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you shall "know what that holy and acceptable and perfect will of God is," and shall hold on your way, till you "grow up in all things into him that is our head, even Christ Jesus."
SERMON LXXVIII.—Of Hell.
"Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched,” Mark ix, 48.
1. EVERY truth which is revealed in the oracles of God, is undoubt elly of great importance. Yet it may be allowed, that some of those which are revealed therein, are of greater importance than others; as being more immediately conducive to the grand end of all, the eternal salvation of men. And we may judge of their importance, even from this circumstance: that they are not mentioned once only in the sacred writings, but are repeated over and over. A remarkable instance of this we have, with regard to the awful truth which is now before us. Our blessed Lord, who uses no superfluous words, who makes no 66 vain repetitions, repeats it over and over in the same chapter, and, as it were, in the same breath. So, verses 43, 44, "If thy hand offend thee;" if a thing or person as useful as a hand, be an occasion of sin, and there is no other way to shun that sin; "cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched." So again, verses 45, 46, "If thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched; where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched." And yet again, verses 47, 48, "If thine eye;" a person or thing as dear as thine eye; "offend thee;" hinder thy running the race which is set before thee; "pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire; where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched."
2. And let it not be thought, that the consideration of these terrible truths is proper only for enormous sinners. How is this supposition consistent with what our Lord speaks to those who were then, doubtless, the holiest men upon earth? When innumerable multitudes were gathered together, he said to his disciples, [the apostles,] "First of all, I say unto you, my friends, fear not them that can kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I say unto you, Fear him, who after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him!" Luke xii, 1-5. Yea, fear him under this very notion, of having power to cast into hell: that is, in effect, fear, lest he should cast you into the place of torment. And this very fear, even in the children of God, is one excellent means of preserving them from it.
3. It behoves, therefore, not only the outcasts of men, but even you, his friends; you that fear and love God; deeply to consider what is revealed in the oracles of God concerning the future state of punishment. How widely distant is this from the most elaborate accounts which are given by the heathen authors! Their accounts are (in many particulars at least) childish, fanciful, and self inconsistent. So that
it is no wonder they did not believe themselves, but only related the tales of the vulgar. So Virgil strongly intimates, when, after the laboured account he had given of the shades beneath, he sends him that had related it out at the ivory gate, through which (as he tells us) only dreams pass: thereby giving us to know, that all the preceding account is no more than a dream. This he only insinuates; but his brother poet, Juvenal, speaks out flat and plain:
Esse aliquos manes, et subterranea regna,
Nec pueri credunt, nisi qui nondum ære lavantur.
"Even our children do not believe a word of the tales concerning another world."
4. Here, on the contrary, all is worthy of God, the Creator, the Governor of mankind: All is awful and solemn; suitable to his wisdom, and justice, by whom "Tophet was ordained of old:" although originally prepared, not for the children of men, but "for the devil and his angels.'
The punishment of those who,, in spite of all the warnings of God, resolve to have their portion with the devil and his angels, will, according to the ancient, and not improper division, be either, pæna damni, what they lose; or pana sensus, what they feel. After considering these separately, I shall touch on a few additional circumstances, and conclude with two or three inferences.
I. 1. And, first, let us consider, the pœna damni; the punishment of loss. This commences in that very moment, wherein the soul is separated from the body; in that instant, the soul loses all those pleasures, the enjoyment of which depends on the outward senses. The smell, the taste, the touch, delight no more: the organs that ministered to them are spoiled, and the objects that used to gratify them, are removed far away. In the dreary regions of the dead, all these things are forgotten; or, if remembered, are only remembered with pain; seeing they are gone for ever. All the pleasures of the imagination are at an end. There is no grandeur in the infernal regions; there is nothing beautiful in those dark abodes; no light but that of livid flames. And nothing new, but one unvaried scene of horror upon horror! There is no music but that of groans and shrieks; of weeping wailing, and gnashing of teeth; of curses and blasphemies against God, or cutting reproaches of one another. Nor is there any thing to gratify the sense of honour: no; they are the heirs of shame and everlasting contempt.
