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in their most frightful colours, and set them in ther full and everlasting extent, before the sinners which attended his ministry? And did he ever give any hint that they should be understood in a milder sense? Have not the apostles followed their Lord in the same dreadful display of the sharp and ever-during punishments of hell? And have they taught us to qualify these terrors by gentler interpretations of them? And have not such kind of discourses been, abundantly blessed in the providence of God, both in ancient and later ages, to awaken and save multitudes of the souls of men?
How many holy and happy spirits are now rejoicing before God, and before the throne of his love, and encompassed with all the joys of immortality, who owe the beginnings of their repentance, and the first turn of their souls towards faith and salvation to such words of terror as these? How many of the saints on high have been first awakened from their deadly sleep in sin by the ministrations of this eternal vengeance of God? How many have been frighted out of their indolence at first by the discovery of these everlasting horrors of conscience and agonies of soul? The dread of the worm that never dies has affrighted their consciences from a course of sin: The fiery indignation which shall never be quenched has flashed in their bosoms from the lips of the preacher, and has set them all over trembling and filled all their inward powers with dismay and anguish: Their tongue has broke into loud and earnest enquiries, Who shall deliver me from this eternal death? How shall I escape this everlasting wrath to come? And the Spirit of God by degrees has led them to Jesus, and his atoning blood, his gospel, his righteousness and his converting grace, as the only way of deliverance and salvation..
How unreasonable a thing is it for ministers in their preaching to soften these terrors of the Lord, to cut short these endless horrors and anguish, and to mitigate the miseries of hell and damnation, since even all that length and eternity in which Christ and his apostles preached these terrors, have not been sufficient to reclaim mankind from their iniquities; but multitudes of them, in the face of all these threatenings, still persist in the broad way to destruction and death?
Can we possibly do any honour to the ministry of our blessed Lord, or is there any real service done to the souls of men by our fond and vain reasonings to shorten these sorrows, and put a period, to these threatened torments? Will the blessed Jesus, when he sits on the throne of judgment, give us thanks for running counter to the language of his own ministry, and for daring to, contradict his denounced vengeance Places by
By the various expressions and representations of this is mat. tor in scripture, in such solemn and dreadful language, must I VOL. VII. U
not suppose that the blessed God, and our Lord Jesus Christ, designed and intended that mankind should believe the pains andpunishments of hell will be eternal? Can I then be censured for endeavouring to establish and promote the awful doctrine which both God the Father and his Son intended should be believed, and by which they designed to guard both the law and the gospel? A doctrine which was left on record to deter sinners from the paths of sin and destruction, and to awaken the souls and consciences of men to repentance? On the other hand, can those teachers be approved of God or good men, whose evident design is to lead the world to disbelieve this solemn and terrible warning of the great God?
Let us proceed in these enquiries, and address ourselves to those wicked and miserable creatures, who are actually suffering this divine vengeance. Let us ask them, how they approve of this sort of preaching which withholds from the eyes and ears, and consciences of men, the most dreadful circumstance of these horrors? Will any of the damned wretches of hell thank us for hiding so dreadful a part of these miseries from them? Will they bless us for lessening the threatened curses and indignation of a God?" No, says the condemned wretch, those preachers are worthy of my curses and not my thanks, who abated these terrors of the Lord, and shortened his threatened punishment; for they persuaded me to hope there would be an end of my misery, and thereby tempted me to venture upon those sins which I should have renounced with abomination, had I believed the words of God, and these everlasting torments. O cursed and eruel preachers, who by softening and curtailing the sentence of eternal misery, gave a sort of licence to my wickedness, and broke one of the strongest bars that restrained me from sinning! 'Tis by this sort of flattery they paved my way down to hell, and have brought me into this prison, this eternal anguish whence there is no release*?'
Say, ye who preach that the gates of hell shall one day be opened to let out the prisoners, ye who tell sinners there is a time of release for them, say, do you expect to fright them out of their sins by lessening their fear of God and his wrath to come? Do you hope to bring obstinate and impenitent rebels to a more speedy remorse for sin, and to begin a life of holiness, by persuading them that these terrors of God shall have an end?
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* Some of the ancients have called those preachers, who shorten the pains of bell, the merciful or compassionate doctors: Aud Doctor Thomas Burnt Cink those merciless or uncompassionate, who preach eternity
it will appear one day, that those are truly the compassionate writers and teachers, who most effectually affright and prevent men from sin and damnation; and those who have given wicked men hope of their release from hell, will be in danger of being charged with smoothing their way to this misery, by sof eaing ww terrors of it.
Can ye imagine that sucli vain tidings, such soothing flattery will ever melt them to repentance and love, when all the grace of the gospel mingled with the blood and tears of the Son of God will not do it? Would not this manner of preaching rather encourage them to run on still in their rebellions, and make them more regardless of their highest interest? Would it not tempt them to give a loose to their vilest inclinations, and all the flagrant and abominable enormities of their own heart, when they shall be told that these punishments, which the bible calls everlasting, shall one day come to an end?
