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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, hat 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 earth. 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, "The 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. says, "Where their worm dieth not," of the one; where the fire is not quenched," of the other. This cannot be by chance. 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 werd. 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
ger into that candle: can you bear it even for one minute? How then will you bear hell fire?" Surely it would be torment enough to have the flesh burnt off from only one finger. What then will it be, to have the whole body plunged into a lake of fire burning with brimstone!
III. It remains now only to consider two or three circumstances attending the never dying worm and the unquenchable fire.
1. And, first, consider the company wherewith every one is surrounded in that place of torment. It is not uncommon to hear even condemned criminals, in our public prisons, say; "Oh I wish I was hanged out of the way, rather than to be plagued with these wretches that are round about me.' But what are the most abandoned wretches upon earth, compared to the inhabitants of hell? None of these are, as yet, perfectly wicked, emptied of every spark of good; certainly not till this life is at an end; probably not till the day of judgment. Nor can any of these exert, without control, their whole wickedness on their fellow creatures. Sometimes they are restrained by good men; sometimes even by bad. So even the tortures in the Romish inquisition are restrained by those that employ them, when they suppose the sufferer cannot endure any more. They then order the executioners to forbear; because it is contrary to the rules of the house, that a man should die upon the rack. And very frequently, when there is no human help, they are restrained by God, who hath set them their bounds, which they cannot pass, and saith, "Hitherto shall ye come, and no farther." Yea, so mercifully hath God ordained, that the very extremity of pain causes a suspension of it. The sufferer faints away; and so, for a time at least, sinks into insensibility. But the inhabitants of hell are perfectly wicked, having no spark of goodness remaining. And they are restrained by none from exerting to the uttermost their total wickedness. Not by men; none will be restrained from evil by his companions in damnation: and not by God; for he hath forgotten them; hath delivered them over to the tormentors. And the devils need not fear, like their instruments upon earth, lest they should expire under the torture. They can die no more: they are strong to sustain whatever the united malice, skill, and strength of angels can inflict upon them. And their angelic tormentors have time sufficient to vary their torments a thousand ways. How infinitely may they vary one single torment,-horrible appearances! Whereby, there is no doubt, an evil spirit, if permitted, could terrify the stoutest man upon earth to death.
2. Consider, secondly, that all these torments of body and soul are without intermission. They have no respite from pain; but "the smoke of their torment ascendeth up day and night.' Day and night! That is, speaking according to the constitution of the present world; wherein God has wisely and graciously ordained, that day and night should succeed each other: so that in every four and twenty hours there comes a
"Daily sabbath, made to rest
Hence we seldom undergo much labour, or suffer much pain, before "Tired nature's sweet restorer, balmy sleep,"
steals upon us by insensible degrees, and brings an interval of easc. But although the damned have uninterrupted night, it brings no interruption of their pain. No sleep accompanies that darkness: whatever ancient
or modern poets, either Homer or Milton, dream, there is no sleep either in hell or heaven. And be their suffering ever so extreme, be their pain ever so intense, there is no possibility of their fainting away; no, not for a moment.
Again the inhabitants of earth are frequently diverted from attending to what is afflictive, by the cheerful light of the sun, the vicissitudes of the seasons, "the busy hum of men," and a thousand objects that roll around them in endless variety. But the inhabitants of hell have nothing to divert them from their torments, even for a moment: "Total eclipse: no sun, no moon!"
No change of seasons, or of companions. There is no business; but one uninterrupted scene of horror, to which they must be all attention. They have no interval of inattention or stupidity: they are all eye, all ear, all sense. Every instant of their duration, it may be said of their whole frame, that they are
"tremblingly alive all o'er,
And smart and agonize at every pore!"
3. And of this duration there is no end! What a thought is this! Nothing but eternity is the term of their torment! And who can count the drops of rain, or the sands of the sea, or the days of eternity? Every suffering is softened, if there is any hope, though distant, of deliverance from it. But here,
"Hope never comes, that comes to all"
the inhabitants of the upper world! What! sufferings never to end! "NEVER!-Where sinks the soul at that dread sound? Into a gulf how dark, and how profound!"
Suppose millions of days, of years, of ages elapsed, still we are only on the threshold of eternity! Neither the pain of body or of soul is any nearer an end, than it was millions of ages ago. When they are cast into To Tug, To adßeorov,-(How emphatical! "The fire, the unquenchable,")—all is concluded: "Their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched!"
Such is the account which the Judge of all gives of the punishment which he has ordained for impenitent sinners. And what a counterbalance may the consideration of this be, to the violence of any temptation! In particular to the fear of man; the very use to which it is applied by our Lord himself: "Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But fear him, who after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell," Luke xii, 4, 5.
What a guard may these considerations be against any temptation from pleasure! Will you lose, for any of these poor, earthly pleasures, which perish in the using, (to say nothing of the present substantial pleasures of religion,) the pleasures of paradise; such "as eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into our hearts to conceive?" Yea, the pleasures of heaven, the society of angels, and of the spirits of just men made perfect; the conversing face to face with God your Father, your Saviour, your sanctifier; and the drinking of those rivers of pleasure that are at God's right hand for evermore?
Are you tempted by pain, either of body or mind? Oh compare present things with future! What is the pain of body which you do or may endure, to that of lying in a lake of fire burning with brimstone?