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2. Such expressions are used to set forth the duration of the punishment of the wicked, as are never used in the scriptures of the New Testament, to signify any thing but a proper eternity. It is said, not only that the punishment shall be for ever, but for ever and ever. Rev, xiv. 11. “The smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever.-Rev. xx. 10.
Shall be tormented day and night, for ever and ever.” Doubtless, the New Testament has some expression to signify a proper eternity, of which it has so often occasion to speak. But it has no higher expression than this: if this do not signify an absolute eternity, there is none that does.
3. The scripture uses the same way of speaking to set forth the eternity of punishment and the eternity of happiness, yea, the eternity of God himself. Matt. xxv. 46.
" These shall go away into everlasting punishment : but the righteous into life eternal.” The words everlasting and eternal, in the original, are the very same.
Rev. xxii. 5. "And they, (the saints) shall reign for ever and ever." And the scripture has no higher expression to signify the eternity of God himself, than that of his being for ever and ever; as Rev. iv. 9. “To him who sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever;" and in the 10th verse, and in chap. v. 14, and chap. x. 6. and chap. xv. 7.
Again, the scripture expresses God's eternity by this, that it shall be for ever, after the world is come to an end ; Psalm cii. 26, 27. " They shall perish, but thou shalt endure : yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed. But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end."
4. The scripture says, that wicked men shall not be delivered, till they have paid the uttermost farthing of their debt; Matt. v. 26. The last mite; Luke x. 59; i. e. the utmost that is deserved; and all mercy is excluded by this expression. But we have shewn, that they deserve an infinite, an endless punishment.
5. The scripture says absolutely, that their punishment shall not bave an end ; Mark ix. 44. “Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” Now, it will not do to say, that the meaning is, Their worm shall live a great while, or that it shall be a great while before their fire is quenched. If ever the time comes, that their worm shall die; if ever there shall be a quenching of the fire at all, then it is not true that their worm dieth not, and that the fire is not quenched. For, if there be a dying of the worm, and a quenching of the fire, let it be at what time it will, nearer or further off, it is equally contrary to such a negation,-it dieth not, it is not quenched.
Secondly. There are others who allow, that the expressions of the threatenings do denote a proper eternity ; but then, they say, it doth not certainly follow, that the punishment will really
be eternal ; because, God may threaten and yet not fulfil bis threatenings. Though they allow that the threatenings are positive and peremptory, without any reserve, yet they say, God is not obliged to fulfil absolute positive threatenings, as he is absolute promises. Because in promises, a right is conveyed, that the creature to whom the promises are made will claim ; but there is no danger of the creature's claiming any right by a threatening. Therefore, I am now to show, That what God has positively declared in this matter, does indeed make it certain, that it shall be as he has declared. To this end, I shall mention two things :
1. It is evidently contrary to the divine truth, positively to declare any thing to be real, whether past, present, or to come, which God at the same time knows is not so. Absolutely threatening that any thing shall be, is the same as absolutely declaring that it is to be. For any to suppose, that God absolutely declares that any thing will be, which he at the same time knows will not be, is blasphemy, if there be any such thing as blasphemy.
Indeed, it is very true, that there is no obligation on God, arising from the claim of the creature, as there is in promises. They seem to reckon the wrong way, who suppose the necessity of the execution of the threatening to arise from a proper obligation on God to the creature, to execute consequent on his threatening. For, indeed, the certainty of the execution arises the other way, viz, on the obligation there was on the omniscient God, in threatening, to conform his threatening to what he knew would be future in execution. Though, strictly speaking, God is not properly obliged to the creature to execute because he has threatened, yet he was obliged not absolutely to threaten, if at the same time he knew that he should not, or would not fulfil: because this would not have been consistent with his truth. So that from the truth of God, there is an inviolable connexion between positive threatenings and execution. They who suppose that God positively declared, that he would do contrary to what he knew would come to pass, do therein suppose, that he absolutely threatened contrary to what he knew to be truth. And how any one can speak contrary to what he knows to be truth, in declaring, promising, or threatening, or any other way, consistently with inviolable truth, is inconceivable.
Threatenings are significations of something; and if they are made consistently with truth, they are true significations, or significations of truth, that which shall be. If absolute threatenings are significations of any thing, they are significations of the futurity of the things threatened. But if the futurity of the things threatened be not true and real, then how can the threatcning be a true signification? And if God, in them, speaks contrary to what he knows, and contrary to what he intends, how he can speak true is inconceivable.
Absolute threatenings are a kind of predictions ; and though God is not properly obliged by any clain of ours to fulfil predictions, unless they are of the nature of promises ; yet it certainly would be contrary to truth. to predict that such a thing would come to pass, which he knew at the same time would not come to pass. Threatenings are declarations of something future, and they must be declarations of future truth, if they are true declarations. Its being future, alters not the case any more than if it were present. It is equally contrary to truth, to declare contrary to what at the same time is known to be truth, whether it be of things past, present, or to come : for all are alike to God.
Beside, we have often declarations in scripture of the future eternal punishment of the wicked, in the proper form of predictions, and not in the form of threatenings. So in the text, " These shall go away into everlasting punishment." So in those frequent assertions of eternal punishment in the Revelation, some of which I have already quoted. The Revelation is a prophecy, and is so called in the book itself; so are those declarations of eternal punishment.--The like declarations we have also in many other places of scripture.
