHRIST shall all be made alive ?" 1 Cor. xv. 22. Will any suppose that we affirm, that the dreadful threatenings denounced by GOD, never were, nor ever will be executed, because we declare, that his promises shall also be fulfilled? Can any reasonable man suppose, because Christ is the Saviour of men, that, therefore they were not in a lost condition? How absurd! when he declares, that he came to seek and save the lost!
Thus, though mankind died a moral death, in the day wherein they sinned; yet, CHRIST is able to quicken and raise them up from the same; and though their bodies die in consequence of the fall, yet shall he cause all that are in the graves to hear his voice, and come forth; and, by the same rule of arguing, though many shall fall under the power of the second death, which is threatened to sinners; yet as he has promised to destroy all that bears the name of death, their Restoration may be fairly concluded, without either contradicting GOD, or joining with the serpent. Had the Scriptures, indeed, contained nothing but threatenings of death, without any promises of salvation, resurrection, or restoration; it would have been presumptuous for us to have entertained any hopes for the human race, or their deliverance, either from sin, death or hell; but, since promises are found, as well as threatenings, we must not, under pretence or color of believing the latter, reject the former, lest we are found contradictors and opposers of GOD; for it is as possible that we may make him a liar, in refusing to believe the record he has given of his Son, and his intentions of grace and mercy towards mankind, as in disregarding his threatenings, denounced against them because of their sins.
As for this doctrine making the hearts of the righteous sad whom GOD would not have made sad, nothing can be more contrary to fact; for if it be the will of GOD to reward and punish, and finally to restore mankind, none of the righteous will be sorry, but on the contrary, will greatly rejoice. It is not God's truth, but men's lies, of which the prophet speaks; which made the hearts of the righteous sad, and strengthened the hand of the wicked, that he should not return from his wicked way, by promising him life: but we are so far from strengthening the hands of the wicked, and saying, that no evil shall come upon them; that we declare from the Scripture, that "the wrath of GOD is revealed from Heaven, against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil; of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile." Rom. i. 18. ii. 8,9. And that "there is no peace to the wicked." Isa. xlviii. 22. Ivii. 20, 21. Therefore, they are called to repent, and turn to GOD; for in sin they never can be happy; no unholy or unclean thing can enter into the kingdom of Heaven. And so far are we from promising them life in their wicked ways, that we testify, from the Scripture, that "He that believeth not the Son, shall not see life," while he continues in that state: "but the wrath of GOD abideth on him." St. John, iii. 36.
Friend. I had intended to propose that text as an objection to your system; it is indeed one that Dr. WHITBY* insists much uponbut I see how you will answer it-- that the unbeliever, as such, and while he so continues, cannot see life; but the wrath of GOD abideth on him, while he remaineth in unbelief; but that GOD can take away the cause, in his own time, and then the effect shall cease.
* See Whitby's Discourses
Minister. Certainly, this must be the meaning; for St. John only meant to describe the difference between believers and unbelievers, as such: but could not mean to intimate, that those who were not unbelievers in his time, should always continue so.
But I now pass to consider the latter part of this objection, upon which I have dwelt so long: viz. that it is the nature of GOD to lay the highest possible restraint upon sin, and, therefore he has threatened it with everlasting damnation, which must intend endless misery; and as this restraint is found too weak, wholly to prevent evil, what amazing increase would there be, if this restraint should be taken off, in any degree; as it must be, if it should come to be known that punishments were only for certain ages or periods, and designed for the amendment of the sufferers?
I once asked a Reverend Divine what was his strongest argument in favor of endless punishment?and he told me, that which is mentioned above; and therefore, as it is of considerable importance I shall give it a brief consideration.
