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infinite disproportion between an endless duration of pain, and a short life spent in pleasure, that men (some at least of them) can scarcely be brought to confess it as an article of their faith, that an eternity of misery awaits the wicked in a future state.
I shall, therefore, at this time, beg leave to insist on the proof of this part of one of the articles of our creed; and endeavor to make good, what our blessed Lord has here threatened in the words of the text, These, (that is the wicked) shall go away into everlasting punishment.
Accordingly, without considering the words as they stand in relation to the context, I shall resolve all that I have to say, into this one general proposition, That the torments reserved for the wicked hereafter, are eternal.
But before I proceed to make this good, I must inform you that I take it for granted, all present do steadfastly believe they have something within them, which we call a soul, and which is capable of surviving the dissolution of the body, and of be
miserable or happy to all eternity. I take it for granted farther, that you believe a divine revelation; that those books emphatically called the scriptures, were written by the inspiration of God, and that the things therein contained, are founded upon eternal truth.
I take it for granted, that you believe that the Son of God came down to die for sinners; and that there is but one Mediator between God and man, even the man Christ Jesus.
These things being granted, and they were necessary to be premised, proceed we now to make good the one general proposition asserted in the text, That the torments reserved for the wicked hereafter are eternal. These shall go away into everlasting punishment. The
First argument I shall advance to prove that the torments reserved for the wicked hereafter are eternal, (for I have taken it for granted, that you believe those books, emphatically called the scriptures, were written by the inspiration of God, and that the things contained therein are founded upon eternal truth) is, that the word of God himself assures us, in line upon line, that it will be so.
To quote all the texts that might be produced in proof of this, would be endless. Let it suffice to instance only a few. In the Old Testament, in the book of Daniel, chap. xii, verse 2. we are told that some “shall awake to everlasting life," and others to “everlasting contempt.” In the book of Isaiah, it is said, that “the worm of those who have transgressed God's law, and die impenitently, shall not die, nor their fire be quenched." And, in another place, the holy prophet, struck, no doubt, with astonishment and horror at the prospect of the continuance
of the torments of the damned, breaks out into this moving expostulation, "Who can dwell with everlasting burnings ?”
The New Testament is still fuller as to this point, it being a revelation which brought this and such like particulars to a clear light. The apostle Jude tells us of the profane despisers of dignities in his days, that for them was reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.” And in the Revelations it is written, that “the smoke of the torments of the wicked ascendeth for ever and ever.” And if we believe the witness of men inspired, the witness of the Son of God, who had the Spirit given him, as Mediator, without measure, is still far greater : and in St. Mark's gospel he repeats the solemn declaration three several times, “It is better for thee to enter into life maimed; (that is, it is better to forego the gratification of thy lust, or incur the displeasure of a friend, which may be as dear to thee as a hand, or as useful as a foot,) than having two hands and feet, (that is, for indulging the one, or disobeying God to oblige the other) to be cast into hell, where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched."
And here again, in the words of the text, These (the wicked) shall go away into everlasting punishment.
I know it has been objected by some who have denied the eternity of hell torments, that the words everlasting, and ever and ever, are often used in the Holy Scriptures, (especially the Old Testament) when they signify not an endless duration, but a limited term of time.
And this we readily grant. But then we reply, that when the words are used with this limitation, they either manifestly appear to be used so from the context; or are put in opposition to occasional types, which God gave his people on some special occasions, as when it is said, “It shall be a perpetual or everlasting statute, or, a statute for ever;" that is a standing type, and not merely transient or occasional, as was the pillar of cloud, the manna, and such like. Or, lastly, they have a relation to that covenant God made with his spiritual Israel : which if understood in a spiritual sense, will be everlasting, though the ceremonial dispensation be abolished.
Besides, it ought to be observed, that some of the passages just now referred to, have neither of these words so much as mentioned in them, and cannot possibly be interpreted so as to denote only a limited term of years.
But let that be as it will, it is evident, even to a demonstration, that the words of the text will not admit of such a restrained signification, as appears from their being directly opposed to the words immediately following, “That the righteous shall go into life eternal.”. From which words, all are ready
to grant, that the life promised to the righteous will be eternal. And why the punishment threatened to the wicked should not be understood to be eternal likewise, when the very same word in the original, is used to express the duration of each, no shadow of a reason can be given.
But, secondly, There cannot be one argument urged, why God should reward his saints with everlasting happiness, which will not equally prove that he ought to punish sinners with eternal misery
For, since we know nothing, (at least for certainty) how he will deal with either, but by a divine revelation; and since, as was proved by the foregoing argument, he hath as positively threatened, eternally to punish the wicked, as to reward the good; it follows, that his truth will be as much impeached and called in question, did he not inflict his punishments, as it would be if he did not confer his rewards.
To this also it has been objected, that though God is obliged by promise to give his rewards, yet his veracity could not be called in question, supposing he should not execute his threatenings, as he actually did not in the case of Nineveh ; which God expressly declared by his prophet Jonah, “should be destroyed in forty days.” Notwithstanding the sequel of the story informs us, that Nineveh was spared.
