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· SERMON CLXVIII.
THE REMOTER CONSEQUENCES OF DEATH.—THE PUNISHMENT OF
THE WICKED.-ITS NATURE.
2 PETER Ï. 12.—But these, as natural brule beasts, made to be taken, and destroyed ;
· shall ulterly perish in their own corruplion.
In the preceding discourse, I considered the Duration of future punishment. I shall now make some observations concerning its Nature.
That this Punishment will be intense, and dreadful, is declared in the words, which I have chosen for the theme of this discourse. In the same language it is declared to be hopeless. Those, who utterly perish, and who know that this is their destiny as pronounced by God himself, can entertain no hope of a change in their circumstances for the better. They are judged according to the deeds done in the body; or, in other words, during the time of their probation. But their probation is ended; and the foundation, on which the Judgment rests, completed. Nothing remains for them, therefore, but a reward measured out to them according to their works. This reward, as the reason of man has in all ages believed, and as the Scriptures peremptorily decide, will be only punishment.
The punishment of impenitent sinners may be considered,
On the punishment of sinners, as immediately inflicted by the hand of God, it is to be observed, that it is described to us in the Scriptures in general terms, and those chiefly, if not wholly, figurative. One reason, why such language is employed, is obvious, and sufficient. A state of existence, so different from any thing, with which we are acquainted in the present world, cannot be directly described by words, denoting only such things as are within our reach, and expressing only such ideas, as we have been able to form. It is, therefore, necessarily exhibited to us in phraseology, not used according to its simple, or literal meaning, but employed in the way of simile, and allusion. Even in this manner, however, it is so employed, as to convey to us the most terrible images, which have ever been presented to the human mind. and such as in all ages have, more than any others, awakened alarm and anguish in the heart of man.
It is called Death.
Death, as was observed in a former discourse, is the most distressing of all the evils, suffered in the present world, and is accordingly made by every nation the last infliction of penal justice for crimes, committed against human government. It is surrounded with gloom and terror; it is replete with agony; and probably.creates more anxiety in the minds of our face, than all the other ca. lamities, which exist in this suffering world.
What, then, must it be to die for ever; to suffer the pangs of death to-day, only as a prelude to suffering them to-morrow? What must it be to die from morning till night, and from night till morning ; to die through days, and years, and centuries, and thus to spend eternity in dying ?
It is presenied to us as the sufferance of the Wrath of God. .
The anger even of a human being is often productive of the most terrible effects, which are ever visible in the present world. The earthquake, the volcano, the famine, and the pestilence, have wasted the world less, and produced in it far less misery, than conquerors alone. But, if the rage of such limited, feeble, perishing, beings as we are, can produce such dreadful sufferings, what must be the effects of the anger of Him, before whom all nations are as nothing ; who looketh on the earth, and it trembleth ; who toucheth the hills, and they smoke; who possesses all the means of infliction, and can make every faculty the seat, and every pore the avenue, of pain and sorrow! A fire, saith this great and awful Being, is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell; and shall consume the earth, with her increase; and shall set on fire the foundations of the mountains. .
It is called Darkness, and the Mist, and the Blackness of DARKNESS : and sometimes the Shadow of Death ; that is, a gloom, resembling the deep midnight of the grave.
If the inhabitants of this world were to continue here for ever, and the light of the sun, moon, and stars, were to be finally extinguished; if darkness, such as that which covered Egypt, were to brood upon the surface of the whole earth; how forlorn, solitary, and desolate, would be the situation of mankind! How much alone, how bewildered, how hopeless, how lost, should we feel ! How would every bosom heave with unavailing sighs, how would every heart waste with fruitless longings, to see once more the delightful beams of the life-giving sun !
God is the Sun of the moral Universe. Where He sheds the light of his countenance, light, and life, and warmth, and comfort, descend upon the creatures, whom he has made. Wherever he hides his face, they are overspread with darkness, and the shadow of death, where there is no order, and the light is as darkness. In the future world, eternal darkness and its consequence, eternal solitude, will become the dreary and melancholy lot of all the children of perdition : a darkness, lengthening onward from age to age, and terminated by no succeeding day.
It is often styled Fire; a Furnace of fire; a Lake of fire and brimstone ; the fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.
The power of this element to distress, and destroy, needs no illustration : as the peculiar strength of these images demands no enhancement. How dreadful must be the situation of those who are destined to dwell in a furnace for ever! How terrible must be the fire, prepared to punish the devil and his angels: the worst of all beings, the peculiar enemies of God, and the Intelligent Universe! You will remember that I have mentioned all these as figurative representations. Remember also, that on this account they are not the less awful: and particularly remember, that in a more awful language still, God himself is declared to be a consuming fire to impenitent sinners.
The sufferings of the impenitent, as they will spring from themselves, are, I apprehend, declared with sufficient certainty in the phraseology of the text. They shall utterly perish in their own corruption. This word, and its immediate connexions, are used in the English Bible eighty-three times, and, in forty-eight of these, denotes moral corruption. In all the remaining instances they denote, obviously, the corruptible nature of the human body, and of those earthly objects by which we are surrounded. These two seem to be the only senses, in which the words of this description are used at all. That the term, in the text, is not employed in this sense, is too evident to require any illustration. The passage, therefore, may be fairly considered as declaring, that the moral character of sinners will in itself, and in its effects, constitute much of their misery in the future world. It ought to be observed, that the text, literally rendered, is, They shall be utterly corrupted in their own corruption.
