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THE TERRORS OF THE LORD.
Matt. XVI. 26.
What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole
world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul ?
THESE words ask a question, the most home to every man's concern of any that can possibly enter into his thoughts. What our Saviour meant to assert, though proposed to his hearers in the form of a question (which indeed was only a stronger and more affecting way of asserting it), is, that a man's soul, by which term is here meant his state after death, is so infinitely more important to him, so beyond and above any thing he can get, or any thing he can lose, any thing he can enjoy, or any thing he can suffer, on this side the
grave, that nothing which the world offers can make up for the loss of it, or be a compensation when that is at stake. You say that this is very evident; I reply, that evident as it is, it is not thought of, it is not considered, it is not believed. The subject, therefore, is very proper to be set forth in those strong and plain terms which such a subject requires, for the purpose of obtaining for it some degree of that attention which each man's own deep interest in the event demands of him to give it.
There are two momentous ideas which are inclu in the expression, the loss of a man's soul ; and are the positive pain and sufferings which he wi
after his death ; and the happiness and reward which he will forfeit. Upon both of these points we must go for information to the Scriptures. Nowhere else can we receive any. Now, as to the first point, which is, in other words, the punishment of hell, I do admit, that it is very
difficult to handle this dreadful subject properly. And one cause, amongst others, of the difficulty is, that it is not for one poor sinner to denounce such appalling terrors, such tremendous consequences against another. Damnation is a word which lies not in the mouth of man, who is a worm, towards any of his fellow-creatures whatsoever : yet it is absolutely necessary that the threatenings of Almighty God be known and published. Therefore we begin by observing, that the accounts which the Scriptures contain of the punishment of hell are, for the most part, delivered in figurative or metaphorical terms, that is to say, in terms which represent things of which we have no notion, by a comparison with things of which we have a notion. Therefore take notice what those figures and metaphors are. They are of the most dreadful kind which words can express ; and, be they understood how they may, ever so figuratively, it is plain that they convey, and were intended to convey, ideas of horrible torment. They are such as these, “ being cast into hell, where the worm dieth not, and where the fire is not quenched.” It is “ burning the chaff with unquenchable fire.” It is “ going into fire everlasting, which is prepared for the devil and his angels." These are heart-appalling expressions; and were undoubtedly intended by the person who used them (who was no other than our Lord Jesus Christ himself) to describe terrible endurings; positive, actual pains of the most horrible kinds. I have said, that the punishment of hell is thus
represented to us in figurative speech. I now say, that, from the nature of things, it could hardly have been represented to us in any other. It is of the very nature of pain, that it cannot be known without being felt. It is impossible to give to any one an exact conception of it without his actually tasting it. Experience alone teaches its acuteness and intensity. For which reason, when it was necessary that the punishment of hell should be set forth in Scripture for our warning, and set forth to terrify us from our sins, it could only be done, as it has been done, by comparing it with sufferings, of which we can form a conception, and making use of terms drawn from these sufferings. When words less figurative, and more direct, but at the same time more general, are adopted, they are not less strong, otherwise than as they are more general. Indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil.” These are Saint Paul's words. It is a short sentence, but enough to make the stoutest heart tremble ; for, though it unfold no particulars, it clearly designates positive torment. The day of judgement itself, so far as it respects the wicked, is expressly called “ a day of wrath.” The Lord Jesus, as to them, shall be revealed in flaming fire. How terrible a fate it must be to find ourselves at that day the objects of God's wrath, the objects upon whom his threats and judgements against sin are now to be executed, the revelation of his righteous judgement and of his unerring truth to be displayed, may be conceived in some sort, by considering what stores of inexhaustible misery are always in his power. With our present constitutions, if we do but touch the smallest part of our bodies, if a nerve in many places goes wrong, what torture we endure! Let any man, who has felt, or rather whilst he
is feeling, the agony of some bodily torment, only reflect, what a condition that must be, which had to suffer this continually, which night and day was to undergo the same, without prospect of cessation or relief : and then ask, for what he would knowingly bring himself into this situation ; what pleasure, what gain would be an inducement ? Let him reflect also, how bitter, how grinding an aggravation of his sufferings, as well as of his guilt, it must be, that he has wilfully and forewarned brought all this upon himself. May it not be necessary, that God should manifest his truth by executing his threats? may it not be necessary, that he should at least testify his justice by placing a wide difference between the good and the bad ? between virtue, which he loves, and vice, which he abhors ? which difference must consist in the different state of happiness and of misery in which the good and bad are finally placed. And may we not be made deserved sacrifices to this dispensation ?
Now if any one feel his heart struck with the terrors of the Lord, with the consideration of this dreadful subject, and with the declarations of Scripture relating thereto, which will all have their accomplishment ; let him be entreated, let him be admonished, to hold the idea, tremendous as it is, fully in his view, till it has wrought its effect, that is, till it has prevailed with him to part with his sins; and then we assure him, that to alarm, fright, and horror, will succeed
peace, and comfort, and joy in the Holy Ghost. There is another way of treating the matter, and that is, to shake off the idea if we can ; to drown it in intemperance; to overpower it with worldly business; to fly from it in all directions, but mostly in that which carries us to hurrying, tumultuous diversions, to criminal in
dulgences, or into gross sensuality. Now of this course of proceeding it is certain, that, if it lay the mind in any degree at ease in this life, it is at the expense of the inevitable destruction of our souls in the next; which is enough to say against it: but in truth it answers even its present purpose very imperfectly. It is a way of getting rid of the matter, with which even we ourselves are not satisfied. We are sensible that it is a false, treacherous, hollow way of acting towards our own souls. We have no trust in what we are doing. It leaves no peace, no hope, no comfort, no joy.
But to return to the direct subject of our discourse. The Scriptures uniformly represent the wicked as not only suffering positive misery, but also as having lost, by their wickedness, the happiness of heaven, and as being sensible of their loss. They are repeatedly described as cast out, or as shut out, into outer darkness; whilst the good are entering into the joy of their Lord. This imports a knowledge of their own exclusion. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man being in torments, is made to see Lazarus at rest. This teaches us, that the wicked will so far be informed of the state of the good, as to perceive and bewail, with unutterable anguish and regret, their own sad fate in being refused and rejected, when, had they acted differently, they would have been admitted to it. This is, strictly speaking, losing a man's soul : it is losing that happiness which his soul might have attained, and for which it was made. And here comes the bitter ad. dition of their calamity, that, being lost, it cannot be recovered. The heaven we hear of in Scripture, and the hell we hear of in Scripture, are a heaven and a hell depending upon our behaviour in this life. So they are all along spoken of. “ Indignation, wrath,