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A Treatise on Atonement, by Hosea Ballou

Hosea Ballou's 1805 work on Universalist theology, edited by Rev. Dan Harper.
Table of Contents.
Return to chapter 8.
Continue to chapter 10, Reasons for Believing in Universal Reconciliation.

Chapter 9: The Most Frequent Objections Answered

One of the objections on which the enemies of universal holiness and happiness put much dependence, and which they frequently urge against the doctrine, is stated from the force of unlimited words, as they find a few of them in scripture applied to the misery of the wicked. The forces of this objection I remove by proving that unlimited words are applied to things and events which are not strictly eternal or endless; and surely the candid reader will acknowledge this way of reasoning is just, and by no means evasive. I shall not labor this point largely, for it has been done faithfully by an able author whose works are among us.

I will only introduce a few scriptures, and make some observations on them for the benefit of those of my readers who have not seen the masterly work referred to. See Genesis., xvii. 7-8:

And I will establish my covenant between me and thee, and thy see after thee in their generations, for an everlasting covenant; to be a God unto thee and thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy see after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.

Verse 13:

He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised; and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.

In the above passage the land of Canaan is called an everlasting possession. Will my opponent contend the word everlasting here means an endless duration? Will he contend that Abraham now possesses the land wherein he was then a stranger, or that his seed do, or will, possess that land as long as God exists? If not, then the objection is given up.

Again, the covenant of circumcision of the flesh is called an everlasting covenant. Will the objector contend that the covenant of circumcision in the flesh is now in force, and that it will remain in force as long as God exists? It is evident, from scripture, that these ordinances and this covenant are removed, and succeeded by a covenant which is called a better one; see Heb. viii. 6-8:

But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the Mediator of a better covenant which was established upon better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, he saith, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.

In chap. ix. 10, the apostle argues that the ordinances of the first covenant were imposed on the people until the time of reformation. In Gen. xlviii. 3-4:

And Jacob said unto Joseph, God Almighty appeared unto me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and blessed me; and said unto me, behold, I will make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, and I will make of thee a multitude of people; and will give this land to thy seed after thee for an everlasting possession.

And he further said, in the blessing of Joseph (Gen. xlviii. 26):

The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bounds of the everlasting hills.

Exod. xl. 15:

And thou shalt anoint them (Aaron's sons) as thou didst anoint their father, that they may minister unto me in the priest's office; for their anointing shall surely be an everlasting priesthood throughout their generations.

Lev. xvi. 34:

And this shall be an everlasting statute unto you, to make an atonement for the children of Israel for all their sins once a year. And he did as the Lord commanded Moses.

The reader may learn the abolishment of the priesthood, from Heb. vii. 11-12:

If, therefore, perfection were by the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.

Jonah ii. 6:

I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me forever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O Lord my God.

Many more passages might be quoted to clear this point of argument, if more were necessary; but depending some, as I ought to, on the candor of my reader, I forbear to be tedious.


In the next place, I will take notice of a number of scriptures in connection, all of which have been erroneously applied to the future and endless misery of mankind. See Mal. iv. 1:

For behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven, and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble, and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.

Matt. iii. 10:

And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

Verse 12:

Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner, but the chaff we will burn with unquenchable fire.

Chap. v. 29-30:

And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee; for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

Chap. vii. 13-14:

Enter in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

Chap. xiii. 30:

Let both grow together until the time of harvest; and in time of harvest I will say unto the reapers, gather ye together, first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them; but gather the wheat into my barn.

The whole of Chap. xxv., which is too lengthy to be written at large. The last paragraph of Luke xvi. And 2 Thess. i. 7-9:

And to you who are troubled, rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power.

There are a number more scriptures of the like nature of the above quoted, to which I should be glad to attend, were it not for swelling this work too large. I will, however, after I have answered these in their order, take into consideration some others of a different kind. Those which I have quoted respect that dispensation which is represented by fire. Therefore in all the passages recited, it is evident the same fire is intended. "For behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven." In this same chapter, this day is called the great and dreadful day of the Lord, who promised to send Elijah the prophet before that day come, whose business should be to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest the Lord should smite the earth with a curse.


