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ON Ꮋ Ꭼ Ꮮ Ꮮ
MARK IX. 48.
Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched,
The opening of the text. The punishment of unreformed sinners sliall be ex
treme and eternal. The torments in hell exceed the heaviest judgments inflicted here. They are represented in scripture, so as to instruct and terrify sinners. The soul shall be the chief mourner in hell. The apprehension shall be enlarged to all afflicting objects. The thoughts shall be fixed upon what is tormenting. All the tormenting passions will be let loose upon the guilty soul. Shame, sorrow, rage, despair, at once seize on the damned.
The words are the repetition of a powerful motive, by our blessed Saviour, to deter men from indulging temptations to sin, how grateful or useful soever to them: “ If thy hand offend thee, cut it off; if thy foot offend thee, cut it off; if thy eye offend thee, pluck it out.” All the occasions whereby sin insinuates itself, and inflames our inclinations, whether it bribes us with profit, or allures by pleasure, must be immediately cut off, and for ever separated from us. This counsel seems very severe to the natural man, who freely converses with temptations : to do violence to himself, and tear his beloved lusts from his bosom,
the carnal nature will not consent to. Our Saviour therefore urges such arguments as may move the understanding and affections, may strike sense and conscience : “ For it is better to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, where the fire never shall be quenched.” Hope and fear are the most active passions : the hope of heaven is motive enough to induce a true believer to despise and reject all the advantages and pleasures of sin that are but for a season: and the fear of an everlasting hell, is strong enough to control the vicious appetites. *
Reason determines, that when a gangrene that is deadly and spreading, has seized upon a member, presently to cut off an affected arm or leg, to save the rest : how much more reasonable and necessary is it to part with the most charming and favourite sin, to preserve the soul from eternal death? It is observable, our Saviour inculcates three times, that men may take notice of it with terror, “Where the worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched :” a worm gnawing upon the bowels, that are of the most tender and quick sense, fire that causes the most vehement pain, are fearful representations to typify the torments of the damned: and that the worm is undying, and the fire unquenchable, infinitely aggravates their punishment.
The proposition is this : that the punishment of those who will retain their pleasant or profitable sins, shall be extreme and eternal. In the handling of this point, I will discourse of the extremity of the punishment ;-And the eternity of it.
I. The extremity of the punishment.
Before the particular description of the pains of the damned, I shal observe in general, that the full representation of hell is beyond all human expression; nay our most fearful thoughts cannot equal the horror of it. “ Who knows the power of thine anger ?" Psal. 90. 11. What are the prepared plagues, by infinite justice and Almighty wrath, for obstinate sinners? It is impossible for the most guilty and trembling conscience to enlarge its sad apprehensions according to the degrees of that misery. “The Lord will show forth his wrath, and make his power known in the vessels fitted for destruction.” None can tell what God can do, and what man can suffer, when made capable to
* Ut corpus redimas, ferrum patietis & ignes : ut valeas animo, quicquan tolerare negabis ? At pretium pars hæc corpore majus habet. Ovid.
endure such torments for ever, as now would presently consume him. As the glory of heaven cannot be fully understood till enjoyed, so the torments of hell cannot be comprehended till felt. But we may have some discovery of those unknown terrors, by the following considerations.
The most heavy judgments of God upon sinners here, are light and tolerable in comparison of the punishment of sinners in the next state. For;
1. Temporal evils of all kinds and degrees; as pestilence, famine, war, are designed for the bringing of men to a sight and sense of their sins, and are common to good and bad here. And if his anger be so terrible when he chastises as a compassionate father, what is bis fury when he punishes as a severe judge? If the correcting remedies ordered by his wisdom and love for the conversion of sinners be so sharp, what is the deadly revenge of his irreconcileable hatred ?
2. The miseries of the present stăte are allayed with some enjoyments. None are so universally afflicted, so desolate, but something remains to sweeten the sense of their sufferings. Judgments are tempered with mercies. No man is tortured with all diseases, nor forsaken of all friends, nor utterly without comfort. And when the affliction is irremediable, yet if our grief produces sympathy in others, it is some ease to the troubled mind, and by that assistance the burden is made lighter. But in hell, the damned are surrounded with terrors, eneonpassed with fames, without any thing to refresh their sorrows, not a drop of water to a lake of fire. All that was esteemed felicity here, is totally withdrawn. Death puts a period to their lives and pleasures of sin for ever. For it is most just, that those objects which were abused by their lusts, and alienated their hearts from their duty and felicity, should be taken away. And which is extreme misery, in their most pitiful state, that they are absolutely unpitied. Pity is the cheap and universal lenitive, not denied to the most guilty in their sufferings here: for the law of nature instructs us to pity the man, when the malefactof suffers. But even this is not afforded to the damned. All their agonies and cries cannot incline the compassion of God, and the blessed spirits in heaven towards them: for they are not compassionable objects, their misery being the just effect of their perverse obstinate choice. And in hell all human tender affections are extin. guished for ever. Now it is the perfection of misery, the excess of desolation, to be deprived of all good things pleasing to our desires, and to suffer all evils from which we have the deepest aversation and abhorrence. As in heaven all good is eminently comprised, and nothing but good; so in hell all evil is in excessive degrees, and nothing but evil.
