« AnteriorContinuar »
ple; and that this should be inflicted by God who infinitely loves his creatures, who died for them, who pardons easily and pities readily, and excuses much, and delights in our being saved, and would not have us to die, and takes little things in exchange for great : it is certain that God's mercies are infinite, and it is also certain that the matter of eternal torments cannot truly be understood; and when the schoolmen go about to reconcile the Divine justice to that severity, and consider why God punishes eternally a temporal sin, or a state of evil, they speak variously, and uncertainly, and unsatisfyingly. But, that in this question we may separate the certain from the uncertain ;
1. It is certain that the torments of hell shall certainly last as long as the soul lasts ; for eternal and everlasting can signify no less but to the end of that duration, to the perfect end of the period which it signifies. So Sodom and Gomorrah, when God rained down hell from heaven upon the earth (as Salvian's expression is), they are said " to suffer the vengeance of eternal fire :” that is, of a fire that consumed them finally, and they never were restored : and so the accursed souls shall suffer torments till they be consumed; who because they are immortal either naturally or by gift, shall be tormented for ever, or till God shall take from them the life that he restored to them on purpose to give them a capacity of being miserable, and the best that they can expect is to despair of all good, to suffer the wrath of God, never to come to any minute of felicity, or of a tolerable state, and to be held in pain till God be weary of striking. This is the gentlest sentence of some of the old doctors.
But, 2. The generality of Christians have been taught to believe worse things yet concerning them; and the words of our blessed Lord are κόλασις αιώνιος, eternal affiction Or smiting;
Nec mortis pænas mors altera finiet hujus,
And St. Johnt, who well knew the mind of his Lord, saith 66 the smoke of their' torment ascendeth up for ever and
t Rev. xiv. 11.
ever, and they have no rest day nor night:" that is, their torment is continual, and it is eternal. Their second death shall be but a dying to all felicity; for so death is taken in Scripture; Adam died when he ate the forbidden fruit; that is, he was liable to sickness and sorrows, and pain and dissolution of soul and body: and to be miserable,. is the worse death of the two; they shall see the eternal felicity, of the saints, but they shall never taste of the holy chalịce. Those joys shall indeed be for ever and ever; for immortality is part of their reward, and on them the second death shall have no power ; but the wicked shall be tormented horribly and insufferably, till “ death and hell be thrown into the lake of fire, and shall be no more: which is the second death.” But that they may not imagine that this second death shall be the end of their pains, St. John speaks expressly what that is, Rev. xxi. 8. “ The fearful and unbelieving, the abominable and the murderers, the whoremongers and sorcerers, the idolaters and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death;" no dying there, but a being tormented, burning in a laķe of fire, that is, the second death. For if life be reckoned a blessing, then to be destitute of all blessing is to have no life ; and therefore to be intolerably miserable is this second death, . that is, death eternal.
3. And yet if God should deal with man hereafter more mercifully and proportionably to his weak nature, than he does to angels, and as he admits him to repentance here, so in hell also to a period of his smart, even when he keeps. the angels in pain for ever; yet he will never admit him to favour, he shall be tormented beyond all the measure of human ages, and be destroyed for ever and ever.
It concerns us all, who hear and believe these things, to do as our blessed Lord will do before the day of his coming; he will call and convert the Jews and strangers: conversion to God is the best preparatory to doomsday: and it concerns all them, who are in the neighbourhood and fringes of the flames of hell, that is, in the state of sin, quickly to arise from the danger, and shake the burning coals off our flesh, lest it consume the marrow and the bones : “ Exuenda
i Rey. xx. 14.
