« AnteriorContinua »
those ancient languages in which the Scriptures are written) to signify only a very long time; and, in the Old Testament especially, are not always to be taken strictly, as abundant examples would show, one of which will be sufficient to explain this observation. In Genesis, xvii. 8, it is said, I will give to thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession; and, in chap. xiii. 15, I will give it to thee, and to thy seed for ever. In these passages, the words only mean, for a very long space of time: but it is evident, that, as these expressions are here used, they can never mislead or deceive us with false notions of ETERNITY, because these being applied to changeable or perishable things, show clearly that they are only employed in a figurative sense, to lend greater weight and consequence to the promise and the possession. On the contrary, ETERNITY (when God, or his revelations of another state of being, are the subjects in question) always denotes a REAL eternity-a state that shall have NO END. Thus, in Exodus, xv. 18, The Lord shall reign for EVER AND EVER: and, in Deut. xxxii. 40, I lift up my hand to heaven, and say, I live for EVER: and, xxxiii. 27, The ETERNAL God is thy refuge. This, common sense assures us, cannot signify only for a long time, but is the true description of ENDLESS AGES, when time shall be no more. In this sense, then, we are also to
receive the promise pronounced by the ETERNAL WORD HIMSELF, in Matt. xxv. 46, And these shall go away into everlasting punishment; but the righteous into life eternal. The happiness of the one, and the misery of the other, will never have an end. And mark, my brethren, who are the objects of eternal condemnation-the REPROBATES; that is, men lost to virtue, which qualifies for blessedness-lost to grace, which is the cause of true Christian virtue in short, the abandoned, or those forsaken of God, and left to themselves, so blinded (not by God, but by the power of sin), that they cannot see their danger, and therefore are destitute of help and power to prevent it, or, as the strict signification of the original word will admit, having been made proof of again and again, tried for a long time, reproved without any change for the better, and therefore finally disallowed of, or cast off. I judge it useful to give you the fullest sense of this word, because it is often used, and sometimes misapplied, from not being properly understood; and, as I have just mentioned the most dreadful idea of eternity, it may help to make a more sensible impression of its consequence, upon all who are careless of what must come hereafter.
Again, as the Son of God is eternal or everlasting, in the highest sense, without beginning, without end; so likewise is his Gospel an
everlasting Gospel; i. e. the same Gospel that was from the beginning, intended in the deep counsel of God to be delivered to mankind; that doctrine of salvation, besides which there neither is, nor ever shall be, any other revealed to man, while the world endures; for the redemption therein declared to be procured for us through him, is truly (as the Apostle calls it, in Heb. ix. 12) an ETERNAL redemption; and as its virtue is of perpetual continuance, so such as are redeemed from the guilt and punishment of sin are so FOR EVER. To the same effect the covenant, or new testament, which is confirmed by his blood, is an everlasting covenant. (Heb. xiii. 20.) It is a covenant or engagement never to be changed, as the former was. Everlasting life, then (the subject of our present faith, and of this particular Discourse), is promised in it; and its virtue or effect is eternal: for which reason the glory and reward which Christ hath merited for us, is justly called, 2 Cor. iv. 17, an ETERNAL WEIGHT OF GLORY. And in Luke, xvi. 9, the habitations, or places of rest, that God hath appointed for his faithful servants, are termed
Having now given you some explanation of the words of this text, as they are employed both in a figurative and real sense, and endeavoured, at the same time, to establish their
power by touching upon the characters of objects concerned in their effect, it will be proper to proceed to a fuller examination of this article, as it comprehends the future states of heaven and hell, our hope of reward, or expectation of punishment eternal.
When the last and general judgment of mankind is over, and sentence pronounced, then shall this portion of our faith be fulfilled, according to the express words in St. Matthew, xxv. 46, before quoted: The wicked shall go into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal.
Now, since the state of the wicked hereafter is called the SECOND death, it may supply a momentary objection, with what propriety they can be said to LIVE FOR EVER. But in this there is no difficulty at all, when we take notice in what sense life is employed in the above passage of St. Matthew, it being put in opposition to the state of the wicked, and signifying the very reverse of punishment. When the word life is applied to the future situation of the wicked, it means only their continuing to exist, their not being entirely annihilated, or reduced to nothing -their being capable of suffering eternal punishment: but when descriptive of the lot of the blessed, in addition to its strict notion of immortality, it takes in likewise every degree of
happiness that a purified and perfected state can admit of, through the mercy and favour of a just, holy, and Almighty God. So that we might with the greatest truth describe the endless life of the wicked, to be more properly a continual dying, not only perpetual uneasiness, but increasing misery, from the gnawing reflection, that they shall never cease TO BE, nor ever cease to be TORMENTED; in two words, that they shall continue wretched to ALL ETERNITY. To this faith, the testimony of Scripture is most clear; for in the 9th chapter of Mark, ver. 44, their state is thus expressed: Their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. (The stings of a guilty conscience bite like the viper.) The phials of God's anger are poured out, as a consuming fire, and will cause such agonies, as actual flame effects, upon a body so constituted, as to suffer by it, without being quite destroyed.
Although, therefore, at the last great day, these corruptible bodies shall put on incorruption, and these mortal be clothed with immortality (in the one sure sense of all men being rendered capable of living, or enduring for ever), yet the EVERLASTING life of the blessed shall truly prove the grand and final privilege of the church of Christ, that is, of all his holy followers: and exactly in the same sense as the resurrection of the body was proved to be in the last article, where the different manner of men's rising again