William Bates, 1691
" . . . be thrown into Hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched." Mark 9:47-48
The punishment of unrepentant sinners shall be extreme and eternal.
The torments in Hell exceed the heaviest judgments inflicted here on earth.
The torments in Hell are represented in Scripture, so as to instruct and terrify sinners.
The soul shall be the chief mourner in Hell.
The apprehension shall be enlarged to all afflicting objects.
The thoughts shall be fixed upon what is tormenting.
All the tormenting passions will be let loose upon the guilty soul.
Shame, sorrow, rage, despair, at once seize on the damned.
The words are the repetition of a powerful motive by our blessed Savior, to deter men from indulging temptations to sin, however pleasant to them, "If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out." All the occasions whereby sin insinuates itself, and inflames our inclinations, whether it bribes us with profit, or allures by pleasure—must be immediately cut off, and forever separated from us.
This counsel seems very severe to the natural man, who freely welcomes temptations—to deny himself, and tear his beloved lusts from his bosom—this the carnal nature will not content to. Our Savior therefore urges such arguments as may move the understanding and affections, may strike sense and conscience, "For it is better to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into Hell, where the fire never shall be quenched."
Hope and fear are the most active passions:
The hope of Heaven is motive enough to induce a true believer to despise and reject all the advantages and pleasures of sin that are but for a season.
The fear of an everlasting Hell is strong enough to control the wicked appetites.
Reason determines that when a deadly and spreading gangrene has seized upon a member, presently to cut off the affected arm or leg, to save the life. How much more reasonable and necessary is it to part with the most charming and favorite sin, to preserve the soul from eternal damnation? It is observable that our Savior inculcates three times, that men may take notice of it with terror, "Where the worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched"—a WORM ever gnawing upon the conscience; a FIRE that causes the most vehement pain. These are fearful representations to typify the torments of the damned; and that the worm is undying, and the fire unquenchable, infinitely aggravates their punishment.
The proposition is this: that the punishment of those who will retain their
pleasant or profitable sins, shall be extreme and eternal. In the handling of
this point, I will discourse of the EXTREMITY of the punishment—and the ETERNITY
Chapter I. The EXTREMITY of the punishment.
Before the particular description of the pains of the damned, I shall observe in general, that the full representation of Hell is beyond all human expression; nay our most fearful thoughts cannot equal the horror of it, "Who knows the power of your anger?" Psalm 90:11. What are the prepared punishments, by infinite justice and Almighty wrath, for obstinate sinners? It is impossible for the most guilty and trembling conscience to enlarge its sad apprehensions according to the degrees of that misery. "The Lord will show forth his wrath, and make his power known in the vessels fitted for destruction." None can tell what God can do, and what man can suffer—when made capable to endure such torments forever, as now would presently consume him. As the glory of Heaven cannot be fully understood until enjoyed, so the torments of Hell cannot be comprehended until felt. But we may have some discovery of those unknown terrors, by the following considerations.
The most heavy judgments of God upon sinners here on earth, are light and tolerable in comparison of the punishment of sinners in the next state. For,
1. Temporal evils of all kinds and degrees, such as pestilence, famine, war, are designed for the bringing of men to a sight and sense of their sins, and are common to good and bad here. And if his anger is so terrible when he chastises as a compassionate father, what is his fury when he punishes as a severe judge! If the correcting remedies ordered by his wisdom and love for the conversion of sinners be so sharp, what is the deadly revenge of his irreconcilable hatred?
2. The miseries of the present state are allayed with some enjoyments. None are so universally afflicted, so desolate, but something remains to sweeten the sense of their sufferings. Judgments are tempered with mercies. No man is tortured with all diseases, nor forsaken of all friends, nor utterly without comfort. And when the affliction is irremediable—yet if our grief produces sympathy in others, it is some ease to the troubled mind, and by that assistance the burden is made lighter.
But in Hell, the damned are surrounded with terrors, encompassed with flames, without anything to refresh their sorrows, not a drop of water to lake of fire. All that was esteemed felicity here, is then totally withdrawn. Death puts a period to their lives and pleasures of sin forever. For it is most just, that those objects which were abused by their lusts, and alienated their hearts from their duty and felicity, should be taken away.
And which is extreme misery, in their most pitiful state, that they are absolutely unpitied. Pity is the cheap and universal lenitive, not denied to the most guilty in their sufferings here; for the law of nature instructs us to pity the man, when the malefactor suffers. But even pity is not afforded to the damned. All their agonies and cries cannot incline the compassion of God, and the blessed spirits in Heaven towards them; for they are not compassionable objects, their misery being the just effect of their perverse obstinate choice. In Hell all human tender affections are extinguished forever. Now it is the perfection of misery, the excess of desolation, to be deprived of all good things pleasing to our desires, and to suffer all evils from which we have the deepest aversion and abhorrence. As in Heaven all good is eminently comprised, and nothing but good; so in Hell all evil is in excessive degrees, and nothing but evil.
Temporal evils are inflicted by second causes that are of a limited power to hurt; but in the next world the more immediately torments the damned by God's absolute power. The apostle tells us, that the wicked "are punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and the glory of his power." What is the sting of a gnat, compared to a blow given by the hand of a giant that strikes dead at once? This comparison is below the truth.
More particularly the state of misery is set forth in Scripture by such representations as may powerfully instruct and terrify even the most carnal men. Nothing is more intolerably painful than suffering the violence of fire enraged with brimstone; and Hell is described by a lake of fire and brimstone, wherein the wicked are tormented. Whether the fire is material or metaphorical, the reality and intenseness of the torments is signified by it.
But the ordinary fire, though mingled with the most torturing ingredients, is not an adequate representation of Hell-fire. For that is prepared by men, but the fire of Hell is prepared by the wrath of God for the devil and his demons. Divine power is illustriously manifested in that terrible preparation; so that, as some of the fathers express it, if one of the damned might pass from those flames into the fiercest fires here on earth, it were to exchange a torment for a refreshment.
