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It will not be long before you will be wonderfully changed. You who now hear of hell and the wrath of the great God, and sit here so easy and quiet, and go away so careless; by and by will shake, and tremble, and cry out, and shriek, and gnash your teeth, and will be thoroughly convinced of the vast weight and importance of these things which you now despise.
THE ETERNITY OF HELL TORMENTS.
MATT. XXV. 46.
These shall go away into everlasting punishment. In this chapter we have the most particular description of the day of judgment of any in the whole Bible. Christ here declares, that when he shall hereafter sit on the throne of his glory, the righteous and the wicked shall be set before him, and separated one from the other, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats. Then we have an account how both will be judged according to their works; how the good works of the one and the evil works of the other will be rehearsed, and how the sentence shall be pronounced accordingly. We are told what the sentence will be on each, and then we have an account of the execution of the sentence on both. In the words of the text is the account of the execution of the sentence on the wicked or the ungodly: concerning which, it is to my purpose to observe two things.
1. The duration of the punishment on which they are here said to enter: it is called everlasting punishment.
2. The time of their entrance on this everlasting punishment; viz. after the day of judgment, when all these things that are of a temporary continuance shall have come to an end, and even those of them that are most lasting, the frame of the world itself; the earth which is said to abide for ever; the ancient mountains and everlasting hills; the sun, moon, and stars. When the heavens shall have waxed old like a garment, and as a vesture shall be changed, then shall be the time when the wicked shall enter on their punishment.
* Dated, April 1739.
Doctrine.--The misery of the wicked in hell will be absolutely eternal.
There are two opinions which I mean to oppose in this doctrine. One is, That the eternal death with which wicked men are threatened in scripture, signifies no more than eternal annihilation; that God will punish their wickedness by eternally abolishing their being.
The other opinion which I mean to oppose, is, That though the punishment of the wicked shall consist in sensible misery, yet it shall not be absolutely eternal; but only of a very long continuance.
Therefore, to establish the doctrine in opposition to these different opinions, I shall undertake to show,
1. That it is not contrary to the divine perfections, to inflict on wicked men a punishment that is absolutely eternal.
II. That the eternal death which God threatens, is not annihilation, but an abiding, sensible punishment or misery.
III. That this misery will not only continue for a very long time, but will be absolutely without end.
IV. That various good ends will be obtained by the eternal punishment of the wicked.
I. I am to show that it is not contrary to the divine perfections, to inflict on wicked men a punishment that is absolutely eternal.
This is the sum of the objections usually made against this doctrine, That it is inconsistent with the justice, and especially with the mercy of God. And some say, if it be strictly just yet how can we suppose that a merciful God can bear eternally to torment his creatures.
1. I shall briefly show, That it is not inconsistent with the justice of God to inflict an eternal punishment. To evince this, I shall use only one argument, viz. that sin is heinous enough to deserve such a punishment, and such a punishment is no more than proportionable to the evil or demerit of sin. If the evil of sin be infinite, as the punishment is, then it is manifest that the punishment is no more than proportionable to the sin punished, and is no more than sin deserves. And if the obligation to love, honour, and obey God be infinite, then sin, which is the violation of this obligation, is a violation of infinite obligation, and so is an infinite evil. Again, if God be infinitely worthy of love, honour and obedience, then our obligation to love, and honour, and obey him, is infinitely great.-So that God being infinitely glorious, or infinitely worthy of our love,
honour, and obedience; our obligation to love, honour, and obey him, and so to avoid all sin, is infinitely great. Again, our obligation to love, honour and obey God, being infinitely great, sin is the violation of infinite obligation, and so is an infinite evil. Once more, sin being an infinite evil, deserves an infinite punishment, an infinite punishment is no more than it deserves : Therefore such punishment is just ; which was the thing to be proved. There is no evading the force of this reasoning, but by denying that God, the sovereign of the universe, is infinitely glorious ; which I presume none of my hearers will venture to do.
