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« wrath to come:" and they often shew their philanthrophy, by spending their time in incessant labours, and by distributing their property, to relieve the miseries of mankind; and sometimes even by laying down their lives for their good.
We may also observe, that the scriptures uniformly speak of two ways, two descriptions of men, and two places to which they are removed at death ; and never intimate a middle path, state, or character: nor do they mention any alteration in the condition either of the righteous or the wicked; except as the resurrection will re-unite their bodies to their souls, and display, to the whole world, the justice and mercy of God in his dealings with them. All purgatories therefore, whether before or after the day of judgment, are wholly unscriptural: and all reasonings on this subject are vain and presumptuous attempts to remove “ the
great gulf” which God hath fixed; and are calculated to take men off from preparing seriously for that day, when “ the wicked shall go away into “ eternal punishment, and the righteous into eter« nal life.”
It appears therefore that every man lies under a two-fold condemnation for his sins : he is sentenced to various temporal sufferings, which are to be terminated by death ; and to eternal misery in another world : and, if any one should object to this, on the supposition that his sins do not merit so tremendous a punishment, I would inquire, whether human legislators and judges ever think the criminals themselves competent to decide on the.equity of statutes and sentences? or whether we are indeed capable of determining the degree of
evil contained in rebellion against the authority of the infinite Creator ; and what punishment the glory of his name, and the everlasting advantage of the whole creation, may require him to inflict upon transgressors ?-In respect of the former part of this sentence, alleviations and respites alone can be expected: but we may hope for the entire abolition of the latter, as we live under a dispensation of mercy, through the great Mediator of the new covenant. On this salvation we shall hereafter enlarge : at present it suffices to say with the Psalmist, “ If thou, Lord, shouldst mark iniqui
ties, O Lord, who shall stand ? but there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayst be feared.”
The inevitable certainty of death ; the uncertainty of the time and manner in which each
per son shall die; with the manifold troubles and sorrows of life, the turbulency of the passions, the remorse and terrors, and the auguish of the closing scene of wicked men; bear no faint resemblance to the confinement, chains, and tortures of a condemned criminal, terminating only in his execution. The miseries which they occasion to each other aptly represent those scenes, that meet the observation of such persons as are conversant with prisons; in which wretched men have little relief from the anguish of their own minds, except in reproaching and plaguing their companions in guilt: while the dissipated, sensual, and noisy pleasure, by which at other times they stun reflection, and excite a transient turbulent joy, resembles the drunken carousals of the criminals singing and dancing in their chains, and the infatuated levity of some of them even to the very moment of execution. But
the believer has another prospect opened to his view : he is indeed a criminal, but he is pardoned and reconciled to his prince; a few days he must abide in his prison, previously to his regular discharge; but, when the other criminals shall be led to execution, he will not only be set at liberty, but admitted to the presence and full favour of his gracious benefactor, ennobled with the greatest dignities, and enriched beyond expression. In the mean time, the hopes and earnests of such felicity support and solace his mind, and he knows amidst his pains and sorrows, that “ blessed is he whose “ iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are co
The uncertain continuance of this vain life is the term allotted us, by the long-suffering of our offended God, to seek the reversal of that part of the sentence which relates to our final condemnation. To direct our course in this important pursuit, “unto us are committed the oracles of God;" “ which are able to make us wise unto salvation, “through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” Information, counsels, invitations, warnings, and promises, suited to our case, are there given us : means of grace are appointed, in which we may wait on God for every needful blessing : and especially the Holy Spirit is promised to all who humbly depend on his gracious teaching, and his sanctifying and comforting influences, and seek these blessings by earnest prayer : so that no one (whatever his sins, habits, temptations, or situation may be,) can come short of this salvation, provided he apply for it in the appointed way, and with a diligence suited to its inestimable value. This is the situation of
every man so long as life continues; for that judicial blindness and obduracy, to which many are given up, consists in a total and final neglect, contempt, or abuse of this salvation. But, when death removes one and then another out of this world, their opportunity is gone, and their state fixed to all eternity.
We are then criminals, reprieved for a short and uncertain time by the mercy of our prince, that we may have an opportunity of casting ourselves on his clemency, and seeking forgiveness, in a way which for his own glory he has prescribed. If we avail ourselves of this advantage, the more terrible part of our punishment will be remitted ; and the remainder counterbalanced by most animating hopes and consolations, sanctified to our greatest good, and soon terminating in everlasting felicity: but, if we neglect so great salvation, our vain and vexatious worldly pursuits and pleasure will soon close in final and eternal misery.
Our first great business and interest, therefore, during our present uncertain state, must be, to prepare for death and judgment, by seeking “eter“nal life as the gift of God through Jesus Christ “our Lord :” for, if we succeed in this grand concern, all inferior disappointments or losses will shortly be most amply made up to us ; but, if we fail in this respect, our present successes will only serve to aggravate our future anguish. Every pursuit, which is incompatible with this primary interest, must be madness and ruin, however fashionable, reputable, lucrative, or agreeable. Not only inferior elegances, distinctions, and honours ; but even crowns and sceptres, the splendour of courts,
the councils of statesmen and senators, the grand concerns of empires, yea, “all the kingdoms of “ the world, and all the glory of them,” dwindle into utter insignificancy, and fade as a withering flower, when compared with eternal happiness or misery: “ for what is a man profited, if he gain “ the whole world and lose his own soul?" The soul of man, bearing the natural image of God, in its noble powers and faculties; capable of being renewed to his moral image, “in righteousness and
true holiness;" endued with the capacity of most exquisite pleasure, or most inconceivable anguish ; and formed to subsist in happiness or misery through the countless ages of eternity ; is lost, when the favour and image of God are finally forfeited ; and when it is condemned to endure his tremendous wrath, and to be given up to the unrestrained fury of all hateful dispositions, in the company of fallen spirits, for ever. This loss is incurred by sin; but the forfeiture is ratified by the sinner's persevering impenitence, unbelief, and disobedience. The pleasure, profit, honour, power, or ease, which men seek by continuing in sin, is the price of their souls : and they are so infatuated as thus to sell them for the most worthless trifles; because (like our first parents,) they credit Satan's lies more than the truth of God, through desire of the forbidden fruit; or because they put off the grand concern to a future season, and quiet their consciences, (as debtors do their importunate creditors,) by fixing on some future time of intended amendment; or because they think their state good, when God's word declares the contrary. Thus their opportunity elapses, and too late they