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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." His object in this sermon, in the first place, was to show that the common doctrine of a day of judgment in the future state was not supported by this passage; and he went even further, and maintained that said doctrine was opposed irreconcilably to other points in the popular creeds; and, if those points were correct, the common doctrine of a day of judgment, in which all men are to be tried for the deeds done in this life (for this was the form the doctrine then had), could not be admitted. He then sought to give the true meaning of the text. It was to have been fulfilled "when the Lord Jesus should be revealed from heaven, with his mighty angels, &c." When did that event take place? Mr. B. advanced a startling proposition for that day. True, it was very plainly revealed in the word of God; but the clergy of our country had not seen it, or, at least, had not avowed that they had seen it.
"As recorded in Matt. 16: 27, 28, our blessed Redeemer says, 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.' In this passage the following facts are particularly expressed : 1st. That the Son of man would certainly make his appearance in his Father's glory, with his angels. 2d. That at that time he would reward every man according to his works.
3d. That the time of his coming, and judging, and rewarding every man according to his works, would commence during the natural life of those who heard this declaration." *
These facts he went on to substantiate by a reference to the 23d and 24th chapters of Matthew, and by Mark 8: 38; 9: 1, and Luke 9: 26, 27. Thus he fixed the time of the judgment. He then considered the object God had in view in taking vengeance on men:
"Having produced the authority of the Saviour on the subject of his coming to judge and reward men according to their works, let our next inquiry be directed to ascertain the occasion and object of the punishment described in our text. Notice; 'taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.' What is this vengeance taken for? Because they know not God, and because they obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
"But will this vengeance, this punishment, operate to bring them to a knowledge of God, and to obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ? If this vengeance and punishment mean endless sufferings in the eternal world, the punished will not thereby be brought to know God, whom to know is life eternal; nor to obey the gospel, whose law is the law of love.
"You ask a kind and faithful earthly father why he uses the rod of chastisement on his son. He informs you it is because his child is disobedient. You ask him if he intends that punishment as a mean to reclaim his child, and to produce that obedience required. He answers in the affirmative. You are satisfied with this principle and its application. You can pity the folly of
*See "A Sermon, delivered in the Second Universalist Meetinghouse in Boston, on the evening of the first Sabbath in January, 1818. By Hosea Ballou, Pastor. Second edition. Boston: Henry Bowen. 1820."
childish disobedience, but you anticipate that the fruits of righteousness and filial love will more than counterbalance the present trial.
"You ask the wisdom of this world why God will punish men. It replies, because they know not God, and obey not the gospel of his Son. You ask this same wisdom whether this punishment be designed as a mean to bring them to the knowledge of God, and to obey the gospel. It answers in the negative. If you expostulate, if you attempt to reason, if you call such extravagant doctrine to an account, you are soon made to understand that this wisdom is the reverse of that which is from above, which is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.'"-pp. 10, 11.
Mr. Ballou held that the severest judgments of God were inflicted in love; that, though they were represented by the terrible metaphor of fire, the effect of them was purification. In this sense, they "are true and righteous altogether; more to be desired than gold, yea, than much fine gold." Psalm 19: 9, 10. When God sends these judgments on men, it is done for the same purpose for which metals are gathered into the furnace, namely, that they may be melted and purified; and this is the precise figure which the Jewish prophets of God employed, Ezekiel 22:18-22. Malachi 3: 1-3. See also the testimony of Paul: "Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work, of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire." 1 Cor. 3: 13-15.
Mr. Ballou believed, therefore, that when God took vengeance of men in flaming fire, however severe the discipline, it was the vengeance of love. Speaking of the fire mentioned in his text, he said,
“This flaming fire is from heaven; the Lord Jesus and his mighty angels are in it. If this fire is from heaven, it must be heavenly fire; and if the Lord Jesus and his mighty angels are in it, and are happy, it is the fire of which the prophet Malachi speaks, 3: 1-3.”
Again he said,
"This is the fire of love. It is from heaven. It flows from God, and is the spirit of Jesus; and is the spirit of judgment and of burning. With this fire, the Lord Jesus and his mighty angels, who are his ministers, take vengeance on Zion's hypocrites. But it is the vengeance of love. 'God is love and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.' This kind of vengeance is mentioned in the 99th Psalm: Thou wast a God that forgavest them, though thou tookest vengeance of their inventions.' This is a vengeance worthy of a God of mercy; it is connected with forgiveness, and is aided in its execution by the spirit of grace."—pp. 12, 13.
This was new doctrine to the divines of Boston. They might well rise up and say, "A strange man has come among us." They had not heard such thoughts uttered before; they were utterly ignorant of this manner of interpreting Scripture. If the justness of the reasoning were allowed, then the whole foundation of the doctrine of endless torture was thrown down. But Mr. Ballou did not content himself with the scriptural argument merely. He applied the moral argument with
great force, as deduced from the character of the Son of God, to show that the "vengeance" of God's judgments cannot be the "vengeance" of vindictive wrath.
"But that kind of vengeance which we have been usually taught to contemplate, is consistent with nothing but the worst and wickedest of human passions. Surely, one would be led to believe, on seeing the tragical scene of horror generally represented as the fulfilment of our text, that some powerful angel from the imaginary regions of darkness was let loose on mankind! Who would suppose it to be that humble, meek, kind son of Mary, of whom we have such an account in the New Testament? Will Jesus, who opened the eyes of the blind; who opened the ears of the deaf; who caused the lame man to leap as an hart, the tongue of the dumb to sing; who raised the dead, cast out devils, and cured all manner of diseases among the people of a wicked age and nation, ever appear in our world as a destroyer of human beings? Will that blessed, that adorable Son of God, whose name is music in heaven, and consolation to every believer, who gave himself a ransom for all mankind, and prayed for his murderers on his cross, who taketh away the sin of the world, ever come with hostile intentions against the redeemed, and fulfil all the vain imaginations of superstition, by scattering firebrands of vindictive wrath and eternal death among the offspring of his Father?". -p. 13.
Who could resist such reasoning, unless his heart was encased in prejudice, or hatred of the truth? It shook with excitement the immense congregation to whom it was addressed. The people not merely listened to every word, but they drank in the doctrine, as the thirsty man drinks water. At one time their faces would be radiant with joy; at another, they would be suffused with tears. They honored, respected, loved their new preacher. In his intercourse with their families, he moved among them