Natural religion teaches the doctrine of future retribution; and even the heathen had their notions of punishment to be endured in another world, for crimes committed in this. Conscience in every man’s breast, as the agent of him who placed it there, inflicts torture, often intolerably severe, for iniquities perpetrated, and it teaches the transgressor, when he hears God’s voice in the thunder, or beholds any remarkable display of the divine power, to tremble in the apprehension of suffering the wrath of heaven. Though conscience often sleeps, for a long period, over the sinner’s guilty deeds, yet some special dispensation of Providence sometimes awakens it, and calls upon it to inflict its tortures. So Joseph’s brethren, when brought into difficulties in Egypt, were reminded of their cruelty to their brother, and filled with anguish by the remembrance.[2] But conscience, in some hardened transgressors, sleeps undisturbed, while life lasts; and natural religion, in view of the proofs that a great God reigns, infers that it will be awakened in another life which is to follow. Moreover, in the allotments of the present life, a partial disclosure of God’s moral government is made, in the rewarding of virtue, and the punishing of vice; but it is so incomplete, as here seen, that we are compelled to conclude, that, either the Governor of the Universe is not perfectly righteous, or his distribution of rewards and punishments reaches into a future state. Hence, the expectation of future punishment for crimes committed in this life, accords with the dictates of conscience and reason.

But the strongest and most impressive proof of this momentous truth, is furnished by divine revelation. In God’s book, the lessons of natural religion are taught with clearness and force; and the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. From this infallible word, we learn that wicked men treasure up wrath against the day of wrath, and the revelation of the righteous judgments of God.[3] We know that this day of God’s wrath will be, when he shall be revealed in flaming fire, taking vengeance on all them that know not God, and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power.[4] This day of judgment and wrath will not be in the present life: for “it is appointed to all men, once to die, and after this the judgment.”[5] “The rich man died, and in hell lifted up his eyes, being, in torments.”[6] Men will be called from their graves to the judgment; and from the judgment, the wicked will be sentenced to everlasting punishment. God is to be feared, because, beyond the destroying of the body, he can destroy both soul and body in hell.[7] Vain are the dreams of infatuated mortals, who suppose that the only punishment to be endured for sin is in the present life. Conscience and reason unite their voice, to awaken them from their delusion; and revelation depicts the future retribution before their eyes so clearly, that they must see it, unless wilfully and obstinately blind.

The magnitude of the evil included in damnation may be inferred from the importance which the Scriptures attach to salvation. It was a great work which Christ undertook, when he came to seek and to save them that were lost;[8] to save his people from their sins;[9] not to condemn the world, but to save the world;[10] to deliver from the wrath to come.[11] If wrath and damnation had been trivial matters, the sending of God’s only son into the world, the laying of our sins upon him, and the whole expedient adopted to deliver us from these inconsiderable evils, would have been unworthy of infinite wisdom. It would not deserve to be called “a great salvation;”[12] and the intelligence of the Saviour’s birth, brought by the angels, would not deserve to be called “good tidings of great joy.”[13] Paul declared, “It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners;”[14] and Paul was of this mind, because he believed the salvation of a sinner to be a work of vast magnitude. In this view of it, he said: “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.”[15] In this view, he relinquished every earthly hope, and gave himself to the ministry of the gospel, enduring all hardships and sufferings, if by all means he might save some.[16] Why did he labor thus, why suffer thus, if wrath and damnation are evils of little magnitude? Paul understood the matter otherwise, when he, said, “Knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.”[17] It is said in the Scripture, “Who knoweth the power of thine anger? Even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath.”[18] The utmost dread with which any finite mind can regard the wrath of God, will be realized, and more than realized, when that wrath is poured out on him. The power of God’s anger, finite intelligence cannot conceive; but God understands it well, and the full estimate of it was regarded, in the deep counsels which devised the scheme of salvation. An almighty Saviour, able to save to the uttermost, was chosen, because salvation was a work requiring such an agent for its accomplishment. The gospel is sent forth into the world; with the declaration of its great Author, “He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned.”[19] Every sound of the glorious gospel speaks of salvation and damnation. Every accent of mercy, inviting the sinner to come to Christ for life, is a warning to flee from the wrath to come. Diminutive views of sin, and of the wrath of God due to sin, permit the sinner to sleep in neglect of the great salvation that God has provided.