est velociter de incendio sarcina, priusquam flammis supervenientibus concremetur. Nemo diu tutus est, periculo proximus,” saith St. Cyprian; “ No man is safe long, that is so near to danger;" for suddenly the change will come, in which the judge shall be called to judgment, and no man to plead for him, unless a good conscience be his advocate ; and the rich shall be naked as a condemned criminal to execution; and there shall be no regard of princes or of nobles, and the differences of men's account shall be forgotten, and no distinction remaining but of good or bad, sheep and goats, blessed and accursed souls. Among the wonders of the day of judgment, our blessed Saviour reckons it, that men shall be marrying and giving in marriage, γαμούντες και εκγαμίζοντες, marrying and eross-marrying, that is, raising families and lasting greatness and huge estates; when the world is to end so quickly, and the gains of a rich purchase so very a trifle, but no trifling danger"; a thing that can give no security to our souls, but much hazards and a great charge. More reasonable it is, that we despise the world and lay up for heaven, that we heap up treasures by giving alms, and make friends of unrighteous Mammon; but at no hand to enter into a state of life, that is all the way a hazard to the main interest, and at the best, an increase of the particular charge. Every degree of riches, every degree of greatness, every ambitious employment, every great fortune, every eminency above our brother, is a charge to the accounts of the last day. He that lives temperately and charitably, whose employment is religion, whose affections are fear and love, whose desires are after heaven, and do not dwell below; that man can long and pray for the hastening of the coming of the day of the Lord. He that does not really desire and long for that day, either is in a very ill condition, or does not understand that he is in a good. I will not be so severe in this meditation as to forbid any man to laugh, that believes himself shall be called to so severe a judgment; yet St. Jerome said it, “ Coram cælo et terra rationem reddemus totius nostræ vitæ; et tu rides? Heaven and earth shall see all the follies and baseness of thy life: and dost thou laugh ?” That we may, but we have not reason to laugh loudly and frequently if we consider things wisely, and as we are concerned: but if we do, yet “ præsentis temporis ita est agenda lætitia, ut sequentis judicii amaritudo nunquam recedat a memoriá :so laugh here that you may not forget your danger, lest you weep for ever.” He that thinks most seriously, and most frequently of this fearful appearance, will find that it is better staying for his joys till this sentence be past; for then he shall perceive, whether he hath reason or no.
In the mean time wonder not, that God, who loves mankind so well, should punish him so severely : for therefore the evil fall into an accursed portion, because they despised that which God most loves, his Son and his mercies, his graces and his Holy Spirit; and they that do all this, have cause to complain of nothing but their own follies; and they shall feel the accursed consequents then, when they shall see the Judge sit above them, angry and severe, inexorable and terrible ; under them, an intolerable hell; within them, their consciences clainorous and diseased : without them, all the world on fire ; on the right hand, those men glorified whom they persecuted or despised : on the left hand, the devils accusing; for this is the day of the Lord's terror, and who is able to abide it ?
Seu vigilo intentus studiis, sèu dormio, semper
THE RETURN OF PRAYERS; OR, THE CONDITIONS OF
À PREVAILING PRAYER.
Now we know that God heareth not sinners; but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doth his will, him he heareth.
John ix, 31.
I KNOW not which is the greater wonder, either that prayer, which is a duty so easy and facile, so ready and apted to the powers, and skill, and opportunities, of every man, should have so great effects, and be productive of such mighty blessings; or, that we should be so unwilling to use so easy an instrument of procuring so much good. The first declares God's goodness, but this publishes man's folly and weakness, who finds in himself so much difficulty to perform a condition so easy and full of advantage. But the order of this felicity is knotted like the foldings of a serpent; all those parts of easiness, which invite us to the duty, are become like the joints of a bulrush, not bendings, but consolidations and stiffenings: the very facility becomes its objection, and in every of its stages, we make or find a huge uneasiness. At first, we do not know what to ask; and when we do, then we find difficulty to bring our will to desire it; and when that is instructed and kept in awe, it mingles interest, and confounds the purposes; and when it is forced to ask honestly and severely, then it wills so coldly, that God hates the prayer; and, if it desires fervently, it sometimes turns that into passion, and that passion breaks into murmurs or unquietness; or, if that be avoided, the indifference cools into death, or the fire burns violently and is quickly spent ; our desires are dull as a rock, or fugitive as lightning; either we ask ill things earnestly, or good things remissly; we either court our own danger, or are not zealous for our real safety; or, if we be right in our matter, or earnest in our affections, and lasting in our abode, yet we miss in the manner ; and either we ask for evil ends, or without religious and awful apprehensions; or we rest on the words and signification of the prayer, and never take care to pass on to action; or else we sacrifice in the company of Korah, being partners of a schism, or a rebellion in religion; or we bring unhallowed censers, our hearts send up to God an unholy smoke, a cloud from the fires of lust; and either the flames of lust or rage, of wine or revenge, kindle the beast that is laid upon
the altar; or we bring swine's flesh, or a dog's neck ; whereas God never accepts or delights in a prayer, unless it be for a holy thing, to a lawful end, presented unto him upon the wings of zeal and love, or religious sorrow, or religious joy; by sanctified lips, and pure hands, and a sincere heart.
It must be the prayer of a gracious man ; and he is only gracious before God, and acceptable and effective in his prayer, whose life is holy, and whose prayer is holy ; for both these are necessary ingredients to the constitution of a prevailing prayer; there is a holiness peculiar to the man, and a holiness peculiar to the prayer, that must adorn