Sir Thomas Browne, after others, argues for the restoration of man's body from the grave, from the fancied analogy of the palingenesis or resurrection of vegetables which the magicians of the antique East and the mystic chemists of the Middle Age boasted of effecting. He having asserted in his "Religion of a Physician" that "experience can from the ashes of a plant revive the plant, and from its cinders recall it into its stalk and leaves again," Dr. Henry Power wrote beseeching "an experimental eviction of so high and noble a piece of chemistry, the reindividuality of an incinerated plant." We are not informed that Sir Thomas ever granted him the sight. Of this beautiful error, this exquisite superstition, which undoubtedly arose from the crystallizations of certain salts in arborescent forms which suddenly surprised the early alchemists in some of their experiments, we have the following account in Disraeli's "Curiosities of Literature:" "The semina of resurrection are concealed in extinct bodies, as in the blood of man. The ashes of roses will again revive into roses, though smaller and paler than if they had been planted unsubstantial and unodoriferous, they are not roses which grew on rose trees, but their delicate apparitions; and, like apparitions, they are seen but for a moment. This magical phoenix lies thus concealed in its cold ashes till the presence of a certain chemical heat produces its resurrection." Any refutation of this now would be considered childish. Upon the whole, then, while recurrent spring, bringing in the great Easter of the year, typifies to us indeed abundantly the development of new life, the growth of new bodies out of the old and decayed, but nowhere hints at the gathering up and wearing again of the dusty sloughs and rotted foliage of the past, let men cease to talk of there being any natural analogies to the ecclesiastical dogma of the resurrection of the flesh. The teaching of nature finds a truer utterance in the words of Aschylus: "There is no resurrection for him who is once dead." 16
The next argument is that based on considerations of reason and of ethics. The supporters of the doctrine of the resurrection of the body have often disingenuously evaded the burden of proof thrown upon them by retreating beneath loud assertions of God's power. From the earliest dawn of the hypothesis to the present time, every perplexity arising from it, every objection brought against it, every absurdity shown to be involved in it, has been met and confidently rebutted with declarations of God's abundant power to effect a physical resurrection, or to do any thing else he pleases, however impossible it may appear to us. Now, it is true the power of God is competent to innumerable things utterly beyond our skill, knowledge, or conception. Nevertheless, there is a province within which our reason can judge of probabilities, and can, if not absolutely grasp infallible truth, at least reach satisfactory convictions. God is able to restore the vast coal deposits of the earth, and the ashes of all the fuel ever burned, to their original condition when they covered the world with
16 Eumenides, 1. 648, Oxford edition.
dense forests of ferns; but we have no reason to believe he will do it. The truth or falsity of the popular theory of the resurrection is not a question of God's power; it is simply a question of God's will. A Jewish Rabbin relates the following conversation, as exultingly as if the quibbling evasion on which it turns positively settled the question itself, which in fact it does not approach. A Sadducee says, "The resurrection of the dead is a fable: the dry, scattered dust cannot live again." A by standing Pharisee makes this reply: "There were in a city two artists: one made vases of water, the other made them of clay: which was the more wondrous artist?" The Sadducee answered, "The former." The Pharisee rejoins, "Cannot God, then, who formed man of water, (gutta seminis humida,) much more re form him of clay?" Such a method of reasoning is an irrelevant impertinence. God can call Nebuchadnezzar from his long rest, and seat him on his old throne again to morrow. What an absurdity to infer that therefore he will do it! God can give us wings upon our bodies, and enable us to fly on an exploring trip among the planets. Will he do it? The question, we repeat, is not whether God has the power to raise our dead bodies, but whether he has the will. To that question since, as we have already seen, he has sent us no miraculous revelation replying to it we can only find an answer by tracing the indications of his intentions contained in reason, morals, and nature.
One of the foremost arguments urged by the Fathers for the resurrection was its supposed necessity for a just and complete judgment. The body was involved and instrumental in all the sins of the man: it must therefore bear part in his punishment. The Rabbins tell this allegory: "In the day of judgment the body will say, The soul alone is to blame: since it left me, I have lain like a stone in the grave. The soul will retort, The body alone is sinful: since released from it, I fly through the air like a bird. The Judge will interpose with this myth: A king once had a beautiful garden full of early fruits. A lame man and a blind man were in it. Said the lame man to the blind man, Let me mount upon your shoulders and pluck the fruit, and we will divide it. The king accused them of theft; but they severally replied, the lame man, How could I reach it? the blind man, How could I see it? The king ordered the lame man to be placed upon the back of the blind man, and in this position had them both scourged. So God in the day of judgment will replace the soul in the body, and hurl them both into hell together." There is a queer tradition among the Mohammedans implying, singularly enough, the same general thought. The Prophet's uncle, Hamzah, having been slain by Hind, daughter of Atabah, the cursed woman cut out his liver and gnawed it with fiendish joy; but, lest any of it should become incorporated with her system and go to hell, the Most High made it as hard as a stone; and when she threw it on the ground, an angel restored it to its original nature and place in the body of the martyred hero, that lion of God.
The Roman Catholic Church endorses the representation that the body must be raised to be punished. In the Catechism of the Council of Trent, which is an authoritative exposition of Romanist theology, we read that the "identical body" shall be restored, though "without deformities or superfluities;" restored that "as it was a partner in the man's deeds, so it may be a partner in his punishments." The same Catechism also gives in this connection the reason why a general judgment is necessary after each individual has been judged at his death, namely, this: that they may be punished for the evil which has resulted in the world since they died from the evil they did in the world while they lived! Is it not astonishing how these theologians find out so much? A living Presbyterian divine of note says, "The bodies of the damned in the resurrection shall be fit dwellings for their vile minds. With all those fearful and horrid expressions which every base and malignant passion wakes up in the human countenance stamped upon it for eternity and burned in by the flaming fury of their own terrific wickedness, they will be condemned to look upon their own deformity and to feel their fitting doom." It is therefore urged that the body must be raised to suffer the just penalty of the sins man committed while occupying it. Is it not an absurdity to affirm that nerves and blood, flesh and bones, are responsible, guilty, must be punished? Tucker, in his "Light of Nature Pursued," says, "The vulgar notion of a resurrection in the same form and substance we carry about at present, because the body being partaker in the deed ought to share in the reward, as well requires a resurrection of the sword a man murders with, or the bank note he gives to charitable uses." We suppose an intelligent personality, a free will, indispensable to responsibleness and alone amenable to retributions. Besides, if the body must be raised to undergo chastisement for the offences done in it and by means of it, this insurmountable difficulty by the same logic confronts us. The material of our bodies is in a constant change, the particles becoming totally transferred every few years. Now, when a man is punished after the general judgment for a certain crime, he must be in the very body he occupied when that crime was perpetrated. Since he was a sinner all his days, his resurrection body must comprise all the matter that ever formed a part of his corporeity, and each sinner may hereafter be as huge as the writhing Titan, Tityus, whose body, it was fabled, covered nine acres. God is able to preserve the integral soul in being, and to punish it according to justice, without clothing it in flesh. This fact by itself utterly vacates and makes gratuitous the hypothesis of a physical resurrection from punitive considerations, an hypothesis which is also refuted by the truth contained in Locke's remark to Stillingfleet, "that the soul hath no greater congruity with the particles of matter which were once united to it, but are so no longer, than it hath with any other particles of matter." When the soul leaves the body, it would seem to have done with that stage of its existence, and to enter upon another and higher one, leaving the dust to mix with dust forever. The body wants not the soul again; for it is a senseless clod and wants nothing. The soul wants not its old body again: it prefers to have the freedom of the universe, a spirit. Philip the Solitary wrote, in the twelfth century, a book called "Dioptra," presenting the controversy between the soul and the body very quaintly and at length. The same thing was done by Henry Nicholson in a "Conference between the Soul and Body concerning the Present and Future State." William Crashaw, an old English poet, translated from the Latin a poem entitled "The Complaint: a Dialogue between the Body and the Soul of a Damned Man."17 But any one who will peruse with intelligent heed the works that have been written on this whole subject must be amazed to see how exclusively the doctrine which we are opposing has rested on pure grounds of tradition and fancy, alike destitute of authority and reason. Some authors have indeed attempted to support the doctrine with arguments: for
17 Also see Dialogue inter Corpus et Animam, p. 95 of Latin Poems attributed to Walter Mapes.
instance, there are two German works, one by Bertram, one by Pflug, entitled "The Resurrection of the Dead on Grounds of Reason," in which recourse is had to every possible expedient to make out a case, not even neglecting the factitious assistance of Leibnitz's scheme of "Pre established Harmony." But it may be deliberately affirmed that not one of their arguments is worthy of respect. Apparently, they do not seek to reach truth, but to bolster up a foregone conclusion held merely from motives of tradition.