1. It is not quite clear to me, that it is the nature of GOD to lay the highest possible restraint upon sin; and that he always doth so, in all his dispensations.-- He sometimes has higher designs in view, than barely to restrain sin; he sometimes, perhaps, suffers it to prevail for a time, that his power might be more manifest in destroying it; hence we read, "Moreover the law entered"--not merely to restrain sin, but-- "that the offence might abound; but where sin abounded, grace did much more abound; that as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign, through righteousness, unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord. Wherefore, then, serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come, to whom the promise was made." Rom. v. 20, 21.' Gal. iii. 19. St. Paul says; "Sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence; for, without the law sin was dead. Was, then that which was good, made death unto me? GOD forbid: but sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me, by that which is good; that sin, by the commandment, might become exceeding sinful." Rom. vii. 8, 13. Perhaps if the punishment of sins immediately followed the commission of them, it would be a stronger and more effectual restraint than any threatenings of future misery; yet GOD does not think it necessary to restrain sin by that means, though it is expressly asserted, that, "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore is the heart of the sons of men fully set in them to do evil." Eccl. viii. 11. There is no doubt but if the awful punishments of the future state were made visible to our senses, by any means, they would prove a powerful restraint to sin; yet GOD has not thought fit to restrain it by those, and perhaps many other possible ways. Wherefore I have a right to doubt the premises; for if the strongest possible restraints were laid upon sin, it might not be so consistent with a state of probation, as those reasonable restraints which GOD hath thought fit to lay upon it.
2. But it may be questioned, whether there is not something in the idea of limited, yet certain punishment, so just, equitable, reasonable and evident, that it is much more calculated to produce belief, and consequently more effectual to destroy false hopes of escaping it, and also to check that daring presumption, which rises out of the idea of endless misery, than can be found in the contrary doctrine. Endless punishment seemsto shock tender minds at least. I heard of a little boy, to whom his mother constantly kept preaching damnation without end, for every sin; one day after she had been discoursing with him in that manner, he went to work, but soon returned back, suddenly opened the door, andwith an air of surprise, cried out; "Why, mother, the law says, An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot; but you say, ten thousand for one, and that punishment shall never end." I have heard of numbers that had no better excuse for sinning greedily, than this, viz. that there was no hopes of their being saved; that, therefore, they were determined to sin as much as possible, since it could make no difference. I have reason to say, from what I know of mankind, that more persons refuse to believe in Divine Revelation because it is commonly thought to contain the doctrine of endless misery, than from any other cause: And numbers have embraced it immediately upon being fairly convinced that it was not necessary to understand it in that light. And a very sensible Deist once said to an acquaintance of mine, who believed and preached the universal doctrine--" Had I been acquainted with your system, thirty years ago, I should have been a zealous Christian; and as great a friend to Revelation, as I have been an enemy."--"And pray why not now, Doctor?" "Because I am ashamed, having so long been fighting against, to receive it now."
3. Though damnation has been commonly understood to be endless, for many ages; yet it has not (as far as we can judge) prevented evil at all, or very little; but I have mentioned before, how very strict those people live, who receive and hold the system of limited punishments; whether it is that endless damnation is too unnatural to be believed, and that limited punishments, being more reasonable, seem more certain; or whether it be that by considering they shall be punished, either without end, or not at all; and every one thinking that endless punishment is more than they deserve, but is only reserved for some greater sinners, and therefore they have nothing to fear from it, I shall not pretend to determine; but certain it is, that where the idea of endless misery prevails, it has not prevented iniquity, in the measure that might have been expected, on the supposition of its being the truth of GOD.
4. The great number of Heathens, that die without ever being favored with the light of the gospel, and certainly without ever hearing of endless misery; the many that die in a state of infancy and childhood; together with the instances of idiots, and persons born deaf; all convince me more than any logical arguments that GOD has many ways of instructing and reclaiming his creatures, in another state that we are at present unacquainted with.
5. It is not so much the intention of GOD, merely to restrain sin as to shew it in all its dreadful deformity, punish it according to its deserts and finally, to shew the superabounding of his grace, in overcoming and totally destroying it out of his creation; which shall be accomplished when HE that sitteth upon the throne shall make all things new; "And there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying; neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away." Rev. xxi. 4.
