THE SAINTS' EVERLASTING REST
"There remaineth therefore a rest unto the people of God." -- Hebrews, 4:9.
THE MISERY OF THOSE WHO, BESIDES LOSING THE SAINTS' REST, LOSE THE ENJOYMENTS OF TIME, AND SUFFER THE TORMENTS OF HELL.
1.The enjoyments of time which the damned lose: 1. Their presumptuous belief of their interest in God and Christ: 2. All their hopes; 3. All their peace of conscience; 4. All their carnal mirth; 5. All their sensual delights. II. The torments of the damned are exceedingly great: 1. The principal Author of them is God himself. 2. The place or state of torment. 3. These torments are the effects of divine vengeance. 4. God will take pleasure in executing them. 5. Satan and sinners themselves will be God's executioners. 6. These torments will be universal; 7. Without any mitigation; 8. And eternal. The obstinate sinner convinced of his folly in venturing on these torments; and entreated to fly for safety to Christ.
As "godliness hath a promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come;" and if we "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness," then all meaner "things shall be added unto us;" so also are the ungodly threatened with the loss both of spiritual and temporal blessings; and because they sought not first God's kingdom and righteousness, therefore shall they lose both it and that which they did seek, and there "shall be taken from them that little which they have." If they could but have kept their present enjoyments, they would not have much cared for the loss of heaven. If they had "lost and forsaken all for Christ," they would have found all again in him; for he would have been all in all to them. But, now they have forsaken Christ for other things, they shall lose Christ, and that also for which they forsook him, even the enjoyments of time, besides suffering the torments of hell.
1. They shall lose their presumptuous belief of their interest in the favor of God and the merits of Christ. This false belief now supports their spirits, and defends them from the terrors that would otherwise seize upon them. But what will ease their trouble when they can believe no longer, nor rejoice any longer? If a man be near to the greatest mischief, and yet strongly conceit that he is in safety, he may be as cheerful as if all were well. If there were no more to make a man happy but to believe that he is so, or shall be so, happiness would be far more common than it is like to be. As true faith is the leading grace in the regenerate, so is false faith the leading vice in the unregenerate. Why do such multitudes sit still when they might have pardon, but that they verily think they are pardoned already? If you could ask thousands in hell, what madness brought them thither? they would most of them answer, "We thought we were sure of being saved till we found ourselves damned. We would have been more earnest seekers of regeneration and the power of godliness, but we verily thought we were Christians already. We have flattered ourselves into these torments, and now there is no remedy." Reader, I must in faithfulness tell thee that the confident belief of their good state, which the careless, unholy, unhumbled multitude so commonly boast of; will prove in the end but a soul-damning delusion. There is none of this believing in hell. It was Satan's stratagem, that being blindfold, they might follow him the more boldly; but then he will uncover their eyes, and they shall see where they are.