I inquire, first, concerning the coming of this prophet, in order to fix on a time for the commencement of this day of the Lord. That Elijah and Elias are the same, in scripture, no doubt will be entertained. Then turn to Matt. xvii. 12-13:

But I say unto you that Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed; likewise shall also the Son of Man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.

By this scripture it appears that the promise of the coming of Elijah the prophet was fulfilled by the coming of John the Baptist, who came in the spirit and power of Elias.

This evidently justifies the belief that the great and dreadful day of the Lord, to which the prophet alluded, would soon follow the coming of John the Baptist. Agreeably to this fact we find all which is written in the New Testament on the same subject. By careful attention to the instructions of Jesus, we shall find that all those scriptures were fulfilled in the generation in which he lived in the flesh. Matt. xvi. 27-28:

For the son of man shall come in the glory of his Father, with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. Verily I say unto you there be some standing here which shall not taste of death till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.

Respecting this passage we desire the reader to notice the following particulars: First. Jesus speaks of his coming in glory of his Father with his angels at some time them future. Second. He is careful to state, as the principal fact communicated in this passage, that when he should so come as he had described, he would render unto every man according to his works. Here we have a statement of a certain time, which would be a day of Judgment, in which every man would receive according to his works. This day of Judgment is unquestionably the day of Judgment elsewhere spoken of in the teaching of Jesus and his apostles. Third. Jesus is careful to fix the time of this judgment, not to a day nor to an hour, but emphatically does he limit it within the life-time of some of those to whom he spake.

Of this day of trial we read again in Mark viii. 38; ix. 1:

Whosoever, therefore, shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father, with the holy angels. And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, that there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.

Here I again request the reader to observe, that the same particulars, which were notices in respect to the former passage, are found to be contained in this. Luke ix. 26-27:

For whosoever shall be ashamed of me, and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father's , and of the holy angels. But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God.

What I desired the reader to observe in the former passages, he will also notice in this.
Should the objector contend, that the coming of Christ, in his glory, with his angels, to reward men according to their works, as set forth in the preceding passages, cannot be the same with his coming at the end of the world, of which mention is made in Matt. xxiv., I reply, by informing him that if he will so far divest himself of the prejudices of his education, as to give this subject a candid investigation, I soberly believe that he will arrive at an entire conviction that the coming of Jesus at the end of the world, of which he speaks in Matt. xxiv., did correspond with his coming as expressed in those passages above quoted, and did take place in the generation in which he lived on the earth.

But I deem it expedient to show that not only the coming of Christ, as pointed out in these scriptures, took place in that generation, but also that the "great and dreadful day of the Lord" which was to burn as an oven, by which all the proud, yea, and all who did wickedly became stubble, also came in that generation. And that this day was the end of the world, of which Jesus spake Matt. xxiv. Furthermore, that we have the following account of the same end of the world in Matt. xiii. 40-42:

As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

And moreover that within the same specified period all the dreadful judgments which he denounced were fulfilled.

Keep in mind how carefully Jesus stated, in the passages above quoted, that some of them to whom he spake should live to see the time of his coming with his angels to render unto every man according to his works, and pass to an examination of other passages. Matt. x. 23:

But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another; for verily, I say unto you, ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel till the son of man be come.

Here take particular notice of the following circumstances. First. The divine master is giving his disciples special directions in relation to the prudence which they would need to exercise while accomplishing the labours to which he had appointed them. Second. For a season this caution would be necessary on account of the persecutions to which the disciples would be exposed; but they were encouraged to expect a change for their benefit, when Jesus should come, according to his promises. In support of this fact see Luke xxi. 28-32:

And when these things begin to take place, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree and all the trees: when they new shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass away till all be fulfilled.

Third. The divine master certifies his disciples that they should not have past over the cities of Israel till he should come. This was fixing his coming within the time of their ministry. Look next at the war which Jesus denounced on his enemies, the Jews as recorded in Matt. xxiii. After a lengthy and a most severe annunciation of war on the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus brings this last address to them to a close, as follows (Matt. xxiii. 32-39):

Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers! how can ye escape the damnation of hell ? Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes ; and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city; that upon you may come all the righteous blood, shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, son of Barathias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, all these things shall come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings and ye would not! Behold your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.

Let the reader be careful to observe that according to this passage the damnation of hell and all the war here denounced were to come on that people in that generation.