The human heart is prone to doubt the doctrine of eternal damnation. The facts reported in the gospel, that Christ came into the world, died, and rose again, are so abundantly attested, that few have the hardihood openly to deny them. These are past facts, which rational men cannot well permit themselves to doubt; but eternal woe is something future, unseen, and unfelt. The apprehension of it disquiets men, and disturbs their enjoyments; and hence they are prone to drive it from them. The threat of indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, is fearful; but if they listen to it, and interpret it in its full import, they cannot remain at ease. Hence arises a criminal and fatal tendency not to take God at his word, in these fearful warnings and denunciations; but to persuade ourselves that they will never be executed. Some relieving method of interpretation is adopted, or some view taken of God’s benevolence and mercy, by which the sinner may be permitted to remain at ease, and hope that all will be well. Hence we see the astonishing fact, that multitudes practically neglect the gospel, who dare not openly deny it. If they verily believed that the wrath of God abides on them; that the treasures of wrath are daily increasing, and that the accumulated vengeance is just ready to burst on their heads in a fearful tempest; they would not, they could not remain at ease. To appreciate justly and fully the gospel of eternal salvation, we must believe, thoroughly believe, the doctrine of eternal damnation. All our misgivings, as to the truth of this doctrine, proceed from an evil heart of unbelief; and lead to a neglect of the great salvation.

Some have sought relief, in the apprehension of future misery, from the idea that the language of Scripture, which describes it, is figurative. The descriptions of future happiness in heaven, are figurative; but the figures convey very imperfect ideas of the reality. So it is with the figures which describe future misery. The fire prepared for the devil and his angels;[20] the lake of fire;[21] unquenchable fire;[22] the worm that dieth not, and the fire that is not quenched;[23] are terrific descriptions; but they are not exaggerations. They are figures; but they come short of the reality. When God punishes, he punishes as a God. Who knoweth the power of thine anger? What omnipotent wrath can accomplish, all language fails to describe, and all finite minds are unable to conceive.

Of what elements future misery will consist, we cannot tell; but it will include poignant remorse, and a sense of divine wrath, with the absence of all enjoyment, and of all hope. It will produce, in the subjects of it, weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. They will realize that they are shut out for ever from the kingdom of heaven, into outer darkness; and they will remember the good things which they once enjoyed, never more to be enjoyed again and the opportunities of mercy, once neglected, never more to return. They will be tormented in the flame, without a drop of water to cool their tongues. Their hatred of God will be complete and they will blaspheme his name, while they feel themselves grasped in the hand of his almighty wrath, without power to extricate themselves. Devils, and wicked men, all under the same condemnation, will be their eternal companions: and the companionship, instead of affording relief, will be an aggravation of their woe. The whole throng, hateful, and hating one another, will be tormentors of one another. The malignant passions, which, on earth, caused wars, assassinations, cruelty, oppression, and every species of injury, will be let loose without restraint to banish peace and brotherhood for ever from the infernal society; and the passions which burn in the hearts of wicked men on earth, and destroy all internal peace, and sometimes drive to suicide, will then be unrestrained, and do their full work of torture; and relief by suicide, or self-annihilation, will be for ever impossible. O, who can endure such torments? Who will not, with every energy, and at every sacrifice, seek to escape from devouring fire and everlasting burnings?

As heaven is a place, so is hell. Judas went to his own place;[24] and the rich man desired that his brethren might not come to this place of torment.[25] In what part of universal space this place is situated, we know not. Heaven is above, and hell beneath; but astronomy has taught us, that, in consequence of the earth’s diurnal rotation, the up and down of absolute space is not to be determined by the position of the little ball which we inhabit, If the third heaven, where God resides, be a region of perfect light and glory, beyond the limits within which stars and planets revolve; and if its inhabitants see the sun and stars, as beneath their feet: the region of outer darkness may be in the opposite extreme of space, where sun and stars shine not, and where the glory of God is for ever unseen. But, wherever it is, the broad way that sinners go, leads to it; and they will at length certainly find it.

