Page images
PDF
EPUB

not foresee 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, till sense extort 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 asin, many steps in the descent to hell; but the lowest and near

est the gate of that infernal prison, is the scornsul derision of God's dreadful preparations 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, discover their faith is counterfeit, such a superficial assent to the truth of God's word that is without efficacy, and will not avail them at the last. Unseigned faith of 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 till 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." And did men truly believe and fear the law of God, threatening hell for sin, would they dare to commit it, though invited by pleasant temptations? Nay, not only a strong fear, but the mere suspicion of great danger, will restrain the most vehement desires of nature. though inflamed with thirst, would drink a glass of cool liquor, if he suspected that deadly poison were mixed with it? And if men were persuaded that sin is attended with eternal death, 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 fancy 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 that will not cut off the right hand, and pluck out the right eye, separate their dearest corruptions from them. Astorishing 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, be reduced with the prodigal to extreme

What person,

poverty, and to loathsome imprisonment all his life after; would he not be esteemed to have been beside 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 Saviour, that it is a powerful means to mortify the inclination to sin, and to induce us to prevent and resist all temptations. The subtile tempter cannot present any motive, that to a rectified mind will make sin eligible. Let the scales be even, and put in one all the delights of the senses, all the pleasures and honors of the world, that are the elements of carnal felicity; how light are they 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 deluded 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 judg. ment of sense, would any one 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? Tuy your finger with the flame of a candle, you will soon discorer your weakness. Will the remembrance of sensual delights allay the torments of the damned ? When carnal lusts are most inflamed, and objects are present, pain will extinguish all the pleasure of the senses : and if actual employment cannot afford delight when the body is under a disease, will the reflections upon past pleasures in the fancy 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 man 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 they bang by slender strings (a little breath that expires every minute) 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 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, that 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 indemnity 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, till 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 loadstone, when encompassed and armed 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, from the entire consent of the soul, and persevering.

Lastly, From the consideration of the punishment determined for sin, we may understand how dear our engagements are to the Lord Jesus Christ. The rector and 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 coinpassionately gave his precious blood 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 or 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, blind and brutish; and without fear should 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 felicity perfect, 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 Saviour, that our redemption from hell to heaven, is a more ex

* Nisi timore incipiat homo deum colere, non perveniet ad amorem.

Aug

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 the revelation 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. Now that in Scripture it is evident, that God hath 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 na. ture.

Thus the Apostle with abhorrence rejects the question, Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance ? God forbid : for then how shall God judge the world ? Rom. 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 pore than his Maker? Job 4. 17. The reprobates have now some bold advocates, that plead those things for favor to them, 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 defenceless silence, before he cuts them off. “God will be justified in his sentence, and overcome when he judgeth."

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 of 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 propinquity 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 forecasting to prevent an evil looked on at a distance. Therefore that the sanction of the di.

vine law may preserve the 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 Saviour warns his disciples,“ Fear not them that can kill the body (make that part die that is mortal) but fear him that after he has killed, has power to cast into hell; yea,

I say unto you, fear him.” Now if the threatening of an everlasting hell, through infidelity and inconsideration, be 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, carnal sinners would follow the swing 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 connexion 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 that 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 absolutely neglect so great salvation ; how reasonable is it they should inherit 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, no tolerable mediocrity, but two contrary states; yet alike in this, that the happiness and misery are equally eternal: and it is just, that all who neglect eternal life, should suffer eternal death; for it is the natural and necessary consequence of their option; therefore sinners are charged with extreme madness, to wrong their own souls, and to love death, Prov. 8. 36.

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,

« PreviousContinue »