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lasting fire,"'-a fit emblem of his ceaseless wrath against the impenitent and rebellious. His indignation against such must burn for ever ; because his holy nature is unchangeable. There is nothing, therefore, in the nature of God, or in the nature of this punishment, to limit its duration.
8. Can we disbelieve endless misery, because we think it unjust? But we should not indulge such a thought for three reasons: 1. We are not competent to pronounce it unjust. To do this, we must calculate exactly the evil of sin, as committed against the infinite God, as a contempt of his eternal law, and rebellion against his infinite authority. Can we do this? Can we trace the wide extent of this evil in God's vast empire ; or tell where it would stop, if not restrained by the penalty of his law? As well might we measure the heavens with a span, or find out God to perfection. But we are criminals. We have become enemies to God and his law. This is the reason why we think his law too strict, and its penalty too heavy. But we have a wrong bias on our minds, and are very partial judges. Who can ever think that criminals are suitable persons to determine their own punishment ? Can we do it justly? Have we the least right to do it? 2. It belongs entirely to God, to say what punishment our sin deserves. This, he is able to do. His understanding is infinite. He is just, and right, and without iniquity. His judgment is according to truth. He has authority to enact laws, and to enforce them by adequate penalties. This he has done, and has said, that the wages of sin is death ; or endless destruction ; as the opposite of eternal life. To call in question his judgment, is to impeach his rectitude. 3. We are required to acknowledge the curse of the law to be just. We are commanded to repent. But how can we do this, while we dispute the equity of the Divine law? How can we be reconciled to God, while we think him unjust to punish us with endless misery? To cherish such a thought, is to set ourselves against his judgment and authority over us. To dispute his justice, is to exclude ourselves from his mercy. How can we ask mercy of a Sovereign, whom we regard as unjust ? We should first ask him to deal justly with us. But as he is just, how can we expect his mercy, if we deny his justice? Or how can we penitently say, “ God be merciful to me a sinner," unless we cordially approve of the curse of his law ?
God views this punishment just, because he knows himself to be infinitely worthy of all the love, and honour, and obedience, which his law requires. We should so regard it. If we do not, our thoughts of God are low indeed. * Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such a one as thyself.” We measure him by our little selves. We forget that he is the infinite God,-our Maker, Preserver, Benefactor, and Redeemer,—that to his goodness we are indebted for our existence, our faculties, and every blessing we enjoy or expect. Did we realize these things, our views of the divine law and of sin would be far more just. The evil of sinning against such a Being would manifestly exceed our utmost comprehension. We could set no bounds to it, nor limit the deserved punishment; but should feel, that the soul that sinneth ought to die.
Whoso sheddeth man's blood, forfeits his life. He deserves to die, if he murders his meanest fellow-creature. But how 'exceedingly is his guilt increased, if he murders his father, who has always watched over him with kindness? What peculiar obligations does he violate ? Let us then ascend to God. A dependent creature rises against his authority and law. The carnal mind is enmity against him. But what complicated wickedness must it be, to hate such à Being, and reject his infinite authority! In his pure sight hatred is murder! Who but rebels, then, can think the curse of his law unjust? And 0, with what shame must they be covered, when all their guilt is revealed in the full brightness of His glory, before assembled worlds !
9. Can we disbelieve endless misery, because it seems inconsistent with the love of God? But he always manifests his justice in full agreement with his love. He did this, when he deluged the world; when he consumed Sodom and Gomorrah ; when he overthrew Pharaoh and his host; when he doomed the Israelites to perish in the wilderness ; and when he poured his tremendous judgments on Jerusalem. His love and justice sweetly harmonized in these events. So they do in every calamity which now falls upon men. The mercy of God is extolled by the Psalmist as enduring for ever, in view of Pharaoh's destruction.* The song of Moses on that event is sung by the holy, in unison with the song of the Lamb.t
It is not only consistent with benevolence, but also the dictate of benevolence, for God to love righteousness and to hate iniquity; and to make this love and hatred fully manifest in his conduct towards saints and sinners. This he will for ever do, to the unspeakable joy of all holy beings. They will not rejoice in seeing misery for its own sake ; but they will rejoice to see God's nanie and law glorified in his righteous retributions.