The Scripture speaks of the vehement heat and fiery thirst, and outer darkness in which the damned suffer, to satisfy the rights of justice in the torments of those senses, for the pleasures of which men willfully broke the laws of God.
But the soul being the chief sinner, shall be the chief mourner in those regions of sorrow. An image of this we have in the agonies of spirit, which sometimes the saints themselves are in here, and which the most stubborn sinners can neither resist nor endure. Job was afflicted in that manner that he complains, "The arrows of the Almighty are with me, the poison whereof drinks up my spirit, the terrors of God set themselves in array against me." If a spark of his displeasure falls on the guilty conscience, it tears and blows up all, as a fire-ball cast into a magazine of gunpowder.
Solomon, who understood the frame of human nature, tells us, "The spirit of a man can bear his infirmity;" that is, the mind fortified by principles of moral counsel and constancy, can endure the assault of external evils; but "a wounded spirit who can bear?" This is most insupportable when the sting and remorse of the mind is from the sense of guilt; for then God appears a righteous and severe enemy. Who can battle with offended Omnipotence? Such is the sharpness of his sword, and the weight of his hand, that every stroke is deadly.
Satan, the cruel enemy of souls, exasperates the wounds. He reveals and charges sin upon the conscience with all its killing aggravations, and conceals the divine mercy—the only lenitive and balm to the wounded spirit. What visions of horror, what spectacles of fear, what scenes of sorrow—are presented to the distracted mind by the prince of darkness! And, which heightens the misery, man is a worse enemy to himself than Satan; he falls upon his own sword, and destroys himself! The guilty conscience turns "the sun into darkness, and the moon into blood." The precious promises of the gospel, that assure favor and pardon to returning and relenting sinners, are turned into arguments of despair, by reflecting upon the abuse and provocation of divine mercy, that the advocate in God's bosom, has become the accuser. Whatever the soul-wounded sinner sees or hears, afflicts him; whatever he thinks, torments him. All the diversions in the world, business, pleasures, merry conversation, comedies, are as ineffectual to give freedom from those stings and furies in the bosom, as the sprinkling of holy water is to expel a raging devil from a possessed person.
Those who in their pride and jollity, have despised serious religion, either as a fond transport and ecstacy towards God, or a dull melancholy and dejection about the soul, or an idle scrupulosity about indifferent things—yet when God has set their sins with all their killing circumstances in order before their eyes—-how changed, how confounded are they at that apparition! How restless, with the dreadful expectation of the doom that attends them! Belshazzar in the midst of his wine cups and herd of concubines, by a few words written on the wall, containing his judgment, was so terrified by his guilty jealous conscience, that his joints were loosed, and he sunk under the apprehension.
Now all these troubles of mind are but the beginnings of sorrows, but the smoke of the infernal furnace, but pledges of that terrible sum which divine justice will severely exact of the wicked in Hell!
Indeed these examples are rare, and not regarded by the most, and by some looked on as the effects of derangement; but to convince the bold and careless sinners, who never felt the stings of an awakened conscience, what extreme terrors seize upon the wicked in the other world, consider,
(1.) The apprehension shall be more clear and enlarged than in the present state. Now the soul is oppressed with a weight of clay, and in drowsiness and obscurity. The great things of eternity are of little force to convince the conscience, or persuade the affections. But then the soul shall work with the quickest activity. The mind shall by an irresistible light take a full view of all afflicting objects. The most stupid and unconcerned sinners shall then see and feel their ruined state—what a glorious felicity they have lost, what a misery they are plunged into, without any possibility of lessening it by false conceits, and receiving any relief by the error of imagination.
(2.) The mournful thoughts shall be always fixed upon what is tormenting. The soul in conjunction with the body, cannot always apply itself to one sort of object. For the ministry of the sensible faculties is requisite to its operations. And the body must be supported by eating and drinking and rest, which interrupts troublesome thoughts. Besides, the variety of objects and happenings here avert the mind sometimes from what is afflicting. But the separate soul is in no dependence on the body, and after their reunion, there shall be no necessity of food or sleep, or any other animal actions to support it, but it shall be restored to a new capacity for new torments, and preserved in that miserable state by the power of God. There will be nothing then to divert the lost soul from sad reflections upon its misery. There are no intermissions in the sufferings of Hell.
(3.) All the tormenting passions will then be let loose at once upon the guilty creature. And if there is no single passion so weak, but heightened, will break the spirit, and render life so miserable, that a man will take sanctuary in the grave to escape—then how miserable is the condition, when the most fierce and united passions war against the soul? This is signified by the "never-dying worm" that gnaws on the tenderest parts, and of quickest sense. Shame, sorrow, despair, fury, hatred and revenge, are some of that brood of vipers that torment the damned!
SHAME is a passion of which human nature is very sensible, and this in the highest degree of confusion shall seize on the wicked. Daniel 12:2. For all the just causes of shame shall then meet. The inward source of shame is the consciousness of guilt, of turpitude and folly in the actions; and all these are the inseparable adjuncts of sin. The guilty soul by a piercing reflection upon its crimes, has a secret shame of its degeneracy and unworthiness. The shame is increased, when a discovery is made of vile practices that defile and debase a man, expose to contempt and infamy, before people of high quality and eminent virtue, whom we admire and reverence, and whose esteem we value. To be surprised in an unworthy action by such a person, disorders the blood, and transfuses a color into the face, to cover it with a veil of blushing.
The more numerous the spectators are, the more the disgrace is aggravated! And if derision is joined with the shame, it causes extreme displeasure. O the universal confusion, the overpowering amazement that will seize on sinners in the great day of discovery, when all their works of darkness, all their base sensualities shall be revealed before God, angels and saints! When all the covers of shame shall are taken off, the excuses and denials, to extenuate or conceal their sins, shall vanish, and their hearts be transparent to the eyes of all! How will they be ashamed of their foul and permanent deformity in the light of that glorious presence? How will they be astonished to appear in all their pollutions before that bright and immense theater? How will they be confounded to stand in all their guilt before that sublime and severe tribunal? How will they endure the upbraidings for all the sins which they have so wickedly committed, and the derision for the punishment they so deservedly suffer?