2. Thus are they totally separated from all the things they were fond of in the present world. At the same instant will commence another loss; that of all the persons whom they loved. They are torn away from their nearest and dearest relations; their wives, husbands, parents, children; and (what to some will be worse than all this) the friend which was as their own soul. All the pleasure they ever enjoyed in these, is lost, gone, vanished away: for there is no friendship in hell. Even the poet who affirms, (though I know not on what authority,),
"Devil with devil damn'd Firm concord holds ;"
does not affirm that there is any concord among the human fiends, that inhabit the great abyss.
3. But they will then be sensible of a greater loss, than all they have enjoyed on earth. They have lost their place in Abraham's bosom; in the paradise of God. Hitherto, indeed, it hath not entered into their hearts to conceive, what holy souls enjoy in the garden of God, in the society of angels, and of the wisest and best men that have lived from the beginning of the world; (not to mention the immense increase of knowledge which they will then, undoubtedly, receive ;) but they will then fully understand the value of what they have vilely
4. But as happy as the souls in paradise are, they are preparing for far greater happiness. For paradise is only the porch of heaven; and it is there the spirits of just men are made perfect. It is in heaven only, that there is the fulness of joy; the pleasures that are at God's right hand for evermore. The loss of this, by those unhappy spirits, will be the completion of their misery. They will then know and feel, that God alone is the centre of all created spirits; and, consequently, that a spirit made for God, can have no rest out of him. It seems that the apostle had this in his view, when he spoke of those "who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord." Banishment from the presence of the Lord is the very essence of destruction, to a spirit that was made for God. And if that banishment last for ever, it is "everlasting destruction.'
Such is the loss sustained by those miserable creatures, on whom that awful sentence will be pronounced; "Depart from me, ye cursed!” What an unspeakable curse, if there were no other! But, alas! this is far from being the whole for, to the punishment of loss, will be added the punishment of sense. What they lose, implies unspeakable misery, which yet is inferior to what they feel. This it is, which our Lord expresses in those emphatical words: "Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”
II. 1. From the time that sentence was pronounced upon man; "Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return;" it was the custom of all nations, so far as we can learn, to commit dust to dust: it seemed natural to restore the bodies of the dead to the general mother carth. But, in process of time, another method obtained, chiefly among the rich and great, of burning the bodies of their relations, and frequently in a grand magnificent manner: for which purpose they erected huge funeral piles, with immense labour and expense. By either of these methods the body of man was soon restored to its parent dust. Either the worm or the fire soon consumed the well wrought frame; after which the worm itself quickly died, and the fire was entirely quenched. But there is, likewise, a worm that belongs to the future state; and that is a worm that never dieth! and there is a fire hotter than that of the funeral pile; and it is a fire that will never be quenched!
2. The first thing intended by the worm that never dieth, seems to be a guilty conscience; including self condemnation, sorrow, shame, remorse, and a sense of the wrath of God. May not we have some conception of this by what is sometimes felt, even in the present world? Is it not of this, chiefly, that Solomon speaks, when he says, spirit of a man may bear his infirmities;" his infirmities, or griefs, of any other kind; "but a wounded spirit who can bear?" Who can
bear the anguish of an awakened conscience, penetrated with a sense of guilt, and the arrows of the Almighty sticking in the soul, and drinking up the spirit! How many of the stout hearted have sunk under it, and chose strangling rather than life! And yet what are these wounds, what is all this anguish of a soul while in this present world, in comparison of those they must suffer when their souls are wholly awakened to feel the wrath of an offended God! Add to these all unholy passions; fear, horror, rage, evil desires; desires that can never be satisfied. Add all unholy tempers; envy, jealousy, malice, and revenge; all of which will incessantly gnaw the soul, as the vulture was supposed to do the liver of Tityus. To these if we add hatred of God, and all his creatures; all these united together may serve to give us some little, imperfect idea of the worm that never dieth.
3. We may observe a remarkable difference in the manner wherein our Lord speaks concerning the two parts of the future punishment. He says, "Where their worm dieth not," of the one; "where the fire is not quenched," of the other. This cannot be by chance. What then is the reason for this variation of the expression?
