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As when a house is on fire, they use to spout water upon the walls of the neighbouring houses, to keep the flames from catching hold of them; so you may, by sprinkling the blood of Jesus Christ, and by moistening yourselves with the tears of true.repentance, prevent this consuming fire from preying upon you: but, if once it kindles, it will there burn everlastingly. It is not like your sublunary fires: these spend the matter they feed on; and, be they of never so great force, they must at length themselves starve for want of fuel: yea, the sooner they consume, the sooner are they themselves consumed; as, in straw, and other light combustible matter. But God is such a fire, as consumes without diminishing; and his power is such a power, as destroys the soul, and yet perpetuates it. He is such a wise and intelligent fire, as consumes the damned, and yet repairs them ; and, by tormenting, still nourishes them for future torments. As Minutius speaks: the same breath of God, that destroys the soul, still keeps it alive, that it may be eternal fuel for itself. Hence is it, that hell-fire is described to be such, as shall never be quenched: Mark ix. 44. And why ? but because the breath of the Lord, like a fiery stream, is still kindling of it. How in the midst of this devouring fire must the damned dwell, without any period, either to their being or to their torment! and, when they have lain theie millions and millions of years, still is it but a beginning of their sorrows, and they are as far from a release and discharge as they were at the first. Think with yourselves, how long and how tedious a little time seems to you When you are in pain: you complain then, that time hath leaden feet, and wish that the days and hours would roll away faster. Oh! what will it be then, when you shall lie in hell; when the intolerableness of pain shall make every hour seem an age, and every year seem a long eternity itself, and yet you must lie an eternity of those years there? This makes their torments doubly everlasting. Methinks, the dreadful thoughts of this eternally consuming fire, sh6uld make the stoutest heart to quake; or, at least, to cause a cold fit of fear, before this burning and scorching torment begins.'
4. God is such a Consuming Fire, as mill prey upon the soul, that tender and spiritual part of man.
The more gross the subject is, the more dull are the pains that it suffers; but, where the subject is spiritual, there the anguish must needs be extreme. The sharpest torments, that the body is capable of, are but dull, in comparison of what the soul can feel: when God himself shall lash the soul, that more refined part, all comparisons fall short of expressing the anguish of it: to shoot poisoned darts inflamed into a man's marrow, to rip up his bowels with a sword red hot, is as nothing to this. Think what it is to have a drop of boiling, scalding oil, or meiting lead fell into your eye, and make it boil and burn till at last it falls out of your head; such torments, yea infinitely more than this, is it to have the wrath of God fall upon your souls. The body is a kind of fence to the soul: it damps and deadens the smart, as a blow upon a clothed man is not so painful as upon one that is stark naked: now if the soul sometimes feels such smart and pain through the body, what shall it feel when God shall pour his wrath upon it stark naked?
5. The longer thou livest in thy sins impenitently, the more dost thou prepare thy soul to be fit fuel for this Consuming Fire t» devour. i
This is but like the oiling of a barrel of pitch, which of itself was apt enough before to burn. Those, whom the wrath of God snatches away in the beginning of their days, are made fuel for that consuming fire: and, if it be done so to the green tree, what will be done to the dry and rotten tree? Thou, that hast stood many years rotting in the world, when God shall cope and cut thee down and cast thee into unquenchable fire, how soon wilt thou kindle and how dreadfully wilt thou burn, having no sap left in thee to alky and mitigate those flames! Certainly, would but the most hardened sinner, here present, call his thoughts aside awhile, and seriously bethink himself what he hath been doing ever since he came into the world, this must needs make him fear and tremble; to consider, that, all this time, he hath, by his sinning, been treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath, heaping up coals, yea burning coals, upon his own head. Every time you sin, what do you else but cast in another faggot to that pile of much wood, prepared to burn you for ever? Oh, that these dreadful and amazing considerations might, at length, rouze and awaken your hearts to fear this consuming fire; and to tremble at that wrath, that is now kindling in God's breast against you, and which will, if you repent not, ere long kindle upon you!
*' But," yon will say, " to fear God, only because he is a Consuming Fire, merely because of his wrath and fiery indignation, is but, at best, a Slavish Fear: it is but to fear him as the devils do, for they believe and tremble; and of what use and benefit will such a fear as this be?"
Answ. 1. It is true, to fear God merely upon the account of wrath is but a Slavish Fear; but, yet, it is far better to fear God slavishly, than to perish securely.
That will come with redoubled terror, which comes unexpectedly. How intolerable will hell be to those, especially, that never fear it till they feel it! When sinners shall see themselves surrounded with flames of fire, before ever they thought themselves in any danger; when they shall awake with the flames of hell flashing and flaming about them; what screechings and yellings will this cause! This is to perish, as a fool perisheth; to go on securely in sin, till unexpectedly a dart suddenly strikes through his liver. Whatever the event be, yet it becomes the reason of a man to be affected with fear, proportionable to the evil that he lies obnoxious to. Therefore, whether this slavish fear ends in torment or not, yet it is more rational to fear what we are exposed to it, than to be secure and go down into torments, and never to fear them till we feel them.