After Jesus had finished this tremendous address which he delivered to the Jews, in their temple, the last time he spake there, we are informed Matt. xxiv. 1-2 that:

Jesus went out and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him, for to show him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said unto them, see ye not all these things, Verily I say unto you there shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.

This assurance which Jesus gave to his disciples, that of that beautiful temple not one stone should be left upon another that should not be thrown down, was in reference to what they had just heard him state in the temple concerning its desolation (chap. xxiv. 23):

And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?

Here be careful to observe that the things of which the disciples spake when they asked, "when shall these things be?" were those things of which Jesus had just spoken in the temple. In his reply to the questions which his disciples asked him, Jesus is careful to give clear and definite answers. He first warned them against being deceived by the many who would come in his name, and deceive many. Chap. xxiv, 6, etc.:

And ye shall hear of wars, and rumors of wars: See that ye be not troubled ; for all these things must xcome to pass, but the end is not yet.

It seems proper, in this place, to ask what Jesus meant by the end, which he said "is not yet." Surely the true answer to this question is found in the questions which his disciples asked him, to which he was then answering. The questions which they asked him were the following. "When shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" It was the end of world which Jesus said in verse 6, "is not yet." Jesus goes on to give further particulars concerning events which would come to pass before the end of the world; and speaks of the rising of nation against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and of earthquakes in diverse places. Also of the persecutions which the disciples should suffer; but tells them verse 13, "He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved"; and then adds (verse 14):

and this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world, for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.

That is the end of the world of which the disciples asked their Master. We have often heard preachers attempt to describe the end of the world, arid its attendant circumstances, with zeal and vehemency, in which they would speak of the dissolution of the earth, the dissolving of the sun, of the moon, and the stars; of the resurrection of all the dead, and of their coming to judgment; of the august appearance of Jesus surrounded with a multitude of the heavenly hosts, who are to wait on him while he sits in judgment to decide the destinies of the whole human family forever and ever. This scene they lay altogether in what they call eternity.

Such being the views entertained by the objector, he feels confident that the coming of Christ at the end of the world could not have taken place in that generation. But I would respectfully invite him to attend to certain descriptions which Jesus gave of the end of the world, and of certain circumstances which would attend it. He goes on thus (Matt. xxiv. 15-21):

When ye, therefore, shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place (whoso readeth let him understand) then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains: let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: neither let him which is in the field return to take any thing out of his house. And wo unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day! For there shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.

Concerning this description let us carefully notice several particulars:

First. Jesus gives his disciples to understand that at this end of the world they would see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place. If we turn to Daniel we may be satisfied whether the prophet spake of what would take place in this state of man's existence, or in what, is commonly called eternity. See Dan. ix, 26:

And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city, and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined.

Chap. xii. 11:

And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate, set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days.

Such descriptions may well apply to the calamitous wars which wasted the Jews, overthrew their city, and planted the Roman standard in the temple of God, even in the holy place. But we hardly think our objector will be disposed to apply such representations to events which are to take place in a future state.

Secondly. At the end of the world of which Jesus spake to his disciples, and when they should see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, he told them who were in Judea to flee into the mountains. This advice was undoubtedly very judicious, if the occasion of their flight was the dire calamity of war; but if the occasion were the annihilation of the material universe, the resurrection of all the dead, and the assembling of the whole human race to the solemnities of what is called the eternal judgment, it is difficult to understand how security could be obtained by fleeing into the mountains.

Thirdly. Jesus signified to his disciples that the end of the world would be a season of difficulty which would be augmented if it should happen in the winter or on the sabbath. These suggestions were very correct if they referred to temporal inconveniences; but it would be difficult to understand how to apply them to scenes in the invisible world.
Fourth. Jesus gave his disciples to understand that the troubles which would come on the people at the end of the world, would fall with peculiar inconvenience on such as should at that time be with child or should give suck to their infants. We have little doubt that our objector will see that these circumstances may apply much better to temporal inconveniences endured by females, during the terrible storm of war and the conquest of their city, than to any event in eternity of which we read in the scriptures.

That all these events, including the end of the world, the coming of the Son of man with his angels, etc, took place in the generation in which the Saviour lived on earth, we are fully certified by his own words which follow (Matt. xxiv. 30-35):

And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, and from one end of heaven to the other. Now learn a parable of the fig-tree; when his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: so likewise ye when ye, shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my word shall not pass away.