The Jews had a favorite tradition, developed by their Rabbins in many passages, that there was one small, almond shaped bone, (supposed now to have been the bone called by anatomists the os coccygis,) which was indestructible, and would form the nucleus around which the rest of the body would gather at the time of the resurrection. This bone, named Luz, was miraculously preserved from demolition or decay. Pound it furiously on anvils with heavy hammers of steel, burn it for ages in the fiercest furnaces, soak it for centuries in the strongest solvents, all in vain: its magic structure still remained. So the Talmud tells. "Even as there is a round dry grain In a plant's skeleton, which, being buried, Can raise the herb's green body up again; So is there such in man, a seed shaped bone, Aldabaron, call'd by the Hebrews Luz, Which, being laid into the ground, will bear, After three thousand years, the grass of flesh, The bloody, soul possessed weed called man."
The Jews did not, as these singular lines represent, suppose this bone was a germ which after long burial would fructify by a natural process and bear a perfect body: they regarded it only as a nucleus around which the Messiah would by a miracle compel the decomposed flesh to return as in its pristine life. All that the Jews say of Luz the Mohammedans repeat of the bone Al Ajib.
This conceit of superstition has been developed by a Christian author of considerable reputation into a theory of a natural resurrection. The work of Mr. Samuel Drew on the "Identity and General Resurrection of the Human Body" has been quite a standard work on the subject of which it treats. Mr. Drew believes there is a germ in the body which slowly ripens and prepares the resurrection body in the grave. As a seed must be buried for a season in order to spring up in perfect life, so must the human body be buried till the day of judgment. During this period it is not idle, but is busily getting ready for its consummation. He says, "There are four distinct stages through which those parts constituting the identity of the body must necessarily pass in order to their attainment of complete perfection beyond the grave. The first of these stages is that of its elementary principles; the second is that of an embryo in the womb; the third is that of its union with an immaterial spirit, and with the fluctuating portions of flesh and blood in our present state; and the fourth stage is that of its residence in the grave. All these stages are undoubtedly necessary to the full perfection of the body: they are alembics through which its parts must necessarily move to attain that vigor which shall continue forever."18 To state this figment is enough. It would be folly to attempt any refutation of a fancy so obviously a pure contrivance to fortify a preconceived opinion, a fancy, too, so preposterous, so utterly without countenance, either from experience, observation, science, reason, or Scripture. The egg of man's divinity is not laid in the nest of the grave.
Another motive for believing the resurrection of the body has been created by the exigencies of a materialistic philosophy. There was in the early Church an Arabian sect of heretics who were reclaimed from their errors by the powerful reasonings and eloquence of Origen.19 Their heresy consisted in maintaining that the soul dies with the body being indeed only its vital breath and will be restored with it at the last day. In the course of the Christian centuries there have arisen occasionally a few defenders of this opinion. Priestley, as is well known, was an earnest supporter of it. Let us scan the ground on which he held this belief. In the first place, he firmly believed that the fact of an eternal life to come had been supernaturally revealed to men by God through Christ. Secondly, as a philosopher he was intensely a materialist, holding with unwavering conviction to the conclusion that life, mind, or soul, was a concomitant or result of our physical organism, and wholly incapable of being without it. Death to him was the total destruction of man for the time. There was therefore plainly no alternative for him but either to abandon one of his fundamental convictions as a Christian and a philosopher, or else to accept the doctrine of a future resurrection of the body into an immortal life. He chose the latter, and zealously taught always that death is an annihilation lasting till the day of judgment, when all are to be summoned from their graves. To this whole course of thought there are several replies to be made. In the first place, we submit that the philosophy of materialism is false: standing in the province of science and reason, it may be affirmed that the soul is not dependent for its existence on the body, but will survive it. We will not argue this point, but merely state it. Secondly, it is certain that the doctrine which makes soul perish with body finds no countenance in the New Testament. It is inconsistent with the belief in angelic spirits, in demoniac possessions, in Christ's descent as a spirit to preach to the spirits of departed men imprisoned in the under world, and with other conceptions underlying the Gospels and the Epistles. But, thirdly, admitting it to be true, then, we affirm, the legitimate deduction from all the arrayed facts of science and all the presumptive evidence of appearances is not that a future resurrection will restore the dead man to life, but that all is over with him, he has hopelessly perished forever. When the breath ceases, if nothing survives, if the total man is blotted out, then we challenge the production of a shadow of proof that he will ever live again. The seeming injustice and blank awfulness of the fate may make one turn for relief to the hypothesis of a future arbitrary miraculous resurrection; but that is an artificial expedient, without a shadow of justification. Once admit that the body is all, its dissolution a total death, and you are gone forever. One intuition of the spirit, seizing the conscious supports of eternal ideas, casts contempt on "The doubtful prospects of our painted dust,"
18 Drew on Resurrection, ch. vi. sect. vii. pp. 326-332.
19 Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. lib. vi. cap. xxxvii.
and outvalues all the gross hopes of materialism. Between nonentity and being yawns the untraversable gulf of infinity. No: the body of flesh falls, turns to dust and air; the soul, emancipated, rejoices, and soars heavenwards, and is its own incorruptible frame, mocking at death, a celestial house, whose maker and builder is God.
Finally, there remain to be weighed the bearings of the argument from chemical and physiological science on the resurrection. Here is the chief stumbling block in the way of the popular doctrine. The scientific absurdities connected with that doctrine have been marshalled against it by Celsus, the Platonist philosopher, by Avicenna, the Arabian physician, and by hundreds more, and have never been answered, and cannot be answered. As long as man lives, his bodily substance is incessantly changing; the processes of secretion and absorption are rapidly going forward. Every few years he is, as to material, a totally new man. Dying at the age of seventy, he has had at least ten different bodies. He is one identical soul, but has lived in ten separate houses. With which shall he be raised? with the first? or the fifth? or the last? or with all? But, further, the body after death decays, enters into combination with water, air, earth, gas, vegetables, animals, other human bodies. In this way the same matter comes to have belonged to a thousand persons. In the resurrection, whose shall it be? We reply, nearly in the language of Christ to the Sadducees, "Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the will of God: in the resurrection they have not bodies of earthly flesh, but are spirits, as the angels of God."
The argument against the common theory of a material resurrection, on account of numerous claimants for the same substance, has of late derived a greatly increased force from the brilliant discoveries in chemistry. It is now found that only a small number of substances ever enter into the composition of animal bodies.20 The food of man consists of nitrogenized and non nitrogenized substances. The latter are the elements of respiration; the former alone compose the plastic elements of nutrition, and they are few in number and comparatively limited in extent. "All life depends on a relatively small quantity of matter. Over and over again, as the modeller fashions his clay, are plant and animal formed out of the same material." The particles that composed Adam's frame may before the end of the world have run the circuit of ten thousand bodies of his descendants: "'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands." To proclaim the resurrection of the flesh as is usually done, seems a flat contradiction of clear knowledge.21 A late writer on this subject, Dr. Hitchcock, evades the insuperable difficulty by saying, "It is not necessary that the resurrection body should contain a single particle of the body laid in the grave, if it only contain particles of the same kind, united in the same proportion, and the compound be made to assume the same form and structure as the natural body." 22 Then two men who look exactly alike may in the resurrection exchange bodies without any harm! Here the theory of punishment clashes. Does not the esteemed author see that this would not be a resurrection of the old bodies, but a creation of new ones
20 Liebig, Animal Chemistry, sect. xix.
21 The Circulation of Matter, Blackwood's Magazine, May, 1853.
22 The Resurrection of Spring, p. 26.
just like them? And is not this a desertion of the orthodox doctrine of the Church? If he varies so far from the established formularies out of a regard for philosophy, he may as well be consistent and give up the physical doctrine wholly, because it rests solely on the tradition which he leaves and is every whit irreconcilable with philosophy. This device is as wilful an attempt to escape the scientific difficulty as that employed by Candlish to avoid the scriptural difficulty put in the way of the doctrine by the apostolic words "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God." The eminent Scottish divine affirms that "flesh and bones" that is, these present bodies made incorruptible can inherit the kingdom of God; although "flesh and blood" that is, these present bodies subject to decay cannot.23 It is surely hard to believe that the New Testament writers had such a distinction in their minds. It is but a forlorn resource conjured up to meet a desperate exigency.