Besides, I believe it has been observed in every age, that the fears of this worm which never dies, and this eternal fire which shall never be quenched, have been made abundantly useful in the providence of God to lay a powerful restraint on the unruly vices of some sinners, who have never been awakened and drawn into saving penitence, or reclaimed to a life of sincere holiness. And if this restraint of this terror were taken away, how much more would all iniquity abound among those who have no inward principle of goodness? Let us proceed then to preach the same terror which the blessed Jesus thought not unworthy of his ministry; and may the providence and the grace of God give success to our labours, both for the restraining the extravagant vices of the wicked, for the saving conversion of many sinners, and for a guard and restraint to the young and wavering christians†.
3111 Notwithstanding all the express language of scripture on our side of the question, and all our arguments drawn from it, yet there are some of the reasoners and the disputers of this world, who will still suppose that it is more for the Ironour of God, and for the glory of our blessed Saviour, for ministers to dwell always upon the promises of the new covenant, and the
The late Doctor Thomas Burnet, in his Latin treatise of the "state of the dead, and those who rise again," opposes the doctrine of the eternity of future punishments, and shews who of the ancient fathers seems to be of the same opinion with him: But he tells us, that these ancient fathers, when they treated of this subject, often gave the same advice to others, which he himself gives in these words. "Whatsoever you determine within yourself and in your own breast, concerning these punishments, whether they are eternal or no, yet you ought to use the common doctrine and the common language when you preach or speak to the people, especially those of the lower rank, who are ready to run headlong into vice, and are to be restrained from evil only by the fear of punishment: And even among good christians there are infints to be nourished with milk; nor is their diet to be rashly changed, lest through intemperance they fall into diseases.
And he adds in the margin, “ Whosoever shall translate these sentiments into our mother tongue, I shall think it was done with as evil design, sud to bad purpose." So that if this were a true doctrine, yet the learned author agrees, that neither the holy writers of the bible, nor the fathers, think it proper that the bulk of the people should know it. But if it should not be translated, I would ask, why did the author write it and leave it to be published? Did he suppose all men and boys, who understood Latin, to be sufficiently guarded against the abuse of such an opinion?
riches of the grace of Christ, and the overflowing measures of the love of God, in order to save sinful men. "Surely, say they, preachers have tried long enough what the words of terror will do; let us now allure sinful men to be reconciled to God by a ministry of universal love and grace; and let us see whether the boundless compassions of a God, in putting a final period to the miseries of his guilty creatures after a certain number of years, will not draw sinners with a sweeter violence to the love and obedience of their Maker, than all this doctrine of severity and terror." In the first place I answer,
I. That surely Jesus himself, who is the prime minister of his Father's kingdom, and the divinest messenger of his love, knew better than we do how to pay the highest honour to his heavenly Father, and to display his own grace. Surely he was well acquainted with the best way to begin with sinners in order to their reconciliation to God, and knew also the most effectual avenues to the consciences of sinful creatures, incomparably beyond what any of us can pretend to. Had he not as tender a sense of the honour of his Father's mercy, as warm a zeal for the glory of his own grace and the gospel, and as wise and melting a compassion for the souls of men as the best of us can boast of? And yet he thought it proper to lay the foundation of his own, and his apostles' ministrations of grace, in this language of terror, in these threatenings of eternal punishment. And in the course of his providence throughout all ages he has, in some measure, made this doctrine successful to recover souls from the snares of the devil, and to enlarge his own heavenly kingdom. But I answer further,
II. It must be granted that the tempers of men are various, and it is possible that some may be of so ingenuous and refined a disposition, that the words of love and grace, without any terror, might reach their hearts, and through the influences of hea ven, touch them effectually: But as for the bulk of mankind, while they continue in their sins, daily experience convinceth us, that they are best awakened by the terrors of the Lord, by a. representation of the gnawing worm which never dies, and the fire which shall not be quenched. I never knew but one person in the whole course of my ministry who acknowledged that the first motions of religion in his own heart arose from a sense of the goodness of God, and that he was gently and sweetly led at first to this enquiry, What shall I render to the Lord who hath dealt so bountifully with me? Ps. cxvi. 12. But I think all besides, who have come within my notice, have rather been first awakened by the passion of fear to fly from the wrath to come. If therefore we wi!! practise according to the example of Jesus, the greatest and the wisest prophet of his church, and his holy apostles, and the best of preachers in all ages who have
followed him; if we would obey the dictates of long experience, and our best observations on the methods of converting grace, I think we must proceed to denounce these eternal terrors of the Lord against the transgressors of his law and the despisers of his gospel, This seems to be the appointed and most effectual way to rouse their consciences to seek a deliverance from the curses of the law, which carry in them everlasting punishment. This appears to be the first spring of religion in sinful men, and the first motive to receive the glad tidings of salvation which are displayed in the New Testament. This spurs on their passions to escape the vengeance of God, by flying to his gospel, where there is rich and abundant grace to encourage the hope of rebellious creatures in their returns to God by Jesus Christ, the Saviour. To Jesus, who is the awful messenger of his Father's terrors, and the prime minister of his love, be glory and honour to everlasting ages." Amen.