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LETTER II. :
MY DEAR SIR,
You contend that a perfect retribution does not take place in the present existence. You believe that the righteous are always and equitably and fully rewarded by their righteousness; and that the wicked are always and equitably and fully punished by their wickedness. Now I feel confident that your belief on this point has no foundation in reality or revelation. And I will endeavor to prove that no perfect retribution takes place in this world. I contend that the righteous are not. always and equitably and fully rewarded by their righteousness; and that the wicked are not always and equitably and fully punished by their wickedness. Some of the evidence which establishes the truth of my positions I will now present to your consideration.
I. My first argument for believing that a perfect retribution does not take place in the present existence is drawn from the Old Testament. You admit that Moses was divinely commissioned, and that the prophets and other writers of the hebrew scriptures were divinely
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inspired. Consequently any clear evidence from these ancient writings in proof of my positions must be satisfactory and conclusive. My limits will permit me to select but a few particulars.
1. I appeal to the testimony of Moses. He repeatedly declares that punishments were inflicted on the disobedient. Consequently sin itself does not punish the sinner sufficiently. This is the practical declaration of the omniscient Jehovah. Turn to the book of Leviticus and you will find the following command. take a wife and her mother, it is wickedness; they shall be burnt with fire, both he and they.” Now if sin itself punishes the sinner sufficiently, then this burning was altogether more punishment than the guilty really deserved. Consequently you must admit either that Moses under the divine direction inflicted undeserved and unjust punishment, or that your belief in the sufficient punishment of sin itself is erroneous. Turn to the book of Numbers and you may read these words. " And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man who had gathered sticks on the sabbath day. And the Lord said unto Moses, the man shall be surely put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp. And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones and he died.” Now if the sin of disobedience to the divine law had punished the offender sufficiently of itself, then the stoning to death was a cruel infliction which he did not deserve. Consequently you must admit either that the Lord commanded an unjust and undeserved punishment, or that your belief in a perfect earthly retribution is incorrect. This argument may be thus summarily stated. Various severe punishments were threatened in the mosaic law; they were inflicted upon the several transgressors to the very letter; con
sequently the sin itself does not always punish the sinner sufficiently; or the Lord authorized cruel and undeserved inflictions. Take which horn of the dilemma you please. For my own part I believe the Almighty is perfect in knowledge, and of course that the argument from this source that sin does not always punish the sinner sufficiently is perfectly unanswerable. Many more instances of a similar character might be selected, but these are sufficient for all present purposes. Leviticus 20, 14. Numbers 15, 32.
2. I appeal to the prophets and other writers of the hebrew scriptures. They repeatedly affirm that a perfect retribution does not take place in this world. Consequently their testimony must be invalidated before your theory can be established. Turn to the confession of Ezra. “ Thou our God hast punished us less than our iniquities.” Now if God punished them less than their iniquities deserved, then a perfect retribution did not take place in this instance. Consequently you must admit either that this writer made a false assertion, or that your belief in a perfect earthly retribution is
Listen to the words of David, • He hath not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.” Now if God did not punish them exactly according to their wickedness, then no perfect retribution took place in this instance. Consequently you must admit either that the Psalmist deliberately penned a falsehood, or that your theory is plainly contradicted in the scriptures. What does the Lord declare by the mouth of Ezekiel. “ And he shall know that I am the Lord, when I have wrought with you for my name's sake, not according to your wicked ways, not according to your corrupt doings.” Now if the Almighty did not deal with them precisely according to their iniquities, then a perfect retribution did not take
place in this instance. Consequently you must either deny the truth of the divine declaration, or admit the incorrectness of your opinions. What is the assertion of Solomon? “ There be just men, unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked; again there be wicked men to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous.
Now if the wicked were blessed and the righteous cursed, then surely no perfect retribution took place in this instance. Consequently you must either accuse the wise man of publishing an untruth, or admit the correctness of my positions. The argument from this source may be thus summarily stated. The sacred writers repeatedly affirm that the righteous are not always and fully rewarded, and that the wicked are not always and fully punished. Now they have either asserted numerous falsehoods or your belief in a perfect earthly retribution is erroneous. Take which horn of the dilemma you please. For my own part I believe these holy men who spoke as they were moved by the divine spirit declared the literal truth in all these examples, and consequently the argument for my positions from this quarter is perfectly unanswerable. Many more passages of a similar character might be produced were it necessary for the support of my opinions. Ezra 9, 13. Psalms 103, 10. Ezekiel 20, 44. Ecclesiastes 8, 14.
3. I appeal to the various cruelties which were inflicted on the ancient worthies. You will admit that they were tormented in the most inhuman and barbarous manner. Now
that their sinfulness deserved all this punishment, or admit that they were not rewarded according to their goodness. Turn to the epistle to the Hebrews, and you will find the following affecting account of their persecutions. “They had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea moreover of
bonds and imprisonments; they were stoned; they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword; they wandered about in sheep-skins and goat-skins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; of whom the world was not worthy; they wandered in deserts and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth." admit the correctness of this description. You also acknowledge that these injured individuals were among the most acceptable worshippers of the only true God. You must likewise grant that the wicked inflicted these cruelties in a very great degree, because they were righteous and reproved iniquity. Now are you ready to affirm that these distinguished worthies enjoyed as much happiness as their goodness merited? Are you willing to aver that they suffered no more misery than their transgression deserved? All this you must do in order to establish your belief in a perfect earthly retribution. And this is not all. If you declare that they were tormented no more than their iniquities demanded, then you must show how their enemies received a degree of punishment in proportion to their more aggravated sinful
But if you allow that their trials were more severe than their depravity required, then you abandon your ground of a perfect earthly retribution. This argument then may be thus summarily stated. Many of the best men of the ancient church were most barbarously treated. Either they suffered no more punishment than their iniquities demanded, and enjoyed as much happiness as their excellencies deserved; or no perfect retribution took place in the examples quoted. Either their persecutors experienced much greater degrees of torment on account of their more aggravated sinfulness, of which we have no account on record, or no perfect retribution took place in these particular instances. Take which side of the dilemma you please. For my