2. They shall lose also all their hopes. In this life, though they were threatened with the wrath of God, yet their hope of escaping it bore up their hearts. We can now scarce speak with the vilest drunkard, or swearer, or scoffer, but he hopes to be saved, for all this. O happy world, if salvation were as common as this hope! Nay, so strong are men's hopes, that they will dispute the cause with Christ himself at the judgment, and plead their "having ate and drank in his presence, and prophesied in his name, and in his name cast out devils;" they will stiffly deny that ever they neglected Christ, in hunger, nakedness, or in prison, till he confutes them with the sentence of their condemnation. O the sad state of those men when they must bid farewell to all their hopes! "When a wicked man dieth his expectation shall perish; and the hope of unjust men perisheth. The eyes of the wicked shall fail, and they shall not escape, and their hope shall be as the giving up of the ghost." The giving up the ghost is a fit but terrible resemblance of a wicked man giving up his hopes. As the soul departeth not from the body without the greatest pain, so doth the hope of the wicked depart. The soul departs from the body suddenly, in a moment, which hath there delightfully continued so many years; just so doth the hope of the wicked depart. The soul will never more return to live with the body in this world; and the hope of the wicked takes an everlasting farewell of his soul. A miracle of resurrection shall again unite soul and body, but there shall be no such miraculous resurrection of the damned's hope. Methinks it is the most pitiable sight this world affords, to see such an ungodly person dying, and to think of his soul and his hopes departing together. With what a sad change he appears in another world! Then if a man could but ask that hopeless soul, "Are you as confident of salvation as you were wont to be?" what a sad answer would be returned! O that careless sinners would be awakened to think of this in time! Reader, rest not till thou canst give a reason of all thy hopes, grounded upon Scripture promises: that they purify thy heart; that they quicken thy endeavors in godliness; that the more thou hopest the less thou sinnest, and the more exact is thy obedience. If thy hopes be such as these, go on in the strength of the Lord, hold fast thy hope, and "never shall it make thee ashamed." But if thou hast not one sound evidence of a work of grace on thy soul, cast away thy hopes. Despair of ever being saved, "except thou be born again;" or of "seeing God, without holiness;" or of having part in Christ, except thou "love him above father, mother, or thy own life." This kind of despair is one of the first steps to heaven. If a man be quite out of his way, what must be the first means to bring him in again? He must despair of ever coming to his journey's end in the way that he is in. If his home be eastward and he is going westward, as long as he hopes he is right, he will go on and as long as he goes on hoping, he goes further amiss. When he despairs of coming home, except he turn back, then he will return, and then he may hope. Just so it is, sinner, with thy soul: thou art born out of the way to heaven, and hast proceeded many a year; thou goest on and hopest to be saved, because thou art not so bad as many others. Except thou throw away those hopes and see that thou hast all this while been quite out of the way to heaven, thou wilt never return and be saved. There is nothing in the world more likely to keep thy soul out of heaven than thy false hopes of being saved, while thou art out of the way to salvation. See then how it will aggravate the misery of the damned, that, with the loss of heaven, they shall lose all that hope of it which now supports them.
3. They will lose all that false peace of conscience which makes their present life so easy. Who would think, observing how quietly the multitude of the ungodly live, that they must very shortly lie down in everlasting flames? They are as free from the fears of hell as an obedient believer; and for the most part have less disquiet of mind than those who shall be saved. Happy men, if this peace would prove lasting! "When they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape." O cruel peace, which ends in such a war! The soul of every man by nature is Satan's garrison; all is at peace in such a man till Christ comes and gives it terrible alarms of judgment and hell, batters it with the ordnance of his threats and terrors, forces it to yield to his mere mercy, and take him for the governor; then doth he cast out Satan, "overcome him, take from him all his armor wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils," and then doth he establish a firm and lasting peace. If, therefore, thou art yet in that first peace, never think it will endure. Can thy soul have lasting peace in enmity with Christ? Can he have peace, against whom God proclaims war? I wish thee no greater good than that God break in upon thy careless heart, and shake thee out of thy false peace, and make thee lie down at the feet of Christ, and say, "Lord, what wouldst thou have me to do?" and so receive from him a better and surer peace, which will never be quite broken, but be the beginning of thy everlasting peace, and not perish in thy perishing, as the groundless peace of the world will do.
4. They shall lose all their carnal mirth. They will themselves say of their "laughter; it is mad; and of their mirth, what doeth it?" It was but "as the crackling of thorns under a pot." It made a blaze for a while, but it was presently gone, and returned no more. The talk of death and judgment was irksome to them, because it damped their mirth. They could not endure to think of their sin and danger, because these thoughts sunk their spirits. They knew not what it was to weep for sin, or to humble themselves under the mighty hand of God. They could laugh away sorrow, and sing away cares, and drive away those melancholy thoughts. To meditate and pray, they fancied, would be enough to make them miserable, or run mad. Poor souls, what a misery will that life be, where you shall have nothing but sorrow-intense, heart piercing, multiplied sorrow; when you shall neither have the joys of saints nor your own former joys! Do you think there is one merry heart in hell? or one joyful countenance or jesting tongue? You now cry, "a little mirth is worth a great deal of sorrow." But surely a little godly sorrow, which would have ended in eternal joy, had been worth much more than all your foolish mirth; for the end of such mirth is sorrow.