The duration of future misery will be eternal. This is expressly declared in Scripture. “These shall go away into everlasting punishment; but the righteous into life eternal.”[26] The words everlasting and eternal are renderings of the same Greek word, which is applied alike to the future state of the righteous and the wicked. The punishment of these, and the happiness, of those, will be of equal duration. Both will be eternal or everlasting. The criticism which would take the word in a different sense, in one case, from that which it is admitted to have in the other, is rash and dangerous. The same truth is taught in other passages of Scripture:- “Where their worm dieth not, and their fire is not quenched.”[27] “The smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever.”[28] “Suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.”[29] The last passage, inasmuch as it refers to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, which were destroyed by fire from heaven, may contain an allusion to that fire; but this, viewed in itself, was not eternal fire. It was a type of future wrath, and may be regarded as its beginning, and first outbursting. The fire which consumed the cities of the plain, has long since ceased to burn; but the wrath due to their guilty inhabitants did not then cease to burn: for the day of judgment will find Sodom and Gomorrah,[30] with guilty Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, all doomed to suffer, according to their several measures of guilt, the vengeance of eternal fire. These cities, in their fearful overthrow, are set forth as an example; and from the visible beginning of their awful doom, we may faintly conceive what will be the end. But it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for those who hear and reject the gospel of Christ; who must, therefore, suffer the vengeance of eternal fire, in its fiercest burnings, and in its everlasting duration.

Future misery will not be purifying in its effect. The afflictions which the righteous endure in this world are fatherly chastisements, inflicted in love, and God designs them for the profit of his children, that they may be partakers of his holiness.[31] Future misery will be inflicted not on the children of God, but on the enemies of God; not in love, but in wrath. And it will not be designed for the profit of its subjects, but for the vindication of the law and justice of God, “to show his wrath and make his power known.”[32] Affliction purifies the righteous, not by any inherent tendency which it possesses, but by the accompanying influence of the Holy Spirit. The wicked, even in the present life, grow hardened under affliction, and sometimes blaspheme God, while they gnaw their tongues with pain.[33] In the world to come, the Holy Spirit will send forth no sanctifying influence to render future torments purifying. Many of the wicked he gives up to hardness of heart, even in the present life; and to all of them the day of grace will be past for ever. The opinion that they will be ultimately restored to the favor of God, and taken to heaven, is not authorized by the Scriptures.[34] On the contrary, it teaches that the Master of the house will “shut the door;” that there is a great gulf[35] between the two worlds rendering passage from one to the other impossible; that the unjust and filthy will remain unjust and filthy still.[36] Jesus said to some, “Ye shall die in your sins; and whither I go ye cannot come:”[37] and he said concerning Judas Iscariot, “It had been good for that man if he had not been born.”[38] The last words cannot be true, if Judas at any future time, however remote, shall be taken to heaven to enjoy for ever the perfect happiness of that world: for the eternal weight of glory which will then be awarded to him, will far more than outweigh all his previous sufferings. The Scriptures teach that the heavens have received Jesus Christ, “until the restitution of all things:”[39] but if his restitution implied a restoration of all to the favor of God, Christ’s second coming would be deferred until its accomplishment. But as Christ will come from heaven to judge the world, and will in

the judgment, condemn the wicked to everlasting punishment, we must conclude that the restitution of all things will be regarded as complete and for ever fixed; when the final judgment shall have decided the eternal state of all, and the order which bad been disturbed by the enemies of God, shall have been fully restored in his kingdom.

Future misery will not be annihilating in its effect. It is called death, the second death: but the first death does not imply annihilation of either soul or body; and neither does the second. It is called destruction: but as the men of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed[40] in the overthrow of those cities, but are nevertheless to appear in the day of judgment,[41] destruction does not imply annihilation. An immortal spirit suffers destruction when it is separated from God and happiness, and doomed to eternal misery. So the wicked shall be punished with everlasting destruction, from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.[42] Besides death and destruction, the word corruption is used as the opposite of life. “They that sow to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption, and they that sow to the Spirit, shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.”[43] Corruption is not annihilation. The death of the body is followed by corruption and the worm; so that we may say to corruption, Thou art my father; and to the worm, Thou art my mother and sister.[44] Hence, corruption, and the worm that dieth not, are figures employed to denote the consequences of the second death. By the flesh, to which men sow, and of which they reap corruption, we do not understand the material body, but the depraved mind. The corruption of this is its moral disorganization, or utter loss of holiness. Were annihilation intended, the worm that dieth not, would cease to have anything on which to feed; and the fire that cannot be quenched, would cease to burn for want of fuel. If the wicked are to be destroyed by instantaneous annihilation, that destruction, instead of being an infliction of torment, will be a termination of all suffering. This does not accord with the Scripture representations of the future portion of the wicked: and no good reason can be assigned for raising the bodies of the wicked, if they are to be immediately annihilated. If destruction is to be a process, whether rapid or lingering, by which annihilation is to be produced, it will not be everlasting destruction, or everlasting punishment; for the process and the punishment will sooner or later cease. To no purpose can it be called eternal punishment, when the subjects of it shall have eternally ceased to exist. To no purpose can any be said to surer the vengeance of eternal fire, when the fire itself shall have eternally terminated their suffering. And to no purpose will the smoke of their torment ascend for ever and ever, when the torments themselves shall have eternally ceased.