2. I am to show, That it is not inconsistent with the mercy of God, to inflict an eternal punishment on wicked men. It is an unreasonable and unscriptural notion of the mercy of God, that he is merciful in such a sense that he cannot bear that penal justice should be executed. This is to conceive of the mercy of God as a passion to which his nature is so subject that God is liable to be moved, and affected, and overcome by seeing a creature in misery, so that he cannot bear to see justice executed : which is a most unworthy and absurd notion of the mercy of God, and would, if true, argue great weakness. It would be a great defect, and not a perfection, in the sovereign and supreme Judge of the world, to be merciful in such a sense that he could not bear to have penal justice executed. It is a very unscriptural notion of the mercy of God. The scriptures every where represent the mercy of God as free and sovereign, and not that the exercises of it are necessary, so that God cannot bear justice should take place. The scriptures abundantly speak of it as the glory of the divine attribute of mercy, that it is free and sovereign in its exercises ; and not that God cannot but deliver sinners from misery. This is a mean and most unworthy idea of the divine mercy.
It is most absurd also, as it is contrary to plain fact. For if there be any meaning in the objection, this is supposed in it, that all misery of the creature, whether just or unjust, is in itself contrary to the nature of God. For if his mercy be of such a nature, that a very great degree of misery, though just, is contrary to his nature; then it is only to add to the mercy, and then a less degree of misery is contrary to his nature; again to add further to it, and a still less degree of misery is contrary to his nature. And so the mercy of God being infinite, ali misery must be contrary to his nature; which we see to be contrary to fact: for we see that God in his providence, doth indeed inflict very great calamities on mankind even in this life.
However strong such kind of objections against the eternal misery of the wicked, may seem to the carnal, senseless hearts of men, as though it were against God's justice and mercy; yet their seeming strength arises from a want of sense of the infinite evil, odiousness, and provocation there is in sin. Hence it seems to us not suitable, that any poor creature should be the subject of such misery, because we have no sense of any thing abominable and provoking in any creature answerable to it. If we had, then this infinite calamity would not seem unsuitable. For one thing would but appear answerable and proportionable to another, and so the mind would rest in it as fit and suitable, and no more than what is proper to be ordered by the just, holy, and good Governor of the world.
That this is so, we may be convinced by this consideration, viz. that when we hear, or read of some horrid instances of cruelty, it may be to some poor innocent child, or some holy martyr—and their cruel persecutors, baving no regard to their shrieks and cries, only sported themselves with their misery, and would not vouchsafe even to put an end to their lives—we have a sense of the evil of them and they make a deep impression on our minds. Hence is seems just, every way fit and suitable, that God should inflict a very terrible punishment on persons who have perpetrated such wickedness. It seems no way disagreeable to any perfection of the Judge of the world; we can think of it without being at all shocked. The reason is, that we have a sense of the evil of their conduct, and a sense of the proportion there is between the evil or demerit, and the punishment.
Just so, if we saw a proportion between the evil of sin and eternal punishment, if we saw something in wicked men that should appear as hateful to us, as eternal misery appears dreadful; something that should as much stir up indignation and detestation, as eternal misery does terror; all objections against this doctrine would vanish at once. Though now it seem incredible; though when we hear of it, and are so often told of it, we know not how to realize it; though when we hear of such a degree and duration of torments, as are held forth in this doctrine, and think what eternity is, it is ready to seem impossible, that such torments should be inflicted on poor feeble creatures by a Creator of infinite mercy; yet this arises principally from these two causes. (1.) It is so contrary to the depraved inclinations of mankind, that they hate to believe it, and cannot bear it should be true. (2.) They see not the suitableness of eternal punishment to the evil of sin; they see not that it is no more than proportionable to the demerit of sin.
Having thus shown, that the eternal punishment of the wicked is not inconsistent with the divine perfections, I shall now proceed to show, that it is so far from being inconsistent with the divine perfections, that those perfections evidently require it; i, e. they require that sin should have so great a punishment, either in the person who has committed it, or in a