The holy Judge will "laugh at their calamity, and mock when their fear comes. The righteous also shall see, and shall laugh at them;" lo these are the men who made not God their portion, but perishing vanities; who preferred sweet folly before godly wisdom.
The devils will reproach them for that scornful advantage they had over them, that as children are seduced for things of luster to part with real treasures, so they were easily persuaded for the trifles of time to exchange eternal happiness. Those black sinners who here never change color for their filthiness, who hardened by custom in sin, are impenetrable to shame, as the brute beasts that are absolutely destitute of reason; nay, who have not only overcome all tenderness, but "glory in their shame"—they shall be abased at the manifestation of their sordid lusts, their vile servilities, and be covered with confusion; and the sense of it shall be revived in their minds forever.
To open shame, is joined the greatest inward SORROW. This passion, when violent, penetrates the soul in all its faculties, and fastens it to the afflicting object. When it dwells in the bosom, it gives an easy entrance to whatever nourishes and increases it, and rejects what might assuage and lessen the sense of the evil. The most pleasant things do not then excite desire or joy, but exasperate grief. Like those animals that convert the best nourishment into their own poison; so deep sorrow receives mournful impressions from all things, and turns the sweetest comforts of life into wormwood and gall.
The causes of sorrow are either the loss of some valued good, or the sense of some present evil. And the sorrow is more violent, as the cause is great in itself, and in the apprehension and tenderness of the sufferers. Now both of these causes, with all the heavy circumstances that can multiply and aggravate sorrow, meet in Hell the center of misery.
The loss of Heavenly bliss is inconceivably great. If Cain, when banished from the society of the saints, where God was publicly worshiped, and by spiritual revelations and visible apparitions, graciously made himself known, cried out in anguish of soul, "My punishment is greater than I can bear; from your face shall I be hid, and I shall be a fugitive upon the earth!" Then how intolerable will the final separation from God's glorious and joyful presence be?
In the clear and transforming vision of his glory, and the intimate and indissoluble union with him by love, consist the perfection and satisfaction of the immortal soul. The felicity resulting from it, is as entire and eternal, as God is great and true, who has so often promised it in Scripture.
Now the damned are forever excluded from the glorious presence of God. It is often seen how tenderly and impatiently the human spirit sorrows at the the loss of a dear relation. Jacob for the supposed death of Joseph, was so overcome with grief, that when all his sons and daughters rose up to comfort him, he refused to be comforted, and said, "I will go down mourning to the grave." Indeed this overwhelming sorrow is both a sin and a punishment. It is ordained by the righteous and unchangeable decree of God, that every inordinate affection in man should be his own tormentor.
But if the loss of a poor frail creature for a short time is so afflicting, then how insupportable will the sorrow be for the loss of the blessed God forever! Who can fully conceive the extent and degrees of that evil! For an evil rises in proportion to the good of which it deprives us; it must therefore follow, that celestial blessedness being an infinite eternal good, the exclusion from it is proportionably evil. And as the felicity of the saints results from the fruition of God in Heaven, and from comparison with the contrary state; so the misery of the damned arises both from the thoughts of lost happiness, and from the lasting pain that torments them!
It may be replied: If this is the utmost evil that is consequent to sin, the threatening of it is likely to deter but few from the pleasing their corrupt appetites; for carnal men have such gross and vitiated affections that are careless of spiritual happiness. "They cannot taste and see how good the Lord is."
To this a clear answer may be given: In the eternal state, where the wicked shall be forever without those carnal objects that here deceive and delight them, when deprived of all things that please their voluptuous senses—then their apprehensions will be changed; they shall understand what a happiness it is to enjoy God, and what a misery to be expelled from the celestial paradise.
Our Savior tells the Jews, "there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you shall see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out." Luke 15:28. How will they pine with envy at the sight of that triumphant felicity, of which they shall never be partakers? To see that blessed company entering into the sacred mansions of light, will make the loss of Heaven infinitely more discernible and terrible to the wicked, who shall be cast into "outer darkness," and forever be deprived of communion with God and his saints. "Depart from me!" will be as dreadful a part of the judgment, as "into the eternal fire!"
With the loss of the most excellent good, the suffering of the most afflicting painful evil is joined. The sentence is, "depart from Me, you who are cursed into everlasting fire." And if an imaginary sorrow conceived in the mind without a real external cause, as in melancholy people, when gross vapors darken and corrupt the brightness and purity of the spirits that are requisite for its cheerful operations, is often so oppressing, that nature sinks under it; then how insupportable will the sorrow of condemned sinners be, under the impression and sense of God's almighty and avenging hand, when it shall fully appear how pure and holy he is in his anger for sin, and how just and dreadful he is in punishing sinners!
It may be that the indulgent sinner may lessen his fear of Hell, by imagining the the vast number of sufferers will assuage the sense of their misery. But this is a foolish mistake; for the number of sufferers shall be so far from affording any relief, that the misery is aggravated by the company and communication of the miserable. Every one is surrounded with sorrows, and by the sights of woe about him—feels the universal grief. The weeping and wailing, the cries and dolorous expressions of all the damned, increase the torment and vexation of every one. As when the wind conspires with the flame, it is more fierce and spreading.
The attendant of sorrow will be fury and rage against themselves, as the true causes of their misery. For God will make such a discovery of his righteous judgment, that not only the saints shall glorify his justice in the condemnation of the wicked—but they shall be so convinced of it, as not to be able to charge their Judge with any defect of mercy, or excess of rigor in his proceedings against them.
