The elders and messengers of the several churches met in Association, in the city of New York, October 5th, 1790.
To the several churches in union with this Association, send greeting.
Dearly beloved, -- We are happy, at the close of our annual meeting, that we can say, it was agreeable and comfortable through the whole. We had refreshing news from several churches in our connection, as well as from the Associations that correspond with us. It is matter of joy, and calls for acknowledgment and giving of thanks, that peace and good order so generally prevail, and that the work of the Lord is carried on with power in many places. We have, however, to lament, that there are some appearances, in two or three of our churches, of the leprosy of universal salvation, which, perhaps, the Lord may permit to spread, that they which are approved may be made manifest. But, when we see such an Achan, such a troubler of Israel, in the camp, we may well suspect the Lord has a controversy with us. It behoves us, then, to humble ourselves, to implore the divine mercy, and to do our endeavor to prevent the spreading of so dangerous a plague. To this end we have concluded to address you at this time on the aforesaid subject.
The notion of universal salvation, as now propagated, is explained two ways. Some of them say that there is no hell, or, if there be, that there shall not any of the human race be sent there, but that all, good and bad, shall be taken to heaven together. Others say, that though there be a place of future punishment, and though some of the human race are sent thither for a time, yet that they all finally shall be released, and brought safe to heaven.
We doubt not, dear brethren, but it will seem strange to such of you as may not have heard these things before, that any who pretend to be the ministers of Christ, should advance such dangerous notions. Yet so it is. He who, in the beginning, gave divine revelation the lie, when he said to the woman, "Ye shall not surely die," has ever since been going about, like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour; and endeavoring, by various means, to deceive and lull asleep, and among others, by endeavoring to evade the force of divine truth.
As for the first of these notions, namely, that not any of the human race are ever sent to a place of future punishment, but that all, good and bad, are taken to heaven, we shall say but little to it; not only because we have no room, but also because we deem it unnecessary. The Scripture, on the one hand, is so express, particular, and positive, and, on the other, the methods they take to evade these Scriptures are so disingenuous, and their endeavors to accommodate other Scriptures to their own views so trifling, that it is hard for any one to believe that they believe themselves, or that they can be serious and in earnest, when the Scriptures positively and without equivocation say, "the wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God," Ps. ix. 17. "That the whole body should be cast into hell," Matt. v. 29. "To be cast into hell fire," Matt. xviii. 9. "How can ye escape the damnation of hell," Matt. xxiii. 33. "To be cast into hell," Mark ix. 45, 47. "And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torment," Luke xvi. 23; besides a number of other places. What need we more, not to mention the dissolute manners which might be expected to attend, and which actually have been the consequences of so licentious a tenet, as that of which we are speaking.
The other way of explaining this notion, namely, that, though some of the human race are sent to a place of future punishment for a time, yet that they shall all finally be released, and brought safe to heaven; this merits more attention, because it is more plausible, though not more true.
Here we shall consider,
I. That the Scripture is express against it.
II. That there are no Scriptures for it.
III. That there can be none, since it would be likely to do much hurt, but could do no good.
IV. And lastly, that if the notion was in some degree likely to be true, yet that it would be safest to reject it.
I. The Scripture expressly says that future punishment will be for ever, 2 Pet. ii. 17; Jude, verse 13; for ever and ever, Rev. xx. 10; xiv. 11; xix. 3.
And we read of "eternal damnation," Mark iii. 29; "eternal judgment," Heb. vi. 2; "eternal fire," Jude, verse 7; "everlasting fire," Matt. xxv. 41; xviii. 8; "everlasting punishment," Matt. xxv. 26; and of one sin that "it shall not be forgiven, neither in this world, neither in the world to come," Matt. xii. 32. In this absolute manner is expressed the endless duration of the awful denunciations of the wrath of God; and to cut off all pretence of every possible evasion, there are three things remarkable:
1. That the eternal duration of the punishment of the wicked, is expressed in the very same words as eternal duration in general, Dan. ii. 20.
2. In the very same words also, whereby the eternal duration of the happiness of the righteous is expressed, Dan. xii. 2; Rev. xxii. 5; John iii. 16; Matt. xxv. 26.
3. Nay, in the very same words whereby the eternal duration of God himself is expressed, Gen. xxi. 33; Psalm xc. 2; Dan. vii. 27; Lam. v. 19; Deut. xxxii. 40.
II. Since the awful subject before us is so clearly revealed in the word of God, it may seem trifling to undertake to show that there is no Scripture in favor of a release from future punishment, as if it might be possible for Scripture to say and unsay, to speak for and against the same thing. Nevertheless, it may be of use to mention the principle Scriptures that are pretended to hold forth a redemption from hell, in order to show, that beside the foregoing reason, there are generally reasons sufficient, arising out of the texts themselves and contexts, to show that they mean no such thing as they are brought to prove.