5. They shall also lose all their sensual delights. That which they esteemed their chief good, their heaven, their god, must they lose, as well as God himself. What a fall will the proud ambitious man have from the height of his honors! As his dust and bones will not be known from the dust and bones of the poorest beggar, so neither will his soul be honored or favored more than theirs. What a number of the great, noble, and learned will be shut out from the presence of Christ! They shall not find their magnificent buildings, soft beds, and easy couches. They shall not view their curious gardens, their pleasant meadows, and plenteous harvests. Their tables will not be so furnished nor attended. The rich man is there no more "clothed in purple and fine linen, and faring sumptuously every day." There is no expecting the admiration of beholders. They shall spend their time in sadness, and not in sports and pastimes. What an alteration will they then find! The heat of their lust will be then abated. How will it even cut them to the heart to look each other in the face! What an interview will there then be, cursing the day that ever they saw one another! O that sinners would now remember and say, "Will these delights accompany us into the other world? Will not the remembrance of them be then our torment? Shall we then take this partnership in vice for true friendship? Why should we sell such lasting incomprehensible joys for a taste of seeming pleasure? Come, as we have sinned together, let us pray together that God would pardon us; and let us help one another toward heaven, instead of helping to deceive and destroy each other." O that men but knew what they desire, when they would so earnestly have all things suited to the desires of the flesh! It is but to desire their temptations to be increased and their snares strengthened.
II. As the loss of the saints' rest will be aggravated by losing the enjoyments of time, it will be much more so by suffering the torments of hell. The exceeding greatness of such torments may appear, by considering,
1. The principal author of hell-torments is God himself. As it was no less than God whom sinners had offended, so it is no less than God who will punish them for their offences. He hath prepared those torments for his enemies. His continued anger will still be devouring them. His breath of indignation will kindle the flames. His wrath will be an intolerable burden to their souls. If it were but a creature they had to do with, they might better bear it. Wo to him that falls under the strokes of the Almighty! "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." It were nothing in comparison to this, if all the world were against them, or if the strength of all creatures were united in one to inflict their penalty. They had now rather venture to displease God than displease a landlord, a customer, a master, a friend, a neighbor, or their own flesh; but then they will wish a thousand times, in vain, that they had been hated of all the world, rather than have lost the favor of God. What a consuming fire is his wrath! If it be kindled here but a little, how do we "wither like grass!" How soon doth our strength decay and turn to weakness, and our beauty to deformity! The flames do not so easily run through the dry stubble, as the wrath of God will consume these wretches. They that could not bear a prison, or a gibbet, or a fire for Christ, or scarcely a few scoffs, how will they now bear the devouring flames of Divine wrath?
2. The place or state of torment is purposely ordained to glorify the justice of God. When God would glorify his power, he made the worlds. The comely order of all his creatures declareth his wisdom. His providence is shown in sustaining all things. When a spark of his wrath kindles upon the earth, the whole world, except only eight persons, are drowned; Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboim are burnt with fire from heaven, the sea shuts her mouth upon some, the earth opens and swallows up others; the pestilence destroys by thousands. What a standing witness of the wrath of God is the present deplorable state of the Jews! Yet the glorifying of the mercy and justice of God is intended most eminently for the life to come. As God will then glorify his mercy in a way that is now beyond the comprehension of the saints who must enjoy it, so also will he manifest his justice to be indeed the justice of God. The everlasting flames of hell will not be thought too hot for the rebellious; and, when they have there burned through millions of ages, he will not repent him of the evil which has befallen them. Wo to the soul that is thus the object of the wrath of the Almighty, as a bush that must burn in the flames of his jealousy and never be consumed!