As the man in the parable of the marriage feast, when taxed for his presumptuous intrusion without a wedding-garment, "How did you get in here?" was speechless; so they will find no plea for their justification and defense, but must receive the eternal doom with silence and confusion. Then conscience shall revive the bitter remembrance of all the methods of divine mercy for their salvation, which were ineffectual by their contempt and obstinacy. All the compassionate calls by his word, with the holy motions of the Spirit, were like the sowing of seed in the stony ground, which took no root, and never came to perfection. All his terrible threatenings were but as thunder to the deaf, or lightning to the blind, that little affects them. The bounty of his providence which was designed "to lead them to repentance," had the same effect as the showers of Heaven upon briars and thorns, which only make them grow the faster.
And that a mercy so ready to pardon, did not produce in them a correspondent affection of grateful obedient love; but by the most unworthy provocations they plucked down the vengeance due to obstinate rebels, will so enrage the damned against themselves, that they will be less miserable by the misery they suffer, than by the conviction of their torn minds, that they were the sole causes of it. "What repentings will be kindled within them," for the stupid neglect of "the great salvation" so dearly purchased, and so earnestly offered to them. What a fiery addition to their torment, that when God was so willing to save them—they were so willful to be damned! They will never forgive themselves, that for the short and base pleasures of sin, which if enjoyed a thousand years, cannot recompense the loss of Heaven, nor requite the pains of Hell for an hour—they must be deprived of the one, and suffer the other forever!
The sorrow and rage will be increased by despair; for when the wretched sinner sees the evil is peremptory, and no outlet of hope, he abandons himself to the violence of sorrow, and by cruel thoughts wounds the heart more than the fiercest furies in Hell can! This misery which flows from despair, shall be more fully opened under the distinct consideration of the eternity of Hell.
Briefly, as the blessed are in Heaven, and Heaven is in them, by those holy and joyful affections that are always exercised in the divine presence; so the damned are in Hell, and Hell is in them by those fierce and miserable passions that continually prey upon them.
Chapter II. The ETERNITY of Misery Makes it Most Intolerable.
The justice of God cleared in the eternal punishment of sinners for temporary sins. The wisdom of God requires that the punishment threatened should be powerful to preserve the commands of the law inviolable. There is as inseparable connection between the choice and actions of man here, and their condition forever. The damned are unqualified for any favor. The immense guilt of sin requires a proportion in the punishment.
The eternity of their misery makes it above all other considerations intolerable. Our Savior repeats it thrice in the space of a few verses, to terrify those who spare some favorite corruption, "that in Hell their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched." God will never reverse his sentence, and they shall never change their state. How willingly would carnal men erase the word eternal out of the Scriptures; but to their grief they find eternity joined with both the felicity of Heaven and the torments of Hell.
The second death has all the terrible qualities of the first death, but not the ease and end it brings to misery. All the tears of those forlorn wretches in Hell shall never quench one spark of the fire! Where are the delicious fare, the music, the purple, and all the carnal delights of the rich man? they are all changed into a contrary state of misery; and that state is fixed forever! From his vanishing paradise, he descended into an everlasting Hell!
In this the vengeance of God is infinitely more heavy than the most terrible execution from men. Human justice and power can inflict but one death (that will be soon dispatched) upon a malefactor worthy to suffer a hundred deaths; if he is condemned to the fire, they cannot make him live and die together, to burn and not be consumed. But God will so far support the damned in their torments, that they shall always have strength to feel, though no strength patiently to endure them. Those extreme torments which would extinguish the present life in a moment, shall be suffered forever. This consideration infinitely aggravates the misery; for the lost soul, racked with the fearful contemplation of what it must suffer forever, feels, as it were at once, all the evils that shall torment it in its whole duration. The perpetuity of the misery is always felt by anticipation. This is as the cruel breaking of the bones upon the wheel, when the soul is tormented by the foresight of misery, that without allays shall continue in the circulation of eternal ages.
To make this more sensible, let us consider, that pain makes the mind observant of the passing of the hours. In pleasures, time with a quick and silent motion, insensibly flies away. But in troubles the hours are tedious; in violent pains we reckon the minutes as long. It is observable, how passionately the afflicted psalmist complains, "Will the Lord cast off forever? Will he be favorable no more? Does his promise fail for evermore? Has he forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his tender mercies?" Psalm 77:7. In what various pathetic forms does he express the same affection? Though he had assurance that the gracious God would not be always severe—yet his anguish forced from him complaints, as if the moment of his trouble were an eternity. But what strains of sorrow are among the damned, who besides the present sense of their misery, have always in their thoughts the vast eternity wherein they must suffer it!
When three terrible evils were propounded to David's choice, pining famine for three years, or bloody war for three months, or devouring pestilence for three days; he chose the shortest, though in itself the heaviest evil.
Many sad days must pass under the other judgments, where death by anticipation in such variety of shapes would be presented to the mind, that the lingering expectation of it would afflict more than the sudden stroke; whereas the fury of the pestilence would be soon over. But the damned have not this relief, "but shall be tormented day and night forever and ever!" How earnestly "do they seek for death," but cannot find it? What a favor would they esteem it to be annihilated? For certainly, if when the evils in the present state are so multiplied, that no comfort is left; or so violent that the afflicted person cannot enjoy them, and refresh his sorrowful spirit—then death is chosen rather than life. It cannot be imagined that in the future state, where the misery is extreme, and nothing remains to allay it, that the damned should be in love with the unhappy good of simple existing, and not choose an absolute extinction if it might be.
If anyone should be so foolish to think that custom in suffering will render that state more tolerable, he will find a terrible confutation of his vain imagination. Indeed, continuance under light evils may arm the mind with patience to bear them; but in great extremities it makes the evil more ponderous and intolerable. He who is tortured with the stone, or on the rack—the longer the torture continues, the less able he is to sustain it.