At the appearing of Christ in glory,
"When the Day of Fire shall have dawn'd, and sent Its deadly breath into the firmament," as it is supposed, the great earth cemetery will burst open and its innumerable millions swarm forth before him. Unto the tremendous act of habeas corpus, then proclaimed, every grave will yield its prisoner. Ever since the ascension of Jesus his mistaken followers have been anxiously expecting that awful advent of his person and his power in the clouds; but in vain. "All things remain as they were: where is the promise of his appearing?" As the lookers out hitherto have been disappointed, so they ever will be. Say not, Lo here! or, Lo there! for, behold, he is within you. The reason why this carnal error, Jewish conceit, retains a hold, is that men accept it without any honest scrutiny of its foundations or any earnest thought of their own about it. They passively receive the tradition. They do not realize the immensity of the thing, nor the ludicrousness of its details. To their imaginations the awful blast of the trumpet calling the world to judgment, seems no more, as Feuerbach says, than a tone from the tin horn of a postillion, who, at the post station of the Future, orders fresh horses for the Curriculum Vita! President Hitchcock tells us that, "when the last trumpet sounds, the whole surface of the earth will become instinct with life, from the charnels of battle fields alone more than a thousand millions of human beings starting forth and crowding upwards to the judgment seat." On the resurrection morning, at the first tip of light over acres of opening monument and heaving turf, "Each member jogs the other, And whispers, Live you, brother?"
And how will it be with us then? Will Daniel Lambert, the mammoth of men, appear weighing half a ton? Will the Siamese twins then be again joined by the living ligament of their congenital band? Shall "infants be not raised in the smallness of body in which they died, but increase by the wondrous and most swift work of God"? 24
23 Candlish, Life in a Risen Savior: Discourse XV.
24 Augustine, De Civ. Dei, lib. xxii. cap. xiv.
Young sings, "Now charnels rattle; scatter'd limbs, and all The various bones, obsequious to the call, Self moved, advance; the neck perhaps to meet The distant head; the distant head the feet. Dreadful to view! see, through the dusky sky Fragments of bodies in confusion fly, To distant regions journeying, there to claim Deserted members and complete the frame."
The glaring melodramatic character, the startling mechanico theatrical effects, of this whole doctrine, are in perfect keeping with the raw imagination of the childhood of the human mind, but in profound opposition to the working philosophy of nature and the sublime simplicity of God.
Many persons have never distinctly defined their views upon the subject before us. In the minds even of many preachers and writers, several different and irreconcilable theories would seem to exist together in confused mixture. Now they speak as if the soul were sleeping with the body in the grave; again they appear to imply that it is detained in an intermediate state; and a moment afterwards they say it has already entered upon its final reward or doom. Jocelyn relates, in his Life of St. Patrick, that "as the saint one day was passing the graves of two men recently buried, observing that one of the graves had a cross over it, he stopped his chariot and asked the dead man below of what religion he had been. The reply was, 'A pagan.' 'Then why was this cross put over you?' inquired St. Patrick. The dead man answered, 'He who is buried near me is a Christian; and one of your faith, coming hither, placed the cross at my head.' The saint stepped out of his chariot, rectified the mistake, and went his way." Calvin, in the famous treatise designated "Psychopannychia," which he levelled against those who taught the sleep of souls until the day of judgment, maintained that the souls of the elect go immediately to heaven, the souls of the reprobate to hell. Here they tarry in bliss and bale until the resurrection; then, coming to the earth, they assume their bodies and return to their respective places. But if the souls live so long in heaven and hell without their flesh, why need they ever resume it? The cumbrous machinery of the scheme seems superfluous and unmeaning. As a still further specimen of the arbitrary thinking the unscientific and unphilosophical thinking carried into this department of thought by most who have cultivated it, reference may be made to Bishop Burnet's work "De Statu Mortuorum et Resurgentium," which teaches that at the first resurrection the bodies of the risen will be the same as the present, but at the second resurrection, after the millennium, from the rudiments of the present body a new spiritual body will be developed.
The true idea of man's future destiny appears to be that no resurrection of the flesh is needed, because the real man never dies, but lives continuously forever. There are two reasonable ways of conceiving what the vehicle of his life is when he leaves his present frame. It may be that within his material system lurks an exquisite spiritual organization, invisibly pervading it and constituting its vital power. This ethereal structure is disengaged at last from its gross envelope, and, unfettered, soars to the Divine realms of ether and light. This theory of an "inner body" is elaborately wrought out and sustained in Bonnet's "Palingenesie Philosophique." Or it may be that there is in each one a primal germ, a deathless monad, which is the organic identity of man, root of his inmost stable being, triumphant, unchanging ruler of his flowing, perishable organism. This spirit germ, born into the present life, assimilates and holds the present body around it, out of the materials of this world; born into the future life, it will assimilate and hold around it a different body, out of the materials of the future world.25 Thus there are bodies terrestrial and bodies celestial: the glory of the terrestrial is one, fitted to this scene of things; the glory of the celestial is another, fitted to the scene of things hereafter to dawn. Each spirit will be clothed from the material furnished by the world in which it resides. Not forever shall we bear about this slow load of weary clay, this corruptible mass, heir to a thousand ills. Our body shall rather be such "If lightning were the gross corporeal frame Of some angelic essence, whose bright thoughts As far surpass'd in keen rapidity The lagging action of his limbs as doth Man's mind his clay; with like excess of speed To animated thought of lightning flies That spirit body o'er life's deeps divine, Far past the golden isles of memory."
What man knows constitutes his present world. All beyond that constitutes another world. He can imagine two modes in which his desire for a life after death may be gratified, a removal into the Unknown World, or a return into the Known World. With the latter supposition the restoration of the flesh is involved.
Upon the whole, our conclusion is, that in the original plan of the world it was fixed that man should not live here forever, but that the essence of his life should escape from the flesh and depart to some other sphere of being, there either to fashion itself a new form, or to remain disembodied. If those who hold the common doctrine of a carnal resurrection should carry it out with philosophical consistency, by extending the scheme it involves to all existing planetary races as well as to their own, should they cause that process of imagination which produced this doctrine to go on to its legitimate completion, they would see in the final consummation the sundered earths approach each other, and firmaments conglobe, till at last the whole universe concentred in one orb. On the surface of that world all the risen races of being would be distributed, the inhabitants of a present solar system making a nation, the sum of gigantic nationalities constituting one prodigious, death exempted empire, its solitary sovereign GOD. But this is pure poetry, and not science nor philosophy.
25 Lange on the Resurrection of the Body, Studien und Kritiken, 1836.
DOCTRINE OF FUTURE PUNISHMENT; OR, CRITICAL HISTORY OF THE IDEA OF A HELL.
A HELL of fire and brimstone has been, perhaps still is, the most terrible of the superstitions of the world. We propose to give a historic sketch of the popular representations on this subject, trace them to their origin, and discuss the merits of the question itself. To follow the doctrine through all its variations, illustrating the practical and controversial writings upon it, would require a large volume; but, by a judicious arrangement, all that is necessary to a fair understanding of the subject, or really interesting, may be presented within the compass of an essay. Any one who should read the literature of this subject would be astonished at the almost universal prevalence of the doctrine and at the immense diversity of appalling descriptions of it, and would ask, Whence arises all this? How have these horrors obtained such a seated hold in the world?
In the first place, it is to be replied, as soon as reason is in fair possession of the idea of a continued individual existence beyond the grave, the moral sense, discriminating the deeds, tempers, and characters of men, would teach that there must be different allotments and experiences for them after death. It is not right, say reason and conscience, for the coward, the idler, fool, knave, sot, murderer, to enter into the same realm and have the same bliss with heroes, sages, and saints; neither are they able to do it. The spontaneous thought and sentiment of humanity would declare, if the soul survives the body, passing into the invisible world, its fortunes there must depend somewhat upon its fitness and deserts, its contained treasures and acquired habits. Reason, judging the facts of observation according to the principles of ethics and the working of experienced spiritual laws, at once decides that there is a difference hereafter between the fate of the good heart and the bad one, the great soul and the mean one: in a word, there is, in some sense or other, a heaven and a hell.
