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5. But others aver, “it is not possible that fire should burn always. For by the immutable law of nature, it consumes whatever is thrown into it. And, by the same law, as soon as it has consumed its fuel, it is itself consumed ; it
It is most true, that in the present constitution of things, during the present laws of nature, the element of fire does dissolve and consume whatever is thrown into it. But here is the mistake: the present laws of nature are not immutable. When the heavens and the earth shall flee away, the present scene will be totally changed; and, with the present constitution of things, the present laws of nature will cease. After this great change, nothing will be dissolved, nothing will be consumed any more. Therefore, if it were true, that fire consumes all things now, it would not follow that it would do the same after the whole frame of nature has undergone that vast, universal change.
6. I say, if it were true, that "fire consumes all things now.” But, indeed, it is not true. Has it not pleased God to give us already some proof of what will be hereafter? Is not the Linum Asbestum, the incombustible flax, known in most parts of Europe ? If you take a towel or handkerchief made of this, (one of which may now be seen in the British museum,) you may throw it into the hottest fire, and when it is taken out again, it will be observed, upon the nicest experiment, not to have lost one grain of its weight. Here, therefore, is a substance before our eyes, which even in the present constitution of things, (as if it were an emblem of things to come,) may remain in fire without being consumed.
7. Many writers have spoken of other bodily torments, added to the being cast into the lake of fire. One of these, even pious Kempis, supposes thąt misers, for instance, have melted gold poured down their throats; and he supposes many other particular torments to be suited to men's particular sins. Nay, our great poet himself supposes the inhabitants of hell to undergo a variety of tortures; not to continue always in the lake of fire, but to be frequently,
“By harpy-footed furies, hauled” into regions of ice; and then back again through
“ Extremes, by change more fierce :' But I find no word, no tittle of this, not the least hint of it in all the Bible. And surely this is too awful a subject, to admit of such play of imagination. Let us keep to the written word. It is torment enough, to dwell with everlasting burnings.
8. This is strongly illustrated by a fabulous story, taken from one of the eastern writers, concerning a Turkish king, who, after he had been guilty of all manner of wickedness, once did a good thing: for seeing a poor man falling into a pit, wherein he must have inevitably perished, and kicking him from it, he saved his life. The story adds, that when, for his enormous wickedness, he was cast into hell, that foot wherewith he had saved the man's life, was permitted to lie out of the flames. But allowing this to be a real case, what a poor comfort would it be? What if both feet were permitted to lie out of the flames, yea, and both hands, how little would it avail ! Nay, if all the body were taken out, and placed where no fire touched it, and only one hand or one foot kept in a burning fiery furnace; would the man, meantime, be much at ease ? Nay, quite the contrary. Is it not common to say to a child, “ Put your finger into that candle : can you bear it even for one minute? How then will you bear hell fire ?" Surely it would be torment enough to have the flesh burnt off from only one finger. What then will it be, to have the whole body plunged into a lake of fire burning with brimstone !
III. It remains now only to consider two or three circumstances attending the never dying worm and the unquenchable fire.
1. And, first, consider the company wherewith everyone is surrounded in that place of torment. It is not uncommon to hear even condemned criminals, in our public prisons, say;"Oh I wish I was hanged out of the way, rather than to be plagued with these wretches that are round about me." But what are the most abandoned wretches upon earth, compared to the inhabitants of hell ? None of these are, as yet, perfectly wicked, emptied of every spark of good ; certainly not till this life is at an end; probably not till the day of judgment. Nor can any of these exert, without control, their whole wickedness on their fellow creatures. Sometimes they are restrained by good men; sometimes even by bad.
So even the tortures in the Romish inquisition are restrained by those that employ them, when they suppose the sufferer cannot endure any more. They then order the executioners to forbear; because it is contrary to the rules of the house, that a man should die upon the rack. And very frequently, when there is no human help, they are restrained by God, who hath set them their bounds, which they cannot pass, and saith, “ Hitherto shall ye come, and no farther.” Yea, so mercifully hath God ordained, that the very extremity of pain causes a suspension of it. The sufferer faints away; and so, for a time at least, sinks into insensibility. But the inhabitants of hell are perfectly wicked, having no spark of goodness remaining. And they are restrained by none from exerting to the uttermost their total wickedness. Not by men; none will be restrained from evil by his companions in damnation : and not by God; for he hath forgotten them; hath delivered them over to the tormentors. And the devils need not fear, like their instruments upon earth, lest they should expire under the torture. They can die no more: they are strong to sustain whatever the united malice, skill, and strength of angels can inflict upon them. And their angelic tormentors have time sufficient to vary their torments a thousand ways. How infinitely may they vary one single torment,-horrible appearances ! Whereby, there is no doubt, an evil spirit, if permitted, could terrify the stoutest man upon earth to death.