It seems worthy of special notice that in every instance in which Jesus spake of his coming to judge men, and to reward them according to their works, he expresses himself with peculiar emphasis, in limiting the time to the generation in which he lived. Matt xvi. 28: "Verily I say unto you," etc. Mark ix. 1: "Verily I say unto you," etc. Luke ix, 27: "But I tell you of a truth," etc. Matt. x. 23: "For Verily I say unto you," etc. Luke xxi. 32: "Verily I say unto you," etc. Matt, xxiii. 36: "Verily I say unto you," etc. Matt. xxiv. 34: "Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled." I think I am safe in saying that on no other one subject did Jesus express himself with more cautious emphasis. Have we not then great reason to marvel that so many of those who are professed disciples of Jesus, and who profess to preach his word to the people, should ever have so misconstrued his testimony as to represent his coming with his angels to reward men is to take place in some time which is now future, and in another state of man's existence?


After Jesus had certified his disciples that all those events of which he spoke would take place in that generation, he proceeded to say to them (Matt. xxiv. 36):

But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

And this circumstance he improved to show the necessity of due watchfulness in his disciples, that they might avail themselves of the benefits of his instructions, and make their escape from those calamities which were fast approaching. In the latter part of this chapter he strictly warned them to be on their guard, and duly apprised them of the danger which awaited them should they so far relax in their watchings as to become contentious and to eat and drink with the drunken, thinking that their Lord delayed his coming, assuring them that should any be found of this description, the Lord of such a servant would come in a day when he looked not for him, and in an hour that he would not be aware of, and would cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites; where there should be weeping and gnashing of teeth. As Jesus had, in hearing of his disciples, just delivered his last address to the scribes and Pharisees in the temple, and as he had denounced on them the most tremendous judgments, calling them hypocrites, which epithet he often repeated in that discourse; he now informs his disciples, being alone with them, that if any of them should so far apostatize as to conform their lives to the sinfulness of that wicked and perverse generation, they would of course fall into the same condemnation, which he had just denounced on those whom he called hypocrites, and would be subjected to the same awful calamities.

This, Jesus represented by the two following parables; that of the ten virgins, and that of the talents. Let it be duly observed, that the parables recorded in the xxv chapter of Matthew were all designed to represent the things which are stated in the xxiv chapter. -- The division of chapters very frequently disjoins a well connected discourse in such an abrupt manner as to entirely obscure the sense; unless the reader is careful, by disregarding this arbitrary division, to preserve the connection by reading directly on. When Jesus had stated to his disciples the danger they would expose themselves to, by getting off their guard, as has been noticed, he added (Matt. xxv. 1):

Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.

In order to preserve the connection in this reading, we ask the question when did Jesus mean that the kingdom of heaven should be likened unto ten virgins? He says, "Then...." And this word then begins the chapter.

Suppose a person sits down to read a chapter in the New Testament; and without paying any attention to any thing that is said in the twenty fourth chapter, begins the twenty fifth and reads it through, how could he understand what the three parables, which occupy the whole chapter, were designed to represent ? He would know nothing about the subjects for the illustration of which the parables were spoken. He would have no idea concerning the time to which the first word in the chapter referred. But by looking back we find that the word then refers to the time just mentioned, thus: "The Lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him," etc. But here we are not told when that day would be. We must then look back still farther. See chap. xxiv. 44:

Therefore be ye also ready; for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of man cometh.

This does not fix the time. The fact is, neither that day nor that hour are designated in the whole discourse. See chap. xxiv. 36 etc.:

But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

And: "But of that day and hour." What day and hour? That day must refer to some time of which notice had been taken before. Look back then to the two preceding verses (chap. xxiv. 34-35):

Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my word shall not pass away.

By this method, I arrive at the fact that Jesus spake of no time, of no day nor hour in all that follows these last words quoted, that was not limited to that generation.

By being thus cautious we find our subject all laid open as clearly as the sun shines. The parable of the ten virgins, and also that of the talents, were designed to set forth what the divine teacher had just stated respecting how it would fare with those who were his professed disciples, at the time when Jerusalem should be destroyed by the Romans. With this fact in the mind, read the last paragraph of the twenty fourth chapter, and the two first of the twenty fifth, in connection with one another.