Temporal evils are inflicted by the meditation of second causes that are of a limited power to hurt : but in the next world he more immediately torments the damned by his absolute power. The apostle tells us, that the wicked “are punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and the glory of his power.” What is the lashing with a few rushes, to a blow given by the hand of a giant that strikes dead at once? This comparison is below the truth.
More particularly the state of misery is set forth in scripture by such representations as may powerfully instruct and terrify even the most carnal mien. * Nothing is more intolerably painful, than suffering the violence of fire enraged with brimstone: and hell is described by a lake of fire and brimstone, wherein the wicked are tormented. Whether the fire be material or metaphorical, the reality and intenseness of the torments is signified by it. But the ordinary fire, though mingled with the most torturing ingredients, is not an adequate representation of it. For that is prepared by men, but the fire of hell is prepared by the wrath of God for the devil and his angels. The divine power is illustriously manifested in that terrible preparation : so that, as some of the fathers express it, if one of the damned might pass from those flames into the fiercest fires here, it were to exchange a torment for a refreshment. The scripture speaks of the vehe
* Indeed it is difficult to conceive how a material fire can act on a spiritual substance. But it is unreasonable to determine that it is impossible, For if we consider what pain is, it is as conceivable how pure spirits are capable of it, as spirits in conjunction with bodies. The human soul in its nature is spiritual as the angels, yet has a painful sense of fire, or other afflicting evils incumbent on the senses. The body merely feels not pain, but it passes through the body to the soul. If the soul by a strong diversion of thoughts apply itself to an object, the body is insepsible of pain, as is evident in some diseases; and that in the heat of battle, deep wounds are not felt, And as God by a natural constitution has ordered, that the body so touched and moved, excites a painful sense in the soul; he may have ordained that the devils shall feel the impressions of material fire, in the place to which they shall be confined,
ment heat and fiery thirst, and outer darkness in which the damned suffer, to satisfy the rights of justice in the torments of those senses, for the pleasures of which men wilfully broke the laws of God.
But the soul being the chief sinner, shall be the chief mourner in those regions of sorrow. An image of this we have in the agonies of spirit, which sometimes the saints themselves are in here, and which the most stubborn sinners can neither resist nor endure. Job was afflicted in that manner that he complains, “The arrows of the Almighty are with me, the poison whereof drinks up my spirit, the terrors of God set themselves in array against me.” If a spark of his displeasure falls on the guilty conscience, it tears and blows up all, as a fire-ball cast into a magazine. Solomon, who understood the frame of human nature, tells us, “The spirit of a man can bear his infirmity;" that is, the mind fortified by principles of moral counsel and constancy, can endure the assault of external evils: but “ a wounded spirit who can bear ?" This is most insupportable when the sting and remorse of the mind is from the sense of guilt: for then God appears an enemy, righteous and severe; and who can encounter with offended Omnipotence? Such is the sharpness of his sword, and the weight of his hand, that every stroke is deadly inward. Satan, the cruel enemy of souls, exasperates the wounds. He discovers and charges sin upon the conscience with all its killing aggravations, and conceals the divine mercy, the only lenitive and balm to the wounded spirit. What visions of horror, what spectacles of fear, what scenes of sorrow are presented to the distracted mind by the prince of darkness? And, which heightens the misery, man is a worse enemy to himself than satan: he falls upon his own sword, and destroys himself. The guilty conscience turns “the sun into darkness, and the moon into blood :” the precious promises of the gospel, that assure favour and pardon to returning and relenting sinners, are turned into arguments of despair, by reflecting upon the abuse and provocation of mercy, that the advocate in God's bosom, is become the accuser. Whatever the soul wounded sinner sees or hears, afflicts him ; whatever he thinks, torments him. All the diversions in the world, business, pleasures, merry conversation, comedies, are as ineffectual to give freedom from those stings and furies in the breast, as the sprink