In short, as the joy of Heaven is infinitely more ravishing, that the blessed are without fear of losing it; so the misery of Hell is proportionably tormenting, that the damned are absolutely destitute of hopes of release. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God," who lives forever, and will punish forever incorrigible sinners!
There are some who strongly imagine that it is not consistent with divine justice to inflict an eternal punishment for temporary sins. Therefore they soften the sentence, by interpreting the words of Christ, "these shall go into everlasting punishment," of the annihilation of impenitent sinners; that is, they shall be forever deprived of Heaven, but not suffer torments forever.
To this there is a clear answer:
1. The direct "opposition between everlasting punishment, and everlasting life, in the words of Christ—is a convincing argument they are to be understood in the same extent for an absolute eternity. And the words in Scripture are so express, that they admit no mollifying interpretation, "they are tormented day and night, forever and ever!" which necessarily infer, the tormented have life and sense forever.
In Scripture it is evident that God has decreed and denounced eternal punishment to obstinate sinners, is sufficient to satisfy all inquiries about the justice of it; for divine justice is the correspondence of God's will and actions with the perfections of his holy nature. From hence we may infer with invincible evidence, that whatever he pronounces in judgment, and consequently inflicts, is most righteous. The truth is, we may as easily conceive there is no God, as that God is unjust; because absolute rectitude is an inseparable perfection of his nature. Thus the apostle with abhorrence rejects the question, "is God unrighteous who takes vengeance? God forbid; for then how shall God judge the world?" Romans 3:5, 6. That were to deny him to be God, who is the Creator, and King, and Judge of the world!
It is a full reply to all the pitiful shifts that are made use of to elude the plain meaning of the eternal judgment that will pass upon the wicked, "shall mortal man be more just than God? Shall a man be more pure than his maker?" Job 4:17. The reprobates have now some bold advocates, who plead those things now, which they will not dare to plead for themselves at the last day. The holy judge will then cut off all their excuses, and reduce them to a defenseless silence, before he cuts them off. "God will be justified in his sentence, and righteous when he judges."
The righteousness of the proceedings at the last day, in determining the wicked to a state of everlasting torments, has been considered in the Discourse on Judgment, and will farther appear by the following considerations.
1. The wisdom of God requires, that the punishment threatened in his law, as it must be so firmly decreed, that all obstinate rebels shall of necessity undergo it—so it must incomparably exceed all temporal evils, to which men may be exposed for their obedience to the divine commands, otherwise the threatening would not be an effectual restraint from sin; for the nearness of an evil makes a strong impression on the mind, and a present fear makes a person solicitous to avoid the incursion of what is ready to seize on him, without thinking to prevent an evil looked on at a distance. Therefore that the sanction of the divine law may preserve the divine precepts inviolable, that there may be a continual reverence of it, and a fixed resolution in the heart not to transgress—the penalty threatened must be in its own nature so terrible, that the fear of it may conquer the apprehension of all present evils that can be inflicted to constrain us to sin.
Therefore our Savior warns his disciples, "Do not fear those who can kill the body" (make that part die that is mortal) "but fear him who after he has killed, has power to cast into Hell; yes, I say unto you, fear him!"
Now if the threatening of an everlasting Hell, through infidelity and inconsideration, is not effectual in the minds of men to restrain them from sin; if temporary torments in the next state were only threatened, which are infinitely more easy and tolerable—then carnal sinners would follow the sway of their corrupt appetites, and commit iniquity with greediness. This would seem to reflect upon the wisdom of the lawgiver, as if he were defective in not binding his subjects firmly to their duty, and the ends of government would not be obtained.
2. God, as the sovereign ruler of the world, has established an inseparable connection between the choice and actions of men here—and their future condition forever. The promised reward of obedience is so excellent and eternal, that all the allurements of the world vanish in comparison with it! And there is such an infallible assurance of this reward in the word of God, that all, and only those who sincerely obey his commands, shall enjoy it in the future state; that a serious believer who ponders things, cannot be diverted from his duty by present temptations. Besides, by a chain of consequences sinful pleasures are linked with eternal punishment threatened in the divine law; and he who will enjoy forbidden pleasures, binds himself to suffer all the pains annexed to them.
Now when God has, from his excellent goodness and undeserved mercy, assured men of the glory and joys of Heaven that are unspeakable and eternal, upon the gracious terms of the gospel; and, upon their despising it, threatened eternal misery; if men obstinately neglect so great salvation, then how reasonable is it they should receive their own choice? Those who do not seek the kingdom of Heaven, cannot escape Hell—but by eternal consequence it will be their portion. There is no middle state in the next world—but two contrary and eternal states; and the happiness and misery are equally eternal. It is just, that all who neglect eternal life, should suffer eternal damnation; far it is the natural and necessary consequence of their choice. Therefore sinners are charged with extreme madness, "they wrong their own souls, and to love death." Proverbs 8:26.
3. It will appear how unqualified the damned are for the least favor, if we consider their continual hatred and blasphemies of God. The seeds of this are in wicked obstinate sinners here, who are styled "haters of God;" but in the damned this enmity is direct and explicit, the fever is heightened into a frenzy, the blessed God is the object of their curses and eternal aversion. Our Savior tells us, that in Hell there "is weeping and gnashing of teeth"—extreme sorrow, and extreme fury.
Despair and rage are the proper passions of lost souls. For when the guilty sufferers are so weak, that they cannot by patience endure their torments, nor by strength resist the power that inflicts them, and are wicked and stubborn—they are irritated by their misery, and foam out blasphemies against the righteous judge! If their rage could extend to him, and their power were equal to their desires—they would dethrone the holy God! Hatred takes pleasure in revenge, either real or imaginary; and although God is infinitely above the transports of their fury, and all their rancorous imprecations are reflexively pernicious to themselves, like arrows shot against the sun, that fell down upon their heads who shot them; yet they are always venting their malice against the just power that torments them. It is said of the worshipers of the beast, "that they gnawed their tongues for pain, and blasphemed the God of Heaven because of their pains." Revelation 16:10, 11. The torment and blasphemies of those impenitent idolaters, are a true representation of the state of the damned. From hence it appears they are the proper objects of revenging justice.
