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OF THE IMPORTANCE OF ENTERING INTO THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN
--Except a man be born again, he can not see the kingdom of God.
How impossible it is that an unregenerate sinner should see the kingdom of God, or enjoy that future blessedness to which the Gospel is intended to lead its professors, I have shown you at large. I have appealed to the testimony of God's holy prophets, and apostles, in concurrence with that of his incarnate Son, to prove that persons of such a character are, by the inviolable constitution of that kingdom, excluded from it. And I have further, in my last discourse, proved, that if they were actually admitted to it, they would be incapable of relishing its pleasures: that their vitiated palate would have a distaste to the choicest fruits of the Paradise of God; yea, that in these blessed regions thorns and briers would spring up 181in their paths, and make them wretched in the very seat of happiness.
I doubt not, but you are in your consciences generally convinced, that the truth of these things cannot be contested. You are inwardly persuaded that it is indeed so; and I fear many of you have also reason to apprehend, that you are of this unhappy number, who are hitherto strangers to regenerating grace. But how are your minds impressed with this apprehension? Do I wrong you, sirs, when I suspect that some of you are hardly impressed at all? Do I wrong you when I suspect there are those of you, who have spent the last week with very little reflection upon what you have heard? The cares and amusements of life have been pursued as before, and you have not taken one hour to enter into the thought with self-application, and seriously to consider, 'I am one of these concerning whom eternal wisdom and truth has pronounced, that if they continue such as at present they are, they shall not see the kingdom of heaven.' You have not paused at all upon the awful thought; you have not offered one lively petition to God, to beg that you may be recovered from this unhappy state, and brought to a meetness for his kingdom, and a title to it. For your sakes therefore, and for the sakes of others in your state, having already explained, 182illustrated, and confirmed the proposition in my text, I proceed,
III. To represent to you the IMPORTANCE of the argument suggested here; or to show you how much every unregenerate sinner ought to be alarmed to hear, that while he continues in his present state, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
And oh! that while I endeavor to illustrate this, my words might enter into your minds, as goads, and might fix there as nails fastened in a sure place! The substance of my argument is given forth by the one great Shepherd; (Eccles. xii. 11;) may the prosecution of it be blessed, as the means of reducing some wandering sheep into his fold.
Now in order to illustrate the force of this argument, I beseech you seriously to consider,—-what this kingdom is, from which you are in danger of being forever excluded:—and what will be the condition of all those, who shall be finally cut off from any interest in it.
Consider first what that kingdom is, from which the unregenerate, or those who are not born again, shall be excluded.
And here you are not to expect a complete representation of it: for that is an attempt in which the tongues of angels, as well as men, might fail; or how proper soever their language 183might be in itself, to us it would be unintelligible: for eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. 1 Cor. ii. 9. And surely these final and most illustrious preparations of his love must, beyond all others, exceed our description and conception. A minister, that, with the apostle Paul, had been caught up into the third heaven, if he would attempt to speak of the glorious scenes which were there opened to him, must say, they were unutterable things: (2 Cor. xii. 2, 4:) and one, that with John, had lain in the bosom of Christ himself, must say, as that Apostle did, It does not yet appear what we shall be. 1 John iii. 2. And indeed, when we go' about to discourse of it, I doubt not but the blessed angels pity the weakness of our apprehensions and expressions, and know that we do but debase the subject, when we attempt the most to exalt and adorn it.
Yet there are just and striking representations of this kingdom made in the word of God; and we are there often told in general, wherein it shall consist. You no doubt remember that I was, in the last of these Lectures, going over several important views of it. I then told you, it will consist in the perfection of our souls in knowledge and holiness; in the sight of God and our blessed 184Redeemer; in exercising the most delightful affections towards them, and in being forever employed in rendering them the most honorable services; in conversing with saints and glorious angels; and in the assured expectation of the eternal continuance of this blessedness in all its branches. That this is the scriptural representation of the matter, I proved to you from many express testimonies in the word of God; and I doubt not, but you have often heard the excellency of each of these views represented at large, in distinct discourses on each.