The nuptial ceremonies among the Jews were familiar to the disciples of Jesus; and so was the custom of letting money at interest. These two customs he used to impress on their minds the necessity of being on their guard that they might be prepared for the occasion of their Lord's coming; and also duly to improve the gifts which he had bestowed on them, that at his coming they might be able to. present him with suitable improvements.

If I duly consider what I have here collected from the directions which Jesus gave to his disciples, and remember that he told them, as has been noticed, Matt. x. 23:

But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another; for verily I say unto you, ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel till the son of man be come,

I must not only feel a full conviction that the common use which has been made of these parables of the virgins and the talents is altogether foreign from the Saviour's meaning, but I must also feel no small surprise at such an egregious error.


We come now to notice the parable of the sheep and goats. Immediately following the conclusion of the parable of the talents, Jesus says (Matt. xxv. 32 etc.):

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory, etc.

Then follows an account of the judgment. Here let it be observed that the Saviour, having instructed his disciples respecting what he should require of them, and how they would be rewarded for their faithfulness, or punished for their delinquency, proceeds to represent the great distinction which would, at the same time, be made between these who should treat them kindly, and those who should neglect so to do.

Let us be duly cautious concerning the time of the coming of the Son of man, in his glory, and with his angels. In this parable he gives no intimation when this coming would take place, or when it ought to be expected. The reason why he did not mention the time is the same for which he did not point out the day nor hour of his coming in the preceding context. The reason, in all these cases, why he did not mention the particular time, was because he had explicitly stated that his coming with his angels would certainly be in that generation; but that of the day and the hour none but his Father in heaven knew. The reader is here requested to keep in mind all those passages which have been quoted, which speak of the coming of Jesus with his angels, etc., and to remember that they all expressly state that his coming would be during that generation.

It is contended by some that if the former parables in this twenty fifth chapter of Matthew refer to the time of that generation, this parable of the sheep and goats refers to a general judgment in the future state after the material universe is dissolved, and all mankind are raised into an immortal state. But surely there is not the least authority for this conclusion. There is nothing hinted respecting the dissolution of the material universe; not a word said about the resurrection of the dead.

In this parable of the sheep and goats we have the following particulars represented. First. The King, who sits as judge. Second. Two classes, one on the right hand of the King, the other on his left. These two classes are separated one from the other, and they are differently treated on account of the difference there was in their conduct to another, or a third class. This third class were the disciples of Jesus, to whom he spake the parable; and whom he calls his brethren. By this parable Jesus seemed to say to his disciples: -- Brethren, as you travel from city to city to publish the gospel of my kingdom, in my name, I shall regard every act of kindness and hospitality done to you, by people where you labor, as done to myself; and also all the cold hearted neglect which shall mark the conduct of people towards you, I shall consider as done to me. In agreement with this, see Matt. x. 40-42:

He that receiveth you, receiveth me; and he that receiveth me, receiveth him that sent me. He that receiveth a prophet, in the name of a prophet, shall receive a prophet's reward: and he that receiveth a righteous man, in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward. And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.

Verses 12-15:

And when ye come into an house, salute it. And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let you peace return to you. And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city shake off the dust of your feet. Verily I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city.


After having satisfied our minds respecting the time of the coming of the Son of man to judge and re ward men according to their works, and being assured that that event took place when Jerusalem was destroyed, and the Jews dispersed, it remains an easy task to settle the question respecting the meaning and fulfilment of all the passages in the New Testament which speak of that judgment, and the awful calamities which fell on that people. But we must always keep in mind the fact that all those scriptures were fulfilled in that generation in which Jesus and his disciples lived.

Let us notice the following passages in connection, as they evidently belong to the same subject. Matt. iii. 10:

And now also the axe is laid at the root of the trees: therefore, every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.

Verse 12:

Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into his garner, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.

Chap. v. 29-30:

And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee; for it is profitable for thee, that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

Chap. xiii. 30:

Let both grow together until the harvest; and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them; but gather the wheat into my barn.

2 Thess. i. 7-10:

And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired; in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed,) in that day.