6. As the doctrine of the final Restoration has been shewn in itself not to have the least tendency to licentiousness, but directly the reverse; and as far as I can learn, by history, or my own observation, those who have believed it, in the manner here laid down, as perfectly consistent with a future state of rewards and punishments, have been particularly careful to depart from iniquity of every kind; yet if any should be so lost to all that is good, as to pervert this truth (revealed for contrary purposes) to their own destruction, they alone must bear the blame, the loss and the punishment. The Scriptures of truth have been perverted; yet that is no argument against Divine Revelation. The Gospel of the Grace of GOD, has been abused; but should it never be preached on that account? Some in the apostles' days, turned the Grace of GOD itself into wantonness and lasciviousness, (see Jude, 4); and others pretended that those holy men encouraged sin, by proclaiming salvation to sinners, through grace, or faith in Christ; of which St. Paul complains, Rom. iii. 8. "We be slanderously reported, and some affirm that we say, let us do evil, that good may come; whose damnation is just." The holy apostle abhored, and constantly denied this horrid consequence, which some perverse minds pretended to draw from his doctrine; he declared that the damnation of such was just, who did sin that grace might abound, or who affirmed that the doctrine led thereto, or that the apostles taught or practised any such things; nevertheless (not as fools, but as wise) they did not think fit to lay the gospel aside, and refuse to preach salvation through CHRIST any more on that account. The self same reasoning applies to the present case.
Friend. I must confess that you have so far prevailed as to silence this great objection; for certainly the belief of the Restoration seems, by your account of it, consistent with a state of grace, and the knowledge and practice of religion. But though you have obviated several objections, there is one you have not yet touched, which is very considerable, and I am doubtful that it will be difficult, if not impossible for you to answer fairly; it may be thus expressed, God has abounded towards us in all wisdom; one instance is his hanging out the threatenings of the severest punishments to prevent his creatures from sinning while in this world; but to tell them at the same time, that if they should sin, he means to save them, is not prudent; because that lessens, if not destroys the force of his threatening. He told Adam that if he did eat he should surely die; but did not tell him (at the same time) that if he should eat his case would not he remediless; this were to take down with one hand wha; he had set up with the other. After the threatening failed of the effect, ho told him so, and not before, this was prudently done; so after his threatenings fail of effect in this state, is the time to reveal his design of saving daring sinners. We may therefore be sure that he has not done it yet, and that we misconstrue those texts which seem to contain such a revelation. The next state is the only state to preach the doctrine, and reveal the doctrine. If you preach it here, it will be unnecessary to preach it in hell; for obstinate sinners will carry it in their heads thither.
Minister. As specious and plausible as this objection seems, I doubt not of being able to answer it fairly, without evading the natural force of it in the least.-- The first thing that I shall notice in this objection, is the very different and contrary manner in which you apply those words of the apostle from his first evident intention. He hath abounded towards us in all wisdom and prudence having made known unto us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he hath purposed in himself, that in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in Heaven, and which are on earth, even in him. Ephes. i. 8, 9, 10. God hath judged it to be the height of heavenly wisdom and prudence to make known to his saints, his glorious purpose, finally to rehead all things in Christ; and we ought not to presume to be more wise and prudent than he. There is no doubt but God hath revealed this great truth more immediately to his saints and faithful ones for their consolation, than for the benefit of the finally impenitent.
It is of amazing, I had almost said of infinite use to the people of God, to have this divine counsel declared to them in the present time. The knowledge of this truth entirely removes all hard thoughts of God from the minds of those who receive it, as I can testify by experience; for since I have believed in the doctrine of the universal Restoration, I have never had one hard thought of God abiding for one minute in my mind that I remember, and never expect to have any more while I continue to believe it firmly.
