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under foot of men, who are too sensible to believe the unreasonable dogmas imposed on the world, either through error, or design, and sanctioned by tradition: and too inattentive to search the scriptures faithfully and impartially, whereby they might have learned that those errors were neither in them, nor supported by them. One particular object, therefore in this work, is, if possible, to free the scripture doctrine of atonement from those incumbrances which have done it so much injury; and open a door at least, for the subject to be investigated on reasonable grounds, and by fair argu
If we admit that our Creator made us reasonable beings, we ought, of course, to believe, that all the truth which is necessary for our belief, is not only reasonable, but reducible to our understandings.
In order to come at the subject of atonement, so as to have light continually shining along the path which I intend to оссиру, I found it necessary to show my reasons for not admitting the doctrine, on the ground on which it is usually argued to do which, I found I must, of necessity, show, that the common notion of the infinity of sin is unfounded in truth; and of course, every consequence deducible from such an error, equally unfounded and unsupported. It may seem not a little strange, to some of my readers, that I dispute the infinity of the law against which sin is committed; as all unholiness must be, either in union or disunion, with the eternal law of holiness and divine purity. But if the reader will take a little pains to observe particularly, it will appear plain, that no being can stand amenable to a law above his capacity. And as the creature is finite, in his earthly character, in which character only, he is, or can be a sinner, it is not reasonable to say, that he stands amenable to an infinite law. Or if the law be infinite, the accountability, in a moral sense, can extend no farther than his knowledge of this law extends. But, as the reader will find, in this work so much of the divine law of perfection, as the creature obtains a knowledge of, (which, in comparison to the whole, is no more than a shadow to a substance) is the law which he violates by his sin. And though we may speak of the sin of ignorance, it can amount to no more than the production of a virtuous intention thwarted by ignorance, or the same principle by which the beasts of the field, the fowls of the air, and the fish of the sea, gratify their various inclinations and appetites. And I do not think my reader will wish to have me prove that such sin is not infinite.
In my argument on the cause, or origin of sin, I thought it necessary to hint a little on the general idea of the subject, endeavoring to show the want of propriety in what is commonly contended for; and I have sought for the rise of unholy temptations in the constitutions of earthly and finite beings. I have endeavored, also to trace the causes and consequences
of sin (as sin) so as to determine the finite nature of all which belongs to sin as cause and consequence. In any sense, in which it can be said that GOD is the author of any thing whatever, in that sense of speaking, it cannot be sin. And in any sense, in which any action, or event, can be said to be endless, in its consequences, GoD must be considered the author of it.
In all the statements which I have made of the doctrinal ideas of others, I have been careful to state no more than what I have read in authors, or heard contended for in preaching, or conversation; and if I have, in any instance, done those ideas any injustice, it was not intended. The reason why I have not quoted any author, or spoken of any denomination, is, I have not felt it to be my duty nor inclination, to write against any name, or denomination, in the world; but my object has been, what I pray it ever may be, to contend against error, wherever I find it; and to receive truth, and support it, let it come from what quarter it may. For the sake of ease, however, in writing, I reasoned with my opponent, opposer, or objector meaning no one in particular, but any one who uses the arguments, and states the objections, which I have endeavored to answer. It is very probable, that some may think me too ironical, and, in many instances, too severe, on what I call error. But I find it very difficult to expose error, so as to be understood by all, without carrying, in many instances, my arguments in such a form as may not be agreeable to those who believe in what I wish to correct. I confess I should have been glad to have written, on all my inquires, so as not to have displeased any, but to have pleased all, could I have done it, and accomplished my main design; but this I was persuaded would be difficult. I have, therefore paid particular attention to nothing but my main object; depending on the goodness of my reader to pardon what may be disagreeable, in manner or form, as inadvertencies.
What I have written on the subject of the Trinity, is mainly to show the reader in what light I view the Mediator, that my general ideas of atonement may be the easier understood. And though I think my objections and arguments, against the common idea of three distinct persons in the Godhead, who are equal in power and glory, to be unanswerable; yet it was not my intention to attend to a full refutation of those ideas, as this was to have led too far from our main object.
The opposers of Universalism have generally written and contended against the doctrine, under an entire mistaken notion of it. They have endeavored to show the absurdity of believing that men could be received into the kingdom of glory and righteousness, in their sins; which no universalist ever believed. In this work, I have endeavored to make as fair a statement, of what I call Universalism, as I was able;
and it stands on such ground, that the propriety of it can no more be disputed, than the propriety of universal holiness and reconciliation to God. Perhaps the reader will say, he has read a number of authors on the doctrine of Universalism, and finds considerable difference in their systems. That I acknowledge is true; but all agree in the main point, viz. that universal holiness and happiness is the great object of the gospel plan. And as for the different ways in which individuals may believe this work will be done, it proves nothing against the main point; but proves, what I wish could be proved concerning all other Christian denominations, that they have set up no standard of their own, to cause all to bow to, or be rejected as heretics. We feel our own imperfections; we wish for every one to seek with all his might after w:sdom; and let it be found where it may, or by whom it may, we humbly wish to have it brought to light, that all may. eujoy it; but do not feel authorized to condemn an honest inquirer after truth, for what he believes different from a majority of us.
A few sentences, which the reader will find towards the close of this work, which have reference to a punishment after death, may cause him to desire more of my ideas on the subject.
