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This valley bounds Jerusalem on the north, and lies below Mount Zion,—à scene of sacred and imperishable associations. In this valley, Moloch, the national god of the Amorites, was worshipped with the horrid and inhuman rite of sacrificing children in the fire. When Josiah in his conquests overthrew this idolatry, he poured contempt upon the infernal practice by casting into the valley the bones of the departed. In the estimation of the old Hebrew, the bones of the dead caused the greatest of all pollutions. Whatever person, place, or things, they touched were forth with considered “unclean.' Hence this valley of Hinnom, this Gehenna, this “hell,” having been the receptacle of the human remains which Josiah threw into it, was considered a place the most polluted and accursed. From this circumstance it became a common receptacle for all the refuse from the city of Jerusalem. Here large quantities of decomposing vegetable and animal matter were constantly thrown. This putrescent matter generated an abundance of worms :—the worm here never died. To prevent the noxious effluvia, springing from this mass of corruption, poisoning the atmosphere and breathing disease and death into the heart of the city, fires were kept burning day and night. This valley therefore was literally a place where “the worm never died, and where the fire was never quenched.”
Jesus, as a teacher, always seized on such incidents and facts as were familiar to His hearers, in order to illustrate His meaning. He uses now this abominable, worm-generating, and perpetually burning, valley to symbolize the dark destiny which awaits the wicked.
With these explanatory remarks it will appear obvious that this startling question of Jesus in the text contains two important thoughts :
The text is but one of numerous figurative passages which teach this solemn fact. The New Testament abounds in imagery, no less startling and appalling. We read of "outer darkness, of a "lake of fire,” of a “bottomless pit,” of a “place of torment,” of the “ blackness of darkness for ever." This language, though confessedly highly figurative, is fraught with a tremendous meaning, and well adapted to start in the mind the most terrific ideas of agonising torture.
It is far enough from my aim at present, and far enough from my judgment and taste at any time, to occupy your attention with any horrific description of the miseries of hell. Preaching hell is not preaching Christ; frightening men is not instructing them ; the awakening of fear is not the exalting of conscience. Religion is not the spirit of fear, but of love, and of power, and of a sound mind.” Nor is it my intention to speculate about the precise nature or scene of future punishment. My point at present is simply with the fact.
This fact stands supported by evidence independent of the Scriptures. Were there no Bible, there would still be considerations sufficiently potent to compel our faith in the doctrine. Future punishment is not one of the special doc. trines of revelation; it is a fact proclaimed by reason, and written in characters of fire on the conscience of all. The man who denies it as truly offers violence to the philosophy of his nature, as to the testimonies of this Book. The following considerations might be urged
First : Moral government implies it. A moral administration is a fact, as palpable to our moral reason, as the sun is to the bodily eye. It is not an arbitrary institution ; it is founded in the highest reason; it is necessary to the good of the universe. The design of all rational and just government is the maintenance of general order and peace. But if the law be violated and the penalty not inflicted, this end would not be realized. The law which requires suffering for sin is not only just, but most benevolent. Disconnect suffering from wrong, and the moral universe would soon be a scene of anarchy and confusion. If there be sin in the universe, benevolence requires a hell in the universe. As the health of Jerusalem demanded that fire should be kept burning in the valley of Hinnom, day and night, to prevent the air from becoming pestilential, and breathing death into the heart of the population; so the interests of the moral creation require, that there should be a hell flaming wherever there is sin, to prevent the contagion of depravity from spreading into the holy cities of the good, and blighting with a moral death the universe of God.
Secondly : The foreboding of conscience indicates it. Whatever may be the theories propounded in relation to the human mind, all admit, as a reality, the existence of a conscience; an actual something-a moral nerve which feelingly connects man with law and God :-a nerve which hears and sees the spiritual, carries the voices of the decalogue and the visions of the judgment into our inmost nature. This conscience both in the savage and the sage foreshadows the scene of coming retribution. It has heard the trumpet blast, it has seen the judge enthroned, the prisoner arraigned, the books opened, the witnesses examined ; heard the sentence pronounced, and marked the final delivery of the culprit into the everlasting custody of justice !