The belief of the Restoration is of great use in supporting good people under their sorrows and trials here; the idea that evil shall be destroyed, and all things restored to their primitive glory is the most consolatory of all other ideas. As this doctrine tends to remove the greatest difficulties from the plan of Providence, and also from divine Revelation, it is evident that the knowledge of it must be of the greatest use to all that love their great Creator. And, therefore, if the revelation of it answered no other purpose in this life, but for the happiness, joy, and satisfaction of such as love God, we might be sure that he hath made it known, and that we rightly understand those passages that hold it forth; for since "the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he will show them his covenant," Psal. xxv. 14, and "The Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets," Amos. iii. 7, there is all the reason to conclude, that if God ever intended to restore mankind hereafter, he would not fail to reveal it to his chosen and faithful servants. And this he hath done, if I can understand the meaning of words.
It is true that God did not inform our first parents before they sinned that he had provided a remedy; but not long did he delay after the fall to reveal to them, that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head; Gen. iii. 15, & this one text contains in miniature all that I believe respecting the Restoration of mankind; for if the serpent's head is finally to be bruised, his power and influence over mankind, must be entirely destroyed; and then what shall prevent their return to God.
Besides, it is impossible to read the Scriptures attentively, and not perceive that God very frequently mixes promises of mercies among his severest threatenings of judgement; and yet he doth not throw down with one hand, what he builds up with the other.
Your object seems to suppose that the doctrine of the Restoration supercedes and sets aside those punishments which God has threatened to inflict upon the impenitent; or else how does the preaching of this doctrine weaken the force of the threatenings? But this is a very false idea; for we acknowledge that the threatenings shall he fulfilled, and not that the disobedient shall escape unpunished. There is a great deal of difference between these two ideas, though you would intimate them to be the same, and that we contradict God by assuring the wicked that they shall escape the just judgement of God. But we only declare that an end shall finally come to their punishment, and that when they shall be sufficiently humbled a dispensation of mercy shall succeed that of judgement. Let me ask you, has not God threatened mankind with death on the account of sin? "Dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return." Gen. iii. 19. Well, tell me, is this threatening either weakened or destroyed by the knowledge of the great doctrine of the resurrection of the dead? Did not God threaten the children of Israel with dreadful judgements to prevent their sinning, and that they should be dispersed among allnations? But will you say that he either weakened or destroyed the force of his threatenings, because he promised them at the same time that at least he would return their captivity, and restore them as at the first, and do better unto them, than at beginning.
The laws of this country condemn criminals to death; would it be thought that I should weaken or destroy the force of the penal statutes, by saying, that the execution of their law could only be felt for a certain time, beyond which it could not endure? Is not every malefactor under the sentence of death supposed to know this? And yet will any presume to say, that these laws are entirely weakened, and their force destroyed because they do not condemn transgressors to endless punishments? But, if it be allowed that torments, which are but momentary have a considerable influence in restraining many vices, there cannot be the smallest reason to fear that the doctrine of just retribution according to the deeds done in the body, will open the door to vice and immorality, but on the contrary. But this objection is so near akin to the last which you proposed, that it hardly deserves a distinct consideration; for if the doctrine of the Restoration docs not lead men to commit sin (as I am sure it has no such tendency) then no harm can be apprehended from its being known in this state. And whereas you argue, that as it would not be proper for the present state, we may be sure that God hath not revealed it; and therefore is highly proper for men to to know in the present state. You will please therefore to notice that the universal doctrine, so far from tending to render the divine threatenings useless or vain, weakening their force, or setting them aside, operates in the direct contrary manner. I as much believe as you or any other man can do, that all the threatenings will be fulfilled upon the finally impenitent; but dare not carry the matter so far as to set aside the gracious promises of God, with which the Scriptures appear to me to abound, in favor of the final recovery of all at last.
