My online friend, Andrew, sent me the following quote from LIFE IN CHRIST: A Study of the Scripture Doctrine on the Nature of Man, the Object of the Divine Incarnation, and the Conditions of Human Immortality, by Edward White, 1878. It testifies to the fact that the threat of eternal torment in hell does not deter anyone from sinning.
“The Third Citation is on the practical working of the traditional dogma on future retribution, from a speech by the Rev. R. Suffield.
At a meeting held in 1873 in Sion College, an interesting paper was read by the late Lord Lyttelton, which subsequently appeared in the April number of the Contemporary Review. In the course of the debate which followed, a remarkable statement was made by the Rev. Rudolph Suffield, formerly a Roman Catholic priest. He observed that no one knew so well as a priest what was passing in other men’s minds on religious subjects; and that his own opportunities of ascertaining the effect of the popular doctrine upon the minds of those who really believed it had been very considerable. At the request of one who was present, he afterwards wrote out the following abstract of the testimony which he then gave from his own experience:
‘I am bound by honour now to observe faithfully the regulations to which I was pledged when a Roman Catholic priest. I am permitted by those to be guided by the knowledge of character and results obtained from the confessional, but so as never to point things to individuals. My extensive experience for twenty years as confessor to thousands, whilst Apostolic Missionary in most of the large towns of England, in many portions of Ireland, in part of Scotland, and also in France, is, that excepting instances I could count on my fingers, the dogma of hell, though firmly believed in by English and Irish Roman Catholics, did no moral or spiritual good, but rather the reverse. It never affected the right persons; it frightened, nay tortured, innocent young women, and virtuous boys; it drove men and women into superstitious practices which all here would lament. It appealed to the lowest motives and the lowest characters; not however to deter from vice, but to make them the willing subjects of sad and often puerile superstitions. It never (excepting in the rarest case) deterred from the commission of sin. It caused unceasing mental and moral difficulties, lowered the idea of God, and drove devout persons from the God of hell to Mary. When a Roman Catholic, I on different occasions conferred on this subject with thoughtful friends among the clergy; who agreed with me in noticing and deploring the same sad results. From the fear of hell we never expected virtue, or high motives, or a noble life; but we practically found it useless as a deterrent. It always influenced the wrong people, and in a wrong way. It caused “infidelity” to some,” temptations” to others, and misery without virtue to most. The Roman Catholics are very sincere and “real;” and we found it difficult to avoid violating the conscience, when we told them to love and revere a God compromised to the creation of a hell of eternal wretchedness, a God perpetrating what would be scorned as horrible by the most cruel, revengeful, unjust tyrant on earth.'”