It is not consistent with love, for God to punish the wicked beyond their deserts, or to have pleasure in their death, in itself considered. Neither of these can ever be imputed to him. But it would be totally inconsistent with his justice and hatred of iniquity, for him, in a state of impartial rewards, to treat the wicked as he does the righteous. " The wicked his soul hateth.” How then can he consistently do otherwise, in a state of retribution, than treat them for ever as objects of his hatred ? ,
But can a kind parent see his children in ceaseless pain, and not relieve them, when he is able ? No; he is bound to relieve them, if he sustains to them only the relation of a parent, and simply acts as such. His natural affection moves him to do it, and God requires it of him ; so that he is very criminal to do otherwise. But God sustains a very different relation to men. He is their Lawgiver and their Judge. He has a moral government to maintain, and a law to execute. While, therefore, he rewards the obedient, it is right and necessary that he should punish the disobedient. Unless he does this, his law is trodden under foot, and his government destroyed. It is murder in a parent to drown his child ; but it was right in God to drown a wicked world. Lot could not lawfully destroy his sons-in-law; but God did it in righteousness. What crime and cruelty for a man to burn a ship at sea, when all on board must suffer a most distressing death! but God in his providence does it, without the least impeachment of his goodness. We long to rescue persons from drowning, or from the flames. This ardent love to them is our duty. God can save them: and yet he does not, but lets them perish. Are we more benevolent than God ? No: God is love ; and has infinitely stronger desires to save them, if he could do it consistently with higher purposes of his goodness. These things teach us not to compare God with ourselves ; nor think that he must be governed by our views and feelings. He can do that in righteousness, and in the purest benevolence, which we cannot do, either in love or equity. We cannot, in our private capacity, execute a murderer, without being guilty of his blood ; but judges and executive officers can do it justly, and with entire benevolence. How then can we think it inconsistent with the love of God, for him to execute his law, and to punish transgressors according to their deserts ?
In the work of redemption, we see his justice and love in most beautiful agreement. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
God sent forth his Son to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness; that he might be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus. Here mercy and truth meet together ;-—righteousness and peace embrace each other. Seeing Christ has fulfilled the law and satisfied Divine Justice, God can, consistently, have mercy on sinners, and save every penitent believer.
But Christ gave himself a ransom for all : how then is it consistent with divine love that any should perish? I reply, He did not die with the intention to redeem those who reject him through life. His death is a ransom sufficient for all ; and every one under the Gospel has the bread of life set before him, that he may eat and live for ever, if he is willing and obedient. This shows God's benevolence. But if the sinner refuses this offered salvation, it is surely consistent with divine love to let him perish, as he deserves. The man who made a great supper, and bade many, said, on their refusal, “ None of these men, which were bidden, shall taste of my supper.” But this was consistent with his kindness in providing the supper, and in giving them invitation freely to partake of it. It was wholly their fault that they did not partake. They refused his invitation. His kindness did not oblige him to inake them willing to accept it, or to prevent their famishing. He had a right to bestow his bounty on whom he pleased. So when Christ, the bread of life, is offered to men, it is suitable they should have their choice, to accept or refuse. If they refuse, how can it be inconsistent with the love of God, that they should suffer death as the consequence? When they will not come to Christ, that they might have life, what claim can they possibly have on the love of God, to make them willing to come? His making others willing, of his mere good pleasure, can give them no claim to such a favour. It is lawful for him to do what he will with his own. He is not bound by his love to make transgressors equal partakers of his mercy; but we see, from numberless facts, that he can consistently show more mercy to some than to others. In their final anguish, he can say to some, “ I have called, but ye refused: I would have gathered you, but ye would not.” This is an appeal to their conscience, that their ruin is just, and that his love requires nothing more to be done for them.
It was consistent with the love of God to bruise his own well-beloved Son, and put his soul to grief, when he gave himself a ransom for sinners; and can it be inconsistent to inflict his wrath for ever on those who reject his Son! Will not his injured love demand their destruction, and be honoured by it? "He that despised Moses' law, died without mercy, under two or three wit nesses. Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and bath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace ?”—“ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” For though “God is love," yet he is also a consuming fire.” 6 Vengeance belongeth unto me; I will recompense, saith the Lord.” And O! how just and overwhelming must be the wrath of the LAMB, on those who laugh at his threatenings, and despise his authority! How keenly must they feel his wrath to be consistent with infinite benevolence !