Friend. It must I think be confessed that if the doctrine of the Restoration be true, it would be matter of great joy and comfort for good men to know it, for they have often great trouble and anxiety of mind on the account of their families, friends, neighbors, acquaintance, and mankind in general; which sorrow would be greatly relieved, could they have an idea of the Restoration of all things in the manner you hold it. But however true this may be, it seems not to be plainly revealed in the Scripture, otherwise it would not be hidden from the eyes of so many great and good men.
Minister. It is possible, that a subject may be revealed in the plainest manner, and yet the best of men may remain ignorant of it. For instance, were not the sufferings, death and resurrection of our Lord plainly revealed in the Scriptures of the old Testament? And yet we know that the apostles of our Saviour did not understand one of those prophecies. Nay, when Jesus told them openly and expressly that he must be delivered into the hands of men, and that they should mock, scourge, and crucify him, and that the third day he should rise again, they did not comprehend his meaning; although he spoke to them frequently and very plainly upon the subject, and said, "Let these sayings sink down into your ears; for the son of man shall be delivered into the hands of men. But they understood not this saying, and it was hid from them, that they perceived it not; and they feared to ask him of that saying." St. Luke ix. 44, 45. And in another place we read, "For he taught his disciples, and said unto them, the Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day." It is impossible that words should be more express, or less liable to be misunderstood. "But (as the evangelist immediately informs us) "they understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask him." St. Mark, ix. 31, 32. And in the same chapter we find, that after our Lord Jesus was transfigured upon the mount in the presence of Peter, James, and John, "As they came down from the mountain he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead. And they kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should mean." Ver. 9, 10. This was what Christ taught them not only plainly, but also frequently. See St. Matt, xvi.21. xvii. 9; 22, 23. xx. 17, 18, 19. xxvi. 31, 32. St. Mark, viii. 31. ix. 9,10, 31, 32. x. 32,33,34. xiv. 27, 28. St. Luke, ix. 21,22, 44,45. xviii. 31, 32,33,34.
Yet notwithstanding the plainness and frequency of these predictions, and the pains which Christ took to instill these ideas into them, they never understood them at all until some time after they were fulfilled. For when they saw him taken and delivered into the hands of men, and treated exactly according to his own words often repeated, they were entirely disappointed, and all their hopes seemed to die within them.-- And when he was risen from the dead, they would not believe the testimony of those who had seen him, and would hardly trust their own senses, so ignorant were they of what he had told them.
St. John was the first of the disciples who believed that he was risen, for thus he writes, "Then went in also that other disciple, who came first to the sepulchre, and he saw and believed, For as yet they knew not the Scripture that he must rise again from the dead." St. John, xx. 8, 9. This instance is so much to my purpose, and proves so evidently that a thing may be plainly revealed, and expressed in the clearest manner, and yet not be understood, that I hardly need mention any more. But I will mention another, and that is, the calling of the Gentiles. This was spoken of by the prophets, in the clearest language; and Jesus after his resurrection gave a full commission to his apostles, which one would think it was impossible for them to misunderstand.
"All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth, go ye therefore and teach all nations," &c. St. Matt, xxviii, 18, 19). "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature." St. Mark, xvi. 15.
"Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead on the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things." St. Luke, xxiv. 46, 47, 48. "Ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you; and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Judea and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth." Acts i. 8. But the apostles themselves, even after the miraculous descent of the Holy Ghost upon them, were without understanding, respecting the calling of the Gentiles, until St. Peter was taught it by a vision from heaven. See Acts, x.
And St. Paul speaks of this subject as a mystery that was hid from ages and generations, and particularly revealed to him, and not to the saints in that day. See Ephesians, iii. 1-11, Col. i. 25, 26, 27.