The only objection against this doctrine, with which I am acquainted, is, that sin, being the delight of sinners, cannot with propriely be said to be their punishment. This objection, I acknowledge, is plausible; and, when it was first proposed to me, appeared to have much weight. A little reflection, however, convinced me, that its weight lay only in the words, in which it is expressed. It is no uncommon thing in the present world to see persons delight in that, which in itself, and its immediate effects, is seen by themselves to be continually injurious, and even fatal, to their well-being. The Gambler sees, that his favourite employment produces, every day, gloom, discontent, moroseness, poverty, and the contempt of ihose around him. Far from being insensible to these evils, he feels them deeply; and is daily rendered by them more and more unhappy. The same things are substantially true of the drunkard, and of the thief. The envious man, also, is daily corroded by his envy in such a manner, as to make him eminently wretched. Yet he still continues to exercise envy. A rebellious child, wounded almost unceasingly by a sense of bis filial impiety, as well as made miserable by the general reproba
ion, still continues in his rebellion. Christ says, Prov. viii. 36, All they, that hate me, love death. This passage directly teaches us, that that, which in itself, and in its consequences, produces misery, may still be loved by mankind. The complete proof, however, of the soundness of the doctrine, and by consequence, of the unsoundness of the objection, will be found in the consideration of the subject itself. To this, therefore, I shall immediately proceed; and observe,
1. That Sinful Desires will, in the future world, be exceedingly powerful, and wholly unrestrained.
That such desires will be exceedingly powerful in the future world, is rationally argucd from many considerations. It is plainly a part of the very nature of sin to increase its dominion over the mind, wherever it is the predominant character. Sinners, who do not reform, always grow worse, and worse, in the present world, Every indulgence of every sinful passion increases its strength. After a little time, the indulgence becomes a habit; and every sinful habit increases its vigour in him, who is not renewed, to the end of life.
There is not a reason to believe, that these desires are at all diminished in the world to come. When Satan was cast out of Heaven, he manifested his intense hatred to God, and his vebement malice toward mankind, by seducing our first parents, and destroying a world. St. Peter informs us, that since that time, as a roaring lion, he goeth about, seeking whom he may devour. St. John also declares, that the same malignant being deceiveth the whole world. What a dreadful image of furious and insatiable malice, is presented to us, when this evil being is exhibited as a lion roaring with rage and hunger, and going about to devour, not the carcasses of beasts, but minds rational and immortal! How restlessly must that fraud and malice labour, lo which the deception of a whole world is attributed! • From these considerations it is plain, that the evil desires of this fallen spirit, are not diminished by his sufferings. It is reasonably believed, that other evil beings will, in this respect, sustain the same character; and that their desires also, instead of undergoing any diminution, will only increase in strength.
When I say, that sinful desires are unrestrained in the future world, I mean not to be understood in the absolute sense. God will undoubtedly restrain evil beings within such bounds, as He thinks proper. They th-mselves, also, will undoubtedly become restraints to each other n the exercise of their opposing powers and passions. But I nean, that a great part of those restraints, which exist in the present world, will be taken away. The impenitent inhabitants of the future world will be under no restraint from hope : for in tlat world hope will never exist. They will be under no restraint from the desire of esteem: for they will have no companions, whose esteem they can desire. They will be un.
der no restraint from the Spirit of God. This divinely glorious Person, beneath whose influence, moral life, beauty, and loveliness, spontaneously spring up throughout the universe, will shed no influence on the world of perdition.
2. Sinful desires will in the future world be ungratified.
Particularly they will be ungratified, as they respect God. All the wishes of the impenitent, which respect God, are aimed against his glory, the accomplishment of his pleasure, and the prosperity of his Kingdom. But they will be wholly ineffectual. His character will be seen, and known, and felt, even by themselves, to be free from all imputations; and they will discern with irresistible evidence, that his pleasure will be certainly, and universally, accomplished.
The wishes of the impenitent, which respect virtuous beings, will be equally ungratisied. Against them, also, their hatred will be directed with intense vehemence: against them their envy will rankle without cessation, or limits. Still the objects of their hatred will be seen fixed in the possession of virtue, glory and happiness, which will know neither interruption nor end. That such will be the feelings of the sinner beyond the grave, we are assured, because such is the very nature of sin; because men in this world, who give themselves up to sin, exhibit just such feelings; and because the inhabitants of that world are entirely given up to sin. How dreadful must be the ranklings of eternal malice! What a mass of wo must exist in the pinings of immortal envy!
Nor will the desires of the impenitent be any more gratified, as they respect each other. They may indeed, they undoubtedly will, produce much misery for each oiher. Their success in this malignant employment will not, however, terminate in their relief, or their comfort; but merely in disappointment, bitterness, and wo. Malice and revenge, in the present world, are often cfficacious in producing suffering in the objects of them ; but, instead of yielding enjoyment to thos2, by whom they are exercised, they frequently effectuate nothing, but the deepest mortification. It will not be doubted, that, in the future world, the same things will be more universally, as well as more dreadfully, realized.
As little gratification will attend those desires which immediately respect themselves. Sinners, in this world, ardently wish to be respected and loved. Pride, the prediminating passion of a wicked heart, prompts that heart to covet disinction and applause, with an intenseness of desire, which the proid man cannot justify even to himself. The Scriptures teach us, that this passion was originally, and is still, the controlling, miserable character of fallen angels. Suffering, therefore, does not extinguish it in the world of perdition. On the contrary, we have every season to believe, that it is unceasing, ardent, and eternal. How druadfully must a proud mind be stung with anguish, when it sees itself, and knows that others see it, to be base, despicable, and loathiome, beyond er.