« PreviousContinue »
which gnaws the consciences, and tears in pieces the hearts of the damned;" admonishing us often, "that their worm shall never die, nor their fire be quenched." For as the worm which breeds in dead flesh, or that which breeds in woods, eats and gnaws that substance of which they are engendered; so the worm, which is bred from sin, is in perpetual enmity with it, gnawing and devouring the heart of the sinner, with raging and desperate grief; still putting him in mind, that, by his own fault, he lost that eternal glory, which he might so easily have obtained, and is now fallen into eternal torments, from whence there is no redemption. And, certainly, this resentment of the loss of heaven shall more torment him, than the fire of hell: it is a hell in hell, worse than a thousand hells.
Certainly it were a great rigour, if a father should be forced to be present at the execution of his son; but more, if he should be compelled to be the hangman; and yet greater, if the gallows should be placed before his own door, so that he could neither go in nor out without beholding the affront: but far greater cruelty, if they should make the guilty person to execute himself, and that by cutting his body in pieces, member after member, or tearing off his flesh with his own teeth. This is the cruelty and torment of an evil conscience, with which a sinner is racked and tortured amongst those eternal flames, not being able to banish his faults from his memory; nor their punishment from his thoughts: the envy, also, which they shall bear towards those who have gained heaven, by as small matters as they have lost it, shall much add to their grief. Those who are hungry, if they see others, meaner than they, feed at some splendid and plentiful table, and cannot be admitted themselves, become more hungry; so shall it fare with the damned, who shall be more afflicted by beholding others sometime less than themselves, enjoy that eternal happiness, which they, through want of care, are deprived of. What lamentations shall the damned send forth, when they shall see that the just have gained the benediction of God, and that they lost it through their own neglect?
After all this, there shall not want in hell the pains of death, which amongst human punishments is the greatest; that of hell is a living death. The death which men give, together with death, takes away the pain and sense of dying;
but the eternal death of sinners is with sense; and by so much greater, as it hath more of life, recollecting within itself the worst of dying, which is to perish; and the most intolerable of life, which is to suffer pain. In hell there shall be, unto the miserable, a death without death, and an end without end; for their death shall ever live, and their end shall never begin.
See how the rack compels them, at length, to confess the truth. What hath pride profited us? What advantage have we gotten by the vanity of riches? All that is past as a shadow, as a ship sailing on the sea under full sails, leaving behind her no marks of her passage; as a bird flying in the air, whose trace is not found. So have our days run by, without having any mark of virtue; we have spent in malice all the time, which was liberally bestowed upon us, " to work out our salvation in fear and trembling;" we have passed the course of our age in appearances, and in the vanities and follies of the world; and in an instant we are fallen into hell. In this sort do those wretches, gnawn with a continual sorrow, unprofitably repent themselves, and groan under the pressure and affliction of heart, which is the hell of their hell.
Even here, amongst us, if there should be a condition, in which we might be sensible but of some part of that which death brings along with it, it would be esteemed a greater evil than death itself. Who doubts, but if one, after burial, should find himself alive and sensible under the earth, where he could speak with nobody, see nothing but darkness, hear nothing but those who walk above him, smell nothing but the rotten stink of their bodies, eat nothing but his own flesh, nor feel any thing but the earth which oppresses him, or the cold pavement of the vault where he lay; who doubts,
I say, but that this estate were worse than to be wholly dead, since life only served to feel the pain of death? What sepulchre is more terrible than that of hell, which is eternally shut upon those who are in it, where the miserable damned remain, not only under the earth, but under fire, having sense for nothing but to feel death, darkness, and pain? This death of hell may be called a double death, in respect it contains both the death of sin, and the death of pain; those unfortunate wretches standing condemned, never to be freed from the death of sin, and for ever to be tormented with
death of pain. There is no greater death than that of the soul, which is sin; in which the miserable are to continue whilst God is God, with that infinite evil, and that ugly deformity, which sin draws along with it; which is worse than to suffer that eternal fire, which is but the punishment of it. After sin, what pains should there be greater, than that of sin itself? Who trembles not with the only memory, that he is to die, remembering that he is to cease to be; that the feet, whereon he walks, are no more to bear him; that his hands are no more to serve him, nor his eyes to see? Why then do we not tremble at the thought of hell, in respect of which the first death is no punishment, but a reward and happiness; there being no damned in hell, but would take that death, which we here inflict for offences, as an ease of his pains? They shall desire death, and death shall fly from them; for unto all their evils and miseries, this, as the greatest, is adjoined, that neither they nor it shall ever die. This circumstance of being eternal, doth much augment the torments of hell. Let us suppose, that one had but a gnat that should sting his right hand, and a wasp at the left; and that one foot should be pricked with a thorn, and the other with a pin: if this only were to last for ever, it would be an intolerable pain. What will it then be, when hands, feet, arms, head, and all the members, are to burn for all eternity? They shall always burn, but never to be consumed; they shall seek for death in the flames, but shall not find it. Therefore, justly doth one cry out, "O, woe eternal, that never shall have end! O end without end! O death, more grievous than all death; always to die, and never to be quite dead."
