תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

men after this life. And this our Saviour represents to us in a most lively manner, in that prospect which, in the latter part of this chapter, he gives us of the judgment of the great day; namely, that at the end of the world, the Son of man skall come in his glory, with his boly angels, and shall fit upon the throne of his glory; and all nations shall be gathered before him, and shall be feparated into two great companies, the righteous and the wicked; who shall stand, the one on the right hand, and the other on the left of this great judge; who shall pronounce sentence severally upon them, according to the actions which they have done in this life. The righteous shall be rewarded with eternal happiness, and the wicked shall be sentenced to everlasting punishment. And these, that is, the wicked, shall go away into everlafting punishment; but the righteous into life eternal.

The words are plain, and need no explication. For I take it for granted, that every one, at first hearing of them, does clearly apprehend the difference between the righteous and the wicked, and between endless happiness and misery. But although these words be so very easy to be understood, they can never be too much considered by us. . The scope and design of them is, to represent to us the different fates of good and bad men in another world, and that their ends there will be as different as their ways and doings have been here in this world. The serious consideration whereof, is the greatest discouragement to fin, and the most powerful argument in the world to a holy and virtuous life: because it is an argument taken from our greatest and most lasting interest, our happiness, or our misery to all eternity : 2 concernment of that vast consequence, that it must be the greatest stupidity and folly in the world for any man to neglect it.

This eternal state of rewards and punishments in another world, our blessed Saviour hath clearly revealed to us. And as to one part of it, viz. that good inen shall be eternally happy in another world, every one gladly admits it: but many are loth that the other part should be true, concerning the eternal punishment of wicked

And therefore they pretend, that it is contrary to the justice of God, to punish temporary crimes with

eternal

men.

be a

eternal torments; because justice always observes a proportion between offences and punishments; but between temporary sins and eternal punishments, there is no proportion. And, as this seems hard to be reconciled with justice, so much more with that excess of goodness which we suppose to be in God.

And therefore they say, that though God seem to have declared, that impenitent sinners Thall be everlastingly punished; yet these declarations of scripture are so to be mollified and understood, as that we may ble to reconcile them with the essential perfections of the divine nature.

This is the full force and strength of the objection. - And my work at this time shall be to clear, if I can, this difficult point: and that for these two reasons. 1. For the vindication of the divine justice and goodness: That God may be justified in his sayings, and appear righteous when he judgeth. And, 2. Because the belief of the threatenings of God, in their utmost extent, is of so great moment to a good life, and so great a discouragement to sin: for the sting of sin is the terror of eternal punishment; and if men were once set free from the fear and belief of this, the most powerful restraint from sin would be taken away.

So that, in answer to this objection, I shall endeavour to prove these two things.

1. That the eternal punishment of wicked men in another world is plainly threatened in fcripture.

2. That this is not inconsistent either with the justice or the goodness of God.

First, That the eternal punishment of wicked men in another world is plainly threatened in fcripture, namely, in these following texts : Matth. xviii. 8. It is better for thee to enter into life halt and maimed, than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into everlasting fire ; and, Matth. xxv. 41. Depart, je cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. And here, in the text, These, that is, the wicked, shall go away into everlasting punishment. And, Mark is. it is there three several times with great vehemency repeated by our Saviour, Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched; and, 2 Thess. i. 9. speaking of them that VOL.II.

know

А а

know not God, and obey not the gppel of his Son, it is faid of them, who shall be punished with everlasting de struction.

I know very well, that great endeavour hath been used to avoid the force of these texts, by shewing, that the words for ever and everlasting are frequently used in scripture in a more limited senfe, only for a long duration and continuance. Thus for ever doth very often in the Old Testament only signify for a long time, and till the end of the Jewish dispensation. And, in the epiltle of St. Jude, ở 7. the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha are said to be set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire ; that is, of a fire that was not extinguished till those cities were utterly consumed.

