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In the seventh place, his prison is to be a lake, a furnace of fire and brimstone, that can never be quenched.' Let him consider, before it is too late, if he cannot endure the effects of fire on the smallest spot of his skin, or in the remotest part of his body, how he will be able to stand the force of so vehement a fire surrounding him on all sides. Let him ask himself, in the words of Isaiah, Who shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who shall dwell with everlasting burnings?'
Again, the more effectually to damp our sinful inclinations, the future torments of the damned are represented in holy Scripture, as a 'continual death;' the lake of fire is, in the Revelation, called the second death,' that death, to which all are made subject through sin, and from which we are redeemed through faith, by the blood of Christ.
Now, the first death, which lasts but for a very little time, is so shocking to nature, that it is called the king of terrors; and what then must be that death, that is never to have an end? It is a sort of hell to the mind of him who hopes for salvation, even to meditate on the agonies and horrors of dying without end. With what unutterable dread and anguish then ought it to amaze the soul of the guilty, who cannot but look on it as his eternal portion?
Lastly, the sense of God's eternal wrath, considered in itself, will infinitely inflame the miseries of the reprobate. God is present every where, and consequently present to the damned in his indignation and displeasure: If,' says David, speaking to God, 'I go down to hell, thou art there also.' We are told in the Scripture, that,' when the wicked awake to judgment, they will say to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?' We see by this, what terrors the very countenance of the Almighty carries in it to the eyes of the guilty. They would be glad to hide themselves at the centre of the earth, from the fierceness of his anger, from those looks of indignation at sin. And even in the place of torment, if it were possible for their eyes to escape his, they would dive to the nethermost hell to do it. But there, to their unspeakable misery, they see; and to their eternal confusion, they are
Yet they are so hardened and lost in sin, that all this serves only to fill them with a dreadful mixture of rage and terror, by which, being driven to an infernal kind of distrac tion, they fear, and yet rail at, God; they tremble and blaspheme at once.
Who now can bear to dwell on the shocking review of these punishments? How does it terrify the imagination, how does it distress the heart of man, to look down through Scripture into this deep and bottomless abyss of misery, and to hear the weepings, the wailings, the gnashings of teeth, the yells and execrations uttered by so great a multitude, in their extremity of anguish! And how do our own guilty consciences, in the midst of this alarming contemplation, re-echo to the horrible concert! Here the guilty are tossed in a boundless ocean of misery, without the least patience to weather it, without the least prospect of shore, without the least hope of relief from time or repentance. Despair, eternal despair, of mercy and relief, will give this punishment, so sharp in itself, its keenest point, its most deadly sting. Were the wicked to be, only for a time, banished from God, confined in chains of darkness, and exposed to infamy; were he, for a time only, to be stung with the reproaches of guilt, to be tortured in fire and brimstone; or were he, for a limited time, to endure the frowns of infinite justice, and almighty anger; his misery would be rather purgative than penal, rather a reward than a punishment; for what proportion do any limited number of ages, spent in misery, bear to an eternity of happiness? Are they not infinitely less than a single moment to ten thousand years? Or, to take the matter in another light, can fire and brimstone reform? Or can a man learn virtue, and train his soul to the love of God, in hell? Or shall he, without reformation, be admitted to heaven? Shall he be made happy, while he is yet wicked? Or shall he be glorified, while he is still a scandal to the creation? As the inveterately' wicked must be wicked still,' so he must be for ever miserable; for the day of the wicked shall come, when their iniquity shall have no end.' And can the punishment of the guilty have an end, while he still continues in his sins? Reason will not suffer us to speak in this manner; nor will the word of God. In that we are told, 'The worm
dieth not, neither is the fire quenched. The Tophet in this valley of Gehinnon is perpetually burning. The devil, and the false prophet, and whosoever are not found written in the book of life, are cast into the lake of fire, and tormented day and night for ever and ever.' The assurances given us in the Scripture of the eternity of hell-torments, are given us in the very same words that express the eternity of heavenly joys; to which, for a reason easily apprehended, we have no objections. If the righteous shall go into life eternal,' as certainly shall the wicked go away into everlasting punishment;' for the words eternal, and everlasting, are put for the same original Greek word in the twenty-fifth chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel.
