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By the Rev. EDWARD BICKERSTETH,
Rector of Watton.
MATTHEW xxv. 41.
everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.
Could I, my Christian friends, in faithfulness to your souls, have passed by, in the course of this ministry, the subject of the present sermon, I should have rejoiced to omit it. But to sound an alarm, to utter the warning voice, to give notice of coming danger, is an essential part of ministerial fidelity and love. Did we see men in general, overwhelmed with the terrors of everlasting ruin, distressed with anxious apprehension, and sinking into despondency under the dread of hell, we might forbear to dwell upon a subject, in such a case uninviting and unsuitable; then it would be our more agreeable office to proclaim the riches and greatness of the salvation provided in Jesus for those ready to perish. But when we see men, almost without exception, drcading nothing less than the future punishment, wholly secure and unconcerned, regardless and careless of the miseries that are coming upon them; then how guilty must the minister be who warns not the wicked, who shuns to declare the council of God; that " upon the wicked, God shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest, this shall be the portion of their cup."
It is not in the language of severe and hard denunciation, that I desire to bring so fearful a subject before you, but in that of the tenderest compassion and earnest desire to promote your salvation. I am a poor sinner, even as you; I, by nature, am “ a child of wrath” as you; if I hope to escape, it is only by sovereign
grace and mercy in Christ Jesus, and by daily flying to that Saviour who has delivered us from the wrath to come; and, having myself hope in him, can I but long to see you safe in this refuge?“ Knowing the terrors of the Lord, we persuade men."
“ The wicked go away into everlasting punishment.”—The punishment of which we now speak, is the punishment to be inflicted on the wicked after the day of judgment. And in order to have distinct views, remember there is, to the righteous dying in the Lord, a double state of blessedness, a paradise before the judgment day, as well as the glory of heaven after the judgment day. There is also to the wicked dying in sin, a double state of misery, a hell before the day of judgment, and after that judgment, the lakc of fire and brimstone, in which the wicked are tormented for ever and ever. It is said, by Job, “ The wicked is reserved to the day of destruction, they shall be brought forth to the day of wrath.” And Peter declares: “ The Lord knoweth how........to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished.” They are now in the prison of hell, where the rich man was cast on his death, and they are there with the fallen angels, “delivered into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment.”
What that judgment is, we have now to consider. I will point out,
1. The Judge who sentences them-2. The loss of good—3. The suffering of woe—4. The accursed society--5. The perpetual punishment.
I. THE JUDGE WHO SENTENCES THEM.
There is but one Saviour for lost sinners even now. There is but one Mediator and Advocate. He is tender, he is full of compassion; but this very Being becomes the awful Judge. “The wrath of Him that sitteth on the throne,” is “the wrath of the Lamb."
If it were a cruel tyrant who sentenced them, there would be less ground for despair and horror. But it is one whose love is as unquestionable as his justice. He who left his Father's glory, who emptied himself of Divine fullness, and took upon him the form of a servant, to die, that sinners might not die eternally, he must love man. He who wears our nature, must know our frame, and therefore must be an equitable Judge. And yet such is his truth, his purity, and his holiness, that from his own mouth proceeds the unuttera
bly dreadful doom, " Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.”
O when I think how the sinner will at the last day tremble in
II. THE LOSS OF GOOD.
Our Lord frequently thus describes the condition of the lost. “ Then will I profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” So we are told, Psalm v. 5, “ The foolish shall not stand in thy sight; thou hatest all workers of iniquity."
Now, to understand this, remember that sinners can have nothing, and hope for nothing from a holy God, but through the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the only channel by which any good, either for our souls, or our bodies, for time or for eternity can come to
But this Mediator has been rejected and despised by those on whom this sentence is denounced. They would not have Christ for their Saviour, they would not have spiritual blessings through him; they would not acknowledge that their worldly good was given through him. Most justly, then, is all good taken away. ALL THE GOOD OF THIS WORLD, its riches, honors, and pleasures; its health and vigor, its cheerfulness and mirth, its ease, independence, security, and comfort, all, all are then lost. The ALLEVIATIONS ALSO OF THIS WORLD'S Evils, are there removed. There is disease from head to foot, but no medicinc, no physician, no healing balm; there is malice, hatred, revenge, wrath and enmity to the uttermost, but no love and forgiveness, no friend to protect and comfort; there is shame and contempt without measure, but no respect, and honor, and approbation.