Again: the same belief would be necessitated by the conception, so deeply entertained by the primitive people of the earth, of overruling and inspecting gods. They supposed these gods to be in a great degree like themselves, partial, fickle, jealous, revengeful. Such beings, of course, would caress their favorites and torture their offenders. The calamities and blessings of this life were regarded as tokens, revengeful or loving, of the ruling deities, now pleased, now enraged. And when their votaries or victims had passed into the eternal state, how natural to suppose them still favored or cursed by the passionate wills of these irresponsible gods! Plainly enough, they who believe in gods that launch thunderbolts and upheave the sea in their rage and take vengeance for an insult by sending forth a pestilence, must also believe in a hell where Ixion may be affixed to the wheel and Tantalus be tortured with maddening mockeries. These two conceptions of discriminating justice and of vengeful gods both lead to the theoretic construction of a hell, and to the growth of doctrines and parables about it, though in a different sort, the former illustrating a pervasive law which distributes men according to their deserts, the latter speaking of beings with human passions, who inflict outward arbitrary penalties according to their pleasure.
Thirdly, when the general idea of a hell has once obtained lodgment, it is rapidly nourished, developed, and ornamented, carried out into particulars by poets, rhetoricians, and popular teachers, whose fancies are stimulated and whose figurative views and pictures act and react both upon the sources and the products of faith. Representations based only on moral facts, emblems addressing the imagination, after a while are received in a literal sense, become physically located and clothed with the power of horror. A Hindu poet says, "The ungrateful shall remain in hell as long as the sun hangs in heaven." An old Jewish Rabbi says that after the general judgment "God shall lead all the blessed through hell and all the damned through paradise, and show to each one the place that was prepared for him in each region, so that they shall not be able to say, 'We are not to be blamed or praised; for our doom was unalterably fixed beforehand.' Such utterances are originally moral symbols, not dogmatic assertions; and yet in a rude age they very easily pass into the popular mind as declaring facts literally to be believed. A Talmudic writer says, "There are in hell seven abodes, in each abode seven thousand caverns, in each cavern seven thousand clefts, in each cleft seven thousand scorpions; each scorpion has seven limbs, and on each limb are seven thousand barrels of gall. There are also in hell seven rivers of rankest poison, so deadly that if one touches it he bursts." Hesiod, Homer, Virgil, have given minute descriptions of hell and its agonies, descriptions which have unquestionably had a tremendous influence in cherishing and fashioning the world's faith in that awful empire. The poems of Dante, Milton, and Pollok revel in the most vivid and terrific pictures of the infernal kingdom and its imagined horrors; and the popular doctrine of future punishment in Christendom is far more closely conformed to their revelations than to the declarations of the New Testament. The English poet's "Paradise Lost" has undoubtedly exerted an influence on the popular faith comparable with that of the Genevan theologian's "Institutes of the Christian Religion." There is a horrid fiction, widely believed once by the Jewish Rabbins and by the Mohammedans, that two gigantic fiends called the Searchers, as soon as a deceased person is buried, make him sit up in the grave, examine the moral condition of his soul, and, if he is very guilty, beat in his temples with heavy iron maces. It is obvious to observe that such conceptions are purely arbitrary, the work of fancy, not based on any intrinsic fitness or probability; but they are received because unthinking ignorance and hungry superstition will greedily believe any thing they hear. Joseph Trapp, an English clergyman, in a long poem thus sets forth the scene of damnation: "Doom'd to live death and never to expire, In floods and whirlwinds of tempestuous fire The damn'd shall groan, fire of all kinds and forms, In rain and hail, in hurricanes and storms, Liquid and solid, livid, red, and pale, A flaming mountain here, and there a flaming vale; The liquid fire makes seas, the solid, shores; Arch'd o'er with flames, the horrid concave roars. In bubbling eddies rolls the fiery tide, And sulphurous surges on each other ride. The hollow winding vaults, and dens, and caves, Bellow like furnaces with flaming waves. Pillars of flame in spiral volumes rise, Like fiery snakes, and lick the infernal skies. Sulphur, the eternal fuel, unconsumed, Vomits redounding smoke, thick, unillumed."
But all other paintings of the fear and anguish of hell are vapid and pale before the preternatural frightfulness of those given at unmerciful length and in sickening specialty in some of the Hindu and Persian sacred books.1 Here worlds of nauseating disgusts, of loathsome agonies, of intolerable terrors, pass before us. Some are hung up by their tongues, or by their eyes, and slowly devoured by fiery vermin; some scourged with whips of serpents whose poisonous fangs lacerate their flesh at every blow; some forced to swallow bowls of gore, hair, and corruption, freshly filled as fast as drained; some packed immovably in red hot iron chests and laid in raging furnaces for unutterable millions of ages. One who is familiar with the imagery of the Buddhist hells will think the pencils of Dante and Pollok, of Jeremy Taylor and Jonathan Edwards, were dipped in water. There is just as much ground for believing the accounts of the former to be true as there is for crediting those of the latter: the two are fundamentally the same, and the pagan had earlier possession of the field.
Furthermore, in the early ages, and among people where castes were prominent, when the learning, culture, and power were confined to one class at the expense of others, it is unquestionable that copious and fearful descriptions of the future state were spread abroad by those who were interested in establishing such a dogma. The haughtiness and selfishness of the hierarchic spirit, the exclusiveness, cruelty, and cunning tyranny of many of the ancient priesthoods, are well known. Despising, hating, and fearing the people, whom they held in abject spiritual bondage, they sought to devise, diffuse, and organize such opinions as would concentrate power in their own hands and rivet their authority. Accordingly, in the lower immensity they painted and shadowed forth the lurid and dusky image of hell, gathering around it all that was most abominated and awful. Then they set up certain fanciful conditions, without the strict observance of which no one could avoid damnation. The animus of a priesthood in the structure of this doctrine is shown by the glaring fact that in the old religions the woes of hell were denounced not so much upon bad men who committed crimes out of a wicked heart, as upon careless men who neglected priestly guidance and violated the ritual. The omission of a prayer or an ablution, the neglect of baptism or confession, a slight thrown upon a priest, a mental conception differing from the decree of the "Church," would condemn a man far more surely and deeply into the Egyptian, Hindu, Persian, Pharisaic, Papal, or Calvinistic hell than any amount of moral culpability according to the standard of natural ethics.
1 See Pope's translation of the Viraf Nameh. Also the Dabistan, vol. i. pp. 295-304, of the translation by Shea and Troyer; and Coleman's Mythology of the Hindus, chapter on the hells.
The popular hells have ever been built on hierarchic selfishness, dogmatic pride, and personal cruelty, and have been walled around with arbitrary and traditional rituals. Through the breaches made in these rituals by neglect, souls have been plunged in. The Parsee priest describes a woman in hell "beaten with stone clubs by two demons twelve miles in size, and compelled to continue eating a basin of putridity, because once some of her hair, as she combed it, fell into the sacred fire." The Brahmanic priest tells of a man who, for "neglecting to meditate on the mystic monosyllable Om before praying, was thrown down in hell on an iron floor and cleaved with an axe, then stirred in a caldron of molten lead till covered all over with the sweated foam of torture like a grain of rice in an oven, and then fastened, with head downwards and feet upwards, to a chariot of fire and urged onwards with a red hot goad." The Papal priest declares that the schismatic, though the kindest and justest man, at death drops hopelessly into hell, while the devotee, though scandalously corrupt in heart and life, who confesses and receives extreme unction, treads the primrose path to paradise. The Episcopalian priest dooms the dissenter to everlasting woe in spite of every virtue, because he has not known sacramental baptism in the apostolic line. The Arminian priest turns the rationalist over to the penal fires of eternity, because he is in mental error as to the explanation of the Trinity and the Atonement. In every age it has been the priestly spirit, acting on ritual considerations, that has deepened the foundations, enlarged the borders, and apportioned the victims, of hell. The perversions and excesses of the doctrine have grown out of cruel ambition and cunning on one side, and been received by docile ignorance and superstition on the other, and been mutually fed by traditions and fables between. The excessive vanity and theocratic pride of the Jews led them to exclude all the Gentiles, whom they stigmatized as "uncircumcised dogs," from the Jewish salvation. The same spirit, aggravated if possible, passed lineally into Christendom, causing the Orthodox Church to exclude all the heathen, all heretics, and the unbaptized, from the Christian salvation.