That these and some other passages all refer to the same time and events as are pointed out in Matt. 24, and 25, which we have noticed, there will be no doubts with any. Those who are opposed to my views apply them all to a future state of punishment. It is therefore unnecessary to explain them separately. It is evident that the burning of the chaff, as expressed Matt. iii. 12, and the being cast into hell, expressed chap. v. 30, and the burning of the tares, of which we read chap, xiii, 30; and the being punished with everlasting destruction, recorded 2 Thess. i. 9, all mean the same thing. It is also evident that the end of the world, of which we read in Matt. xx. 24, which Jesus carefully and emphatically confined to the generation in which he lived, as we have fully seen, and the end of the world of which he spake in his exposition of the parable of the tares; see Matt. xiii. 40-42:

Therefore tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend and them that do iniquity, and shall cast them into a furnace, of fire; there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

The reader may be at a loss to know why Jesus should call the time of his coming to destroy Jerusalem, the end of the world. We say then it was because it was the end of the Jewish state and polity; and it was the commencement of a new era and a new order of things. The word rendered "world" should have been rendered "age." See Heb. ix. 26:

But now once, in the end of the world, hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

Also 1 Cor. x. 11:

Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples; and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.

Such an end of the world as our preachers are talking of, and which they use to frighten people, is now here spoken of in the scriptures.

That it was natural for Jesus to represent the sore afflictions which he saw coming on the house of Israel, by everlasting fire, by unquenchable fire, and by hell fire, we learn by referring to the language used to represent the same things in the Old Testament. See Ezekiel xxii. 18-22:

Son of man, the house of Israel is to me become dross; all they are brass, and tin, and iron, and lead in the midst of the furnace; they are even the dross of silver. Therefore saith the Lord God, because ye are all become dross, behold, therefore, I will gather you into the midst of Jerusalem. As they gather silver, and brass, and iron, and lead and tin into the midst of the furnace, to blow the fire upon it, to melt it; so will 1 gather you in my anger and in my fury, and I will leave you there, and melt you. Yea, I will gather you, and blow upon you in the fire of my wrath, and ye shall be melted in the midst thereof. As silver is melted in the midst of the furnace, so shall ye be melted in the midst thereof; and ye shall know that I the Lord have poured out my fury upon you.

Chap. xxi. 30-32:

Shall I cause it to return into his sheath? I will judge thee in the place where thou wast created, in the land of thy nativity. And I will pour out mine indignation upon thee; I will blow against thee in the fire of my wrath, and deliver thee into the hand of brutish men and skilful to destroy. Thou shalt be for fuel to the fire; thy blood shall be in the midst of the land;. thou shalt be no more remembered; for I the Lord have spoken it.

Isaiah ix. 19:

Through the wrath of the Lord of hosts is the land darkened, and the people shall be as the fuel of the fire; no man shall spare his brother.

In bringing the subject of those scriptures, which speak of consuming the wicked by fire, to a close, I judge it proper to notice that not only are those awful judgments which we have noticed represented by fire; but fire also is used to represent the purifying power of divine truth. And it is evident that both these uses of fire are embraced in those scriptures which we have passed in review. The following passage seems to present both these ideas: Mal. iii. 1-3:

Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me, and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fuller's soap. And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.

The same things appear in the passage in Matthew which has been noticed, chap. iii. 10-12:

And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees; Therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance; but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear; he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire; whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into his garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

Isaiah iv. 4:

When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof, by the spirit of burning.

The design and end of the divine judgments is clearly expressed by this prophet, chap. xxvii. 9:

By this, therefore, shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged; and this is all the fruit to take away his sin.

There is, perhaps, no passage of scripture on which more dependence is placed for proof positive of a state of punishment in a future world, and to all eternity, than the following: last paragraph of Luke xvi., verses 19-31:

There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich mans table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abrahams bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my fathers house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

In this parable, my opposers contend, we have a very plain and literal account of the death of a rich man, and of his being in hell after death; and the death of a poor man, and his future happiness. It is contended by the most of those who oppose the doctrine which we endeavor to vindicate that this paragraph ought to be taken and understood in its most literal sense, and that Christ did not intend it as a parable.