Do not these universal apprehensions argue the doctrine of future retribution, or, have they no meaning? Do you say that these forebodings rise from the influence of priestcraft ? In lands where no priest has ever trod, and in times when priesthood was unknown, we find them. They are as universal as intuitions, and they are to the scenes of retribution what the grey beams of morning are to that noontide flood which reveals the world in brightness ; what the low moanings and howlings of the winds are to the approaching tempests that shall lash the ocean into fury and shake the globe ;—prophecies and precursors. The structure of the human eye does not more clearly imply the existence of light, than the forebodings of a guilty conscience the existence of a hell.
Thirdly: Moral causation involves it. The principle of causation, or the relation of cause and effect, is developed in
all finite existences. The present life and state of all creatures are the results of past causes. The condition of each plant and animal to-day is the effect of yesterday. There is nothing living, on which you can fix your eyes, that is not to-day the effect of all the causes and influences that have been operating on it from the beginning of its existence. This is true of the globe itself. Its condition to-day is the result of all the forces that have been acting upon it through the most distant periods of geological calculation. This is true of the intellect. The state of my intellect at this hour is the result of all the thoughts that have ever coursed their way through my soul. This law holds true in relation to character. The character of every man this day is at once the expression and effect of all the influences he has ever felt, of all the actions he has ever performed. Nothing that man does ever dies; no act terminates in itself; it makes an everlasting impression; it becomes an element in the moral existence of its author; it sends its vibrations along the lines of the endless future. Man's life, is not like a dew-drop falling on the rock, soon exhaled by the sun; but it is like a river—its present state is the result of its past; its strength, and color, and character, are the result of the soil through which it has passed, the contributory streams that have flown into it, and the winds that have rippled its surface or stirred its depths. Thus our “works follow us ;" and if a wicked man is to live in the future, his works must follow him with a crushing and withering influence. Thus it is that the sinner by a necessary law "treasures up wrath against the day of wrath.”
Fourthly: The function of memory insures it. Memory is a power which by a necessary law of mind is constantly calling up vividly to our hearts our past lives. did not entail on us its influence, did not in fact enter into the
very life of the present, memory would nevertheless connect us with it. We never lose our yesterdays. Memory gathers up the fragments of our bygone years, so that " nothing is lost.” The wave of oblivion will roll over no part
If the past
of our past life. Scarcely a day transpires now in which some little suggestive incident does not occur to throw us back upon some past portion of our lives. Sometimes a word, a name, a sound, a tree, a plant, a flower, a pebble, will bring back to the mind all the young and wild days of childhood. Memory has now its resurrections; rarely an hour departs in which some grave does not open, and the ghost of some long-buried event or act does not start to life. As ocean prints her undulations on the shore, memory prints its actions and events on the soul:a tablet this, not like sand, but like eternal adamant. Thus we may presume that, as in the present so in the future, events will be constantly happening that will call up to memory the past doings of our life. As the Jews of old, in the land of exile, beheld the Babylonian river, and then thought upon the Jordan of their own land, and then upon the signal privileges of their Canaan home, and thus got surcharged with those sorrowful emotions, which impelled them to hang their harps on the willows, and beneath the bending branches mingle their tears in the bosom of the rolling stream ; so the exiled sinner in the awful forever, as he sees the river of eternity rolling on, mirroring on its swelling wave the events of time, will “remember his transgressions, and be grieved."
Fifthly : Social affinities suggest it. There are certain principles which determine our social alienation or attraction. The carnal and the spiritual, the generous and the selfish, the base and the noble, the profane and the pious, mutually shun each other. Their diversity constitutes a principle of mutual repulsion. This principle exists here as the basis of all social connexions. Will it not exist in the future? If we exist, must it not exist ?— It is a part of ourselves. it be supposed that they who cannot live together here will commingle for ever in the future? Will a Herod have the same home as a John the Baptist? A Nero as a Paul ? Can it be that the debauchees, the persecutors, and murderers--the Henries, the Jeffreys, Lauds, and Bonners, will mingle with the great benefactors of the race and the true