How can we reasonably conceive, that God, in favor to the reprobates, should cross the established order of creation? For two ranks of beings were made, the material, of perishing principles; the spiritual, of an immortal duration. Will God withdraw his conservative power of the guilty soul in its immortality, and to put an end to its deserved misery, and self-tormenting reflections, annihilate it?
If a criminal were justly condemned to a severe punishment, and should contumeliously and fiercely reproach the prince, by whose authority he was condemned—would it be expected there should be a mitigation of the sentence? Is it a thought consistent with the reasonable mind, that the righteous judge of the world will reverse or mitigate the sentence against the damned, who blaspheme his majesty and justice? If they were as omnipotent to effect, as they are malicious to desire, they would destroy God in a moment.
It is true that the divine threatening does not bind God to a rigorous execution of it upon sinners; for he has declared, if "sinners will turn from their evil ways, he will repent of the evil he purposed to do unto them." Jeremiah 26:3. But when threatenings are part of the laws whereby men are governed, it is congruous to the wisdom and justice of the lawgiver to execute them in their full force upon the obstinate offenders; still considering the inflicting of them is so far from working any sincere change in those rebels, that thereby they become more fierce and obdurate.
Lastly, The immense guilt that adheres to sin, requires a proportion in the punishment. It is a rule in all courts of judicature, that the degree of an offence and its attending punishment, arise according to the degree of dignity of the person offended. Now the majesty of God is truly infinite, against whom sin is committed; and consequently the guilt of sin exceeds our boundless thoughts. This is the reason of the sentence, "cursed is every one that continues not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." The curse threatened, includes the first and the second death.
What a dishonor is it to the "God of glory," that proud and sinful dust should fly in his face, and defy his authority? What a provocation, that the reasonable creature, that is naturally and necessarily a subject—should despise the divine law and lawgiver? Though carnal minds alleviate the guilt of sin—yet weighed "in the scales of the sanctuary," it is found so heavy, that no punishment inflicted on sinners exceeds, either in the degrees or duration, the desert of sin.
God's justice is not satisfied in merely depriving them of Heaven, but He inflicts the most heavy punishment upon sense and conscience of the damned. For as the soul and body in their state of union in this life were both guilty, the one as the guide, the other as the instrument of sin; so it is equal, when reunited, they should feel the penal effects of it.
Sinners shall then be tormented wherein they were most delighted; they shall be tormented with those objects that will cause the most dolorous perceptions in their sensitive faculties. The "lake of fire and brimstone, the blackness of darkness forever," are words of a terrible signification. But no words can fully express the terrible ingredients of their misery! The punishment will be in proportion to the glory of God's majesty which is provoked, and the extent of his power.
As the soul was the principal, and the body but an accessary in the works of sin—so its capacious faculties shall be far more tormented than the limited faculties of the outward senses. The fiery attributes of God shall be transmitted through the conscience, and concentered upon damned spirits; the fire outside them, is not so tormenting as the fire within them. How will the tormenting passions be inflamed! What rancor, rebellion, and rage against the just God who sentenced them to Hell! What impatience and indignation against themselves for their willful sins, the just cause of it! How will they curse their creation, and wish their utter extinction, as the final remedy of their misery! But all their ardent wishes are in vain; for the guilt of sin will never be expiated, nor God so far reconciled as to annihilate them. As long as there is justice in Heaven, or fire in Hell; as long as God and eternity shall continue—they must suffer those torments, which the strength and patience of an angel could not bear one moment!
Chapter III. Practical Inferences.
The tender mercies of God to men, in revealing the prepared plagues for sinners, to prevent their misery.
Carnal men are more capable of conceiving the torments of Hell, than the joys of Heaven.
They are more apt to be moved by them.
The desperate folly of sinners, to choose the pleasures of sin, notwithstanding the dreadful and everlasting torments which inevitably follow sin.
The steadfast belief and serious consideration of eternal death, the wages of sin, is a prevailing motive to abhor and forsake it.
Our dear obligations to our Savior, who delivers us from the wrath to come.
I shall now draw some practical inferences, and conclude this subject.
1. From the revelation in Scripture of the dreadful punishment prepared for unrepentant sinners in the next state, we may understand the tender mercies of God to men; how willing he is they should be saved, who are so willful to be damned. Hell is represented to them by the most violent figures, to terrify their imaginations, and strongly affect their minds, that "they may flee from the wrath to come." God counsels, commands, entreats, urges sinners to be wise, to foresee and prevent the evil that every hour is approaching to them; and with compassion and indignation laments their misery, and reproaches their folly in bringing it upon themselves.
The divine mercy is as eminently and apparently declared to men in the present corrupt state, in threatening Hell to excite their fear, as in promising Heaven to allure their hopes. For if carnal indulgent sinners are not roused by a quick apprehension of Hell, they will securely enjoy their pernicious pleasures, and despise the blessed reward—and Heaven would be "as empty of human souls as it is full of glory."
(1.) Because they are more capable to conceive of the torments of Hell, than the joys of Heaven. Storms and darkness are more easily drawn by a pencil, than a clear calm day. Fire mixed with brimstone, is very painful to sense; and the imagination strongly represents its vehemence in tormenting the body; and what misery the incessant remorse of the guilty conscience will cause in the damned hereafter, is in part understood by the secret accusations and twinges of conscience in self-condemning sinners here. But they are absolutely strangers to the joys of the Holy Spirit, to the delights of the soul in communion with God, and to peace of conscience in his favor. They cannot without experience, "know how good the Lord is," no more than see a taste. To discourse to them of spiritual pleasures that flow from the divine presence, of the happiness of the saints "that are before the throne of God, and serve him in his temple," is to speak unintelligible things with the tongue of an angel.