A fifth explanation of the wholesale severity and multiplied details of horror, which came to be incorporated with the doctrine of hell, is to be found in the gloomy theories of certain philosophers whose relentless speculations were tinged and moulded by their own recluse misanthropy and the prevailing superstitions of their time. Out of the old asceticism of the East the false spiritualism which regarded matter as the source of evil and this life as a penance arose the dogma of metempsychosis. The consequence of this theory, rigidly carried out, created a descending congeries of hells, reaching from centre to nadir, in correspondence to an ascending congeries of heavens, reaching from centre to zenith. Out of the myth of the Fall sprang the dogma of total depravity, dooming our whole race to hell forever, except those saved by the subsequent artifice of the atonement. Theories conjured up and elaborated by fanciful and bloodless metaphysicians, in an age when the milk of public human kindness was thinned, soured, poisoned, by narrow and tyrannical prejudices, might easily legitimate and establish any conclusions, however unreasonable and monstrous. The history of philosophy is the broad demonstration of this. The Church philosophers, (with exceptions, of course,) receiving the traditions of the common faith, partaking in the superstitions of their age, banished from the bosoms of men by their monastic position, and inflamed with hierarchic pride, with but a faint connection or intercourse between conscience and intellect or between heart and fancy, strove to spin out theories which would explain and justify the orthodox dogmas.
Working with metaphysical tools of abstract reason, not with the practical faculties of life, dealing with the fanciful materials of priestly tradition, not with the solid facts of ethical observation, they would naturally be troubled with but few qualms and make but few reservations, however overwhelming the results of horror at which they might arrive. Habituated for years to hair drawn analyses and superstitious broodings upon the subject, overshadowed by the supernatural hierarchy in which they lived, surrounded by a thick night of ignorance, persecution, and slaughter, it was no wonder they could believe the system they preached, although in reality it was only a traditional abstraction metaphysically wrought up and vivified by themselves. Being thus wrought out and animated by them, who were the sole depositaries of learning and the undisputed lords of thought, the mass of the people, lying abjectly in the fetters of authority, could not help accepting it. Ample illustrations of these assertions will occur to all who are familiar with the theological schemes and the dialectic subtleties of the early Church Fathers and of the later Church Scholastics.
Finally, by the combined power, first, of natural conscience affirming a future distinction between the good and the bad; secondly, of imperfect conceptions of God as a passionate avenger; thirdly, of the licentious fancies of poets drawing awful imaginative pictures of future woe; fourthly, of the cruel spirit and the ambitious plans of selfish priesthoods; and fifthly, of the harsh and relentless theories of conforming metaphysicians, the doctrine of hell, as a located place of manifold terrific physical tortures drawing in vast majorities of the human race, became established in the ruling creeds and enthroned as an orthodox dogma. In some heathen nations the descriptions of the poets, in others the accounts of the priestly books, were held to be inspired revelations. To call them in question was blasphemous. In Christendom the scriptural representations of the subject, which were general moral adaptations, incidentally made, of representations already existing, obtained a literal interpretation, had the stamp of infallibility put on them and immense perverted additions joined to them. Thus everywhere the dogma became associated with the established authority. To deny it was heresy. Heretics were excommunicated, loaded with pains and penalties, and, for many centuries, often put to death with excruciating tortures. From that moment the doctrine was taken out of the province of natural reason, out of the realm of ethical truth. The absurdities, wrongs, and barbarities deducible from it were a part and parcel of it, and not to be considered as any objection to it. No free thought and honest criticism were allowed. Because taught by authority, it must be submissively taken for granted. Henceforth we are not to wonder at the revolting inhumanity of spirit and horribleness of gloating hatred shown in connection with the doctrine; for it was not the independent thought and proper moral spirit of individuals, but the petrified dogma and irresponsible corporate spirit of that towering hierarchy, the Church.
The Church set forth certain conditional offers of salvation. When those offers were spurned or neglected, the Church felt personally insulted and aggrieved. Her servants hurled on the hated heretics and heathen the denunciations of bigotry and the threats of rage. Rugged old Tertullian, in whose torrid veins the fire of his African deserts seems infused, revels with infernal glee over the contemplation of the sure damnation of the heathen. "At that greatest of all spectacles, the last and eternal judgment," he says, "how shall I admire, how laugh, how rejoice, how exult, when I behold so many proud monarchs groaning in the lowest abyss of darkness; so many magistrates liquefying in fiercer flames than they ever kindled against the Christians; so many sage philosophers blushing in red hot fires with their deluded pupils; so many tragedians more tuneful in the expression of their own sufferings; so many dancers tripping more nimbly from anguish than ever before from applause."2 Hundreds of the most accredited Christian writers have shown the same fiendish spirit. Drexel the Jesuit, preaching of Dives, exclaims, "Instead of a lofty bed of down on which he was wont to repose himself, he now lies frying in the flames; his sparkling wine and delicious dainties are taken from him; he is burnt up with thirst, and has nothing for his food but smoke and sulphur." Jeremy Taylor3 says, in that discourse on the "Pains of Hell" where he has lavished all the stores of his matchless learning and all the wealth of his gorgeous imagination in multiplying and adorning the paraphernalia of torture with infinite accompaniments of unendurable pangs and insufferable abominations, "We are amazed at the inhumanity of Phalaris, who roasted men in his brazen bull: this was joy in respect of that fire of hell which penetrates the very entrails without consuming them;" "husbands shall see their wives, parents shall see their children, tormented before their eyes;" "the bodies of the damned shall be crowded together in hell like grapes in a wine press, which press one another till they burst;" "every distinct sense and organ shall be assailed with its own appropriate and most exquisite sufferings." Christopher Love belying his name says of the damned, "Their cursings are their hymns, howlings their tunes, and blasphemies their ditties." Calvin writes, "Forever harassed with a dreadful tempest, they shall feel themselves torn asunder by an angry God, and transfixed and penetrated by mortal stings, terrified by the thunderbolts of God, and broken by the weight of his hand, so that to sink into any gulfs would be more tolerable than to stand for a moment in these terrors." A living divine, Dr. Gardiner Spring, declares, "When the omnipotent and angry God, who has access to all the avenues of distress in the corporeal frame and all the inlets to agony in the intellectual constitution, undertakes to punish, he will convince the universe that he does not gird himself for the work of retribution in vain;" "it will be a glorious deed when He who hung on Calvary shall cast those who have trodden his blood under their feet, into the furnace of fire, where there shall be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth." Thousands of passages like these, and even worse, might easily be collected from Christian authors, dating their utterance from the days of St. Irenaus, Bishop of Lyons, who flamed against the heretics, to the days of Nehemiah Adams, Congregational preacher of Boston, who says, "It is to be feared the forty two children that mocked Elisha are now in hell." 4 There is an unmerciful animus in them, a vindictiveness of thought and feeling, far oh, how far! removed from the meek and loving
2 De Spectaculis, cap. xxx., Gibbon's trans.
3 Contemplations of the State of Man, ch. 6 8.
4 Friends of Christ, p. 149.
soul of Jesus, who wept over Jerusalem, and loved the "unevangelical" young lawyer who was "not far from the kingdom of heaven," and yearned towards the penitent Peter, and from the tenderness of his immaculate purity said to the adulteress, "Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more." There are some sectarians in whom the arbitrary narrowness, fierceness, and rigidity of their received creeds have so demoralized and hardened conscience and sensibility in their native healthy directions, and artificially inflamed them in diseased channels, that we verily believe, if the decision of the eternal destiny of the human race were placed in their hands, they would with scarcely a twinge of pain perhaps some of them even with a horrid satisfaction and triumph doom all except their own dogmatic coterie to hell. They are bound to do so. They profess to know infallibly that God will do so: if, therefore, the case being in their arbitration, they would decide differently, they thereby impeach the action of God, confess his decrees irreconcilable with reason and justice, and set up their own goodness as superior to his. Burnet has preserved the plea of Bloody Mary, which was in these words: "As the souls of heretics are hereafter to be eternally burning in hell, there can be nothing more proper than for me to imitate the Divine vengeance by burning them on earth." Thanks be to the infinite Father that our fate is in his hands, and not in the hands of men who are bigots,
"Those pseudo Privy Councillors of God, Who write down judgments with a pen hard nibb'd: Ushers of Beelzebub's black rod, Commending sinners, not to ice thick ribb'd, But endless flames to scorch them up like flax, Yet sure of heaven themselves, as if they'd cribb'd The impression of St. Peter's keys in wax!"