And therefore, to clear the meaning of the forementioned texts, i. I shall readily grant, that the words for ever and everlasting do not always in scripture signify an endless duration ; and that this is sufficiently proved by the instances alledged to this purpose. But then, 2. It cannot be denied, on the other hand, that these words are often in scripture used in a larger sense, and so as necessarily to signify an interminable and endless duration as, where eternity is attributed to God, and he is said to live for ever and ever ; and where eternal happiness in another world is promised to good men, and that they shall be for ever with the Lord. Now, the very same words and expressions are used concerning the punishment of wicked men in another life. And there is great reason why we should understand them in the same extent: both because, if God had intended to have told us, that the punishment of wicked men shall have no end, the languages wherein the scriptures are written, do hardly afford fuller and more certain words, than those that are used in this case, whereby to express to us a duration without end; and likewise, which is almost a peremptory decision of the thing, because the duration of the punilhment of wicked men, is in the very same fentence expressed by the very fame word which is used for the duration of the happiness of the righteous; as is evident from the text: These, speaking of the wicked, Jhall go away, cis condol ábávoor, into eternal punishment;

but

[ocr errors]

but the righteous, cis (an dowvcov, into life eternal. I proceed to the

Sccond thing I proposed, namely, to fhew, that this is not inconlistent either with the justice or the goodness of God : for in this the force of the objection lies. And it hath been attempted to be answered several ways;

none

of which seems to ine to give clear and full satisfaction to it.

I. It is said by fome, That because fin is infinite, in respect of the object against whom it is committed, which is God, therefore it deserves an infinite punishment.

But this I doubt will, upon examination, be found to have more of subtilty than of folidity in it. It is true indeed, that the dignity of the person against whom any offence is committed, is a great aggravation of the fault : for which reason all offences against God are certainly the greatest of all other : But that crimes should hereby be heightened to an infinite degree, can by no means be admitted; and that for this plain reafon, Because then the evil and demerit of all fins muft neeessarily be cqual; for the demerit of no fin can be more than infinite: and if the demerit of all sins be equal, there can then be no reason for the degrees of punishment in another world. But, to deny that there are degrees of punishment there, is not only contrary to reason, but to our Saviour's express assertion, that some shall be beaten with many stripes, and some with fewer; and that it shall be more tolerable for some in the day of judgment, than for others. Befiles that by the same reason that the least lin that is committed against God may be said to be infinite because of its object, the least punishment that is inflicted by God may be said to be infinite becaufe of its author; and then all punishments from God, as well as all sin's against him, would be equal; which is palpably absurd. So that this answer is by no means sufficient to break the force of this objection.

II. It is said by others, That if wicked men lived for ever in this world, they would sin for ever; and therefore they deserve to be punished for ever. But this hath neither truth nor reason enough in it to give fatisfaction. For who can certainly tell, that if a man lived never so long, he would never repent and grow better? Besides that the justice of God doth only punish the fins which men have committed in this life, and not those which they might pollibly have committed if they had lived longer.

fins

Аа 2

III. It is said, in the last place, That God hath set before men everlasting happiness and misery, and the finner hath his choice. Here are two things said, which seem to bid fairly towards an answer.

1. That the reward which God promiseth to our obedience, is equal to the punishment which he threatens to our disobedience : but yet this I doubt will not reach the business; because though it be not contrary to justice, to exceed in rewards, that being matter of mere favour; yet it may be fo, to exceed in punilhments.

2. It is further said, that the finner in this case hath nothing to complain of, since he hath his own choice. This, I confess, is enough to filence the sinner, and to make him to acknowledge that his destruction is of himfelf: but yet, for all that, it does not seem so clearly to satisfy the objection from the disproportion between the fault and the punishment.

And therefore I shall endeavour to clear, if it may be, this matter yet a little further, by these following considerations.

I. Let it be considered, that the measure of penalties with respect to crimes is not only, nor always to be taken from the quality and degree of the offence, much Jess from the duration and continuance of it; but from the ends and realons of government; which requires such penalties as may, if it be possible, secure the observation of the law, and deter men from the breach of it. And the reason of this is evident; because if it were once declared, that no man should suffer longer for any crime than according to the proportion of the time in which it was committed, the consequence of this would be, that finners would be better husbands of their time, and fin so much the faster, that they might have the greater bargain of it, and might fatisfy for their fins by a shorter punishment

And it would be unreasonable likewise upon another account; because some of the greatest sins may perhaps be committed in the shortest time : for instance, murder; the act whereof may be over in a moment, but the

effects

« הקודםהמשך »