« AnteriorContinuar »
weak wish, without your perceiving it, into a reason. But, to come a little closer to you, do you not sometimes wish there were no punishments for sin at all? Perhaps, either when temptation seizes you with a pleasing violence, before the committal of a crime, or when remorse terrifies you immediately after, you would be glad to hear, that all shall be freely forgiven, without the agonies of repentance, and the struggles of reformation. If you should ever find this to be the case, ought you not sensibly and honestly to suspect at least, that your argument against the supposition of material fire, in the future punishment, proceeds from a tenderness to yourself, that biasses and blinds your judgment? I know of nothing you can object to the faith of the fathers, such as Cyprian, Chrysostom, Augustine, Jerom, founded on the literal interpretation of the expressions under question, but that the human body can by no means resist the vehemence of such fires; and that such tortures are too shocking to be believed. But do you imagine our immortal bodies are to be as frail and perishable as these, which the worms are to devour? Cannot he that created gold, which no force of fire can destroy, create a living body of as firm a texture? And, as to the other part of your objection, that a torture by literal fire is too shocking to be believed; consider what was just now hinted, that it will be every whit as shocking, to believe in an equal degree of purely spiritual torment. But as to such spiritual punishments as may be hereafter inflicted on the wicked, you have no very clear or sensible notions of them; and therefore you are the more willing to admit them; whereas, were you as well acquainted with them as with the effects of fire, and did you find them, on some partial trials, to be as severe, you would, you must, for the same reason, be as ready to object to them. So then it is, after all, only the severity you boggle at. Now it neither depends on you nor me, but on our Judge, to determine what is enough, or too much, in this respect. But it is extremely worth your while severely to examine, whether the guilt of former transgressions, or a weak indulgence for some lurking irregularity of mind, may not have been the parent of this objection also.
Give me leave to probe another chamber of this ulcer. You believe there will be as many degrees of punishment
as there are of guilt. So do I. But you ought to be well aware, that you do not make a dangerous use of this belief; for if you should imagine, that some degrees of punishment will be so very gentle, as hardly to deserve the name, and should afterward, through a partiality and tenderness too incident to human nature, take it into your head to think your own sins, at worst, within these degrees, when possibly the case may be far otherwise, you turn tempter to yourself, and give the enemy of souls leisure to point his batteries another way. You must be most grossly mistaken, if you do not believe, the punishment to be inflicted hereafter on the least criminal of the damned, is to be inconceivably severe. Hell is bell; and one hour in its coolest apartment is too much to pay for all the pleasures of this world. Besides, you should consider, that he who is cut off from God, and shut out of heaven, let his portion be what it will in the place of torment, must have reason to wish he had never, during his life, soothed himself with distinctions in eternal torments, but always fixed his fears on the very bottom of the furnace.
One little inquiry more, and I have done. Are you not infinitely disgusted, both at my subject itself, and at the little tenderness and delicacy wherewith I have handled it? Are we again, you will say, after all the politeness to which preaching hath been of late reduced, to have hell and damnation rung in our ears, and that in naked terms, without the smallest qualification? Are people of tender ears, and delicate minds, to be frightened out of their senses, before they can be put in the way to heaven? Is he good for any thing, who is good through fear?
Most certainly. He that is good, is good, be his motive what it will. Was fear given you by your Maker for no purpose? Be your delicacy ever so great, you must be dealt with according to the nature God hath given you. But why are you so startled at the sound of hell and damnation? If you are innocent, they stop at your ears; and if you are guilty, surely I am your best friend, if I drive them home to your heart. Your resentment is a full proof, that my medicine, though bitter, hath been well applied; and that you are one of those patients, that prefer their palate to their life. If you ever recover your reason so far as to know that
eternity is longer than this life, you will thank me for not speaking so as to please, but to rouse you.
