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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 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.
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
weak wish, without your perceiving it into a reason. But, to come a little closer to you, do you not sometimes wish there were no punishments for sin at all? Perhaps, either when temptation seizes you with a pleasing violence, before the committal of a crime, or when remorse terrifies you immediately after, you would be glad to hear, that all shall be freely forgiven, without the agonies of repentance, and the struggles of reformation. If you should ever find this to be the case, ought you not sensibly and honestly to suspect at least, that your argument against the supposition of material fire, in the future punishment, proceeds from a tenderness to yourself, that biasses and blinds your judgment? I know of nothing you can object to the faith of the fathers, such as Cyprian, Chrysostom, Augustine, Jerom, founded on the literal interpretation of the expressions under question, but that the human body can by no means resist the vehemence of such fires; and that such tortures are too shocking to be believed. But do you imagine our immortal bodies are to be as frail and perishable as these, which the worms are to devour? Cannot he that created gold, which no force of fire can destroy, create a living body of as firm a texture ? And, as to the other part of your objection, that a torture by literal fire is too shocking to be believed; consider what was just now hinted, that it will be every whit as shocking, to believe in an equal degree of purely spiritual torment. But as to such spiritual punishments as may be hereafter inflicted on the wicked, you have no very clear or sensible notions of them; and therefore you are the more willing to admit them ; whereas, were you as well acquainted with them as with the effects of fire, and did you find them, on some partial trials, to be as severe, you would, you must, for the same reason, be as ready to object to them. So then it is, after all, only the severity you boggle at. Now it neither depends on you nor me, but on our Judge, to determine what is enough, or too much, in this respect. But it is extremely worth your while severely to examine, whether the guilt of former transgressions, or a weak indulgence for some lurking irregularity of mind, may not have been the parent of this objection also.
Give me leave to probe another chamber of this ulcer. You believe there will be as many degrees of punishment
as there are of guilt. So do I. But you ought to be well aware, that you do not make a dangerous use of this belief; for if you should imagine, that some degrees of punishment will be so very gentle, as hardly to deserve the name, and should afterward, through a partiality and tenderness too incident to human nature, take it into your head to think your own sins, at worst, within these degrees, when possibly the case may be far otherwise, you turn tempter to yourself, and give the enemy of souls leisure to point his batteries another way. You must be most grossly mistaken, if you do not believe, the punishment to be inflicted hereafter on the least criminal of the damned, is to be inconceivably
Hell is hell; and one hour in its coolest apartment is too much to pay for all the pleasures of this world. Besides, you should consider, that he who is cut off from God, and shut out of heaven, let his portion be what it will in the place of torment, must have reason to wish he had never, during his life, soothed himself with distinctions in eternal torments, but always fixed his fears on the very bottom of the furnace.
One little inquiry more, and I have done. Are you not infinitely disgusted, both at my subject itself, and at the little tenderness and delicacy wherewith I have handled it? Are we again, you will say, after all the politeness to which preaching hath been of late reduced, to have hell and damnation rung in our ears, and that in naked terms, without the smallest qualification ? Are people of tender ears, and delicate minds, to be frightened out of their senses, before they can be put in the way to heaven? Is he good for any thing, who is good through fear ?
Most certainly. He that is good, is good, be his motive what it will. Was fear given you by your Maker for no purpose? Be your delicacy ever so great, you must be dealt with according to the nature God hath given you. But why are you so startled at the sound of hell and damnation ? If you are innocent, they stop at your ears; and if you are guilty, surely I am your best friend, if I drive them home to your heart. Your resentment is a full proof, that my medicine, though bitter, hath been well applied ; and that you are one of those patients, that prefer their palate to their life. If you ever recover your reason so far as to know that