The doctrine of punishment after death, has, by many able writers, been contended for; some of whom have argued such punishment to be endless, and others limited. But it appears to me that they have taken wrong ground who have endeavored to support the latter, as well as those who have labored to prove the former. They have both put great dependence on certain figurative and parabolical expressions, or passages of scripture, which they explain, so as to cause them to allude to such an event. It appears to me, that they have not sufficiently attended to the nature of sin, so as to learn its punishment to be produced from a law of necessity, and not a law of penalty. Had they seen this, they would also have seen, that a perpetuity of punishment must be connected with an equal continuance of sin, on the same principle that an effect is dependent on its cause. Who in the world would contend, that a man, who had sinned one year, could expiate his guilt, by sinning five more, with greater turpitude of heart? State the punishment, say a thousand years, for a sinner who dies in unbelief. What is it for? Say for his incorrigibleness in this world. Well, does he commit sin during these thousand years? Surely, or he could not be miserable. Then I ask, if it take a thousand years punishment in another world, to reward the sinner for, say fifty years of sin in this, how long must he be punished, afterwards, for the sin he commits during the thousand years? The punishment, or sufferings, which we endure, in consequence of sin, is not a dispensation of any penal law, but of the law of necessity, in which law, as long as a cause contin
ues, it produces its effects. Therefore, to prove a man will suffer condemnation for sin, at thirty, forty, or fifty years of age, it would be necessary to prove that he would be a sinner at that time, or those times. So, in order to prove that a man will be miserable, after this mortal life is ended, it must first be proved that he will sin in the next state of existence.
It has been argued, by many, that the doctrine of future punishment, or misery, is a necessary doctrine to dissuade men from committing sin, which surely surprises me. To tell a person who is in love of sin, that if he does not immediately refrain, he will have to continue in sin for a long time, would be true, besure; but would be void of force to dissuade him from what he is in love with. I believe, that as long as men sin, they will be miserable, be that time longer or shorter; and that as soon as they cease from sin, they begin to experience divine enjoyment.
The scripture speaks of the times of the restitution of all things, but does not inform us their number, or their duration. It also speaks of the fullness of times, but gives us no date, or duration of them.
I have not stated so many objections against the doctrine which I have labored to prove, as many of my readers may wish I had, nor so many as I should have been glad to, was it not for swelling the work to more of an expensive size. But I have stated, and endeavored to answer the most frequent objections, and those on which my opposers put the most dependence; and I should have taken great satisfaction in communicating many more arguments, both from reason and scripture, in favor of universal holiness and happiness, than I have, was it not for the reason assigned in the other case. However, if those objections which I have taken notice of, are answered to the reader's satisfaction, other scriptures, generally used as argument against the salvation of all men, will not be hard to be understood, as not unfavorable to the doctrine. And as for the proofs which I have deduced from scripture and reason, I believe them entirely conclusive; but if not, more of the same kind would not be.
The reason I have not particularly explained those parables of the New Testament which I have had occasion to notice, in this work, is, my Notes, of which, mention is made on the title page of this book, are before the public, and contain my ideas on most of the parables spoken by Christ.
A question may be asked by many, which has labored much in my mind, respecting the propriety of publishing books on divinity, when we profess to believe in the book called the Bible, that it contains all which we mean to communicate as truth, in matters of religion; on which question I am determined for myself, that the gospel of Jesus Christ would have been better understood, had the bible been the only book ever read on the subject. And though I doubt not but many authors have done great justice to those sub
jects on which they have written, and thejight of the scriptures have, by suci means, been caused to shine; yet, by others it has been greatly obscured. And had one half the attention been paid to the Bible which has been paid to those authors who have written upon it, it would in my opinion, have been incomparably better for Christendom. But, on account of errors imbibed, in consequence of erroneous annotations, it may be argued, that it is now necessary to write and publish correct sentiments, by the same parity of reasoning as we argue the necessity of those means to restore health, which are not necessary to continue it.
To the short exhortation, with which the believer in Universalism will meet, in this work, he his humbly invited to pay strict attention; as no faith, however true it may be, can be of any real service to the believer, unless it be accompanied with the spirit and life of that truth in which it is grounded. The greater the usefulness of a person, the more lamentable his death. The more divinity there is in any faith, the greater is the pity it should not be alive. "As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also."
My bretheren in the ministry will not think it assuming, that I have spoken of the necessity of our paying strict attention to the stewardship into which God by his grace hath put us; as it was not written so much to instruct, as to show the bretheren my faith; that they may see the ground on which I stand; know the manner in which I contend for the faith once delivered to the saints; and feel for me the same fellowship which I feel for them. You may regret that my ideas were not more correct, in many instances, and think the great subject on which I have written, might have obtained better justice from some more experienced writer; in which you have the same ideas with myself. But in this you may be satisfied, that I have written as I now think and believe, without leaning to the right, or to the left, to please or displease. I have been often solicited to write and publish my general ideas on the gospel, but have commonly observed to my friends, that it might be attended with disagreeable consequences, as it is impossible to determine whether the ideas which we entertain at the present time are agreeable to those which we shall be under the necessity of adopting after we have had more experience; and knowing to my satisfaction that authors are very liable to feel such an attachment to sentiments which they have openly avowed to the world, that their predjudice frequently obstructs their further acquisitions in the knowledge of the truth; and even in cases of conviction, their own self-importance will keep them from acknowledging their mistakes: And having some Knowledge of my own infirmities, I felt the necessity of precaution which I have no reason to believe, is, or has been injurious.