2. Consider, secondly, that all these torments of body and soul are without intermission. They have no respite from pain ; but “the smoke of their torment ascendeth up day and night.” Day and night! That is, speaking according to the constitution of the present world; wherein God has wisely and graciously ordained, that day and night should succeed each other : so that in every four and twenty hours there comes a
Daily sabbath, made to rest
Toiling man and weary beast." Hence we seldom undergo much labour, or suffer much pain, before
“ Tired nature's sweet restorer, balmy sleep," steals upon us by insensible degrees, and brings an interval of ease. But although the damned have uninterrupted night, it brings no interruption of their pain. No sleep accompanies that darkness: whatever ancient or modern poets, either Homer or Milton, dream, there is no sleep either in hell or heaven. And be their suffering ever so extreme, be their pain ever so intense, there is no possibility of their fainting away ; no, not for a moment.
Again : the inhabitants of earth are frequently diverted from attending to what is afflictive, by the cheerful light of the sun, the vicissitudes of the seasons, "the busy hum of men," and a thousand objects that roll around them in endless variety. But the inhabitants of hell have nothing to divert them from their torments, even for a moment:
“ Total eclipse : no sun, no moon!" No change of seasons, or of companions. There is no business; but one uninterrupted scene of horror, to which they must be all attention. They have no interval of inattention or stupidity: they are all eye, all ear, all sense. Every instant of their duration, it may be said of their whole frame, that they are
“ tremblingly alive all o'er,
And smart and agonize at every porc !" 3. And of this duration there is no end! What a thought is this ! Nothing but eternity is the term of their torment! And who can count the drops of rain, or the sands of the sea, or the days of eternity? Every suffering is softened, if there is any hope, though distant, of deliverance from it. But here,
“Hope never comes, that comes to all” the inhabitants of the upper world! What ! sufferings never to end !
“NEVER !Where sinks the soul at that dread sound?
Into a gulf how dark, and how profound!" Suppose millions of days, of years, of ages elapsed, still we are only on the threshold of eternity! Neither the pain of body or of soul is any nearer an end, than it was millions of ages ago. When they are cast into To Hug, To QOBERTOV,—(How emphatical ! " The fire, the unquenchable,") - all is concluded : “ Their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched !"
Such is the account which the Judge of all gives of the punishment which he has ordained for impenitent sinners. And what a counterbalance may the consideration of this be, to the violence of any temptation! In particular to the fear of man; the very use to which it is applied by our Lord himself: “Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But fear him, who after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell,” Luke xii, 4, 5.
What a guard may these considerations be against any temptation from pleasure ! Will you lose, for any of these poor, earthly pleasures, which perish in the using, (to say nothing of the present substantial pleasures of religion,) the pleasures of paradise ; such as eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into our hearts to conceive ?" Yea, the pleasures of heaven, the society of angels, and of the spirits of just men made perfect; the conversing face to face with God your Father, your Saviour, your sanctifier; and the drinking of those rivers of pleasure that are at God's right hand for evermore?
Are you tempted by pain, either of body or mind? Oh compare present things with future! What is the pain of body which you do or may endure, to that of lying in a lake of fire burning with brimstone?
What is any pain of mind; any fear, anguish, sorrow, compared to the “worm that never dieth?". That never dieth! This is the sting of all! As for our pains on earth, blessed be God, they are not eterna). There are some intervals to relieve, and there is some period to finish them. When we ask a friend that is sick, How he does ? “I am in pain now,” says he, “ but I hope to be easy soon.” This is a sweet mitigation of the present uneasiness. But how dreadful would his casė be if he should answer, “I am all over pain, and I shall be never eased of it. I lie under exquisite torment of body, and horror of soul ; and I shall feel it for ever!” Such is the case of the damned sinners in hell. Suffer any pain, then, rather than come into that place of torment!