The torments of the damned must be extreme, because they are the effect of divine vengeance. Wrath is terrible, but vengeance is implacable. When the great God shall say, "My rebellious creature shall now pay for all the abuse of my patience; remember how I waited your leisure in vain, how I stooped to persuade and entreat you: did you think I would always be so slighted?" Then will he be avenged for every abused mercy, and for all their neglects of Christ and grace. O that men would foresee this, and please God better in preventing their wo!
4. Consider also, that though God had rather men would accept of Christ and mercy, yet, when they persist in rebellion, he will take pleasure in their execution. He tells us, "Fury is not in me;" yet he adds, "Who would set the briers and thorns against me in battle? I would go through them, I would burn them together." Wretched creatures, when "he that made them will not have mercy upon them, and he that formed them will show them no favor. As the Lord rejoiced over them to do them good; so the Lord will rejoice over them to destroy them, and bring them to nought." Wo to the souls whom God rejoiceth to punish: "He will laugh at their calamity, he will mock when their fear cometh; when their fear cometh as desolation, and their destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish come upon them." Terrible thing, when none in heaven or earth can help them but God, and he shall rejoice in their calamity! Though Scripture speaks of God's laughing and mocking, not literally, but after the manner of men; yet it is an act of God in tormenting the sinner, which cannot otherwise be more fitly expressed.
5. Consider that Satan and themselves shall be God's executioners. He that was here so successful in drawing them from Christ, will then be the instrument of their punishment for yielding to his temptations. That is the reward he will give them for all their service; for their rejecting the commands of God, forsaking Christ, and neglecting their souls at his persuasion. If they had served Christ as faithfully as they did Satan, he would have given them a better reward. It is also most just that they should be their own tormentors; that they may see their whole destruction is of themselves and then, whom can they complain of but themselves?
6. Consider also that their torment will be universal. As all parts have joined in sin, so must they all partake in the torment. The soul, as it was the chief in sinning, shall be the chief in suffering; and as it is of a more excellent nature than the body, so will its torments far exceed bodily torments; and as its joys far surpass all sensual pleasures, so the pains of the soul exceed corporeal pains. It is not only a soul, but a sinful soul that must suffer. Fire will not burn except the fuel be combustible; but if the wood be dry, how fiercely will it burn! The guilt of their sins will be to damned souls like tinder to gunpowder, to make the flames of hell take hold upon them with fury. The body must also bear its part. The body which was so carefully looked to, so tenderly cherished, so curiously dressed, what must it now endure! How are its haughty looks now brought down! How little will those flames regard its comeliness and beauty! Those eyes which were wont to be delighted with curious sights, must then see nothing but what shall terrify them! an angry God above them, with those saints whom they scorned enjoying the glory which they have lost; and about them will be only devils and damned souls. How will they look back and say, "Are all our feasts, and games, and revels come to this?" Those ears, which were accustomed to music and songs, shall hear the shrieks and cries of their damned companions; children crying out against their parents, who gave them encouragement and example in evil; husbands and wives, masters and servants, ministers and people, magistrates and subjects, charging their misery upon one another, for discouraging in duty, conniving at sin, and being silent when they should have plainly foretold the danger. Thus will soul and body be companions in wo.
7. Far greater will these torments be, because without mitigation. In this life, when told of hell, or if conscience troubled their peace, they had comforters at hand; their carnal friends, their business, their company, their mirth. They could drink, play, or sleep away their sorrows. But now all these remedies are vanished. Their hard, presumptuous, unbelieving heart was a wall to defend them against trouble of mind. Satan was himself their comforter, as he was to our first mother. "Hath God said, ye shall not eat? Ye shall not surely die. Doth God tell you that you shall die in hell? There is no such matter; God is more merciful. Or, if there be a hell, what need you fear it? Are not you Christians? Was not the blood of Christ shed for you?" Thus as the Spirit of Christ is the Comforter of the saints, so Satan is the comforter of the wicked. Never was a thief more careful lest he should awake the people when he is robbing a house, than Satan is not to awaken a sinner. But when the sinner is dead, then Satan hath done flattering and comforting. Which way, then, will the forlorn sinner look for comfort? They that drew him into the snare, and promised him safety, now forsake him, and are forsaken themselves. His comforts are gone, and the righteous God, whose forewarnings he made light of; will now make good his word against him to the last tittle.