But here the libertines, and even some pretended Christians, take upon them to say, God will, after a certain space of time, to which they seem not willing to give a very great extent, reduce to nothing the souls of the wicked. Who told them this? Surely not God; for, if he ever spoke to man, he averred the very contrary, in often repeated assurances, and in the most express and precise terms. No; it is reason, they say, that draws this conclusion, from the injustice of punishing temporary offences with eternal torments. Many things are fathered on reason, that reason knows nothing of, nor ever vouched for. Had nothing been ever revealed concerning this matter, reason could have given hardly any verdict either way; nay, I am afraid, we should have had but very slender informations, in any respect about futurity, from mere reason. Now, if in this great affair we are forced to have recourse to revelation, we must take things as we find them there, and not presume to make reason prompter to the Spirit of God.
But I would willingly ask these reasoners a few questions. If the souls of wicked men are, at a certain time, to be struck out of the list of beings, what example of God's just indignation at sin shall afterward remain? How shall God's free, but fallible creatures, be kept within the rules of their duty, when they see no instance of his severity on former transgressors? If men will neither be good nor happy, although they have it in their choice to be both, shall we arraign the justice of God, if, in spite of their rebellion and perverseness, he employs them to that only purpose in
his creation, which their inveterate wickedness qualifies them for; namely, a most wholesome, a most necessary, example of his just severity? Are they not still his creatures? Hath he not a right to dispose of them to his own glory, and the benefit of better creatures? Is their wickedness to disappoint him at once of all his views in creating them, by putting him under a necessity of expunging from his works a multitude of spirits, of whose very wickedness and punishment he may, for aught we know, and without our leave, make a thousand excellent uses? Let me ask a still closer question of these men. Do your consciences upbraid you for past sins? Or do your hearts plead for licence in sinning? In either case, perhaps, you may mistake a fond wish for a reason. Examine yourselves with a little more sharpness and impartiality, by this sure rule, whether you do not more readily give into the criminal amusements, or more freely pursue, by unjust means, the wealth or honours of the world, than formerly, when you regarded the future torments of the damned as eternal.
But you may try yourselves by some other points of inquiry relating to the same important subject. Do you not disbelieve, or at least, are you not much tempted to question, the locality of future punishments? Do you not doubt, whether there is in the creation any such place as hell? And, while you are inclined to think there may be no particular place for such punishments, can you forbear thinking they are nowhere? And, since such punishments are nowhere, how can you help concluding, especially when temptations smile on you with more than usual allurements, that there are no such punishments at all? Perhaps, amidst all this jumble of thoughts, Christianity may still have retained some remnant of your esteem, and you do actually yet believe there will be a resurrection. If this is the case, how can you doubt, whether the wicked, consisting again of bodies as well as souls, shall find themselves in some certain place? Or do you think, that, instead of being confined, as such malefactors should be, to some particular place of punishment, they will have leave to range the creation in quest of new game for their lawless passions? You prize what you call liberty above all things, and therefore, perhaps, cannot believe they will be wholly deprived of it.
Do you not observe, how, here again, you take party with the damned? Or are you so ignorant of yourself, as not to know from whence this proceeds? Let me, a second time, beseech you to search your heart with the utmost severity, and, if you find any thing common to them and yourself, which whispers these infidel surmises in your ear, to consider it as the snare of Satan, and the betrayer of your soul.
This very subject may furnish you with another useful topic of self-examination. One of your turn may have taken it into his head to believe, that all the expressions in Scripture relating to the torments of the damned are purely figurative, particularly, that the fire which is not quenched,' is as merely allegorical, as the worm that dieth not,' is supposed to be, in common construction, as understood of conscience. Yet the worm here may signify the wicked man, body as well as soul, writhing in the fire, as you may have seen a worm on a piece of fuel thoroughly kindled. But although some of these expressions are figurative, does it follow that they are all so? Or do you object, that whereas they are mostly corporal punishments, the soul cannot be literally said to suffer them? No! does not the soul suffer corporal pains and punishments in this life? Does the body ever suffer any pain? Is it not the soul only that suffers such pains through the body? And have you so soon forgot, that the wicked are to have bodies, as well as souls, to be judged and punished in?
But should it be granted, that the punishments of the wicked will be purely spiritual, what will you gain by that? Shall they not be as great, as grievous, as they are represented in Scripture? May not truth be uttered in a figure? And does not the truth of an allegory consist in the close and apt similitude between the thing represented, and the thing representing? Here again, examine carefully, whether your disbelief of the literal reality of those fires, wherewith the wicked are threatened in the word of God, doth not proceed rather from the horror of your own mind, than from the reason of the thing; at least, whether a good share of your argument is not drawn from the horrible notion you have of punishment by fire, and from some degree of guilt, or love of sin, which forces you to wish the torments of the wicked were to be a little milder; and in time, turns this