Wherefore, when I consider that the apostles themselves could not for a time see those things to be revealed, which yet were most plainly, fully, and frequently told them, I cannot wonder that many great and good men now should not see the general Redemption and final Restoration of all things plainly revealed in the Scriptures, though to me scarce any subject appears more evident. It gives me now but little concern to hear many say, that they cannot see the matter plainly declared in the Bible, since I know that things have been there that wise and good men could not see; and what has happened in times past may take place now, and if I can see for myself this great truth made known, it is enough for me. I am not to inquire, what does this man believe? Or, what shall the other do? I must believe what the Scripture appears to me to teach, and do what I am there commanded, let others believe or do as they may.
Friend. But I have heard some say of you, ''How comes this man to know more than all the world? Have there not been many great, wise, and good men in all ages, that have never thought of these things? If this doctrine of the final Restoration of all things had been true, surely our wise, good and learned ministers would have discovered it, and proclaimed it long ago. But the doctrine of endless misery is a point in which they seem generally to agree, however they differ in other matters, and therefore it must be true, and this doctrine of the general Restoration, which this man holds up, almost alone, must be false."
Minister. I am very far from pretending to be wiser than any that have gone before me; and as for this doctrine of the Restoration it was not only believed and preached by the apostles, but many of the ancient fathers who lived in the first ages of Christianity, were bold witnesses for this glorious truth. It is true that when the church of Rome rose to supreme power, the Popes and Councils endeavored to extirpate the merciful doctors (as those who believed the general Restoration, were called in derision) and their adherents, but it was not until near the close of the seventh century, that they were able to silence the witnesses for this truth. This, (as well as many other precious truths) then lay hid until the reformation when it began a little to revive, and hath gradually increased ever since. Several great authors have written upon it; many hundreds and even thousands, have believed it, and found comfort and joy therein. Nay, there are many ministers who believe it now as firmly as I do, but do not choose to confess or preach it, for various reasons; and great numbers of private Christians enjoy the comfort and happiness of believing it secretly. But put the case that I stood alone in this testimony, yet if upon a fair examination, the Scriptures hold forth this idea, and if all objections against it may be fully answered; why should my testimony be refused on the account of its singularity? God has an absolute right to use what means or instruments he pleases, to manifest his truth, and to fulfil his purposes; and though I am nothing, and in his sight am less than nothing, yet he is able by the things that are not, to confound and bring to nought the things that are, that no flesh should glory in his presence. 1 Cor. i. 28, 29.
I acknowledge that the generality of the ministers in the present day profess to believe endless misery, though they disagree in other points; and indeed one reason why they fall out so much about other doctrines, is because they receive this as a first principle, as is very obvious; for were those that believe that Christ died only for a part of mankind, once to give up the idea of endless misery, they would acknowledge the universality of the love of God, and confess that Jesus died for all in the fullest sense. And on the other hand, if those who believe in general redemption, were not so exceedingly tenacious of the doctrine of endless misery, they would not oppose the doctrine of election, nor hold that the will of God might be finally frustrated, and that the death of Christ shall be in vain, with respect to many, and that many objects of the divine love shall finally perish to all eternity.
These inconsistencies in their sentiments, and the contest between them & those who hold partial redemption and salvation, are therefore chiefly, if not wholly owing to both parties being agreed in this most dreadful doctrine of endless misery.
It is beautiful to observe the progress of the glorious gospel, from its opening to our first parents in the garden, down to the present day. I have sometimes mentioned, in public, that the more the gospel is known and revealed, the larger and richer it appears.
It first seemed confined to one family or nation, but later discoveries showed that all nations had a part therein, and all sorts of people were designed to share in its blessings. Now the glorious news begins to be published abroad, not only that all nations, and all sorts of people, but all persons and individuals, without exception, not only may partake of its benefits, but shall in due time enjoy great advantages thereby.
GOD always adapts his remedies to the evils that prevail in the world; and therefore he hath opened his counsels to men according to their different capacities, needs, and circumstances. Christianity might, formerly, have been received and sincerely practised, without being investigated at all; but when infidelity rises up and attacks it, as it does in this our age, it becomes the duty of its friends to defend it, by inquiring into its meaning; and laying all prejudices aside, to receive as truth those things which GOD hath revealed; and the same to vindicate before the world.
