Friend: I must confess that what you have said on this head entirely convinces me, that we cannot found the eternity of punishment upon infinity of sin; and you have given me more satisfaction upon many points in these conversations than I ever expected to receive. I am indeed at length almost persuaded to receive your sentiments, though I once thought that it was impossible to answer all my objections, yet you have gone far towards it. Nay I cannot at present recollect any thing material, but what you have answered. I would not be too hasty in adopting this system, but after your example will consider it well. But there is certainly something more grand, beautiful, and harmonious in this view, than can be found in any other scheme; for both the other systems end in darkness and black night, one in endless damnation, and the other in gloomy annihilation. But on your plan light rises out of obscurity, and a glorious day succeeds the darkest scenes. This view of things sets the Book of Divine revelation in the most pleasing light, and appears, for aught any thing that I can see, consistent with the Divine perfections. But why, since you believe the Universal Restoration, do you not mention it more freely and fully, in your public discourses?
Minister: On the other hand, some ask me, Why do you ever mention it at all in your sermons; since it is not essential to salvation to believe it? To them I give these answers:
1. St. Paul declared to Timothy, that this Universal Gospel of God's being the Saviour, or Restorer of all men, but especially of those that believe, was a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation; and that they laboured and suffered reproach, because they trusted in God, as the universal Saviour. But he was so far from being ashamed of this belief, that he said to Timothy, "These things command and teach." 1Tim. 4:9-11. And so am I determined to do, at proper opportunities: notwithstanding the reproach and contempt awaiting me for so doing.
2. Though it is frequently said to be a matter of little or no consequence, if true; yet if it be any part of the record God hath given of his Son, (as I think I have proved) we are in danger of making Him a liar, if we believe it not. See 1John 5:9-11.
3. Though you may be Christians and not believe it; yet I cannot; though once I could also. But now the evidences of its truth appear so plain to my mind, that it would be criminal in me not to believe it; since I do believe it, would it not be highly dishonest in me to deny it? I have never done so yet, when asked; and God forbid, that I should be ashamed to publish, what He has commanded to be made known.
4. I have commonly acted merely on the defensive, and I never should, that I know of, have preached it in public, or but rarely, far less have written upon the subject, had it not been represented as a dangerous and destructive heresy; and people been cautioned against hearing me, on that account.
5. I have been frequently desired to preach upon the subject, expressly; and could not well refuse, without betraying a cowardly disposition.
6. I ask, Who is the best man; he who preaches the truth contrary to his judgment, for interest, or to gain applause; or he that fairly speaks as he thinks, without disguise; although he knows that it will displease his best friends on earth; even upon the supposition that he errs in many points? If there be an heretic, in the world, it is the man who for the love of money or applause, or through the fear of man, preaches that to others which he himself doth not believe. "He that is such is subverted, and sinneth; being condemned of himself." Titus 3:11
7. If we are to hold forth nothing to mankind, but what all are agreed in, we must discourse upon very few subjects; for I do not recollect so much as one, but what people either disagree about the thing itself, or the manner of explaining and holding it; no! not even the being and perfections of God; nor any point of doctrinal, experimental, or even practical religion.
8. We are to endeavour to teach mankind what they know not, as well as to confirm them in what they are already taught; should keep back nothing that may be profitable to them; should give meat to strong men, as well as milk to babes, and should not shun to declare the whole counsel of God. We ought to justify the ways of God to men, to shew the necessity and harmony of Divine Revelation, and take pains to convert infidels; all which things are more promoted by this view than any other.
As to your question, why I do not dwell more upon it? I answer:
1. There are a thousand other subjects in the Bible, besides this; and all deserve consideration, according to their weight and importance.
2. I have an utter aversion to going always in the same round of matter or manner; and therefore I frequently vary in both.
3. There are many other subjects of more present importance than the belief of this; such as repentance, faith, hope, love, obedience &c., and therefore ought to be more frequently insisted on, in proportion to their present use.