It may be thought that this doctrine and its awful concomitants, though once promulgated, are now nearly obsolete. It is true that, in thinking minds and generous hearts, they are getting to be repudiated. But by no means is it so in the recognised formularies of the established Churches and in the teachings of the popular clergy. All through the Gentile world, wherever there is a prevailing religion, the threats and horrors of a fearful doctrine of hell are still brandished over the trembling or careless multitudes. In Christendom, the authoritative announcement of the Roman and Greek Churches, and the public creeds confessed by every communicant of all the denominations, save two or three which are comparatively insignificant in numbers, show that the doctrine is yet held without mitigation. The Bishop of Toronto, only a year or two ago, published the authoritative declaration that "every child of humanity, except the Virgin Mary, is from the first moment of conception a child of wrath, hated by the blessed Trinity, belonging to Satan, and doomed to hell!" Indeed, the doctrine, in its whole naked and frightful extent, is necessarily, in strict logic, an integral part of the great system of the popular Christianity, that is, Christianity as falsely interpreted, paganized, and scholasticized. For if by the sin of Adam the entire race were totally depraved and condemned to a hopeless hell, and only those can be saved who personally appropriate by a realizing faith the benefits of the subsequent artifice carried out in the atoning blood of the incarnate God, certainly the extremist advocate of the doctrine concerning hell has not exceeded the truth, and cannot exceed it. All the necessities of logic rebuke the tame hearted theologians, and great Augustine's, great Calvin's, ghost walks unapproached among them, crying out that they are slow and inefficient in describing the enormous sweep of the inherited penalty! Many persons who have not taken pains to examine the subject suppose that the horrifying descriptions given by Christian authors of the state and sufferings of the lost were not intended to be literally received, but were meant as figures of speech, highly wrought metaphors calculated to alarm and impress with physical emblems corresponding only to moral and spiritual realities. The progress of thought and refinement has made it natural that recourse should often be had to such an explanation; but unquestionably it is a mistake. The annals of theology, both dogmatic and homiletic, from the time of the earliest Fathers till now, abound in detailed accounts of the future punishment of the wicked, whereof the context, the train of thought, and all the intrinsic characteristics of style and coherence, do not leave a shadow of doubt that they were written as faithful, though inadequate, accounts of facts. The Church, the immense bulk of Christendom, has in theory always regarded hell and its dire concomitants as material facts, and not as merely spiritual experiences.
Tertullian says, "The damned burn eternally without consuming, as the volcanoes, which are vents from the stored subterranean fire of hell, burn forever without wasting." 5 Cyprian declares that "the wretched bodies of the condemned shall simmer and blaze in those living fires." Augustine argues at great length and with ingenious varieties of reasoning to show how the material bodies of the damned may withstand annihilation in everlasting fire.6 Similar assertions, which cannot be figuratively explained, are made by Irenaus, Jerome, Athanasius, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventura, Gerson, Bernard, and indeed by almost all the Christian writers. Origen, who was a Platonist, and a heretic on many points, was severely condemned for saying that the fire of hell was inward and of the conscience, rather than outward and of the body. For the strict materiality of the fire of hell we might adduce volumes of authorities from nearly every province of the Church. Dr. Barrow asserts that "our bodies will be afflicted continually by a sulphurous flame, piercing the inmost sinews." John Whitaker thinks "the bodies of the damned will be all salted with fire, so tempered and prepared as to burn the more fiercely and yet never consume." Jeremy Taylor teaches that "this temporal fire is but a painted fire in respect of that penetrating and real fire in hell." Jonathan Edwards soberly and believingly writes thus: "The world will probably be converted into a great lake or liquid globe of fire, a vast ocean of fire, in which the wicked shall be overwhelmed, which will always be in tempest, in which they shall be tost to and fro, having no rest day or night, vast waves or billows of fire continually rolling over their heads, of which they shall forever be full of a quick sense within and without: their heads, their eyes, their tongues, their hands, their feet, their loins, and their vitals shall forever be full of a glowing, melting fire, fierce enough to melt the very rocks and elements; and also they shall eternally be full of the most quick and lively sense
5 Apol. cap. 47-48.
6 De Civ. Dei, lib. xxi. cap. 2 4.
to feel the torments; not for one minute, nor for one day, nor for one age, nor for two ages, nor for a hundred ages, nor for ten thousands of millions of ages one after another, but for ever and ever, without any end at all, and never, never be delivered." 7 Calvin says, "Iterum quaro, unde factum est, ut tot gentes una cum liberis eorum infantibus aterna morti involveret lapsus Ada absque remedio, nisi quia Deo ita visum est? Decretum horribile fateor." 8 Outraged humanity before the contemplation cries, "O God, horror hath overwhelmed me, for thou art represented as an omnipotent Fiend." It is not the Father of Christ, but his Antagonist, whose face glares down over such a scene as that! The above diabolical passage at the recital of which from the pulpit, Edwards's biographers tell us, "whole congregations shuddered and simultaneously rose to their feet, smiting their breasts, weeping and groaning" is not the arbitrary exaggeration of an individual, but a fair representation of the actual tenets and vividly held faith of the Puritans. It is also, in all its uncompromising literality, a direct and inevitable part of the system of doctrine which, with insignificant exceptions, professedly prevails throughout Christendom at this hour. We know most persons will hesitate at this statement; but let them look at the logic of the case in the light of its history, and they must admit the correctness of the assertion. Weigh the following propositions, the accuracy of which no one, we suppose, will question, and it will appear at once that there is no possibility of avoiding the conclusion.
First, it is the established doctrine of Christendom that no one can be saved without a supernatural regeneration, or sincere faith in the vicarious atonement, or valid reception of sacramental grace at the hands of a priest, conditions which it is not possible that one in a hundred thousand of the whole human race has fulfilled. Secondly, it is the established doctrine of Christendom that there will be a general day of judgment, when all men will be raised in the same bodies which they originally occupied on earth, when Christ and his angels will visibly descend from heaven, separate the elect from the reprobate, summon the sheep to the blissful pastures on the right hand, but "Proclaim The flocks of goats to folds of flame."
The world is to be burnt up, and the damned, restored to their bodies, are to be driven into the everlasting fire prepared for them. The resurrection of the body, still held in all Christendom, taken in connection with the rest of the associated scheme, necessitates the belief in the materiality of the torments of hell. That eminent living divine, Dr. Gardiner Spring, says, "The souls of all who have died in their sins are in hell; and there their bodies too will be after the resurrection." 9 Mr. Spurgeon also, in his graphic and fearful sermon on the "Resurrection of the Dead," uses the following language: "When thou diest, thy soul will be tormented alone; that will be a hell for it: but at the day of judgment thy body will join thy soul, and then thou wilt have twin hells, thy soul sweating drops of blood, and thy body suffused with agony. In fire exactly like that which we have on earth thy body will lie,
7 Edwards's Works, vol. viii. p. 166.
8 Instit., lib. iii. cap. xxiii. sect. 7.
9 The Glory of Christ, vol. ii. p. 258.
asbestos like, forever unconsumed, all thy veins roads for the feet of pain to travel on, every nerve a string on which the devil shall forever play his diabolical tune of Hell's Unutterable Lament!" And, if this doctrine be true, no ingenuity, however fertile in expedients and however fiendish in cruelty, can possibly devise emblems and paint pictures half terrific enough to present in imagination and equal in moral impression what the reality will be to the sufferers. It is easy to speak or hear the word "hell;" but to analyze its significance and realize it in a sensitive fancy is difficult; and whenever it is done the fruit is madness, as the bedlams of the world are shrieking in testimony at this instant. The Revivalist preachers, so far from exaggerating the frightful contents latent in the prevalent dogma concerning hell, have never been able and no man is able to do any thing like justice to its legitimate deductions. Edwards is right in declaring, "After we have said our utmost and thought our utmost, all that we have said and thought is but a faint shadow of the reality." Think of yourselves, seized, just as you are now, and flung into the roaring, glowing furnace of eternity; think of such torture for an instant, multiply it by infinity, and then say if any words can convey the proper force of impression. It is true these intolerable details are merely latent and unappreciated by the multitude of believers; and when one, roused to fanaticism by earnest contemplation of his creed, dares to proclaim its logical consequences and to exhort men accordingly, they shrink, and charge him with excess. But they should beware ere they repudiate the literal horrors of the historic orthodox doctrine for any figurative and moral views accommodated to the advanced reason and refinement of the times, beware how such an abandonment of a part of their system affects the rest.