For what purpose, think you, did God scatter so many threatenings, so many dreadful expressions of terror, throughout his gospel? Was it, that they should never be seen or heard by his people? If infinite wisdom did right in publishing them there, his ministers cannot do wrong in repeating them to his people from the pulpit. On the contrary, they must be guilty of the basest infidelity, if, through a mistaken tenderness, either for themselves, or others, they spare to give loud and frequent warning of them. What spirit of pride and delusion hath seized the church of Christ, that the awful sanctions of God's law must either not be mentioned in his own house, and to his own people, or so minced and qualified, as to do any thing rather than alarm the stupid and the wicked, the very thing for which God hath declared them to the world? Are we all to be judged before the throne of God, and, if found guilty, punished with infinite severity? And must we not be told it? Hear ye,' says Jeremiah, and give ear; for the Lord hath spoken.' Shall we not listen when he speaks? Behold,' he says, I will execute judgment. Vengeance is mine, and I will repay. Depart from me, ye accursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. Tophet is ordained of old; it is deep and large; the pile thereof is fire and much wood; and the breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it.' How shall such words as these be heard without fear and trembling, even by the best of men? But with how much greater terror should you hear them, whose guilty conscience tells you, 'You are the man,' to whom these words, more terrible than all Sinai's thunders, are uttered? And yet you are the man' who ought to listen to them with a more greedy attention than to the music of angels; who ought, if you could, so deeply to stamp them on your unregenerate heart, as that all your thoughts might be engrossed, and all your passions awed, by these terrible, but only means of reformation in a soul stupified by a long course of sin.
Have you any doubts about the reality and severity of these punishments, as set forth to you in so many passages of Scripture? If you have, consider to what a careless and
dangerous course of life such doubts may tempt you, and how shocking a thing it is, to be under any uncertainties about a matter of such infinite concern. Even your doubts ought to make you extremely cautious and wary about your actions; for surely none but a madman would run any hazards in a thing of this nature, so very frightful and alarming. A wise man will not stake all his fortune, if it will afford him a tolerable subsistence, against a hundred times the sum; for if he loses, he is undone. Much less ought you to play heaven and hell, if you think it possible there may be such places, against all the pleasures of sin, were they ten thousand times greater than they are.
But if you have no doubts in this matter, if you firmly believe in the extreme severity and eternity of those torments wherewith sin is said to be punished in the next life, you must be infinitely worse than mad if you are wicked; for, 'What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give,' or what shall sin give him, 'in exchange for his soul?' Sin, indeed, may give you some sudden and violent transports of pleasure; but can you give a loose to them without considering in what they end? How dare you, as bishop Hall says, dance for a moment on the mouth of hell, with the peril of an everlasting burning? If it shocks you to see a man burning alive at a stake, how would it wring your heart to see him in this horrible torture for an entire day,—for a month,-for a year,-for an age,for a whole eternity? Are you so deeply affected with the torment of another? Consider then, how you could endure the same yourself. When you are tempted with the sweets of sin, turn your thoughts to a deep reflection on the bitterness of its end; eternal banishment from God; imprisonment under chains of darkness, under guilt, under shame, under the wrath of God; in the midst of fire, of devils, of horror, of anguish, of despair, of blasphemy; without intermission, without hope of mercy, without ease or end.
Are you shocked? Be shocked at sin, not at my words; for they are the words of soberness and truth;' nay, the words of tenderness and charity for you; words, which, I bless God for it, the holy Scriptures, and my conscience, ring aloud in mine own ears, as often as the tempting plea
sures of sin would smile, and sooth me to destruction. I deal by you, as I do by myself, as God hath dealt by us all; and surely this is faithful dealing.
But remember, dearly beloved in the Lord, 'I have blown the trumpet; I have endeavoured to rouse you from sleep: I have given you warning of your enemy, and your danger; and, in so doing, have laboured to acquit myself, as well as to save you from sin here, and damnation hereafter. It is now your business to give all your thoughts, and all your fears, to what I have said, that the labour of this day may not be vain in the Lord.'
Let us now earnestly beseech the good God to fill our souls with a timely fear of his final judgment, and with such an apprehension of those dreadful torments, to which the wicked at that great event shall be condemned, as may rouse us from the dangerous sleep of sin, to a new and holy life, through Christ Jesus our blessed Redeemer; to whom, with the Father, and the Holy Ghost, be all might, majesty, dignity, and dominion, now, and for evermore. Amen.
OF LOVE TOWARDS GOD.
LUKE X. 27.
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind.
WHOSOEVER is not convinced there is a God, must be an idiot, or a madman. Whosoever believes there is a God, and yet loves him not, must be as destitute of gratitude and goodness, as the Atheist is of understanding. If the proofs of his being are too many, and too strong, to leave the mind of one who can think in any uncertainty about it; the demonstrations of his goodness are too great, and too affecting, to suffer any coolness towards him in his heart, who