REFLECTIONS. 1. This subject, my hearers, demands most serious consideration. As sinners, we are all liable to endless punishment. Cursed is every one that sins against God. Is the curse of God a light thing? Can we trifle with it? We are exhorted to fear, lest we come short of the saints' rest. This fear is
rational. You and I may lose that rest. My heart may finally deceive me : and if it should, my guilt and condemnation will be greater than yours. Have I then no reason to be afraid of God's judgments? How can I bear his wrath for ever? The Saviour could not endure it, even for a few hours, without exclaiming in agony, “ My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Can you endure it ?.“ Can thine heart endure, or thine hands be strong in the day that I shall deal with thee? I the Lord have spoken it, and will do it.” This wrath, Christ warns you to fear, more than death. Be not afraid of them, that kill the body; but fear him, who hath power to cast into hell yea, I say unto you, Fear him. In another place he solemnly exhorts, Enter ye in at the strait gate ; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction. And, knowing that this doctrine would be disputed, he adds, in connexion, Beware of false prophets—ye shall know them by their fruits.
2. Sinners may trifle with these warnings now—may mock at sin and hell but they cannot trifle long. While they cry, Peace, peace, sudden destruction cometh. The men of Noah's day slighted his warnings, and despised his preaching. God, they said, could not be so unmerciful.-- But the overwhelming flood came. Lot seemed to his sons-in-law, as one that mocked. They could not ascribe such severity to God.—But suddenly the fire came down, and destroyed them. Jeremiah denounced Divine judgments, and called on the ungodly to repent, as the only means of escape. But false prophets made the people vain. Those whom they caused to err, loved them and their smooth things; but despised Jeremiah and his warnings. They thought the false prophets had much the better views of God. But God condemned them as prophets speaking lies. His threatened judgments came. And the deceiver and the deceived were confounded together. An inspired apostle has also said, “ There shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways ; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of."
3. In such circumstances-amid such dangers—who among you, my hearers, is willing to remain in doubt,whether heaven or hell shall be his endless abode? Who can neglect to settle this question on scriptural ground ? He that is born again may have the Spirit to witness with his spirit that he is a child of God. This witness of the Spirit is by the fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. “ Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God.” “ Blessed are they that do his commandments; that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” Who of you has this Divine testimony that he is in Christ a new creature ; and so an heir of God, according to his promise of eternal life? This is the great question to be settled.
But I see some of you unmoved-unconcerned-secure in sin-while the wrath of God abideth on you!—your house in flames, and you asleep!-or when called, still loving to slumber. Such indifference is unbecomingmis irrational. Eternity is just opening upon you. " In such an hour as you think not, the Son of Man cometh.” Oh, that you were wise ; that you understood these things ; that you would consider your latter end !-that you would escape for your life! Thus, and thus only, may you hope to enter into life eternal; “ when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven, with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ : who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power."
THE SINNER’S SELF-DESTRUCTION AND ONLY REMEDY. HOSEA, XII. 9.-0 Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is
thy help. The impenitent sinner is ever disposed to throw the blame of his sins upon God; and thus to cheer his soul with the idea, that he shall not surely be punished for that which was unavoidable. Were God indeed
W cod indeed the author of sin, this hope might be indulged with the most perfect safety. But what does a position of this kind imply? It implies that God, instead of delighting in justice, mercy, and truth, delights only in injustice, cruelty, and falsehood. If sinners are not willing thus to charge God foolishly,--if they are not willing to venture upon this broad stream of impiety and blasphemy, they must consent to have the guilt of their iniquities rest where God himself has placed it on themselves. “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thy help.” In the text we notice;
I. A charge against the sinner of self-destruction : “ Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself.”
II. A gracious offer of restoration : “In me is thy help.”
To justify this charge against sinners, proofs may be drawn from the declarations of Scripture; from the course pursued by God in his revealed plan of mercy; and from the candid and self-condemning concessions of many who have died without hope.
1. Almost every page of the word of God bears some exhortation to the sinner, which is predicated on the fact of his moral agency; and every exhortation goes upon the supposition which lays the shame of his sin at his own door, and charges on his own perverseness the catastrophe of his ruin. In the very opening of his prophecy, Isaiah, as if he felt no liberty to speak in the rapturous strains with which his book is filled, until he had borne his testimony on the point before us, says, “ Hear, O heavens, and give ear, 0 earth, for the Lord hath spoken ; I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my