Give up the material fire, and you lose the bodily resurrection. Renounce the bodily resurrection, and away goes the visible coming of Christ to a general judgment. Abandon the general judgment, and the climacteric completion of the Church scheme of redemption is wanting. Mar the wholeness of the redemption plan, and farewell to the incarnation and vicarious atonement. Neglect the vicarious atonement, and down crumbles the hollow and broken shell of the popular theology helplessly into its grave. The old literal doctrine of a material hell, however awful its idea, as it has been set forth in flaming views and threats by all the accredited representatives of the Church, must be uncompromisingly clung to, else the whole popular system of theology will be mutilated, shattered, and lost from sight. The theological leaders understand this perfectly well, and for the most part they act accordingly. We have now under our hand numerous extracts, from writings published within the last five years by highly influential dignitaries in the different denominations, which for frightfulness of outline and coloring, and for unshrinking assertions of literality, will compare with those already quoted.
Especially read the following description of this kind from John Henry Newman: "Oh, terrible moment for the soul, when it suddenly finds itself at the judgment seat of Christ, when the Judge speaks and consigns it to the jailers till it shall pay the endless debt which lies against it! 'Impossible! I a lost soul? I separated from hope and from peace forever? It is not I of whom the Judge so spake! There is a mistake somewhere; Christ, Savior, hold thy hand: one minute to explain it! My name is Demas: I am but Demas, not Judas, or Nicholas, or Alexander, or Philetus, or Diotrephes. What! eternal pain for me? Impossible! it shall not be!' And the poor soul struggles and wrestles in the grasp of the mighty demon which has hold of it, and whose every touch is torment. 'Oh, atrocious!' it shrieks, in agony, and in anger too, as if the very keenness of the infliction were a proof of its injustice. 'A second! and a third! I can bear no more! Stop, horrible fiend! give over: I am a man, and not such as thou! I am not food for thee, or sport for thee! I have been taught religion; I have had a conscience; I have a cultivated mind; I am well versed in science and art; I am a philosopher, or a poet, or a shrewd observer of men, or a hero, or a statesman, or an orator, or a man of wit and humor. Nay, I have received the grace of the Redeemer; I have attended the sacraments for years; I have been a Catholic from a child; I died in communion with the Church: nothing, nothing which I have ever been, which I have ever seen, bears any resemblance to thee, and to the flame and stench which exhale from thee: so I defy thee, and abjure thee, O enemy of man!'
"Alas! poor soul! and, whilst it thus fights with that destiny which it has brought upon itself and those companions whom it has chosen, the man's name perhaps is solemnly chanted forth, and his memory decently cherished, among his friends on earth. Men talk of him from time to time; they appeal to his authority; they quote his words; perhaps they even raise a monument to his name, or write his history. 'So comprehensive a mind! such a power of throwing light on a perplexed subject and bringing conflicting ideas or facts into harmony!' 'Such a speech it was that he made on such and such an occasion: I happened to be present, and never shall forget it;' or, 'A great personage, whom some of us knew;' or, 'It was a rule with a very worthy and excellent friend of mine, now no more;' or, 'Never was his equal in society, so just in his remarks, so lively, so versatile, so unobtrusive;' or, 'So great a benefactor to his country and to his kind;' or, 'His philosophy so profound.' 'Oh, vanity! vanity of vanities! all is vanity! What profiteth it? What profiteth it? His soul is in hell, O ye children of men! While thus ye speak, his soul is in the beginning of those torments in which his body will soon have part, and which will never die!" 10
Some theologians do not hesitate, even now, to say that "in hell the bodies of the damned shall be nealed, as we speak of glass, so as to endure the fire without being annihilated thereby." "Made of the nature of salamanders," they shall be "immortal kept to feel immortal fire." Well may we take up the words of the Psalmist and cry out of the bottomless depths of disgust and anguish, "I am overwhelmed with horror!"
Holding this abhorrent mass of representations, so grossly carnal and fearful, up in the free light of to day, it cannot stand the test of honest and resolute inquiry. It exists only by timid, unthinking sufferance. It is kept alive, among the superstitious vestiges of the outworn and out grown past, only by the power of tradition, authority, and custom. In refutation of it we shall not present here a prolonged detail of learned researches and logical processes; for that would be useless to those who are enslaved to the foregone conclusions of a creed and possessed by invulnerable prejudices, while those who are thoughtful and candid can make
10 Sermon on "Neglect of Divine Calls and warnings."
such investigations themselves. We shall merely state, in a few clear and brief propositions, the results in which we suppose all free and enlightened minds who have adequately studied the subject now agree, leaving the reader to weigh these propositions for himself, with such further examination as inclination and opportunity may cause him to bestow upon the matter.
We reject the common belief of Christians in a hell which is a local prison of fire where the wicked are to be tortured by material instruments, on the following grounds, appealing to God for the reverential sincerity of our convictions, and appealing to reason for their truth. First, the supposition that hell is an enormous region in the hollow of the earth is a remnant of ancient ignorance, a fancy of poets who magnified the grave into Hades, a thought of geographers who supposed the earth to be flat and surrounded by a brazen expanse bright above and black beneath. Secondly, the soul, on leaving the body, is a spiritual substance, if it be any substance at all, eluding our senses and all the instruments of science. Therefore, in the nature of things, it cannot be chained in a dungeon, nor be cognizant of suffering from material fire or other physical infliction, but its woes must be moral and inward; and the figment that its former fleshly body is to be restored to it is utterly incredible, being an absurdity in science, and not affirmed, as we believe, in Scripture. Thirdly, the imagery of a subterranean hell of fire, brimstone, and undying worms, as used in the Scriptures of the New Testament, is the same as that drawn from heathen sources with modifications and employed by the Pharisees before the time of Christ and his disciples; and we must therefore, since neither Persians nor Pharisees were inspired, either suppose that this imagery was adopted by the apostles figuratively to convey moral truths, or else that they were left, in common with their countrymen, at least partially under the dominion of the errors of their time. Thus in every alternative we deny that the interior of the earth is, or ever will be, an abode of souls, full of fire, a hell in which the damned are to be confined and physically tormented.
The elements of the popular doctrine of future punishment which we thus reject are the falsities contributed by superstition and the priestly spirit. The truths remaining in the doctrine, furnished by conscience, reason, and Scripture, we will next exhibit, in order not to dismiss this head, on the nature of future punishment, with negations. What is the real character of the retributions in the future state? We do not think they are necessarily connected with any peculiar locality or essentially dependent on any external circumstances. As Milton says, when speaking of the best theologians, "To banish forever into a local hell, whether in the air, or in the centre, or in that uttermost and bottomless gulf of chaos deeper from holy bliss than the world's diameter multiplied, they thought not a punishment so proper and proportionate for God to inflict as to punish sin with sin."
God does not arbitrarily stretch forth his arm, like an enraged and vindictive man, and take direct vengeance on offenders; but by his immutable laws, permeating all beings and governing all worlds, evil is, and brings, its own punishment. The intrinsic substances and forces of character and their organized correlations with the realities of eternity, the ruling principles, habits, and love of the soul, as they stand affected towards the world to which they go, these are the conditions on which experience depends, herein is the hiding of retribution. "Each one," as Origen says, "kindles the flame of his own appropriate fire." Superior spirits must look on a corrupted human soul with a sorrow similar, though infinitely profounder, to that with which the lapidary contemplates a splendid pearl with a dark flaw in its centre. The Koran says, "Men sleep while they live, and when they die they wake." The sudden infliction of pain in the future state comes from the sudden unveiling of secrets, quickening of the moral consciousness, and exposure of the naked soul's fitnesses to the spiritual correspondences of its deserts. It is said, "Death does Away disguise: souls see each other clear, At one glance, as two drops of rain in air Might look into each other had they life."
The quality of the soul's character decides the elements of the soul's life; and, as this becomes known on crossing the death drawn line of futurity, conscious retribution then arises in the guilty. This is a retribution which is reasonable, moral, unavoidable, before which we may well pause and tremble. The great moral of it is that we should not so much dread being thrust into an eternal hell as we should fear carrying a hell with us when we go into eternity. It is not so bad to be in hell as to be forced truly to say, "Which way I fly is hell; myself am hell."