I will not therefore now repeat what has been said upon such occasions; but will rather direct you to some general considerations, which may convince you of the excellency of that state and world, from which, if you continue unregenerate, you must forever be excluded: for I would fain fix it upon your minds, that it is in this connection, and for this purpose, that the representation is made. And oh! that you might so review it, as no longer to neglect so great salvation, (Heb. ii. 3,) nor act as if you judged such everlasting life to be beneath your attention, and unworthy your care and regard! Acts xiii. 46. You cannot think it so when you consider,—that it is represented in scripture under the most magnificent images;—that it is the state which God has prepared 185for the display of his glory, and the entertainment of his most favorite creatures; that it is tile purchase of the blood of his eternal Son, that it is the main work of his sacred Spirit to prepare men's hearts for it; and the great business of our inveterate enemy, the devil, by all possible means, to prevent our obtaining it. Each of these considerations may much illustrate the excellency of it and all taken together yield a most convincing demonstration.
1. Consider, by what a variety of beautiful and magnificent images this happiness is represented in the word of God; and that may convince you of its excellency.
When the blessed God himself would raise our conceptions of a state of being, so much superior to anything we have ever seen or known, unless he intended a personal and miraculous revelation of it, he must borrow our language, and in painting the glory of heaven must take his colors from earth. And here the magnificence of a city, the sweetness of a garden, the solemn pomp of a temple, the lustre of a crown, and the dignity of a kingdom, strike powerfully on the human mind, and fill it with veneration and delight. But when such figures as these are borrowed from this lower world of ours, faintly to shadow out that which is above, there is always the addition of 186some important circumstance, to intimate how far the celestial original: exceeds the brightest earthly glory, by which the Divine condescension has vouchsafed to describe it.
The enumeration of a variety of scriptural descriptions will set these remarks in the strongest light. If therefore heaven be described as a city, it is the New Jerusalem, the city of our God, that cometh down from God out of heaven; (Rev. iii. 12, xxi. 2;) the pavement of its streets is all of pure gold, its gates are pearl, and its foundations jewels. Rev. xxi. 19, 21. If it be a garden, it is the Paradise of God, (Rev. ii. 7,) and so far superior to that which he at first prepared and furnished out for the entertainment of Adam in his state of innocence, that it is planted on every side with the tree of life, (Rev. xxii. 2,) of which there was but one alone in the garden of Eden: and is watered, not with such common rivers as the Tigris and Euphrates, but with that living, copious, inexhausted stream, the river of the water of life, which proceeds from the throne of God, (Rev. xxii. 1,) and gently glides along through all its borders. When it is represented as a temple, we are told that instead of a golden ark placed in the remotest recess, to which only the high priest might once a year approach, and on which he might not be allowed to gaze, the 187throne of God is erected there, (Rev. vii. 15,) perpetually surrounded with myriads of worshipers who see his face, and like the high priest when clothed in his richest robes, have his name written in their foreheads: (Rev. xxii. 4:) instead of the feeble rays of that golden candle. stick, whose lamps shone in the holy place, the heavenly temple is illuminated in a more glorious manner, and needs no candle, neither light of the sun, for the glory of God continually enlightens it, and the Lamb is the light thereof: (Rev. xxi. 23, xxii. 5:) Nay, we are assured that its sacred ministers are made kings as well as priests unto God; (Rev. i. 6;) and accordingly being clothed in white raiment, they have crowns of gold on their heads; (Rev. iv. 4;) as well as harps and golden vials, or censers full of incense in their hands: (Rev. v. 8:) and lest we should think these pompous services are only the entertainments of some peculiarly sacred seasons, we are told that they rest not day nor night, (Rev. iv. 8,) adoring him that sits upon the throne, and are fixed as pillars in his temple, to go out no more. Rev. iii. 12. Again, if it be spoken of as a crown, it is represented as incorruptible; (1 Cor. ix. 25;) a crown of glory that fadeth not away. 1 Pet. v. 4. And when it is called a kingdom, the scripture does not only add, as here in the 188text, that it is the kingdom of God, which must certainly exalt the idea of it; but that it is a kingdom which can not be moved, (Heb. xii. 28,) an everlasting kingdom: (2 Pet. i. 11;) nay, to carry our thoughts to the highest degree of dignity and glory, it is spoken of as a sitting down with Christ on his throne. Rev. iii. 21.