ALL SPIRITUAL AND HEAVENLY JOYS ARE LOST. The favor and love of Almighty God, and all the joys of the light of his countenance, and the beaming eye of his tenderness which ever delight the souls of the blessed,—the blissful sight of Christ, and the abode with him, who feeds his people, and leads them to the heavenly springs, and by the fountains of living waters, all, all is lost!“ They shall be punished with everlasting destruction, from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.” The society of the glorious company of the Apostles, the goodly fellowship of the Prophets, the triumph of the noble army of martyrs, and the glory of the holy Church universal, are for ever lost! 0 unconverted sinners! before it be too late, think of that place where there shall be no light, no joy; think what it will be to see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the Prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out! O to be shut out of those joyful and happy regions, and shut up with the wicked for ever! “For without are dogs, and sorceres, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie." Here is of itself a hell. By their present miserable want of it, they know too late the value of the blessedness.
All this loss, too, is ascribable to themselves; it is their own fault. “ They said unto God, depart from us, and what can the Almighty do for us?” and voluntarily chose that loss under which they smart. Suppose a man comes into the possession of a large estate, with a still richer reversion in reserve; suppose by prodigality and wastefulness, he squanders both away; and suppose, reduced to the lowest state of wretchedness and want, he beholds all the estate and reversion in possession of one whom he despised; surely he must painfully and remorsefully bewail his folly:~thus foolish is the unconverted sinner now; and thus will he bewail his loss of heaven, only with inconceivable aggravation of sorrow according to the unscarchable greatness of his loss.
Those who once said, as the Gadarenes did to Christ, “ Depart from us:” will not again see the Saviour till they hear him say, “Depart from me," and all their loss is irreparable; to them the midst of darkness is reserved for ever."
3. THE SUFFERING OF WOE. This is expressed in the word "fire;" the most acute suffering we know upon earth being that occasioned by fire. The original expression is emphatically the fire, the everlasting fire: as if all
other fires were but figures compared with this last great fire of Divine wrath.
Do we conclude then, that there will be real and material fire? there may, or there may not be; we presume not to decide what may be the exact nature of that punishment, the sharpness of which this term represents, but those objections which are sometimes brought against material fire, are not really conclusive. If it be said, the rich man was in hell immediately on his death, and fire hurts not disembodied spirits, more is said than can be proved; fire only now hurts the mind, from the connection which God has established between the body and the soul; and it may please him to establish a constitution by which the disembodied spirit may also suffer there from fire. The body shall also be raised, and the body and soul of the wicked are to be alike the subjects of future torment.
It is perfectly clear, however, that it must denote exquisite suffering, even extremity of pain, and that the whole man will thus suffer. There is a “ place” of torment for the body; Judas went 6 to his own place.” There is a “ state” of torment for the soul. And ( how unutterable that torment, when, which ever way the soul look, there is nothing but tribulation and anguish! If it look back on the past, it sees time wasted away, opportunity for ever lost, enjoyment irrecoverably gone, folly irremediably and eternally ruinous. If it looks within and around, fiery flames, unmitigated pain, “ the worm that never dics.” If it looks to the future, O that fearsul look, judgment to come, wrath to come, and that for ever.
The wicked fall into the hands of the living God, and He is said " to show his wrath, and to make his power known on the vessels fitted for destruction." O terrible words!
O terrible words! Sinners, unconverted sinners, fear above all, fear to fall into the hands of the living God. Think of his power, it is almighty. Think of his wrath, it is infinite.
But there is one thing further, that should peculiariy alarm nominal Christians. There are degrees of punishment in hell, and there is special aggravation of suffering to the specially wicked; and those are accounted specially wicked who had Christian advantages and neglected them. Thus our Lord says, “ That servant which knew his Lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.”