The torments in hell are so many in number, that they cannot be numbered; so long in continuance, that they cannot be measured; so grievous for quality, that they cannot be endured; but with such infinite pain, that every minute of an hour shall seem a whole year. "O Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy displeasure: unless thou wilt have mercy, O God, I must needs perish." In this life we have hope for our comforter, in all distresses; which hath a sovereign virtue, to mitigate all pains and sorrows. And God, of his great mercy, for the most part, in all adversities, still leaveth a man some hope of help and succour.
The sick man, as long as he lives, he still lives in hope; as long as there is life, there is hope; but after this life endeth, there remaineth to the damned no more any hope of comfort: hope, the last comforter of all, taketh her flight, and eternal desperation seizeth upon them.
If an angel should promise thee to be made an emperor, so you would lie in your bed one night in the same posture, looking upwards towards heaven, without moving or turning yourself all night; if you have a mind to turn on one side, it will be a trouble to you not to do it, and you will persuade yourself, that you never lay so uneasy in your whole life before; and will say unto yourself, My bed is good and soft, I am well, what is wanting to me? Nothing is wanting, but only to turn me from one side to the other.' How comes this to pass, that thou canst not rest one single night; it being such a torture to be still, without turning thyself? What would it be, if thou wert to remain in one posture three or four nights? Thou hast little patience, since a thing so small doth grieve thee; what would it be if thou hadst the colic, or wert tormented with the stone or sciatica? Far greater evils than these are prepared for thee in hell, whither thou postest, by running into so many sins. Consider what a couch is prepared for thee in that abyss of misery; what feather-bed; what Holland sheets! Thou shalt be cast upon burning coals, flames and sulphur shall be thy coverlets. Mark well, whether this bed be for one night only. Yea, nights, days, months, and years, for ages and eternities, thou art to remain on that side thou fallest on, without having the least relief to turn thyself unto the other. That fire shall never die, neither shalt thou ever die, to the end its torments may last eternally. After an hundred years, add after a hundred thousand of millions of years, they shall be as lively and as vigorous as at the first day. See what thou dost, by not fearing eternal death; by making no account of eternity; by setting so much of thy affection on a temporal life. Thou dost not walk the right way: change thy life, and begin to serve thy Creator.
Blessed Lord, eternal God, my heart is naked and open
before thee; I send up my sighs, as humble orators before
thee. I know not what to ask, nor how; only this one thing I beg at thy hands, that thou wilt not suffer me to die an eternal death. Correct me here as thy child, that I may be saved hereafter. Lord, thou knowest that I love thee; and that I desire to be with thee, that I may sing eternal praises unto thee. Lord, have mercy upon me, and grant me my request, for thy great mercy's sake.
The Fruit which may be drawn from the Consideration of Eternal Evils.
ALL which hath been said of the pains in hell, is far short of that which really they are. There is great difference betwixt the knowledge we have by relation, and that which we learn by experience. The Maccabees knew, that the temple of the Lord was already profaned and destroyed; they had heard of it, and lamented it. But when they saw with their eyes the sanctuary lie desolate, the altar profaned, and the gates burnt, there was then no measure of their tears; they tore their garments, cast ashes upon their heads, threw themselves upon the ground, and their complaints ascended as high as heaven. If, then, the relation and discourse of the pains of hell make us tremble; what shall be the sight and experience? The consideration of what hath been said, may help us to form some conception of the terror and horror of that place of eternal sorrow. Let us descend into hell whilst we live, that we may not descend there when we are dead. Let us draw some fruit from thence, during our lives, from whence nothing but torment is to be had after death.
The principal fruit which may be drawn from that consideration, are these. In the first place, an ardent love and sincere gratitude towards our Creator; that having so often deserved hell, he hath not yet suffered us to fall into it. How many be there now in hell, who for their first mortal sin, and only for that one, have been sent thither? and we, notwithstanding the innumerable sins which we have committed, are yet spared. What did God find in us, that he should use a mercy towards us for so many sins, which he