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THE ETERNITY OF HELL-TORMENTS.
MATTHEW Xxv. 46..
Thefe fhall go away into everlasting Punishment.
HE excellency of the gospel-difpenfation is greatly evidenced by thofe fanctions of rewards and punishments which it offers to the choice of all its hearers, in order to engage them to be obedient to its precepts. For it promifes no lefs than eternal happiness to the good, and denounces no flighter a punishment than everlasting mifery againft the wicked on the one hand, "It is a favour of life "unto life;" on the other, "A favour of death un"to death." And though one would imagine the bare mentioning of the former would be fufficient to draw men to their duty, yet minifters in all ages, have found it neceffary, frequently to remind their people of the latter, and to fet before them the ter:rors of the Lord, as fo many powerful diffuafives from fin.
But whence is it that men are fo difingenuous? The reason feems to be this: the promife of eternal happiness is fo agreeable to the inclinations and wifhes of mankind, that all who call themselves Chriftians, univerfally and willingly fubfcribe to the belief of it: but then there is fomething fo fhecking in the confi
deration of eternal torments, and seemingly fuch an infinite difproportion between an endlefs duration of pain, and a short life spent in pleasure, that men (some at least of them) can fcarcely be brought to confefs it as an article of their faith, that an eternity of mifery awaits the wicked in a future state.
I fhall therefore, at this time, beg leave to infift on the proof of this part of one of the articles of our creed; and endeavour to make good what our blef fed Lord has here threatened in the words of the text, "Thefe (that is the wicked) fhall go away in"to everlafting punishment."
Accordingly, without confidering the words as they ftand in relation to the context, I shall refolve all I have to fay, into this one general propofition, "That "the torments referved for the wicked hereafter, "are eternal."
But before I proceed to make good this, I must inform you that I take it for granted,
All prefent do ftedfaftly believe, They have fomething within them, which we call a foul, and which is capable of furviving the diffolution of the body, and of being miferable or happy to all eternity.
I take it for granted farther, That you believe a divine revelation; that thofe books emphatically called the Scriptures, were written by the infpiration of God, and that the things therein contained, are founded upon eternal truth.
I take it for granted, That you believe, that the Son of God came down to die for finners; and that there is but one Mediator between God and man, even the Man Chrift Jesus.
Thefe things being granted, and they were neceffury to be premifed, proceed we now to make good the one general propofition affected in the text, That he torments referved for the wicked hereafter are eternal. "Thefe fhall go away into everiafting pu
First argument I shall advance to prove that the
torments referved for the wicked hereafter are eternal, (for I have taken it for granted, that you believe thofe books, emphatically called the Scriptures, were written by the infpiration of God, and that the things contained therein are founded upon eternal truth) is, that the word of God himself affures us, in line upon line, that it will be fo.
To quote all the texts that might be produced in proof of this, would be endlefs. Let it fuffice to inftance only a few. In the old Teftament, in the book of Daniel, chap. xii. verfe 2. we are told, that "fome fhall awake to everlafting life, and others to "everlasting contempt." In the book of Ifaiah, it is faid, that the worm of thofe who have tranfgreffed "God's law, and die impenitently, fhall not die, "nor their fire be quenched." And, in another place, the holy prophet, ftruck, no doubt, with aftonishment and horror at the profpect of the continuance of the torments of the damned, breaks out into this moving expoftulation, Who can dwell "with everlafling burnings?"
The New Teliament is ftill fuller as to this point, it being a revelation which brought this and fuch like particulars to a clear light. The apoftle Jude tells us of the profane defpifers of dignities in his days, that for them was referved the blacknefs of dark"nefs for ever." And in the Revelations it is written, that the fmoke of the torments of the wicked afcendeth for ever and ever. And if we believe the witness of men infpired, the winefs of the Son of God, who had the Spirit given him, as Mediator, without mezfure, is ftill far greater: and in St. Mark's goipel he repeats the folemn declaration, three feveral times, "It is better for thee to enter into life maimed;" that is, it is better to forego the gratification of thy luf, or incur the difpleature of a friend, which may be as dear to thee as a hand, or as ufeful as a foot, than having two hands and feet," (that is for in dulging the one, or difobeying God to oblige the
other)" to be caft into hell, where the worm dieth "not, and the fire is not quenched."
And here again, in the words of the text, "Thefe "(the wicked) fhall go away into everlasting punish"ment."
I know it has been objected by fome who have de nied the eternity of hell tormen's, That the words everlafting, and ever and ever, are often used in the Holy Scriptures, (efpecially in the Old Teftament) when they fignify not an endiefs duration, but a iimited term of time.
And this we readily grant: But then we reply, That when the words are ufed with this limitation, they either manifeftly appear to be used fo from the context; or are put in oppofition to occafional types, which God gave his people on fóme special occafions, as when it is faid, "It fhall be a perpetual or ever
lafting ftatute, or, a ftatute for ever;" that is, a flanding type, and not merely tranfient or occafional, as was the pillar of cloud, the manna, and fuch like. Or, laftly, they have a relation to that covenant God made with his fpiritual Ifrael; which if understood in a fpiritual fenfe, will be everlasting, though the ceremonial difpenfation be abolished.
Befides, it ought to be obferved, that fome of the paffages juft now referred to, have neither of these words fo much as mentioned in them and cannot pof fibly be interpreted, fo as to denote only a limited term of years.
But let that be as it will, it is evident even to a demonftration, that the words of the text will not admit of fuch a reftrained fignification, as appears from their being directly oppofed to the words immediate ly following," That the righteous fhall go into life "eternal." From which words, all are ready to grant, that the life promised to the righteous will be eternal. And why the punishment threatened to the wicked fhould not be underflood to be eternal likewife, when the very fame word in the original, is ufed to expreís
the duration of each, no shadow of a reafon can be given.
But, fecondly, There cannot be one argument urged, why God fhould reward his faints with everlafting happiness, which will not equally prove that he ought to punith finners with eternal mifery.
For, fince we know nothing (at least for a certainty) how he will deal with either, but by a divine revelation; and fince, as was proved by the foregoing argument, he hath as pofitively threatened eternally to punish the wicked, as to reward the good; it follows, that his truth will be as much impeached and called in question, did he not inflict his punishments, as it would be, if he did not confer his rewards.
To this also it has been objected, That though God is obliged by promise to give his rewards, yet his veracity could not be called in queftion, fuppofing he should not execute his threatenings, as he actually did not in the cafe of Nineveh; which God exprefsly declared by his Prophet Jonah, "fhould be deftroyed in "forty days: " Notwithstanding the fequel of the ftory informs us, that Nineveh was fpared.
But in answer to this objection, we affirm, That God's threatenings, as well as promifes, are without repentance; and for this reafon, because they are both founded on the eternal laws of right reafon. Accordingly we always find, that where the conditions were not performed, on the non-performance of which the threatenings were denounced, God always executed the punishment threatened. The driving Adam out of Eden, the deftruction of the old world by a deluge of water, and the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, are, and will be always fo many standing monuments of God's executing his threatenings when denounced, though to our weak apprehenfions, the punishment may leem far to exceed the crime.
It is true, God did fparë Nineveh, and that because the inhabitants did actually repent, and therefore performed the conditions upon which it was fuppofed,