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Retribution in the Light of Reason.

Retribution in the Light of Reason.

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Published by glennpease

BY AUSTIN PHELPS, D.D.


PART I.

The foregoing discussions on the subject of
Retribution have given rise to a considerable cor-
respondence. One letter from a stranger to me,
an intelligent and earnest unbeliever in the doc-
trine of endless punishment, has called forth this
reply. I am not at liberty to publish the letter of
my correspondent ; but the answer is given here,
though greatly enlarged, in the hope that it may
suggest to other minds one way of putting the
doctrine which is not open to the objections which
are urged against it in other forms.

BY AUSTIN PHELPS, D.D.


PART I.

The foregoing discussions on the subject of
Retribution have given rise to a considerable cor-
respondence. One letter from a stranger to me,
an intelligent and earnest unbeliever in the doc-
trine of endless punishment, has called forth this
reply. I am not at liberty to publish the letter of
my correspondent ; but the answer is given here,
though greatly enlarged, in the hope that it may
suggest to other minds one way of putting the
doctrine which is not open to the objections which
are urged against it in other forms.

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Published by: glennpease on Apr 10, 2014
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RETRIBUTIO I THE LIGHT OF REASO.BY AUSTI PHELPS, D.D. PART I. The foregoing discussions on the subject of Retribution have given rise to a considerable cor- respondence. One letter from a stranger to me, an intelligent and earnest unbeliever in the doc- trine of endless punishment, has called forth this reply. I am not at liberty to publish the letter of my correspondent ; but the answer is given here, though greatly enlarged, in the hope that it may suggest to other minds one way of putting the doctrine which is not open to the objections which are urged against it in other forms. Dear Sir, — I thank you for the frankness and courtesy of your letter. I recognize in it the thought of an earnest mind with which it is a pleasure to confer, whether we can agree, or not, in our ultimate beliefs. The most that I can hope to do in manuscript reply, is possibly to put the doctrine of retribution into a different form from that in which you have been accustomed to con- ceive of it, and to deny it. It is a subject on ill 112 My Study: and Other Essays. which the vital question turns on the way we put things. If I succeed in making it clear that there is a way of putting it in which it is not open to the odium with which you now associate it, you will not think your time lost in reflecting upon
 
the following suggestions ; viz., — 1. The doctrine as I would state it in its sim- plest form is this : That endless sin must be pun- ished with endless misery. It is not that the sin of an hour or of one lifetime will be visited with eternal pains, except as it involves the sequence of eternal sin. God, in the administration of His government, adjusts results to actual conditions, not to conditions only possible or conceivable. He adjusts punishment to character as it is in the concrete, not to sin in the abstract. It is in one sense true, therefore, that man is punished for ever for the sins of this life, but only as the sins of this life create a character which will perpetuate sin for ever. We involve ourselves in hopeless confusion if we attempt to frame a conception of the divine government in the abstract, as related to character in the abstraet. God deals with things as they are. He deals with a sinful char- acter as a whole. Time and eternity are not sepa- rated in His decrees, and the one set over as a balance to the other. Both form one destiny. Sin is punished for what it is, and so long as it is. This is just. Both reason and revelation teach, that, so long as a man sins, so long he must suffer ; and this is the doctrine of endless punishment. Retribution in the Light of Reason. 113 Unending sin will involve unending suffering. Revelation teaches that some men will sin for ever ; therefore they must suffer for ever. This to reason seems intrinsically right. Does it not? o moral instincts which are loyal to God revolt from it as an outrage. Why should they? More than this, endless pain to endless
 
'sin is inevitable in the nature of things. Sin and suffering are indissoluble evils. Where the one is, there the other must be. What the one is, that the other must be in intensity. As well think to separate pain from a lacerated nerve as from an outraged conscience. As well expect to pierce your eyeball with a lancet painlessly as to save from misery a moral being whose nature is once gangrened through and through with a sense of guilt. A guilty being has only to discover him- self as he is, to be overwhelmed with suffering for ever. That discovery is inevitable in eternity. There are no shams in a spiritual world. 2. Sin is entirely a voluntary wrong. Here and everywhere, in its initial stages and in its maturity, it is the work of the sinner's own will. So far as it is not that, it is not sin. Temptation is not sin. Inherited bias to evil is not sin. God will not punish it any more than other misfortune. Man never inherits guilt. Man or demon in sin is there because he chooses to be there. In Hell as on earth, man will be a sinner because he will choose to be such. Sin is never inflicted as the punish- ment of sin. Devils are not in sin as a doom. 114 My Study: and Other Unsays. They do not suffer it : they create it. It has not come upon them unawares : they have willed it so. This is an elemental truth, which, because we can pack it in a nutshell, wo do not appreciate. It covers the moral universe with its corollaries. More than half of the mystery of evil is solved by it. 3. Sin is of such a nature as to perpetuate itself. This is the law of all character. If left to itself,

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