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THE MISERY OF THE WICKED.
My Dear Benjamin,
1. Agreeably to promise, I will now notice the sentences pronounced and their consequences. At the close of my last letter I recommended to your si rious attention the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, from 31st verse, where you will have observed that our blessed Lord has given us a lively description of the solemn process of the final judgment and the different sentences that shall be passed on the righteous and on the wicked. To the righteous, those at his right hand, he will say, “Come, ye bless. ed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” But to the wicked, those at his left hand, he will say, “ Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." Matt. 25 : 34, 41. And these sentences will be immediately executed; for it follows : "these," i. e. the wicked, “ shall go away into everlasting punishment; but the righteous into life eternal.” In the present letter I propose to consider the nature and duration of the misery of the wicked.
$ 2. With respect to its nature, you must not expect, my dear Benjamin, more than some general account. A parti. cular and accurate description of that misery can only be given by those miserable wretches that already feel it. The torments of hell, as well as the joy of heaven, are yet in a great measure unrevealed, and we can then only expect any accurate notion of them when the veil of mortality is rent, and the great objects of an unseen state are presented to our view.
The nature of the future punishment and misery of the wicked has usually been divided into the punishment of loss, and the punishment of sense. In describing the former, viz. the punishment of loss, I would observe,
3. That the wicked will be for ever debarred from the blessed presence of God, the only fountain of life and light, of joy and blessedness: “ Depart," says the Judge, " from me,” in whose " presence is fullness of joy, and at whose right hand there are pleasures for evermore." All attempts to reclaim and reform them will cease for ever. No invitations to return, no offers of pardon and peace, no merciful entreaties to accept of them shall be any more addressed to them. All cries for pity and commiseration (how importunate soever) are now fruitless, and come too late, for ever.
$ 4. Further observe, my dear Benjamin, that as the wicked and impenitent will be debarred from the beatific vision of God, so likewise they will be for ever excluded from his heavenly court, the place where he manifests his ravishing glory and communicates his felicitating love to all the happy attendants of his exalted throne.
“ They must be for ever shut out,” says the silver. tongued Mr. Boyce, “from that bright habitation of holiness, and become perpetual exiles from those amiable man. sions of light, into which none but the children of light shall be received. And consequently they must be thrust out of the society of the saints in light, and excluded from the desirable conversations and entertainments, from the noble work and the satisfying joys, from the transcendent perfections and blessedness of that blessed and holy community. The gates of the heavenly Jerusalem shall be for ever barred upon them. An unpassable gulf shall cut off all possibility and hope of returning to these forfeited regions of endless bliss, Luke, 16: 26. Rev. 21 :8, 27. While they behold those holy souls, whose serious picty
they here scorned and despised, admitted with honor and triumph to sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, with the patriarchs, prophets and apostles, in the kingdom of heaven, they shall see themselves thrust out, to their eternal shame and confusion. Luke, 13:28, 29. Their eyes shall never behold the beauties of the heavenly world, their ears not hear the triumphant songs of the celestial choir; not one drop from those ever-flowing rivers of divine pleasure and joy shall be afforded to cool their inflamed tongue.”
$ 5. The next part of their misery is the punishment of sense. This is expressed in the sentence pronounced un der the notion of fire. “ Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire." As it is usual for the Scriptures to represent to us the felicity and joy of heaven by what is most pleasing and glorious to our senses, as by a feast, a king, dom, a crown, a marriage, &c. so it is no wonder that the miseries of hell should also be set forth by what is most dismal and terrible; or what occasions the most exquisite pain and torture; as by the unquenchable fire, the neverdying worm, outer darkness, chains of darkness, an infernal prison.
The metaphor fire is frequently used to represent the torments and miseries of the wicked. “Who among us shall dwell with devouring fire? who shall dwell with everlasting burnings ?'' Isa. 33 : 14. Fire, brimstone, and an horrible tempest are said to be the portion of the wicked's cup. Psa. 9:6. Jude calls it “the vengeance of eternal fire,” ver. 7; and in Revelation it is called “the lake of fire and brimstone, whose torment is for ever and ever." Rev. 20: 10. The metaphor fitly represents to us the an. guish of an accusing, despairing conscience, the tornienting sense of the inexorable wrath of God, and the rage of their own unsatisfied lusts.
$ 6. The bitter anguish and torment of an accusing and
despairing conscience is that which our Lord chiefly intended by the "worm that never dieth, and the fire that never goes out." Mark, 9 : 44, 46. Conscience, in its enraged reflections, will be to the sinner as a worm that is perpetually gnawing his vitals, like a flame that is incessantly scorching his inward parts. And doubtless Christ refers to this part of the misery of the damned, when he so often speaks of hell as the place where there is “ weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth,” Matt. 13 : 42, 50; expressions that denote the most piercing grief arising from the utmost degree of desperation and rage. And no wonder that this should be the wretched condition of the wicked, “when we consider," says Dr. Boyce, " that wherever a condemned sinner turns his thoughts, he finds nothing but what administers to his inward vexation and despair. If he look backward to this world he has left, and the life he has here led, what abundant matter occurs of bitter and grievous reflections; if he reviews his actions, what a scene of perpetual and shameful folly appears to his eye ; how num. berless, detestable and hateful sins stare him in the face, the remembrance whereof fills him with horror and confusion! If he look back on his earthly enjoyments and sensual delight, and especially on the past momentary pleasures of sin ; alas ! they are Aed and gone, and have left nothing but a tormenting sting behind. If he reflect on the compassionate offers of divine grace, and his merciful methods to recover and save him; alas ! these slighted offers are now recalled, and shall never be tendered more; those opposed methods are finally frustrated; and the day of abused patience and grace is at an end, and the day of final retribution and vengeance has now succeeded it. If he look upwards, what can he there fix his thoughts upon but that righteous God, whose long-suffering he has now turned into inexorable fury; that blessed society from whose converse he is perpetually banished; that heavenly Father and glory, which once indeed was proposed to his choice, but the proposal being ungratefully despised and rejected, he is now by a peremptory sentence eternally excluded from it! · If he look round about him, whom has he to commune with, but those accursed fiends that will now prove his tormentors, as they were once his tempters; and those other companions of sin here on earth, the very sight of whom calls his past guilt to his unwelcome remembrance? If he look forward, he sees nothing before him that can administer any hope of relief; on the contrary, the certain prospect of a miserable eternity does, above all things, amaze and confound him. So that his own uneasy, perplexed thoughts are a continual spring of new anguish and terror to him. He carries a perpetual hell in his own conscience, whose unanswerable challenges, and wounding reproaches, and direful lashes are intolerablc. Of this we have some lively representations in the horrid agonies and unsupportable fury of some despairing sinners on earth, when they had nothing left them but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation.” I mean such as Francis Spira and others, that have been driven to the utmost desperation; (not to mention the scriptural examples of Cain and of a Judas ;) and we may reasonably suppose that these bitter reflections of an enraged, accusing conscience, will be more restless and grievous in that future state, where wretched sinners will have nothing else to entertain their busy thoughts.
$ . Another ingredient of the misery of the condemned, expressed by the metaphor fire, is the affrighted sense of the inexorable displeasure and wrath of an incensed God. The Apostle Jude calls it the “vengeance of eternal fire." And God is said to be a consuming fire. Deut. 4 : 34. Again, the apostle speaks of a "certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the VOL II.