Thus, for instance, the "all men" in 1 Tim. ii. 4, can never mean every individual of the human race, for there are some "who were before ordained unto condemnation," and are "vessels of wrath fitted for destruction," (Jude 4; Rom. ix. 22;) but rather all sorts of men as ver. 1, kings and peasants, rich and poor, bond and free, male and female, young and old; and who are therefore to be prayed for: nor can 2 Pet. iii. 9, admit of such an interpretation; for this means not any of the us mentioned before, or the beloved in the first verse: nor 1 John ii, 2, which means that the benefits of Christ were not to be confined to the Jews only, but to be extended to the Gentiles also; nor Rom, v. 18, for here the first and second Adams and their respective offspring are put in opposition, showing that as the offspring of the one was lost by his sin, the offspring of the other shall be saved by his grace; the one offspring condemned for one offence the other saved from many; nor Col. i. 20, for all here must be understood in a limited sense; for it cannot include angels in heaven, who could not be reconciled to God, since they never had been in a state of irreconciliation: all the elect of God then are meant who are spoken of as reconciled by the blood of the cross. Nor Eph. i. 10, which only says, that all in Christ shall be brought together, but not those who never were in him, and die in their sins; nor 1 Cor. xv. 22; for this speaks of the resurrection of the body from natural death, not of a resurrection from spiritual death. Nor Rom. xi. 32, which speaks of having mercy on all, that is, on all that believe, as in the parallel place, Gal. iii. 22. Nor Zech. Ix. 11, for these are the words of Christ to the Jewish church, comforting them in the prospect of the favor that should be shown them by Cyrus, and comparing their distressed situation in the Babylonish captivity, to the situation of one in a pit, wherein was no water: and it is said this deliverance should be wrought in virtue of the covenant made in their behalf, which is therefore called their covenant. Nor Rev. xx. 13; for this speaks of gathering them from all quarters to the general judgment, who in the next verse are said to be cast into the lake of fire. Nor Heb. xii. 23; for here all the saved are said to be the first born, to denote their excellency, high privileges, right of priesthood, and large inheritance. Nor James i. 18; for the first fruits here means all the saved, as in the last, who are separated and distinguished by grace from others, as the first fruit was wont to be from the crop, and consecrated to God as that was. Nor 1 Cor. xv. 25, 28, and Phil. ii, 10; Rev. v. 13; for these are only expressive of the universal dominion of Christ, and of homage and adoration paid him on that account. Nor Ezek. xvi. 53, 55; for, if Sodom was to be restored, it must be to its former state, which was a very bad one. If restored should be understood in an improper sense, then by Sodom may be understood the Gentile nations, who were like unto Sodom in practice, Deut. xxxii. 32; Isa, i. 10; Jer. xxiii. 14; Rev. xi. 8; and Israel, by Samaria, who shall be restored when all the Jews, with the fu[l]lness of the Gentiles, shall be brought in at the time of the latter day glory, Or that when Sodom and Samaria should return to their former state, then the Jews should to theirs: as much as to say, they never should, as they never were. For, though many of them returned from the Babylonish captivity, yet they were never restored to their former state and glory. And besides, it is expressly said, with respect to "Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them," that they "are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire," Jude, verse 7.
Thus, brethren, we have cited the principal passages brought in support of this wild notion of universal salvation, and you see how little they are to the purpose. Thus it is that people in a strait will catch at any thing.
III. Further, it is not only manifest that there is no text to support such a notion, but that there cannot be such a text. It cannot be that the Divine being has published any thing that would be, not only contrary to those plain texts, that speak positively of the eternal duration of future punishment, but that it would also be perfectly useless, and at the same time dangerous. If the wicked were ever to be released from hell, time enough to let them know it after they get there, and not before, to encourage them in sin. To give them so much as a hint of it in this life, would be exactly the same as if the Divine Being, when he prohibited the use of the forbidden tree, had told Adam, that if he should eat of that tree, he would contrive a way for his escape, of which we know that not the least item was given before the fall, and indeed than which nothing could be more unworthy the Divine Being. So that if there was any passage within the lids of the Bible that gave information of a release from hell, we might be sure, such a text could never be the word of God.
IV. We only add, that if the notion of restoration from hell was in some degree probable, which it is not, yet it would be much safest to reject it altogether; for if those who place dependence on it should at last find themselves mistaken, awful will be the disappointment. On the other hand, those who place no dependence on it, but seek to avoid future punishment, by placing their dependence on a better hope, if they should be mistaken, they will nevertheless share equal benefit with others.
Let us, therefore, carefully avoid a notion so unscriptural, so useless, and at the same time so dangerous. But, beloved, of you we hope better things, though we thus speak. We do not apprehend much danger, but judge it seasonable, and that it might be of use to give a word of caution.
"Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory, with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen."
JAMES MANNING, Moderator. WILLIAM VANHORN, Clerk.
N. B. The clerk takes the liberty of informing those who wish to see the subject discussed more at large, that they will find their attention amply rewarded by reading "Edwards against Chauncey."
[From Philadelphia Baptist Association Minutes, 1790. The title is added. - jrd]
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