I conclude with one more reflection, taken from Dr. Watts :—“It demands our highest gratitude, that we, who have long ago deserved this misery, are not plunged into it. While there are thousands that have been adjudged to this place of punishment, before they had continued so long in sin as many of us have done, what an instance is it of divine goodness, that we are not under this fiery vengeance! Have we not seen many sinners, on our right and our left, cut off in their sins? And what but the tender mercy of God, hath spared us week after week, month after month, and given us space for repentance ? What shall we render unto the Lord, for all his patience and long suffering, even to this day? How often have we incurred the sentence of condemnation by our repeated rebellion against God ? And yet we are still alive in his presence, and are hearing the words of hope and salvation. Oh let us look back and shudder at the thoughts of that dreadful precipice, on the edge of which we have so long wandered! Let us fly for refuge to the hope that is set before us, and give a thousand thanks to the divine mercy, that we are not plunged into this perdition!"
SERMON LXXIX.-of the Church. " I beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowli ess and meekness, with long suffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling ; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all,” Ephes. iv, 1-6.
1. How much do we almost continually hear about the church! With many it is matter of daily conversation. And yet how few understand what they talk of: how few know what the term means ! A more ambiguous word than this, the church, is scarce to be found in the English language. It is sometimes taken for a building, set apart for public worship; sometimes for a congregation, or body of people, united together in the service of God. It is only in the latter sense that it is taken in the ensuing discourse. ,
2. It may be taken indifferently for any number of people, how small or great soever. As, “ where two or three are met together in his name," there is Christ; so, (to speak with St. Cyprian,) “ where two or three believers are met together, there is a church.” Thus it is that St. Paul, writing to Philemon, mentions“ the church which was in his house:" plainly signifying, that even a Christian family may be termed a church
3. Several of those whom God hath called out of the world, (so the original word properly signifies,) uniting together in one congregation, formed a larger church; as the church at Jerusalem : that is, all those in Jerusalem whom God had so called. But considering how swiftly these were multiplied, after the day of pentecost, it cannot be supposed that they could continue to assemble in one place; especially as they had not then any large place, neither would they have been permitted to build one. In consequence, they must have divided themselves, even at Jerusalem, into several distinct congregations. In like manner, when St. Paul, several years after, wrote to the church in Rome, (directing his letter, “To all that are in Rome, called to be saints,”) it cannot be supposed that they had any one building capable of containing them all; but they were divided into several congregations, assembling in several parts of the city.
4. The first time that the apostle uses the word church, is in his preface to the former epistle to the Corinthians : “Paul called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, unto the church of God which is at Corinth:" the meaning of which expression is fixed by the following words : “ To them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus; with all that, in every place,” (not Corinth only; so it was a kind of circular letter,)“ call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both yours and ours." In the inscription of his second letter to the Corinthians, he speaks still more explicitly: “Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints that are in all Achaia.” Here he plainly includes all the churches, or Christian congregations, which were in the whole province.
5. He frequently uses the word in the plural number. So, Gal. i, 2, “Paul an apostle,-unto the churches of Galatia;" that is, the Christian congregations dispersed throughout that country. In all these places, (and abundantly more might be cited,) the word church or churches means, not the buildings where the Christians assembled, (as it frequently does in the English tongue,) but the people that used to assemble there; one or more Christian congregations. But sometimes the word church is taken, in Scripture, in a still more extensive meaning ; as including all the Christian congregations that are upon the face of the earth. And in this sense we understand it in our liturgy, when we say, “Let us pray for the whole state of Christ's church militant here on earth.” In this sense it is unquestionably taken by St. Paul, in his exhortation to the elders of Ephesus, Acts xx, 28, “Take heed to the church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood.” The church here, undoubtedly, means the catholic or universal church; that is, all the Christians under heaven.
6. Who those are that are properly " the church of God,” the apostle shows at large; and that in the clearest and most decisive manner, in the passage above cited: wherein he likewise instructs all the members of the church, how to “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith they are called.”
7. Let us consider, first, who are properly the church of God! What is the true meaning of that term ? “ The church at Ephesus," as the apostle himself explains it, means, “the saints," the holy persons, " that are in Ephesus;" and there assemble themselves together to worship God the Father, and his Son Jesus Christ : whether they did this in one, or (as we may probably suppose) in several places. But it