Does it not seem to be this? The fire will be the same, essentially the same, to all that are tormented therein; only perhaps more intense to some than others, according to their degree of guilt; but their worm will not, cannot be the same: it will be infinitely varied, according to their various kinds, as well as degrees of wickedness. This variety will arise partly from the just judgment of God, "rewarding every man according to his works:" for we cannot doubt but this rule will take place, no less in hell than in heaven. As in heaven, "every man shall receive his own reward;" incommunicably his; according to his own labours; that is, the whole tenor of his tempers, thoughts, words, and actions;―so, undoubtedly, every man, in fact, will receive his own bad reward, according to his own bad labour. And this, likewise, will be incommunicably his own; even as his labour was. Variety of punishment will, likewise, arise from the very nature of the thing. As they that bring most holiness to heaven will find most happiness there; so, on the other hand, it is not only true, that the more wickedness a man brings to hell, the more misery he will find there; but that this misery will be infinitely varied according to the various kinds of his wickedness. It was, therefore, proper to say, the fire, in general; but their worm in particular.
4. But it has been questioned by some, "Whether there be any fire in hell?" That is, any material fire. Nay, if there be any fire, it is, unquestionably, material. For what is immaterial fire? The same as immaterial water or earth! Both the one and the other is absolute nonsense; a contradiction in terms. Either, therefore, we must affirm it to be material, or we deny its existence. But if we granted them, there is no fire at all there, what would they gain thereby? Seeing this is allowed, on all hands, that it is either fire or something worse. And consider this does not our Lord speak, as if it were real fire? No one can deny or doubt of this. Is it possible then to suppose, that the God of truth would speak in this manner, if it were not so? Does he design to fright his poor creatures? What, with scarecrows? With vain shadows of things that have no being? Oh let not any one think so! Impute no such folly to the Most High!
5. But others aver, "it is not possible that fire should burn always. For by the immutable law of nature, it consumes whatever is thrown into it. And, by the same law, as soon as it has consumed its fuel, it is itself consumed; it goes out."
It is most true, that in the present constitution of things, during the present laws of nature, the element of fire does dissolve and consume whatever is thrown into it. But here is the mistake: the present laws of nature are not immutable. When the heavens and the earth shall flee away, the present scene will be totally changed; and, with the present constitution of things, the present laws of nature will cease. After this great change, nothing will be dissolved, nothing will be consumed any more. Therefore, if it were true, that fire consumes all things now, it would not follow that it would do the same after the whole frame of nature has undergone that vast, universal change.
6. I say, if it were true, that "fire consumes all things now." But, indeed, it is not true. Has it not pleased God to give us already some proof of what will be hereafter? Is not the Linum Asbestum, the incombustible flax, known in most parts of Europe? If you take a towel or handkerchief made of this, (one of which may now be seen in the British museum,) you may throw it into the hottest fire, and when it is taken out again, it will be observed, upon the nicest experiment, not to have lost one grain of its weight. Here, therefore, is a substance before our eyes, which even in the present constitution of things, (as if it were an emblem of things to come,) may remain in fire without being consumed.
7. Many writers have spoken of other bodily torments, added to the being cast into the lake of fire. One of these, even pious Kempis, supposes that misers, for instance, have melted gold poured down their throats; and he supposes many other particular torments to be suited to men's particular sins. Nay, our great poet himself supposes the inhabitants of hell to undergo a variety of tortures; not to continue always in the lake of fire, but to be frequently,
"By harpy-footed furies, hauled"
into regions of ice; and then back again through "Extremes, by change more fierce :'
But I find no word, no tittle of this, not the least hint of it in all the Bible. And surely this is too awful a subject, to admit of such play of imagination. Let us keep to the written word. It is torment enough, to dwell with everlasting burnings.
8. This is strongly illustrated by a fabulous story, taken from one of the eastern writers, concerning a Turkish king, who, after he had been guilty of all manner of wickedness, once did a good thing: for seeing a poor man falling into a pit, wherein he must have inevitably perished, and kicking him from it, he saved his life. The story adds, that when, for his enormous wickedness, he was cast into hell, that foot wherewith he had saved the man's life, was permitted to lie out of the flames. But allowing this to be a real case, what a poor comfort would it be? What if both feet were permitted to lie out of the flames, yea, and both hands, how little would it avail! Nay, if all the body were taken out, and placed where no fire touched it, and only one hand or one foot kept in a burning fiery furnace; would the man, meantime, be much at ease? Nay, quite the contrary. Is it not common to say to a child, "Put your fin