Though I am very far from believing this paragraph to be a literal account, yet I will admit it, for the better accommodation of the argument. For if I do not, but only give my opinion on the passage, my opponent will contend that the objection is not answered, as he rests it on the literality of the passage. Admitting the account just as literal as my opposer views it, is it possible for him to substantiate an objection against us from it? I think not; for, were it possible to prove that an individual who died in the days of Noah had continued from that time until now in a state of misery, it would have no force to prove that such individual would be miserable a single year longer, much less, to prove he would be endlessly so.

Further, could it be proved that a person who recently died would be in the worst of torments for a million of years to come, it would fall infinitely short of proving that he would suffer endlessly. If the suffering of a rational being for a time prove that this being must be endlessly miserable, the proof stands against the whole family of Adam, not excepting Jesus himself. If my opponent be under the necessity of giving me the argument in this particular, which I know he must, then what evidence has he left, in the scripture under consideration, to prove endless misery? If it be urged against me that the gulf between Abraham and the rich man was impassable, it proves nothing with regard to its duration.

Let us now examine the passage a little, taking notice of the common ideas of it. It is said that the rich man lifted up his eyes in hell. Now it is believed and argued that souls in hell are as destitute of any principle of goodness as the devil in which people believe; that they are folly engaged in the devil's service, and opposed to anything and all things which are favorable to the kingdom of the Saviour. This being the case, how is it that we have such an account of the prayer which the rich man made to his father Abraham in favor of his five brethren? He seems to be anxious for their welfare, and desires that they might not come into such a place of torment as he was in. How would such a prayer please Beelzebub, the prince of devils? Did I believe in such a being, according to the general idea which people have of him, I should suppose he would be very much alarmed on hearing such benevolent prayers made in his dark dominions! The prayer seems to favor the plan of Gospel grace more than the vile purposes of Satan, though it did not seem to dictate the matter exactly according to the divine purpose. It is generally believed that the devil is desirous of getting as many as possible into misery; if so, and the rich man desired that his brethren might not come into that place of torment, let his reasons be what they might, it is evident that his desires were opposed to the devil's. "A kingdom, divided against itself, cannot stand."

Again, it is argued by some that those who are in heaven will rejoice in consequence of the misery of those whom they see in torment, as the justice of God will, by their torments, be made to appear more glorious than it otherwise could, -- which, by the way, answers the most fervent desires of Satan. This being granted, should those who are in heaven, on seeing those in hell, who, in this world, were their nearest connections, feel the smallest regret, much more, desire to grant them assistance, it would be a complete violation of that justice which confined them there. But in our text, it is shown that those who are in Abraham's bosom are desirous of going to the rich man, and their object is plainly seen, that it is to relieve him from his torments, see Luke xiv. 26, "So that those who would pass from hence to you cannot." It is very evident that those who were in Abraham's bosom were desirous of assisting the rich man; and according to the common idea, it must have been deemed a rebellion against the will and justice of God, in consequence of which, if the devil deserved to be cast out of heaven for his disobedience, these undoubtedly deserved the same condemnation!

If we look impartially into these things, it is easy to see that something wrong has been entertained in the common idea. By a little attention to the introduction of this paragraph in Luke, the reader may easily see the whole was intended as a similitude, to show the adultery which the high priest would commit in rejecting the Gospel, and endeavoring to obtain justification by attending to the law in the letter; and also the situation of that part of Israel that was broken off through unbelief, which is represented by St. Paul, Rom. xi. 7-10:

What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded. (According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day. And David saith, let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumbling-block, and a recompense unto them : let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway.

See Matt. xxi. 43:

Therefore say I unto you, the kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.

How evidently this agrees with the words of Abraham to the rich man in the parable (Luke xvi. 25):

Son, remember that in thy life time thou hadst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.

Matt. xxi. 31:

Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, that the publicans and harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.

Acts xiii. 45-47:

But when the Jews saw the multitudes they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming. Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, it was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you; but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles; for so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldst be for salvation unto the ends of the earth.

It seems, according to the scriptures, that it was so ordered, in the wisdom of God, that the Jews, who were his chosen people, should, through unbelief, be broken off from their own olive-tree, and that the Gentile church should be grafted in. See Rom. xi. 17, 24. This subject is, doubtless, that which the parable of the rich man and Lazarus was designed to represent. But that the Jews were broken off through unbelief, so that they were never to be grafted in again; or that their fall was such as to preclude recovery is certainly very fully refuted by the Apostle of the Gentiles, in the chapter to which we have before alluded. See Rom. xi. 11-12:

I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid; but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness.