But further, the value of these illustrious representations is much enhanced, if we consider the character of the persons by whom they are made. They were persons well acquainted with these things, having received their information from a Divine revelation, and from the immediate visions of God. They were also persons of such sublime and elevated sentiments, that they had a sovereign contempt for all the enjoyments of time and sense, even those which the generality of mankind set the greatest value upon: and counted all things but loss for the knowledge of Christ, (Phil. iii. 8,) and the testimony of a good conscience, (2 Cor. i. 12,) while they looked not at temporal, but at eternal things. 2 Cor. iv. 18. They could deliberately, constantly, and even cheerfully, resign all the riches and honors, and carnal pleasures, which they might have purchased by their apostacy from religion; and were ready to embrace bonds, imprisonments, or death itself, when it met them in the way of their duty. Now 189certainly a glory, with which such holy, wise and heroic persons were so passionately enamored, and which they describe with such pathos of language, and such ecstasy of delight, while they were trampling with so generous a disdain on everything which earth calls good and great, must deserve our very attentive regard. And this it yet more evidently will appear to do, if we consider,
2. It is the state and world, which God has prepared for the display of his glory, and the entertainment of the most favored of his creatures.
This argument seems to be hinted at, when it is said, as in the place I referred to before, eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. 1 Cor. ii. 9. God well knows the capacity of his creatures, and how much happiness they are able and fit to receive; and he can fill their capacities to the utmost: nay, he can farther enlarge them to what degree he pleases, that they may admit superior degrees of. glory and felicity. A happiness, therefore, which he has prepared on purpose to display the riches of his magnificence and love, and to show what he can do to delight his creatures, must certainly be in some measure proportionable, if I may so express it, to the infinity 190of his own sacred perfections. Let us then seriously consider who God is; and attentively dwell in our meditations on the extent of his power, and the riches of his bounty; and our conception of the happiness of heaven must be raised to something more glorious, than the most emphatical words can perfectly describe.
And here, to assist our imagination in some degree, let us look round us, and take a survey of this visible world. This earth, how conveniently has he furnished it, how beautifully has he disposed it, how richly has he adorned it! What various and abundant provision has he made for the subsistence, the accommodation, and the entertainment of the creatures that inhabit it and especially of man, in whom this scheme and system of things appears to centre, and to whom it is almost wisely and graciously referred! Yet earth is the habitation of a race of mean and degenerate creatures, who are but in a state of trial; nay, it is the habitation of thousands and ten thousands of God's incorrigible enemies, with whom he is angry every day. Psa. vii. 11. Already it is marked with some awful characters of the Divine displeasure: and the scripture assures us, that it is reserved unto fire, against the day of judgment, and perdition of ungodly men. 2 Pet. iii. 7. Yet even this 191earth is not a spectacle unworthy our regard; nor can we, if we allow ourselves to survey it with becoming attention, behold it without an affecting mixture of admiration, of love, and of joy—passions that will strike us yet more powerfully, if from this earth of ours we raise our eyes to the visible heavens; and there behold the glory of the sun, the brightness of the moon, and all the numerous host of heaven that attend in her train. Who that considers, with any degree of attention, their magnitude, their lustre, their motion, and their influence, can forbear crying out, Oh Lord, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens. Psal. viii. 1.
And when, with even these in our view, we further reflect, that there is another apartment, as yet invisible, of which this spangled firmament is but, as it were, the shining vail; an apartment, where the great Creator and Governor of all has fixed his stated residence, and erected the throne of his glory; even that throne which is forever surrounded by all the most holy and excellent of his creatures; we must be convinced, it is something more beautiful, and more magnificent than this harmonious system itself. And, methinks, when we have said more beautiful and more magnificent than this, imagination is ready to fail 192us, and to leave the mind dazzled and overwhelmed with an effulgency of lustre which it cannot delineate, and can scarce sustain. Yet will our venerable apprehensions of it be farther assisted if we consider,
3. That the kingdom of heaven is the great purchase of the blood of God's only begotten Son; and therefore to be sure it must be inconceivably valuable.
If you are at all acquainted with your Bibles, you must know that we are by sin in a state of alienation from God; (Ephes. iv. 18;) that we had forfeited all our title to his love, and stood justly exposed to his severe displeasure; and that it is Jesus who delivered us from the wrath to come. 1 Thess. i. 10. Now if we owe it to his merit and atonement that we live, (1 John iv. 9,) much more are we to ascribe it to him, if we are raised to any superior degree of happiness. If God could not, with honor to his justice, have suffered us, without such a propitiation, to have passed off with impunity; much less could he, without it, have received us to his embraces, and have advanced us to sit with him on his throne. Rev. iii. 21. Accordingly it is said of the blessed martyrs in the heavenly world, even of those who had so gloriously distinguished their fidelity and zeal, and loved not their lives unto the death; (Rev. xii. 11,) 193that they had washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb; (Rev. vii. 14;) and they gratefully acknowledge it in their hymns of praise, that Christ had redeemed them to God by his blood, and had made them kings and priests unto God. Rev. v. 9, 10.