8. But the greatest aggravation of these torments will be their eternity. When a thousand millions of ages are past, they are as fresh to begin as the first day. If there were any hope of an end, it would ease the damned to foresee it; but For ever is an intolerable thought! They were never weary of sinning, nor will God be weary of punishing. They never heartily repented of sin, nor will God repent of their suffering. They broke the laws of the eternal God, and therefore shall suffer eternal punishment. They knew it was an everlasting kingdom which they refused, and what wonder if they are everlastingly shut out of it? Their immortal souls were guilty of the trespass, and therefore must immortally suffer the pains. What happy men would they think themselves, if they might have lain still in their graves, or might but there lie down again! How will they call and cry, "O death, whither art thou now gone? Now come and cut off this doleful life. O that these pains would break my heart, and end my being! O that I might once at last die! O that I had never had a being!" These groans will the thoughts of eternity wring from their hearts. They were wont to think sermons and prayers long; how long then will they think these endless torments! What difference is there betwixt the length of their pleasures and their pains! The one continued but a moment, the other endure through all eternity. Sinner, remember how time is almost gone. Thou art standing at the door of eternity; and death is waiting to open the door, and put thee i., Go, sleep out a few more nights, and stir about a few more days on earth, and then thy nights and days shall end: thy thoughts, and cares, and pleasures shall all be devoured by eternity; thou must enter upon the state which shall never be changed. As the joys of heaven are beyond our conception, so are the pains of hell. Everlasting torment is inconceivable torment.
But methinks I see the obstinate sinner desperately resolving, "If I must be damned, there is no remedy. Rather than I will live as the Scripture requires, I will put it to the venture; I shall escape as well as others, and we will even bear it as well as we can." Alas poor creature, let me beg this of thee, before thou dost so resolve, that thou wouldst lend me thy attention to a few questions, and weigh them with the reason of a man. Who art thou, that thou shouldst bear the wrath of God? What is thy strength? Is it not as the strength of wax or stubble to resist the fire or as chaff to the wind or as dust before the fierce whirlwind? If thy strength were as iron, and thy bones as brass; if thy foundation were as the earth, and thy power as the heavens, yet shouldst thou perish at the breath of his indignation. How much more, when thou art but a piece of breathing clay, kept a few days from being eaten with worms, by the mere support and favor of Him whom thou art thus resisting! Why dost thou tremble at the signs of almighty power and wrath? at peals of thunder or flashes of lightning or that unseen power which rends in pieces the mighty oaks, and tears down the strongest buildings; or at the plague, when it rageth around thee? If thou hadst seen the plagues of Egypt, or the earth swallow up Dathan and Abiram, or Elijah bring fire from heaven to destroy the captains and their companies, would not any of these sights have daunted thy spirit? How then canst thou bear the plagues of hell? Why art thou dismayed with such small sufferings as befall thee here: a tooth-ache, a fit of the gout or stone, the loss of a limb, or falling into beggary and disgrace? And yet all these laid together will be one day accounted a happy state, in comparison of that which is suffered in hell. Why does the approach of death so much affright thee? O how cold it strikes to thy heart! And would not the grave be accounted a paradise, compared with that place of torment which thou slightest? Is it an intolerable thing to burn part of thy body by holding it in the fire? What, then, will it be to suffer ten thousand times more for ever in hell! The thought or mention of hell occasions disquiet in thy spirit; and canst thou endure the torments themselves? Why doth the rich man complain to Abraham of his torments in hell? or thy dying companions lose their courage, and change their haughty language? Why cannot these make as light of hell as thyself? Didst thou never see or speak with a man in despair? How uncomfortable was his talk! how burdensome his life! Nothing he possessed did him good: he had no sweetness in meat or drink; the sight of