Their minds and language are confined to sensible things. The "natural man receives not the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." There may be in the carnal mind a conception of Heaven, as a sanctuary where in they may be secured from the wrath of God, and some smothering confused thoughts of its felicity, as the idea of light and colors in one blind from his birth; but only "the pure in heart can see God," as in the perfect vision of glory hereafter, so in the imperfect reflection of it here.
(2.) Carnal men are more disposed to be wrought upon, by representing the torments of Hell, than the joys of Heaven. For we cannot love but what is known, nor enjoy but what is loved. And as the purification of the heart from wicked affections is an excellent means to clear the mind; so the illumination of the mind is very influential to warm the heart. The true conception of Heaven in its amiable excellencies, would powerfully and sweetly ravish the affections; and of this, illumined souls are only capable. But those who are sensual, are without relish of spiritual happiness, and are allured or terrified only with what is pleasant or painful to flesh.
It is recorded as the unparalleled folly of Nero, that when he was ready to cut his own throat to avoid the fury of the multitude, he broke forth into great expressions of sorrow. It was not the loss of the Roman empire that so much troubled him, as that so much skill in music died with him. He valued himself more as a fiddler, than an emperor.
Thus carnal men with a folly infinitely more prodigious, when death is near, are not so much affected with the loss of the crown of glory and the kingdom of Heaven—as with their present leaving this world and its vanities. This makes death intolerably bitter. Until the love of God purifies the heart, the fruition of his presence is not esteemed nor desired.
A seraphim sent from the presence of God with a flaming coal from the altar, touched the lips of the holy prophet, and his heart was presently melted into a compliance with the divine will. But if a rebel angel, that burns with another fire than of divine love, were dispatched from Hell with a coal from that altar, where so many victims are offered to divine justice as there are damned souls, and touched obdurate sinners, that they might have a lively sense what it is to burn forever—it would be the most congruous and effectual means to reclaim them; like stubborn metals, they are only made pliant by the fire.
From what has been said, we may observe the heavenly harmony between mercy and justice in God. He is the Father of mercy—it is his natural offspring, his primary inclination to the creature. The threatening of vengeance against sinners, is a gracious design to constrain them with humility and repenting affections to seek his favor. Briefly, his severity and flaming displeasure never destroys sinners, but revenges the abuse of his neglected benignity and clemency.
2. This shows the woeful depravity of the minds and wills of men, who choose sin when thinly painted over with pleasure, notwithstanding the most dreadful and durable torments, the certain consequences of their sin. Desperate folly! either they believe, or do not, the eternal torment of Hell. If they do not, how prodigious is their impiety? If they do, it is more prodigious that they dare indulge their wicked affections. A wicked professor is more monstrous and guilty than a wicked infidel.
In some there is atheism full of folly, or folly full of atheism, that they will not believe the prepared plagues for the wicked in the next state, because they have no sensible proof of them. Reason, assisted by divine revelation, affords so clear an evidence of the future state, and the rewards and punishments in it, that if any sincerely apply themselves to consider things, he will receive the most affective conviction of them.
It is true, there is not sensible evidence; for God will try our faith before he satisfies our sight; partly, that we may honor his veracity, by yielding a firm assent to his word, before the actual accomplishment of what is promised or threatened; and partly, that our obedience may be voluntary and unconstrained, that his goodness may take its rise to reward us.
But these presumptuous infidels live as if they had no soul, nothing of understanding in them; they are wholly under the dominion of sense, as if they were free and lawless, independent and unaccountable; as if the most high Governor of the world were an inferior being, without power and justice to vindicate the honor of his despised Deity. They do not fear Hell, but are afraid that they should be fearful of it. This is such a piece of folly (but infinitely more woeful) as that of the West Indians, who at their first invasion by the Spaniards, were so terrified by their glittering swords, that they presently fled, and very considerately resolved to hide themselves in the day, and assault their enemies in the night. They were fearful to see their danger, and rash to encounter it, and fighting in the dark were killed in the dark.
The threatenings of eternal damnation are the brandishing "of God's glittering sword" before he strikes; and sensual infidels are afraid lest the belief of those terrible truths should pierce into their hearts; therefore are utterly averse from due considering their danger, and will not acknowledge what they shall certainly suffer. It is in vain to offer arguments to convince them; for they are as deaf as adders to the wisest instructions, until sense extorts an acknowledgment from them. They have hardened their hearts and faces against all reproofs, and by an open contempt of Scripture-threatenings, are past reclaiming. They are now fearless of that judgment, the thoughts whereof make the devils tremble! But the time will shortly come, when the word of the righteous God, which now they despise, shall irresistibly and immediately, like lightning shot from Heaven, destroy them.
There are many degrees of sin, many steps in the descent to Hell; but the lowest and nearest the gate of that infernal prison, is the scornful derision of God's dreadful threatenings for the wicked.
Others in the Christian church who profess and presume they are true believers—yet by living indulgently in their pleasant or profitable sins, reveal that their faith is counterfeit. They have such a superficial assent to the truth of God's word, that is without efficacy, and will not avail them at the last. Sincere faith in the divine threatenings, produces such a fear as would make men circumspect over their hearts and ways. The fear of a present destructive evil controls the most eager appetites.
It is recorded, that when the army of Israel was in pursuit of the Philistines, Saul, to complete his victory, forbade, upon pain of death, that any should taste food until the sun was down. In the chase of their enemies they pass through a wood dropping with honey; yet notwithstanding their hunger and faintness, and the easy provisions before them, no man so much as tasted it, "for the people feared the king's oath." Just so, did men truly believe and fear the law of God, threatening Hell for sin—would they dare to commit it, though invited by the pleasant temptations? Nay, not only a strong fear, but the mere suspicion of great danger, will restrain the most vehement desires of nature. What person, though inflamed with thirst, would drink a glass of cool water, if he knew that deadly poison were mixed with it? And if men were persuaded that sin is attended with eternal damnation, would "they drink in iniquity like water?" The devils themselves are not able to conquer the fear of judgment to come, they believe and tremble. Therefore when it is not active upon the conscience, it is either because men do not believe it, or they imagine that retaining their beloved lusts, they may obtain an easy absolution, and escape the damnation of Hell, which the eternal Judge has declared shall be the punishment of all who will not cut off the right hand, and pluck out the right eye, separate their dearest corruptions from them.