Now let us seriously reflect, and consider what this blood of the Lamb is. The apostle Peter tells us, that silver and gold, and all the peculiar treasures of kings and princes, are but corruptible things, (1 Pet. i. 18, 19,) or perishing and worthless trifles, when compared with it. And no wonder it is represented in such exalted language, when we consider it was the blood of the only begotten Son of God, who is the brightness of his Father's glory, and the express image of his person, (Heb. i. 3,) and indeed one with him, (John x. 30,) being possessed of a nature truly and properly divine; so that it is called the blood of God. Acts xx. 28. We may well argue, even from these transient surveys, that it was some important happiness, which he came to procure at so expensive a rate. Had an angel been sent down from heaven, we should naturally have concluded, it must have been upon some momentous errand: surely then, when the Lord of angels comes down, not only to live on earth, but to expire in bitter agonies on the cross, to purchase a benefit for us, 194we may be well assured, that this benefit must be very considerable. Our Lord Jesus Christ must certainly set a very great value upon it, or he would not have purchased it at such a price; and we are sure, the value that he apprehended in it must be its true value. He could not be imposed upon by any false appearance of glory and splendor: he despised, with a just and generous contempt, all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; (Matt. iv. 8, 10;) and he was also well acquainted with the celestial kingdom, having so long dwelt in it, and so long presided over it: yet so highly does he esteem it, that he speaks of it upon all occasions, as the highest possible gift of Divine bounty, the richest preparation and noblest contrivance of Divine love: yea, he regards it as a felicity so great, that when he conducts his people into it, with the last solemn pomp of the judgment day, it is said, he shall see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied, (Isa. liv. 11,) allowing it to be a just equivalent for all he has done, and all he has suffered in so glorious a cause.
4. The excellency of the heavenly kingdom will further appear, if we consider, that it is the main work of the Spirit of God upon men's hearts, to prepare them for an admittance into it.
You well know, that the blessed Spirit of God 195is spoken of as that Divine Agent, by whom all the hosts of heaven were created, and all God's various works produced; (Job xxxiii. 4;) and it is he that knows the things of God even as the human spirit knows the things of a man. 1 Cor. ii. 11. Now it is his peculiar office in the economy of our redemption, to form the soul to a meetness for glory. Accordingly, when the apostle Paul had been reminding the Corinthians, that while they continued in their sinful state, they were unfit for the kingdom of God, he adds, But ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Cor. vi. 11.
That the Spirit should condescend to engage at all in such a work, must give us a very sublime idea of the end at which it aims. But much more will that idea be raised, when we consider with what a variety, and what a constancy of operations he begins, continues, and perfects it. He attempts it, as we shall hereafter more particularly show you, sometimes by convictions of terror, and sometimes by insinuations of love; and by one method or another, in the hearts of all the heirs of this glory, he works so great a change, that it is represented by turning a heart of stone into a heart of flesh, (Ezek. xxxvi. 26,) by raising the dead from their graves, (Ezek. xxxvii. 13. Eph. ii. 5, 6,) yea, by producing a new creation. 2 Cor. v. 17. Eph. ii. 10. For this does he watch over the soul with the tenderest care, and continues his friendly offices, to recover it from relapses, and gradually to form it to advancing degrees of sanctity, till at length it be enabled to perfect holiness in the fear of God. 2 Cor. vii. 1. Nay, so intent is this Sacred Agent on the important work, that when sinners most insolently and ungratefully reject him, and by resisting him oppose their own happiness, he does not immediately leave them; he strikes them again and again; and waits upon them for succeeding days and months, and years.
And when, perhaps, the sincere convert makes the most ungrateful return for the experience of his goodness, even after he has acknowledged, and at length obeyed it: when under the fatal transport of some ungoverned passion, and the influence of some strong temptation, he acts as if he were intent upon tearing down the work of the Spirit of God upon his soul, and driving him forever away; yet in how many instances does he return again after all these injuries, pleading the cause of God with a sweetly prevailing eloquence, and thus healing the wound, and repairing the breach, and making it perhaps stronger than before I And all this, for what? That the happy 197subject of all these kind operations may be formed to a fitness for the kingdom of heaven.