Answ. 2. This fear, though a Slavish Fear, is of great efficacy to deter men from the Outward Acts of more gross and scandalous sins.
He, that puts hell betwixt him and his sins, will scarce be so daring as to venture through a lake of fire and brimstone to . commit them. God thought he had set a sufficient guard upon the Tree of Life, when he placed cherubims and a flaming sword to keep men from it. But, to keep men from sin, he hath placed a guard far more dreadful than angels or a flaming sword: he hath placed himself, a consuming fire, to deter men from sin; and they, certainly, that have any fear or dread of God upon their hearts, will judge it too hot a work to break through this fire to their lusts. The thoughts of hell and those everlasting torments due to sin,, have doubtless been often used with good success to repel Satan's temptations.
Answ. 3. Where the Fear of Wrath doth prevail to restrain men from sin, this is a good effect; for it doth lessen and mitigate that wrath, that they fear.
On those, that add iniquity to iniquity, without fear, God will heap plague upon plague, without measure. He proportions men's punishments to their sinsj and those, that fear most, shall feel least. That fear of theirs, which keep them from the gross acts of sins that others boldly rush into, shall likewise keep them from the sorest torments that others shall for ever suffer.
Answ. 4. This Slavish Fear is isagogical: that is, it is preparatory to and inductive of a Filial and Holy Fear of God.
We usually fear God, first, as a Revenging Judge; before we come to fear him with a reverential, filial fear, as a Reconciled Father. As the poet of old fabulously fansied, that the giants heaped mountain upon mountain, that they might scale heaven: this is true in Christianity: the way to climb heaven, is, by laying one mountain upon another, even Mount Sion upon Mount Sinai. Those, commonly, prove the roost stable and stayed Christians, that have been most harassed by legal terrors, before they enjoyed the sense of comfort: for the structure of grace in the heart is quite contrary to other buildings: it stands firmest, when it is laid upon a shaking and trembling foundation: it is a seed, that never thrives so well, as where the heart is most broken up, and wherein the wrath of God hath made long and deep furrows.
To conclude this, methinks what hath already been spoken should fill the heart of every carnal wretch ,with fear: methinks this should make him cry out, with those sinners in Sion, Isa. xxxiii. 14. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire f who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? Can the Drunkard hear these things, and yet put his intemperate cups to his mouth with a steady hand? Can the Swearer hear these things, and yet his tongue move steady in his mouth, and not tremble when he raps out oaths? Certainly, how secure and confident soever men may now be; yet there is a time coming, when the wrath of God shall melt down their hearts like wax, in the midst of their bowels. Death is a thundering preacher; and it will make you fear the dreadful representations of that fiery indignation, that shortly it will display before your eyes in all its terrors. Oh! when your eyes shall swim in the night and in the dark, and it cannot be long first, when you shall meet with those dreadful shapes and visions of a flaming hell and a more flaming God, it will be too late then to fear; and, alas! it will be too late then to hope: God will then laugh at your calamity; and mock at you, when this unseasonable fear cometh. Be persuaded, therefore, to entertain a fear of God, at last; though but a slavish fear: this is the preparation, that the Holy Ghost works in the heart, in order to a filial and a holy fear of God.
Use ii. Another Use, that we may make of this point, is this:
IF GOD BE A CONSUMING FIRE, HOW HIGHLY DOTH IT CONCERN US TO LOOK OUT FOR A SCREEN, THAT MAY FENCE US FROM THOSE EVERLASTING.BURNINGS!
We are stubble and fuel, fully prepared: our sins have madeus so; and, for us to stand it out against God, is no other than for dried stubble to challenge the devouring fire.
Now God, that he might not break forth upon us and destioy us, hath himself prepared a screen to hide and shelter us from this flaming wrath; and that is Christ, the Mediator. We have a lively type of this in Aaron: Numb. xvi. 48. when the rebellious Israelites mutinied against Moses, God did suddenly break forth upon them, and slew almost fifteen thousand of them dead upon the place: as fire runs on a train of powder, so did this wrath of God pass swiftly from one to another, till Aaron interposed and stopped it: there stood that mighty priest, as a bulwark betwixt the living and the dead, and intercepted the rest from this destroying wrath; and, though it overwhelmed so many thousands, yet it could not bear down his powerful intercession: he alone was the fence and safeguard of a perishing people. Christ, upon the cross, maintains the same station; interposing betwixt the living and the dead: the wrath of God consumes all before it, that is not under the protection of that screen: there, it stops; and, though it seized fiercely upon him too,yet it never burnt through him to reach those that fled for security to that refuge set before them. In a general conflagration, even chaff and stubble may be secure, under the coyert of an adamantine wall: though all the wicked of the world shall burn together, and all believers be in themselves as combustible matter as they; yet Christ interposeth as a wall of adamant hetwixt stubble and stubble, and, when the wrath of God hath consumed the one, he stands and keeps off the impressions of it from the other. Indeed, there is a wall, that stands betwixt God and every wicked man; but it is a wall of partition, as the Apostle calls it, Eph. ii. 14. it is a wall, that separates them from the love and favour of God, and hides his face from them: a partition of dry and rotten boards may keep off the light and kindly influences of the sun; but it is no fence against the rage of fire, but rather increases