Astonishing perverseness! How many will not discern nor censure that folly in themselves, which they will condemn in others for extreme madness? If one riotously lavishes away his estate, and for the short pleasure of a few years, is reduced with the prodigal to extreme poverty, and to loathsome imprisonment all his life after, would he not be esteemed to have been besides himself? Yet this is a very tolerable case, in comparison of exposing the soul to eternal vengeance, for the pleasures of sin that are but for a season!
3. Let us steadfastly believe, and frequently consider, that "Eternal death is the wages of sin," that we may renounce it with the deepest abhorrence, and forsake it forever. We are assured, from the wisdom and compassion of our Savior, that it is a powerful means to mortify the inclination to sin, and to induce us to prevent and resist all temptations. The subtle tempter cannot present any motives, that to a rectified mind will make sin eligible.
Let the scales be even, and put into one all the delights of the senses, all the pleasures and honors of the world, which are the elements of carnal felicity—how light are they when weighed against the heavenly glory! Will the gain of the world compensate the loss of the soul and salvation forever? If there were any possible comparison between deluding transient vanities, and the happiness that is substantial and satisfying forever, the choice would be more difficult, and the mistake less culpable; but they vanish into nothing in the comparison.
According to the judgment of sense, would anyone choose the enjoyment of the most exquisite pleasures for a year, and afterwards be content to burn in a furnace for a day? Much less to enjoy them for a day, and to burn for a year! What stupid brutes are they, who for momentary delights incur the fiery indignation of God forever! Try putting your finger into the flames of a candle, and you will soon discover your weakness. Will the remembrance of sensual delights allay the torments of the damned? When carnal lusts are most inflamed—pain will extinguish all the pleasures of the senses. If actual enjoyment cannot afford delight when the body is under a disease, will the reflections upon past pleasures in the imagination and memory refresh the damned in their extreme torments? No, the remembrance will infinitely increase their anguish, that for such, seeming and short pleasures, they brought upon themselves misery intolerable, without ease or end!
O that men would strip sin of its disguises, and wash off its flattering colors, and look into its odious nature, and to the consequential evils of it in the next world! O that they would consider that they hang by slender strings over the bottomless pit, and that within a little while nothing will remain of the pleasures of sin, but the undying worm, and the ever-living flames! This would be a means to raise and preserve in them an invincible resolution and reluctancy against all temptations to sin and provoke God. But how hardly are men induced to exercise their minds on this terrible object! They think least of Hell, who have most reason to consider it.
To this I must add, that the mere fear of Hell, and the judicial impression upon conscience from it, is not sufficient to convert men to God. For that servile affection, though it may stop a temptation, and hinder the eruption of a lust into the gross act—yet it does not renew the nature, and make men holy and heavenly. There may be a respective dislike of sin, with a direct affection to it. Besides, that religion that is the mere effect of fear, will be, according to the nature of its principle, with resistance and trouble, wavering and inconstant; for tormenting fear is repugnant to the human nature, and will be expelled if possible.
In short, the fear of Hell may be only a natural affection which recoils from what is painful to sense. Therefore it is the great design of the gospel, by the fear of Hell, as a powerful preparative, to make way for the love of God, who offers pardon and forgiveness to all returning sinners; and for the hope of Heaven, the blessed reward promised to them.
No offers of mercy will prevail to make sinners to yield themselves, until they are stormed by the terrors of the Lord. But when the fear of Hell has made a breach, divine grace enters and takes possession. As the virtue of the magnet when encompassed with iron is increased, and draws a far greater weight than when it is naked and single; thus the attractives of Heaven are more powerful to move the hearts of men, when enforced from the terrors of Hell. Now the love of God, and the hope of Heaven, are spiritual affections; and the obedience that flows from them is voluntary and persevering from the entire consent of the soul.
Lastly, From the consideration of the punishment determined for sin, we may understand how dear our engagements are to the Lord Jesus Christ. The righteous Judge of the world would not release the guilty without a ransom, nor the surety without satisfaction; and the Son of God most willingly and compassionately gave his precious blood as the price of our redemption. He obtained the Spirit of holiness, to illuminate our minds, to incline our wills, to sanctify our affections; without whose omnipotent grace, neither the hopes nor fears of things spiritual and future, would ever have cleansed and changed our hearts and lives.
We are naturally as senseless as the dead, as to what concerns our everlasting peace. We are blind and brutish, and without fear would plunge ourselves into destruction, if the Spirit of power, and of a sound mind, did not quicken and direct us in the way to everlasting life. O that we might feel our dear obligations to him who has "delivered us from the wrath to come," and purchased for us a perfect felicity, and without end!
I would not lessen and disparage one divine work, to advance and extol another; but it is a truth that shines with its own light, and is declared by our Savior: that our redemption from Hell to Heaven is a more excellent benefit than our creation; in as much as our well-being is better than our being, and eternal misery is infinitely worse than merely not being. Our Savior speaks of Judas, "It had been better for him if he had never been born."
How astonishing is the love of Christ, who raised us from the bottom of Hell to the bosom of God, the seat of all true happiness! If his perfections were not most amiable and attractive—yet that he died for us, should make him the object of our most ardent affections. "To those who believe, he is precious!" To those who have felt their undone condition, and that by his merits and mediation are restored to the favor of God, who are freed from tormenting fears, and revived with the sweetest hopes—he is and will be eminently and eternally precious!
"Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be to him who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb forever and ever!"