And are we to regard this blessed Spirit as an unmeaning agent, or as incapable of judging of the importance of this end for which he acts? Is that almighty energy of his employed in an insignificant manner? Surely Nicodemus, slow of understanding as he was, must apprehend the importance of entering into the kingdom of heaven, when he heard, that in order to be admitted to it, a man must be born of the Spirit. And let me add once more,
5. That the excellency of the heavenly kingdom may further be argued from the eagerness with which the enemy of souls is endeavoring to prevent our entrance into it.
You know the devil is always represented as the inveterate enemy of our happiness. His rage is expressed by that of a roaring lion, that walks about, seeking whom he may devour: (1 Peter v. 9:) and with unwearied diligence he is continually employed in forming and pursuing his temptations. And this is the grand design of all, that he may exclude us from the promised felicity. While sinners are in their unregenerate state, he endeavors to engage all their regards to the objects of time and sense; and for that purpose he continually presents them with a variety 198of entertainments and amusements suited to their respective tempers and circumstances. If they are awakened to any serious concern about their eternal salvation, he uses his utmost address to divert their minds from an attendance to it: and for this purpose he displays before them all the allurements of sin in its most engaging forms, and if they are not captivated with these, he often puts on a face of terror, and endeavors to affright them from religion by the most gloomy representations of it, or by horrible and distracting suggestions, that it is now forever too late to attain it.
Or, if Divine Grace surmount all this opposition, and the sinner resolutely chooses his portion in heaven, and puts his soul into the hands of Christ to be conducted to it, the malice of Satan pursues him even to that sacred retreat, which he has sought in the arms of his Saviour: and if he cannot prevent the soul from entering into heaven, he will at least labor to bring it into such a state of negligence, and to seduce it into those delays and relapses, which may divert its regards to that blessed world, which may cloud its evidences of it, and may at least, as much as possible, diminish the degree of its glory there.
Now permit me, in this instance, to turn the artillery of this cunning enemy against himself, 199and to argue the excellency of this kingdom, from the zeal and attachment with which he endeavors to obstruct your attaining it. Though Satan be now a very degenerate creature, he was once an angel of light, and still retains much of the knowledge, though he has lost the rectitude and integrity of the angelic nature. And he particularly knows what heaven is because he was once an inhabitant there; and while he is endeavoring to persuade the sinner to prefer earth before it, he does, by that very endeavor, incontestably prove, that he himself knows the contrary, and is fully apprized that there is nothing here to be compared with the felicity of the future state. And therefore while he seeks the destruction of the soul, he can leave it in the enjoyment of all its worldly prosperity; nay, he will attempt to lead him into methods, by which this prosperity may be promoted and increased.
And thus, sirs, I have endeavored a little to represent to you, what this kingdom of heaven is from which we are assured that unconverted sinners shall forever be excluded. I have argued its excellency--from the representations which are made of it in the word of God--from its being the preparation of Divine love--from its being the purchase of a Redeemer's blood--and the end to which, on the one hand, the glorious 200operations of the blessed Spirit lead--and of which, on the other hand, all the stratagems and assaults of the prince of darkness are intended to deprive us. If, therefore, there be truth in scripture, if there be wisdom in heaven, or policy in hell, it must surely be infinitely important. And will any of you be such mean-spirited creatures, as, when that happiness is proposed to you, basely to relinquish the pursuit of it, and to sacrifice this blessed hope to any perishing trifle of mortal life? Surely it would be madness; though nothing more were to be apprehended than the loss of it; and though, when heaven were lost, all that earth can give should remain, if not to counterbalance the loss, yet at least to make you less sensible of it. But the weight of the argument will much more evidently appear, if you consider,
Secondly, What will at last become of all those who are excluded from this heavenly kingdom?
And here I beseech you to ask your own consciences, whether they be not inwardly persuaded, that those who are excluded from heaven, will remain in a state of existence, in which they will be ever sensible of their loss, and will be delivered over by Divine vengeance into that seat of torment, which God has prepared for the punishment of his implacable and incorrigible enemies. 201This many of you do undoubtedly believe of such persons in general; believe it, therefore, of yourselves, if you are, and continue, in an unregenerate state.