Verse 15:

For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be but life from the dead?

See also the whole remainder of the chapter. But particularly notice verses 25-26:

For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceit; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, there shall come out of Zion the deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob!

Observe how the following passages correspond; one from the parable, the other from the history of the fact: Abraham says, "Besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed; so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot: neither can they pass to us that would come from thence." "Blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in." This blindness which happened to Israel constituted, between them and Abraham's faith called in the parable his bosom, an impassable gulf. See John xii. 37-41:

But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him; that the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? And to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, he hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart, that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. These things said Esaias when he saw his glory, and spake of him.

If my opposer contend that what I here call the parable of the rich man and Lazarus ought not to be called a parable, because it is not so called where it is recorded, I deem it sufficient that I refer to a passage which I will not hesitate to call a parable, but which is not said in the scripture where it occurs, to be a parable. See Judges ix. 8-15. The passage begins thus: The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive-tree, reign thou over us. The olive-tree refuses. They next apply to the fig-tree, and that refuses. They next apply to the vine, and the vine refuses. They at last all go to the bramble, where they succeed in obtaining a king.

If I am told that the cases are by no means parallel, because every body knows that trees never talked to each other, and that they never wanted a king to reign over them, I reply: these well known facts are no better known than it is known that the eyes of a dead man in the grave see nothing, and that his ears hear nothing, and that his tongue feels nothing, and that his lips say nothing. If my opposer says that the rich man was not in the grave, but in hell, he is informed that the word which is here rendered hell is the same word which is rendered grave 1 Cor. xv. 55: "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" Now if he contend that this hell is a place of torment in the invisible world, he must grant that it will be overcome; for the apostle adds (verses 56-57),

The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

But I would have it distinctly understood, that I do not believe that the parable has any reference to the state of man in the future world.

There is a passage in Matt. xii. 31-32 which has been contended for as an unanswerable objection to universal salvation. The text reads thus:

Wherefore I say unto you, all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men; but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him; but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world nor in the world to come.

The common idea of this world and the world to come is the present life of man on earth, and that state in which man exists here after. Could it be proved that this was the right meaning of the word "world," there would be something more in the text than we can now see. Some, who have ably defended the doctrine of universal salvation have admitted the common idea of the passage, so far as it goes to prove future misery; yet have abundantly proved that it would come to an end. But if the word "world" have the signification of age or dispensation, as will not be disputed, it will be impossible to prove that anything beyond what may be experienced by men in this mortal state was intended in this text.

We are informed that Christ came once in the end of the world, to put away sin, by the sacrifice of himself. The world, in the end of which Christ came, was undoubtedly the dispensation of the legal priesthood; according to which idea, the world, which was then to come, is the dispensation of Gospel light which rose on the Gentile world, for the purpose of bringing them to the knowledge and worship of the true God; which dispensation ends with the conversion of the fulness of the Gentiles, and will be succeeded by that in which Israel will be visited by the spirit of their Messiah, and shall say, Blessed is he who cometh in the name of the Lord.

What I have written on this subject will show the reader the propriety of supposing that the sin which the Pharisees committed in blaspheming the Holy Spirit, by which Christ wrought miracles, has been visited upon their descendents even to this day, and will continue upon them until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. But I see no need of carrying the meaning of these words to an endless eternity, or even beyond the experience of man in this natural life. Therefore, admitting the doctrine of future punishment true, I cannot see it proved from these words.

Could it be proved that eternal or endless misery was a natural production of the divine nature, there being an unchangeable principle to support such misery; the argument on my part must be given up. If sin be, in a moral sense, the cause of misery; should sin ever be brought to an end, its consequences, which are misery, would also come to an end. If my opponent can tell me how Jesus will finish sin, and make an end of transgression, and yet sin and transgression continue as long as God exists, he will embarrass me more than all his objections have been able to do.

Continue to chapter 10, Reasons for Believing in Universal Reconciliation.
Table of Contents.

Paragraphing and some punctuation altered for clarity. See the Preface to the 2011 Web Edition. Thanks to Rev. Scott Wells for an early version of this chapter.