But in answer to this objection, we affirm, that God's threatenings, as well as promises, are without repentance; and for this reason, because they are both founded on the eternal laws of right reason. Accordingly we always find, that where the conditions were not performed, on the nonperformance of which the threatenings were denounced, God always executed the punishment threatened. The driving Adam out of Eden, the destruction of the old world by a deluge of water, and the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, are, and will be always so many standing monuments of God's executing his threatenings when denounced, though to our weak apprehensions, the punishment may seem far to exceed the crime.
It is true, God did spare Nineveh, and that because the inhabitants did actually repent, and therefore performed the conditions upon which it was supposed, by the prophet's being sent to warn them, the threatened punishment should be withheld.
And so in respect to gospel threatenings. If men will so far consult their own welfare as to comply with the gospel, God certainly will not punish them, but on the contrary, confer upon them his rewards. But to affirm that he will not punish, and that eternally too, impenitent, obstinate sinners, according as he hath threatened ; what is it
, in effect, but to make God
like a man, that he should lie, or the son of man that he should repent ?
But the absurdity of such an opinion will appear still more evident from
The third argument I shall offer, to prove, that the torments reserved for the wicked hereafter are eternal, from the nature of the christian covenant.
And here I must again observe, that it was taken for granted at the beginning of this discourse, that you believe the Son of God came down to save sinners; and that there is but one Mediator between God and man, even the man Christ Jesus.
And here I take it for granted farther, (unless you believe the absurd and unwarrantable doctrine of purgatory) that you are fully persuaded, this life is the only time allotted by Almighty God for working out our salvation, and that after a few years are passed over, there will remain no more sacrifice for sin.
And if this be granted (and who dares deny it ?) it follows, that if a wicked man dieth in his wickedness, and under the wrath of God, he must continue in that state to all eternity. For, since there is no possibility of his being delivered out of such a condition, but by and through Christ, and since, at the hour of death, the time of Christ's mediation and intercession for him is irrecoverably gone; the same reason that may be given, why God should punish a sinner that dieth under the guilt of his sins for a single day, will equally hold good, why he should continue to punish him for a year, an age, nay to all eternity.
But I hasten to the fourth and last argument, to prove, that the torments reserved for the wicked hereafter are eternal, because the devil's punishment is to be so.
That there is such a being whom we call the devil ; that he was once an angel of light, but for his pride and rebellion against God, was cast down from heaven, and is now permitted with the rest of the spiritual wickednesses, to walk to and fro, seeking whom he may devour ; that there is a place of torment reserved for them, or to use the apostle's words, “ That they are reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day;" are truths all here present were supposed to be convinced of, at the beginning of this discourse, you believing the Holy Scriptures to be written by the inspiration of God, wherein these truths are delivered.
But then, if we allow all this and think it no injustice in God to punish those once glorious spirits for their rebellion ; how can we think it unjust in him to punish wicked men for their impenitence to all eternity ?
You will say, perhaps, that they have sinned against greater light, and therefore deserve a greater punishment. And so we grant that the punishment of the fallen angels may be greater as to degree, than that of wicked men ; but then we affirm, it will be equal as to the eternal duration of it: for in that day, as the lively oracles of God inform us, shall the Son of man say to them on his left hand, “ Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Where we find that impenitent sinners are to be cast into the same everlasting fire with the devil and his angels; and that too very justly. For though they may have sinned against greater light, yet christians sin against greater mercy; since Christ took not hold of, did not die for, the fallen angels, but for men and our salvation. So that if God spared not those excellent beings, assure thyself, O obstinate sinner, whoever thou art, he will by no means spare
thee. Fronı what then has been said it plainly appears, that verily the torments reserved for the wicked hereafter, are eternal. And if so, brethren, how ought we to fly to Jesus Christ for refuge; how holy ought we to be in all manner of conversation and godliness, that we may be accounted worthy to escape this wrath to come!
But before I proceed to a practical exhortation, permit me to draw an inference or two from what has been said.
And first, if the torments reserved for the wicked hereafter are eternal, what shall we say of those, who make an open profession in their creed to believe a life everlasting, a life of misery as well as happiness, and yet dare to live in the actual commission of those sins which will unavoidably, without repentance, bring them into that place of torment! Thou believest that the punishments of the impenitently wicked in another life, are eternal : thou doest well
, the devils also believe and tremble. But know, O vain man, unless this belief doth influence thy practice, and makes thee bid adieu to thy sins, every time thou repeatest thy creed, thou dost in effect say, I believe I shall be undone for ever.
But, secondly, if the torments reserved for the wicked hereafter are eternal, then let this serve as a caution to such persons, (and it is to be feared there are some such) as go about to dissuade others from the belief of such an important truth : there being no surer way, in all probability, to encourage and promote infidelity and profaneness, than the broaching or maintaining so unwarrantable a doctrine. For if the positive threats of God concerning the eternity of hell torments, are already found insufficient to deter men from sin, a higher pitch of wickedness may we imagine they will quickly arrive at, when they