1. You will still continue in a state of existence, in which you will be ever sensible of your unspeakable loss.
It might afford some wretched kind of consolation to you, if, as soon as you died out of this world, your being or your apprehensive powers were immediately to cease. Then the loss of heaven would only be an affliction to you in your dying moments, when you saw the enjoyments of earth were come to an end, and that you must have no part in any future happiness. But, alas! sirs, you cannot but know that when your bodies are dead, and consumed in their graves, your thinking faculties will still be continued to you: and, oh, that you would seriously reflect, how they will then be employed! You will then be thinking what you have done in life, what you have chosen for your happiness, and what has been the consequence of that choice. You will look round in vain for such accommodations and pleasures as you were once most fond of: but they will be no more. And when you perceive them vanished, like the visionary amusements of a dream, you will lift up your astonished eyes 202towards the regions of glory. And you indeed will have a lively view of those happy regions: but to what purpose will that view serve? Only through the righteous vengeance of God to aggravate your misery and despair.
"Alas," you will think, "there are millions of creatures yonder in heaven, who are rejoicing in the sight and favor of God, and are as full of happiness as their natures can contain, and shall be so forever; while I am cut off from all share in the Divine bounty. Rivers of pleasures are flowing in upon them, while not one drop is sent down to me; nor could I obtain it, though I were to ask the favor from the least of Christ's servants there. I am cast out as an accursed wretch, with whom God and his holy and blessed creatures will have no farther intercourse, or communion. And why am I thus cast out? and why am I thus cut off from God's favor, and driven from his presence, while so many that dwell with me on earth are admitted to it? My nature was originally as capable of happiness as theirs: and though it was sadly degenerate, it might, like theirs, have been renewed. God was once offering me that grace, by which my disordered soul might have been transformed, and I might have been fitted for the regions of glory: but I despised all these offers, and gave the 203preference to those fading vanities, which, alas I have forever forsaken me. And now they that were ready are gone in to the delightful banquet, and the door is shut; (Matt. xxv. 10;) the everlasting gates are shut forever, and barred against me. And here I must lie at this miserable distance, envying and raging at their happiness--of which, whatever sight or knowledge I may have of it, I must never, never, never partake!"
Such reflections, as these, sirs, will cut deep into your souls; and accordingly our Lord declares to impenitent sinners in his own days, There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see others sitting down in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. Luke xiii. 28. And if you would reflect, you might easily apprehend this. How would you be enraged at yourselves, if by your folly you had neglected securing a plentiful estate, when it was offered to you on the most easy terms; and you actually saw others, once your equals, and perhaps your inferiors, in the possession of it, in consequence of having taken those methods which you stupidly neglected? The reflection, I doubt not, would very much impair the pleasure you might find in other comfortable and agreeable circumstances. How much more insupportable then will the loss of heaven appear to you, when 204you come to see, and know, what it is you have lost, and have nothing to relieve or support you, under the painful recollection?
It is to no purpose to object, that upon the principles of my last discourse, there will be no room to lament your exclusion from those entertainments, which you would be incapable of relishing if you were admitted to them: for you will then see, and lament that incapacity as a very great misery. As if a man, who was naturally fond of feasting and mirth, should see a great many regaling themselves, and reveling about him, while he was languishing under some painful distemper, which made him incapable of joining in the entertainment; he would yet grieve that he had no part in it: and it would be the increase, rather than the alleviation of his uneasiness, that it was his sickness which unfitted him for it; especially if, as in your case, it was a sickness, which he had brought upon himself by his own folly, and for which he had been offered an easy, pleasant, and infallible remedy, which he had refused to use till the malady was grown utterly incurable. One would imagine, this thought would be enough to impress you; but if it do not, let me entreat, and even charge you, to consider.
2. That if you are excluded from the kingdom 205of heaven, you will be consigned over to those regions of darkness, despair, and misery, which God has prepared for those unhappy criminals, who are the objects of his final displeasure, and whom he will render everlasting monuments of his wrath.