4. There are many scenes of providence and grace to take place in the universe, before the general Restoration; such as the millennium, the calling of the Jews, the universal spread of the gospel through the earth, &c. These things are much nearer, and therefore the Scripture speaks more of them; and what God speaks most of, in His Word, we should discourse of most to the people.
5. This doctrine, though it may have its use in converting men; and certainly enables those who believe it, to set forth the terrors of the Lord, and His mercies, in a more striking manner than otherwise they could; yet it is chiefly useful in comforting the people of God, and, in part relieving them from that bitter anguish which their tender minds feel, from the consideration of the vast numbers that perish; and, therefore, may not be so proper for a popular audience as many other subjects.
6. The plan of this grand Restoration is so vast, includes so many different and seemingly contradictory dispensations, that it cannot be fairly stated, and fully defended, in one sermon, and especially the objections answered; and many persons are not capable of taking in and digesting at once, so many subjects as are necessary to the understanding of this matter, and have not patience to attend to a long series of demonstrations, arguments, and proofs; and, therefore, this doctrine should not be introduced by any man, in any place, unless he has opportunity, to give it a fair investigation; and, therefore, I never mention it at all, at my first preaching in any place; nor unless I have sufficient opportunities to discuss it.
7. Christ says to His disciples – "I have yet many things to say unto you; but ye cannot bear them now." John 16:12. And St. Paul says – "And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal; even as unto babes in Christ: I have fed you with milk, and not with meat; for hitherto ye are not able to bear it; neither yet now are ye able." 1Cor 3:1-2 "Strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age; even those who by reason of use, have their senses exercised, to discern both good and evil." Heb. 5:14. Therefore, as the Saviour and His Apostles adapted their subjects and discourses to the circumstances of their hearers, and treated them in a gentle manner; so should we. Prudence, patience, and care, should always be used in discoursing on a doctrine so deep and awful as this; and, especially, as it hath been so little known of late ages.
8. I would wish to establish well the first principles of Christianity, before I meddle with any thing else; and as to the doctrine of the Restoration, I would rather that it should seem to be naturally inferred from truths already known, than delivered as an independent system: I, therefore, seldom or ever make it a leading point in my discourses; but sometimes lead to it, as a natural consequence of what has been said. After all, I would choose that men should discover it themselves, by carefully reading the scriptures, without prejudice, believing them to be strictly true; by living in love towards God and man; by walking in humility, often reflecting on their former estate; and constantly viewing the sufficiency of Christ, and the boundless love of their great Creator; rather than to learn it of any man, far less still, of such an unworthy worm as I am.
9. As far as I know my own heart, truth, in love is my constant aim. I am unconnected with any party; and am not so prejudiced in favour of any thing that I hold, but that I would willingly be convinced in any thing, by proper evidence; and when so convinced, I am ready to retract publicly. As, therefore, I do not feel myself personally interested to support the system, right or wrong; I have, therefore, dwelt much less upon it, than most preachers do upon their particular sentiments.
10. When I first embraced these views I was obliged to give some account of my reasons; and I chose rather to do it by writing than preaching. Accordingly, I published my sentiments, and answers to many objections; which publications being in the hands of those to whom I preach, made it less necessary for me to discourse upon those matters in public, or even in private, as I could refer to what I had written; and with the same view, I am inclined to publish these familiar discourses, which we have had together; after which it will be less necessary than ever for me to preach the Restoration publicly; yet I will not wholly avoid it at convenient times, and in proper circumstances.
11. Lastly, as I know so much of the nature of man, as to be sensible that he turns, with disgust and loathing from what is perpetually crammed down his throat; but relishes that which he falls upon, as it were accidentally, and comes into by little and little; I have always made it a rule never to introduce it, in public or private, unless where it was earnestly desired, nor ever to continue it long together; and, above all, never to question people upon the subject, after discoursing upon it; asking them, saying Do you believe it? &c. Nor would I ever wish to press them with the arguments at once and oblige them immediately to yield; as this kind of conduct, so far from answering any good purposes, commonly sets them against what is thus intruded upon them. It is the best way to give time and leisure to persons, whom you would wish to convince; and let them exercise their own faculties.