Some understand the words, “Every one shall be salted with fire,”[45] to import, that the fire of hell, instead of consuming its victims, will, like salt, preserve them. Whether this be its meaning, or not, there is no reason to doubt that the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction, will be adapted to the suffering which they will undergo. Instead of wasting away under its influence, or having their powers of endurance benumbed, we may rather conclude, that, as the righteous, will perpetually ascend in bliss, the wicked will perpetually sink in woe. Their deep is bottomless,[46] and being banished from the presence of God, they may continue to recede from him for ever. Their capacity for suffering, their tormenting passions, their hatred of God, and of one another, may all increase indefinitely, through eternal ages. As wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever, they will continue to fly further and further from God, the eternal source of light and happiness, into deeper, and still deeper darkness and woe. O, that men would seek the Lord, while he may be found.

Obj. 1. The justice of God does not require, and will not permit, the infliction of eternal torments for the sins committed in the short period of human life. If eternity be divided by the number of sins which any man commits, during the whole course of his probation on earth, the quotient will be eternity: and it follows, that future misery cannot be eternal, unless an eternity of torment be inflicted for every sin. An eternity of woe for one transgression, shocks all the sense of justice which God has implanted in the human breast.

This objection proceeds on the radical mistake, that men cease to be moral agents, bound by the law of God, when they have passed into the world of woe. God’s dominion is universal; and the inhabitants of hell are as much bound to love and obey him, as those of heaven or earth. Men who die in their sins, will carry with them not only the guilt accumulated during the present life, but the inclination, confirmed by habit, to continue in sin. They will hate God and blaspheme his name, and their sins cannot cease to be offensive to God, because their moral character has become fixed and unalterable. A sinner cannot become innocent by being confirmed in sin. Were it so, the inhabitants of hell would be innocent beings; their habitation would be as pure as the high and holy place where God dwells; and their blasphemies would be as little offensive to God and all holy beings, as the songs of angels. All this is manifestly absurd. Sin continued, will deserve and provoke continued wrath; and the future condition of the wicked is chiefly terrible, because they are abandon by God to the full exercise and influence of their unholy passions, and the consequent accumulation of guilt for ever and ever.

If God’s justice will not permit him to punish sinners with banishment from his presence, and confinement in the regions of woe, beyond a limited period of time; then it will follow, that when this limited period of suffering shall have passed, justice will not only permit, but will absolutely require, that they should be released. Who can believe that, after a thousand years spent in blaspheming God, and strengthening their enmity to his character and government, they shall be turned loose, to roam at large in God’s dominions, and to visit at pleasure the holy and happy place where nothing entereth that defileth?[47] Who can believe that God’s justice will demand this, and will authorize them to demand it? Yet all this will follow, if the ground assumed in the objection be not false.

Obj. 2. God’s benevolence will not permit him to inflict such misery on his creatures. He claims them as his offspring, and represents himself as their Father: and, as no human parent would so treat his children, it is not to be supposed that the benevolent Father of all will be so unfeeling and unmerciful. This objection, while it claims to honor God’s benevolence, dishonors his veracity. Our inferences from God’s benevolence may all be mistake; but God’s word must be true: and he who, relying on the deductions of his own reason, rejects the warnings that God has graciously given him, will find, in the end, that he has acted most foolishly and wickedly.

The objection assumes what is inconsistent, not only with the truth of God’s declarations as to the future, but also with known and undeniable facts of the past and present. Had the objector been present when man came forth in his original purity from the hand of his Maker, he would, on the principle assumed in his objection, have predicted, with confidence, that God would never permit this fair production of his creative power and skill to become involved in the fall and its consequent evils. Had he been present in the garden of Eden, when the serpent said, “Ye shall not surely die,” he would, in his professed honor of God’s benevolence, have confirmed the declaration made by the father of lies. The misery endured by the human race in every age, from the fall to the present moment, in every region of the globe, in every tribe, in every family, in the daily and hourly experience of every individual, is all inconsistent with the principle assumed in the objection. If, at the creation, it would have denied the possibility of what we know has occurred, how can we trust it when it now denies the possibility of what God says shall be? When our inferences oppose fact, and the truth of God, we may be assured that they are wrong.