friends troubled him; he was weary of life, and fearful of death. If the misery of the damned can be endured, why cannot a man more easily endure these foretastes of hell? What if thou shouldst see the devil appear to thee in some terrible shape! Would not thy heart fail thee, and thy hair stand on an end? And how wilt thou endure to live for ever where thou shalt have no other company but devils and the damned, and shalt not only see them, but be tormented with them and by them? Let me once more ask, if the wrath of God be so light, why did the Son of God himself make so great a matter of it? It caused "his sweat to be, as it were, great drops of blood, falling down to the ground." The Lord of life cried, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death." And on the cross, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Surely if any one could have borne these sufferings easily, it would have been Jesus Christ. He had another measure of strength to bear it than thou hast. Wo to thee, sinner, for thy mad security! Dost thou think to find that tolerable to thee, which was so heavy to Christ? Nay, the Son of God is cast into a bitter agony and bloody sweat, only under the curse of the law and yet thou, feeble, foolish creature, fearest not to bear also the curse of the Gospel, which requires a "much sorer punishment." The good Lord bring thee to thy right mind by repentance, lest thou buy thy wit at too dear a rate!
And now, reader, I demand thy resolution. What use wilt thou make of all this? Shall it be lost to thee? or wilt thou consider it in good earnest? Thou hast cast away many a warning of God; wilt thou do so by this also? Take heed; God will not always stand warning and threatening. The hand of vengeance is lifted up, the blow is coming, and wo to him on whom it lighteth! Dost thou throw away the book, and say it speaks of nothing but hell and damnation? Thus thou usedst also to complain of the preacher. But wouldst thou not have us tell thee of these things? Should we be guilty of the blood of thy soul, by keeping silent that which God hath charged us to make known? Wouldst thou perish in ease and silence, and have us perish with thee, rather than displease thee by speaking the truth? If thou wilt be guilty of such inhuman cruelty, God forbid we should be guilty of such sottish folly! This kind of preaching or writing is the ready way to be hated; and the desire of applause is so natural, that few delight in such a displeasing way. But consider, are these things true, or are they not? If they were not true, I would heartily join with thee against any that fright people without a cause. But if these threatenings be the word of God, what a wretch art thou, that wilt not hear it and consider it! If thou art one of the people of God, this doctrine will be a comfort to thee, and not a terror. If thou art yet unregenerate, methinks thou shouldst be as fearful to hear of heaven as hell, except the bare name of heaven or salvation be sufficient. Preaching heaven and mercy to thee, is entreating thee to seek them, and not reject them; and preaching hell, is but to persuade thee to avoid it. If thou wert quite past hope of escaping it, then it were in vain to tell thee of hell; but as long as thou art alive there is hope of thy recovery, and therefore all means must be used to awake thee from thy lethargy. Alas! what heart can now possibly conceive, or what tongue express, the pains of those souls that are under the wrath of God! Then, sinners, you will be crying to Jesus Christ, "O mercy! O pity, pity on a poor soul!" Why, I do now, in the name of The Lord Jesus, cry to thee. "O have mercy, have pity, man, upon thy own soul!" Shall God pity thee, who wilt not be entreated to pity thyself? If thy horse see but a pit before him, thou canst scarcely force him in; and wilt thou so obstinately cast thyself into hell, when the danger is foretold thee? "Who can stand before the indignation of the Lord? and who can abide the fierceness of his anger?" Methinks thou shouldst need no more words, but presently cast away thy soul-damning sins, and wholly deliver up thyself to Christ. Resolve on it immediately, and let it be done, that I may see thy face in rest among the saints. May the Lord persuade thy heart to strike this covenant without any longer delay! But if thou be hardened unto death, and there be no remedy, yet say not another day but that thou wast faithfully warned, and hadst a friend that would fain have prevented thy damnation.
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