— Lucy Larcom American teacher, poet, author 1824 - 1893
Context: Eternal life and eternal death; what do these words mean? This is the question that comes up again and again. It has recently been brought up by those whom I am appointed to instruct; and the question with its answer, brings new and fearful responsibility with every return. I am more and more convinced that the idea of duration is not the one that affects us most: for here it has proved that those who are least careful about what they are in heart and life, are trying hardest to convince themselves and others that the "doctrine of eternal punishment" is not true. By making themselves believe that to be the all-important question, they draw off their own and others' attention from the really momentous one, — "Am I living the eternal life? Is it begun in me now?"
And now I see why I have questioned whether it was right in me to express my own doubts of this very doctrine. The final renovation of all souls, their restoration to life in holiness and love, is certainly a hope of mine that is not without a strong infusion of confidence; but I dare not say it is a belief; because both reason and revelation have left it in deep mystery; and the expression of any such belief does not seem to me likely to help others much; certainly not those who are indolent or indifferent regarding the true Christian life.
Then the "loss of the soul" is in plain language spoken of by our Lord as possible. What can that mean, but the loss of life in Him? the loss of ennobling aspirations, of the love of all good, of the power of seeing and seeking truth? And if this is possible to us now, by our own choice, why not forever? — since, as free beings, our choice must always be in our own power?
The truth that we must all keep before us, in order to be growing better forever, is that life is love and holiness; death, selfishness and sin; then it is a question of life and death to be grappled with in the deep places of every soul.
Journal entry (2 March 1861), Ch. 5 : The Beginning of the War.