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city will be as well prepared for future happiness as the poor christians who are doomed to wear out a lingering life in wretchedness. Now is it possible to suppose
that men of common sense with this knowledge could have pursued such a ridiculous course? Is not the very supposition absurd in the highest degree? Is there one single trait of human nature discoverable in the whole business? Suppose you knew that New Orleans was to be destroyed next year, and that all the inhabitants who perished would enjoy heavenly happiness the moment they entered the next conscious existence. Suppose you also knew that by exposing yourself to the most cruel sufferings for some months you could induce a number of the people to embrace your religion, and that those whom you converted would ave the city and with you must live a life of almost continual sorrow. Would you enter upon missionary labors under such conditions ? If your doctrine of universalism be true this is the precise situation in which the Savior and his apostles were placed. Let your own feelings be a test of the truth of your system. I cannot enlarge, but must request you to give these questions your candid consideration.
What then is the testimony of the New Testament on the subject in controversy? You have seen that your Savior and his apostles were not rewarded according to their deeds; and consequently that no perfect retribution takes place on earth. You have also seen that their declarations confirm this conclusion, and sequently they had no belief in the equitable distribution of rewards and punishments in the present exist
You have likewise seen that they gave no encouragement to your belief either by their words or the course they pursued; and consequently your opinion on this point derives no support from their authority. Is not my second argument conclusive?
III. My third argument for believing that a perfect retribution does not take place in this world is drawn from the unequal operation of human governments. You have already seen that sin itself does not always and fully punish the sinner; and that goodness itself does not always and fully reward the virtuous. The only remaining course for establishing your position is to prove that these natural inequalities in happiness and misery are rectified by human legislation. But here also you are doomed to meet disappointment. For the argument from the operation of human laws is conclusive in my favor. My limits will permit me to select but a few examples.
1. Human laws provide no rewards for the virtuous. The depraved receive equal benefit with the holy. Look into society. You see a man who is thoroughly christian in his whole character; in the purity of his motives; in the regulation of his thoughts; in the government of his appetites and passions; in his dealings and social intercourse; in his benevolent feelings and common conversation; in his devotion to the performance of all his incumbent duties. He sincerely endeavors to imitate the example, obey the precepts, imbibe the spirit and submit to the authority of his chosen master. No one can justly accuse him of a disregard of the laws of man or his maker. You notice his next neighbor. He is thoroughly unprincipled. He indeed endeavors to escape the penalties of the laws of the commonwealth. But this is all. He defrauds his creditors; he slanders his acquaintances; he draws the young into dissipation; he abuses his wife and family; he blasphemes every thing sacred; in short he is a scoundrel of the most advanced degree. Now both these receive equal benefits from our government. Their reward from the state is the same. And what is this? Why, their rights, liberty, property and reputation are equally protected. This is nearly all the good that human legislation pretends to effect; no distinctions can well be made between the righteous and wicked. If you call public offices of any value, you will find that men of little or no principle are frequently promoted to posts of honor, and trust, and emolument; and in some nations such individuals are the most likely to obtain these miserable prizes. It is therefore perfectly evident in the first place, that human legislation does not contribute to establish a perfect earthly retribution, because it can make no discrimination between the most depraved and the most holy, but must confer its benefits on all alike, whether wicked or righteous.
2. Human laws do not always punish the guilty; the innocent sometimes suffer in their stead. Look at a record of the great crimes which have been committed in our own country during the past century. Enumerate the cases of theft, slander, arson, rape, robbery, piracy, murder. How many of the criminals escaped the penalty of human laws? The number is not small. If those who were detected and punished suffered no more than their iniquities demanded, then those who escaped both detection and punishment have not received an equal share of mis ry. In either case the retribution is not perfect. Not only so. Many of the innocent have been condemned with and for the guilty. They have suffered for crimes which they never committed. They have not been able to convince their judges of their innocence. And for want of satisfactory evidence they have been doomed to disgrace and punishment. And surely this is not a case of perfect retribution. Examples of both kinds might be selected; names and dates might be mentioned; but as facts of this character are within the knowledge of every
intelligent man, I need not enlarge.
Neither you nor any
one will deny the correctness of my statements. If then human laws do not always punish the guilty, and do sometimes punish the innocent, there can be no perfect retribution in these instances. Consequently the evidence against your position from this source is perfectly conclusive.
3. Human laws do not proportion punishment to the criminality of the offence. In England many crimes of a very trifling character are punishable by death. In this commonwealth but few of any description are considered capital. Now a man may forfeit his life, either by the stealing of a horse, or by murdering a whole family. You perceive there is a very great difference in the degrees of guilt, but no difference is made in the punishment. So also many criminal practices are wholly overlooked by other governments. Go into more despotic regions and you will find slight offences severely punished while flagrant vices are unnoticed. You must see that no human being can make laws for all cases, or can proportion punishment to crime, or can make the necessary allowances for palliating circumstances. Consequently there can be no perfect earthly retribution in the many cases of this kind that might be selected.
4. Many crimes cannot be punished by human laws. Illustrations of this remark are constantly occurring. You have known a very respectable man pressed for money. His family were suffering for the necessaries of life. He forged a check upon one of our banks, and obtained perhaps five hundred dollars. He was detected, tried, condemned, disgraced, punished, ruined. His nearest neighbor engages largely in business. He gets a vast amount of property in his possession.
He secures a large proportion of it beyond the reach of his creditors. He stops payment. The remaining stock
pays a few cents on a dollar. Many an honest laborer is defrauded; many an industrious mechanic is injured; much of the earnings of industry and perseverance are lost. After a time the bankrupt commences his business anew, is permitted to retain his rank in society, lives at his ease on his ill-gotten wealth. Now is not his crime almost infinitely greater than the forgery? Why then should not his punishment be as severe? Can you call this a perfect earthly retribution? And are there not hundreds and thousands of similar instances to be mentioned in this connexion? Do they not prove beyond all dispute that men are not always rewarded and punished according to their deeds in this world?
What then is the testimony of legislation on the question in controversy? You have seen that human laws are and must be unequal in their operation; they furnish no reward for the righteous; they punish the innocent occasionally and frequently permit the guilty to escape; they cannot proportion punishment to the degrees of criminality, nor take cognizance of many and aggravated offences. Consequently they prove beyond all doubt that a perfect retribution does not take place in the present existence. Is not my third argument then perfectly unanswerable?
IV. My fourth argument for believing that a perfect retribution does not take place in this world is drawn from the unequal operation of circumstances. The happiness and misery of mankind are much affected by the situations in which they are placed. Many are punished for doing what is right in itself; and many are rewarded for doing what is wrong in itself. If this is in any degree the fact there can be no perfect distribution of temporal rewards and punishments. Many examples might be selected, but my limits will permit me to notice but a small number,