It might not formerly have been necessary to understand all the prophecies; and yet now, as the time of their fulfilment draws nigh, they may become more important, be more studied, and better understood; and for this purpose, GOD may actually illuminate the minds of some to set them forth in a more rational, scriptural, consistent manner, than they have appeared in hitherto. And if it should please GOD to make any use of my tongue or pen for this great purpose, the glory shall be all ascribed to his name, to whom alone it is due; I shall have nothing to glory or boast of, forasmuch as I can only communicate what I receive; and I hope none will refuse to receive the truth, however weak or unworthy the instrument by which GOD may please to send it.
Friend. If this is the truth which you hold forth, however contrary to the commonly received opinions of the age, I see no reason why men should refuse to hear what you have to say; but I have heard many exclaim against you in the severest manner; and declare that they would not hear you, nor read your writings on any account; and others have said, that they could confute and overthrow your whole system in ten minutes, but whether they would be able to make their words good if they should enter the list with you is another matter, and cannot be determined till a fair trial.
Minister. I can assure you my friend that I should not have the least objection to their making the attempt; for though I am conscious that neither my natural nor acquired abilities, are worthy to be compared to those of many excellent characters who hold the contrary sentiments; yet the goodness of the cause in which I amengaged, inspires me with courage to attempt its vindication, let who will enter the list with me. For when the evidence of this most glorious truth first began to appear to my mind, I was determined never to believe or profess it, until I could answer every objection that could bo brought from the Scriptures against it, fairly and without any torturing or twisting the words of truth; and it pleased God so to open matters to my view, as to take every objection out of my mind, and to clear up every doubt in such a manner, that I have full satisfaction. And I can safely say, in the fear of God, that I am so far from being offended with those who question me upon the matter, and thereby give me an opportunity of answering for myself, that I take it as an act of kindness; and as I stand ready to be reproved wherein I am out of the way, so I shall thank the persons who, in the spirit of love, convinces me of error. "Let the righteous smite me; it shall be kindness; and let them reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head." But let not the man who would write, dip his pen in gall; nor he that would converse, make his tongue as a sharp sword; but, "let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice; and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ's sake, hath forgiven you. Put on, therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercy, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long suffering, forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any; even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And, above all things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness, and let the peace of God rule in your hearts." These are the tempers of mind we ought always to possess; and especially, when we discourse upon the great things of the kingdom of God.
Friend. I have the same desires that you express; and I think it is to the shame of human nature, and a reproach to the innocent cause of Christianity, that religious disputes have been carried on with such amazing bitterness and acrimony. Men seem frequently to forget that they are brethren; and that they must all stand before the judgement seat of Christ. If they remembered these things, as they ought, they would not revile, censure, judge, and condemn each other, as they do: from which evil practices, may the good Lord preserve us while we debate this very important subject; for though I am determined to urge every thing that I can with propriety, in the strongest manner that I am able, yet I am willing to stipulate on my part, that if I should use any reproachful or censorious language in the remainder of the debate, I will give you leave to consider it as totally giving up the cause in which I am engaged.
Minister. And I hereby promise the same; for I am determined never to write a page of controversy; unless it can be written in the very spirit of love and true benevolence, with a sincere desire to find and embrace the truth. The want of this in most controversial writers, has made serious people so weary of controversy, that they will neither read nor hear it on any account; nor can I wonder at it, for such bitterness tends entirely to root out the spirit of true religion.
Friend. I hope we shall shew an example to mankind, how disputes ought to be carried on in love, and in the fear of GOD, and for the purpose of mutual edification. But as our present discourse has been long and very important, I will take my leave of you for this time, hoping at a future opportunity to have more conversation with you on this so interesting a subject.