2. The doctrine of those who teach, that it is not certain that God will fulfil those absolute threatenings, is blasphemous another way; and that is, as God, according to their supposition, was obliged to make use of a fallacy to govern the world. They own, that it is needful that men should apprehend themselves liable to an eternal punishment, that they might thereby be restrained from sin, and that God has threatened such a punishment, for the very end that they might believe themselves exposed to it. But what an unworthy opinion does this convey of God and his government, of his infinite majesty, and wisdom, and all-sufficiency !-Beside, they suppose, that though God has made use of such a fallacy, yet it is not such an one but that they have detected him in it. Though God intended men should believe it to be certain, that sinners are liable to an eternal punishment; yet they suppose, that they have been so cunning as to find out that it is not certain : and so that God had not laid his design so deep, but that such cunning men as they can discern the cheat, and defeat the design : because they have found out, that there is no necessary connexion between the threatening of eternal punishment, and the execution of that threatening.
Considering these things, is it not greatly to be wondered at, that Archbishop Tillotson, who has made so great a figure among the new-fashioned diyines, should advance such an opinion as this?
Before I conclude this head, it may be proper for me to answer an objection or two, that may arise in the minds of some.
1. It may be here said, We have instances wherein God hath not fulfilled his threatenings; as his threatening to Adam, and in him to mankind, that they should surely die, if they should eat the forbidden fruit. I answer, it is not true that God did not fulfil that threatening : he fulfilled it, and will fulfil it in every jot and tittle. When God said, “ Thou shalt surely die,” if we respect spiritual death, it was fulfilled in Adam's person in the day that he ate. For immediately his image, his holy spirit, and original righteousness, which was the highest and best life of our first parents, were lost; and they were immediately in a doleful state of spiritual death.
If we respect temporal death, that was also fulfilled: he brought death upon himself and all his posterity, and he virtually suffered that death on that very day on which he ate. His body was brought into a corruptible, mortal and dying condition, and so it continued till it was dissolved. If we look at all that death which was comprehended in the threatening, it was, properly speaking, fulfilled in Christ. Whep God said to Adam, If thou eatest, thou shalt die, he spake not only to him, and of him personally: but the words respected mankind, Adam and his race, and doubtless were so understood by him. His offspring were to be looked upon as sinning in him, and so should die with him. The words do as justly allow of an im. putation of death as of sin ; they are as well consistent with dying in a surety, as with sinning in one. Therefore the threatening is fulfilled in the death of Christ, the surety.
2. Another objection may arise from God's threatening to Nineveh. He threatened, that in forty days Nineveh should be destroyed, which yet he did not fulfil.-1 answer, that threatening could justly be looked upon no otherwise than as conditional. It was of the nature of a warning, and not of an absolute denunciation. Why was Jonah sent to the Ninevites, but to give them warning, that they might have opportunity to repent, reform, and avert the approaching destruction ? God had no other design or end in sending the prophet to them, but that they might be warned and tried by him, as God warned the Israelites, Judah, and Jerusalem, before their destruction. Therefore the prophets, together with their prophesies of approaching destruction, joined earnest exhortations to repent and reform, that it might be averted.
No more could justly be understood to be certainly threatened, than that Nineveh should be destroyed in forty days, continuing as it was. For it was for their wickedness that that destruction was threatened, and so the Ninevites took it. Therefore, when the cause was removed, the effect ceased. It was contra.y to God's known manner, to threaten punishment and destruction for sin in this world absolutely, so that it should come upon the persons threatened unavoidably, let them repent and reform and do what they would: Jer. xviii. 7, 8.' “ At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; if that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them." So that all threatenings of this nature had a condition implied in them, according to the known had and declared manner of God's dealing. And the Ninevites did not take it as an absolute sentence or denunciation ; if they had, they would have despaired of any benefit by fasting and reformation.
But the threatenings of eternal wrath are positive and absolute. There is nothing in the word of God from which we can gather any condition. The only opportunity of escaping is in this world ; this is the only state of trial, wherein we have any offers of mercy, or place for repentance.
IV. I shall mention several good and important ends, which will be obtained by the eternal punishment of the wicked.
1. Hereby God vindicates his injured majesty. Wherein sinners cast contempt upon it, and trample it in the dust, God vindicates and honours it, and makes it appear, as it is indeed, infinite, by showing that it is infinitely dreadful to contemn or offend it.
2. God glorifies his justice.—The glory of God is the greatest good; it is that which is the chief end of the creation ; it is of greater importance than any thing else. But this is one way wherein God will glorify himself
, as in the eternal destruction of ungodly men he will glorify his justice. Therein he will appear as a just governor of the world. The vindictive justice of God will appear strict, exact, awful, and terrible, and therefore glorious.
3. God hereby indirectly glorifies his grace on the vessels of mercy. The saints in heaven will behold the torments of the damned: " the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever." Isaiah Ixvi. 24. And they shall go
forth and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh." And in Rev. xiv. 10. it is said, that they shall be tormented in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb. So they will be tormented in the presence also of the glorified saints.
Hereby the saints will be made the more sensible how great their salvation is. When they shall see how great the