When pestilence is desolating a land, God sees the wretchedness that is produced, and hears the cries of the suffering, and could, with one breath, drive far away the cause of the fatal malady. When a ship is wrecked in the raging ocean, God hears the cries of the sinking mariners, and understands well their terror and anguish, and could, without effort, bear the shattered vessel at once to its destined port in safety. Were the objector in God’s stead, would he be deaf to the cries of his children? Would he not promptly afford the needed relief? He would. What then? Is he benevolent, and is God unfeeling and unmerciful? So the objection would decide; and we know, therefore, that it is not according to truth.

God is of right the Father of his creatures: but he says, “If I be a father, where is my honor?”[48] and he complains, “I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me.”[49] By their rebellion, men have become the children of the wicked one. Christ said, “If God were your Father, ye would love me;”[50] implying that those whom he addressed were not the children of God. To such men God is not a Father, but an offended and insulted moral Governor. He is benevolent; but his benevolence does not overthrow his moral government. On the contrary, it enforces the claims of justice. To turn loose the guilty, and to permit the lawless to roam at large through his dominions, to disturb the peace and order of his government, and render the obedient unhappy, would not be benevolence. God’s benevolence is against the sinner; and when the walls of the infernal prison are broken down, and its guilty inmates are permitted to fill the universe with crime and wretchedness, it will no longer be true that God is love.

In contemplating the awful subject of future misery, and its relation to God’s benevolence, our minds may find some relief in regarding the misery as the natural and proper effect of sin. God has so constituted the nature of man, that he feels remorse for crime; and he has so constituted the nature of external things, that drunkenness, and many other sins, produce poverty and suffering. We have not the hardihood to complain that this constitution of things is not benevolent. He who, knowing that fire will burn, voluntarily puts his hand into the flame, has no right to charge God with want of benevolence, because he has made it the nature of fire to burn. Much of future misery may be regarded as the natural effect of sinful passions, tearing the soul by their violence, or of an upbraiding conscience, gnawing within, as the worm that dieth not. “God is a consuming fire,” ever-present to the workers of iniquity; and his nature must change if his wrath cease to burn against sin. The nature of things, as constituted by God, and as including the nature of God himself, must render the sinner miserable. If he would cease to be miserable, he must escape from himself, and must find another God, and another universe.

[1] Ps. ix. 17; Matt. x. 28; xiii. 40-42; xxiii. 29, 33; xxv. 41-43; Mark ix. 43; 2 Thess. i. 7-9; 2 Pet. ii. 4, 9, 10; Jude 7; Rev. xiv. 11; xx. 10, 14, 15; xxi. 8.

[2] Gen. xlii. 21.

[3] Rom. ii. 5.

[4] 2 Thess. i. 8.

[5] Heb. ix. 27.

[6] Luke xvi. 23.

[7] Matt. x. 28.

[8] Luke xix. 10.

[9] Matt. i. 21.

[10] John iii. 17.

[11] 1 Thess. i. 10.

[12] Heb. ii. 3.

[13] Luke ii. 10.

[14]1 Tim. i. 15.

[15] Rom. x. 1.

[16]1 Cor. ix. 22.

[17] 2 Cor. v. 11

[18] Ps. xc. 11.

[19] Mark xvi. 16.

[20] Matt. xxv. 41.

[21] Rev. xx.10.

[22] Matt. iii. 12.

[23] Mark ix. 44.

[24] Acts i. 25.

[25] Luke xvi. 28.

[26] Matt. xxv. 46.

[27] Mark ix. 44.

[28] Rev. xiv. 11.

[29] Jude i. 7.

[30] Matt. xi. 21.

[31] Heb. xii. 10.

[32] Rom. ix. 22.

[33] Rev. xvi. 10, 11.

[34] Luke xiii. 25.

[35] Luke xvi. 26.

[36] Rev. xxii. 11.

[37] John viii. 21.

[38] Matt. xxvi. 24.

[39] Acts iii. 21.

[40] Luke xvii. 29.

[41] Matt. x. 15.

[42] 2 Thess. i. 9.

[43] Gal. vi. 8.

[44] Job xvii. 14.

[45] Mark ix. 49

[46] Rev. xx. 3.

[47] Rev. xxi.27.

[48] Mal. i. 6.

[49] Isaiah i. 2.

[50] John viii. 42.

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