If these general ideas are correct, it follows even as all common sense and reflection affirm that every real preparation for death and for what is to succeed must be an ingrained characteristic, and cannot consist in a mere opinion, mood, or act. Here we strike at one of the shallowest errors, one of the most extensive and rooted superstitions, of the world. Throughout the immense kingdoms of the East, where the Brahmanic and Buddhist religions hold sway over six hundred millions of men, the notion of yadasanna that is, the merit instantaneously obtained when at the point of death fully prevails. They suppose that in that moment, regardless of their former lives and of their present characters, by bringing the mind and the heart into certain momentary states of thought and feeling, and meditating on certain objects or repeating certain sacred words, they can suddenly obtain exemption from punishment in their next life.11 The notion likewise obtains almost universally among Christians, incredible as it may seem. With the Romanists, who are three fourths of the Christian world, it is a most prominent doctrine, everywhere vehemently proclaimed and acted on: that is the meaning of the sacrament of extreme unction, whereby, on submission to the Church and confession to a priest, the venal sins of the dying man are forgiven, purgatory avoided or lessened, and heaven made sure. The ghost of the King of Denmark complains most of the unwarned suddenness of his murder, not of the murder itself, but of its suddenness, which left him no opportunity to save his soul: "Sleeping, was I by a brother's hand Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin,
11 Hardy, Manual of Buddhism, p. 489.
Unhousel'd, disappointed, unanel'd; No reckoning made, but sent to my account With all my imperfections on my head."
Hamlet, urged by supernatural solicitings to vengeance, finds his murderous uncle on his knees at prayer. Stealing behind him with drawn sword, he is about to strike the fatal blow, when the thought occurs to him that the guilty man, if killed when at his devotions, would surely go to heaven; and so he refrains until a different opportunity. For to send to heaven the villain who had slain his father,
"That would be hire and salary, not revenge. He took my father grossly full of bread, With all his crimes broad blown, as flush as May; And how his audit stands who knows save Heaven? But, in our circumstance and course of thought, 'Tie heavy with him. And am I then revenged To take him in the purging of his soul, When he is fit and season'd for his passage? No; but when he is drunk, asleep, enraged, Or in the incestuous pleasures of his bed, At gaming, swearing, or about some act That has no relish of salvation in't: Then trip him, that his heels may kick at heaven, And that his soul may be as damn'd and black As hell, whereto it goes."
This, though poetry, is a fair representation of the mediaval faith held by all Christendom in sober prose. The same train of thought latently underlies the feelings of most Protestants too, though it is true any one would now shrink from expressing it with such frankness and horrible gusto. But what else means the minute morbid anatomy of death beds, the prurient curiosity to know how the dying one bore himself in the solemn passage? How commonly, if one dies without physical anguish, and with the artificial exultations of a fanatic, rejoiceful auguries are drawn! if he dies in physical suffering, and with apparent regret, a gloomy verdict is rendered! It is superstition, absurdity, and injustice, all. Not the accidental physical conditions, not the transient emotions, with which one passes from the earth, can decide his fate, but the real good or evil of his soul, the genuine fitness or unfitness of his soul, his soul's inherent merits of bliss or bale. There is no time nor power in the instant of death, by any magical legerdemain, to turn away the impending retributions of wickedness and guilt. What is right, within the conditions of Infinite wisdom and goodness, will be done in spite of all traditional juggles and spasmodic spiritual attitudinizations. What can it avail that a most vile and hardened wretch, when dying, convulsed with fright and possessed with superstition, compels, or strives to compel, a certain sentiment into his soul, conjures, or tries to conjure, his mind into the relation of belief towards a certain ancient and abstract dogma?
"Yet I've seen men who meant not ill, Compelling doctrine out of death, With hell and heaven acutely poised Upon the turning of a breath."
Cruelly racking the soul with useless probes of theological questions and statements, they stand by the dying to catch the words of his last breath, and, in perfect consistence with their faith, they pronounce sentence accordingly. If, as the pallid lips faintly close, they hear the magic words, "I put my trust in the atoning blood of Christ," up goes the soul to heaven. If they hear the less stereotyped words, "I have tried to do as well as I could: I hope God will be merciful towards me and receive me," down goes the soul to hell. Strange and cruel superstition, that imagines God to act towards men only according to the evanescent temper and technical phrase with which they leave the world! The most popular English preacher of the present day, the Rev. Mr. Spurgeon, after referring to the fable that those before whom Perseus held the head of Medusa were turned into stone in the very act and posture of the moment when they saw it, says, "Death is such a power. What I am when death is held before me, that I must be forever. When my spirit goes, if God finds me hymning his praise, I shall hymn it in heaven: doth he find me breathing out oaths, I shall follow up those oaths in hell. As I die, so shall I live eternally!" 12
No: the true preparation for death and the invisible realm of souls is not the eager adoption of an opinion, the hurried assumption of a mood, or the frightened performance of an outward act: it is the patient culture of the mind with truth, the pious purification of the heart with disinterested love, the consecrated training of the life in holiness, the growth of the soul in habits of righteousness, faith, and charity, the organization of divine principles into character. Every real preparation of the soul for death must be a characteristic rightly related to the immortal realities to which death is the introduction of the soul. An evil soul is not thrust into a physical and fiery hell, fenced in and roofed over from the universal common; but it is revealed to itself, and consciously enters on retributive relations. In the spiritual world, whither all go at death, we suppose that like perceives like, and thus are they saved or damned, having, by the natural attraction and elective seeing of their virtues or vices, the beatific vision of God, or the horrid vision of iniquity and terror.
It cannot be supposed that God is a bounded shape so vast as to fill the entire circuits of the creation. Spirit transcends the categories of body, and it is absurd to apply the language of finite things to the illimitable One, except symbolically. When we die, we do not sink or soar to the realm of spirits, but are in it, at once, everywhere; and the resulting experience will depend on the prevailing elements of our moral being. If we are bad, our badness is our banishment from God; if we are good, our goodness is our union with God. In every world the true nature and law of retribution lie in the recoil of conduct on character, and the assimilated results ensuing. Take a soul that is saturated with the rottenness of depravity into the core of heaven, and it is in the heart of hell still. Take a soul that is compacted of divine
12 Sermons, 3d Series. Sermon XIV., Thoughts on the Last Battle.
realities to the very bottom of hell, and heaven is with it there.
We are treading on eternity, and infinitude is all around us. Now, as well as hereafter, to us, the universe is action, the soul is reaction, experience is the resultant. Death but unveils the facts. Pass that great crisis, in the passage becoming conscious of universal realities and of individual relations to them, and the Father will say to the discordant soul, "Alienated one, incapable of my embrace, change and come to me;" to the harmonious soul, "Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine."
Having thus considered the question as to the nature of future punishments, it now remains to discuss the question concerning their duration. The fact of a just and varied punishment for souls we firmly believe in. The particulars of it in the future, or the degrees of its continuance, we think, are concealed from the present knowledge of man. These details we do not profess to be able to settle much about. We have but three general convictions on the subject. First, that these punishments will be experienced in accordance with those righteous and inmost laws which indestructibly express the mind of God and rule the universe, and will not be vindictively inflicted through arbitrary external penalties. Secondly, that they will be accurately tempered to the just deserts and qualifications of the individual sufferers. And thirdly, that they will be alleviated, remedial, and limited, not unmitigated, hopeless, and endless.
Upon the first of these thoughts perhaps enough has already been said, and the second and third may be discussed together. Our business, therefore, in the remainder of this dissertation, is to disprove, if truth in the hands of reason and conscience will enable us to disprove, the popular dogma which asserts that the state of the condemned departed is a state of complete damnation absolutely eternal. Against that form of representing future punishment which makes it unlimited by conceiving the destiny of the soul to be an eternal progress, in which their initiative steps of good or evil in this life place different souls under advantages or disadvantages never relatively to be lost, we have nothing to object. It is reasonable, in unison with natural law, and not frightful.13 But we are to deal, if we fairly can, a refutation against the doctrine of an intense endless misery for the wicked, as that doctrine is prevailingly taught and received.
The advocates of eternal damnation primarily plant themselves upon the Christian Scriptures, and say that there the voice of an infallible inspiration from heaven asserts it. First of all, let us examine this ground, and see if they do not stand there only upon erroneous premises sustained by prejudices. In the beginning, then, we submit to candid minds that, if the literal eternity of future torment be proclaimed in the New Testament, it is not a part of the revelation contained in that volume; it is not a truth revealed by inspiration; and that we maintain for this reason. The same representations of the everlasting duration of future punishment in hell, the same expressions for an unlimited duration, which occur in the New Testament, were previously employed by the Hindus, Greeks, and Pharisees, who were not inspired, but must have drawn the doctrine from fallible sources. Now, to say the least, it is as reasonable to suppose that these expressions, when found in the New Testament, were