There is something in human nature, that starts back at the thought of annihilation with strong reluctance: and yet how many thousands are there in this miserable world, who would with all their souls fly to it as a refuge! They shall seek death, as an inspired writer strongly expresses it, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them. Rev. ix. 6. I will not attempt to enter into a detail of the horrors, attending the place and state, into which all who are excluded from the glories of the heavenly world shall be cast, and in which they shall be fixed. Let that one awful scripture suffice for a specimen of many more; in which we are told, that every one whose name was not found written in the book of life, or who was not registered in the number of those, who were to inhabit the New Jerusalem, or the kingdom of heaven, was cast into the lake of fire, (Rev. xx. 25,) or, as it is afterwards expressed, into the lake that burns with fire and brimstone. Rev. xxi. 8. Think of this, and ask your own hearts, you that are so impatient 206of the little evils of mortal life, whether you can endure to take up your abode forever in devouring fire, or whether you can dwell with everlasting burnings? Isa. xxxiii. 14. Yet these are the images by which the word of God represents it; to be plunged as in a sea of liquid fire, whose flames are exasperated and heightened, by being fed with brimstone; nay, as the prophet speaks, by a copious stream of brimstone, so expressly appointed by God himself, that this, as well as the river of the water of life, is represented as proceeding immediately from him: he has made Tophet deep and large: the pile thereof is fire and much wood, and the breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it. Isa. xxx. 33.
It is painful to a tender mind to think of this, as what its fellow-creatures are obnoxious to: it is grievous to speak of it in these dreadful terms. But who are we, that we should be more merciful than God? Or rather, how can we imagine it is mercy, to avoid speaking of the appointment of infinite wisdom, for the punishment of impenitent sinners? What mercy were that, sirs, to avoid to mention these terrors to you, and to neglect to warn you of them, because they are great? which is indeed the very reason why the scripture thus pathetically describes them.
Away therefore with this foolish, this treacherous 207compassion, which chooses rather to leave men to be consumed, than to disturb their slumbers. Think, sirs, of that wretched man, whom Christ describes as lifting up his eyes in hell, being in torments; seeing the regions of the blessed at an unapproachable distance, and begging in vain that one drop of water might be sent to cool his tongue, amidst all the raging thirst with which he was tormented in this flame. Luke xvi. 23, 24. Regard it attentively; for as God lives, and as your soul lives, if you continue in an unrenewed state, you see in that wretch the very image and representation of yourselves. Yes, sinners, I testify it to you this day, that intolerable as it seems, it will on that supposition be your own certain fate; or to speak much more properly, your righteous, but inevitable doom. Heaven and earth will desert you in that dreadful hour: or if the inhabitants of both were to join to intercede for you, it would be in vain. Sentence will be past, and execution done. Hell will open its mouth to receive you, and shut it again forever to enclose you, with thousands, and ten thousands more, among whom you will not find one to comfort you, but every one ready to afflict you. Then shall you know the value which God sets upon his heavenly kingdom, by the judgments he inflicts upon you for neglecting and despising it; and then shall 208you know the importance of being born again, that only means by which Hell can be avoided, and Heaven secured.
And let me farther add, that conviction will quickly come in this terrible way, if you are not now prevailed upon to consider these things; things which, if you have the least regard to the word of God, you cannot but notionally believe. Do not then go about to annihilate, as it were, these prospects to your mind, by placing them at a long distance. The distance is not so great as to deserve mention. The patience of God will not wait upon you for thousands, or even hundreds of years; you have a few mortal days, in which to consider of the matter; or rather, you have the present moment to consider of it. And if you improve the opportunity, it is well; but if not, the just and uniform methods of the divine administration shall proceed, though it should be to your ruin. God has vindicated the honors of his violated law, and despised Gospel, upon millions, who with the rebel-angels, by whom they have been seduced, are even now reserved in everlasting chains under darkness, unto the judgment of the great day; (Jude, verse 6;) and he will as surely vindicate them upon you. If you do not repent, if you are not regenerate, you shall all 209likewise perish, (Luke xiii. 3,) and not one of you shall escape.
And thus I close this copious and important argument: this argument, in which life and death, salvation and damnation are concerned. View it, my friends, in all its connection, and see in what part of it the chain can be broken. Will you say, that without regeneration you can secure an interest in the kingdom of heaven, though the constitution of heaven oppose it, and all the declarations of God's word stand directly against it; and though nature itself proclaim, and conscience testify your incapacity to enjoy it? Or will you say, that being excluded from it, you shall suffer no considerable damage, though you lose so glorious a state, the noblest preparation of Divine love, the purchase of redeeming blood, and the end of the Spirit's operation on the soul; though you ever remain sensible of your loss, and be consigned over to dwell in that flaming prison, which God has prepared for the devil and his angels, and where all the terrors of his righteous judgment are made known?
But if you are indeed inwardly convinced of the truth and importance of these things, and will go away, and act as before, without any regard to them, I can say no more The reason 210of man, and the word of God can point out no stronger arguments, than an infinite good on the one hand, and an infinite evil on the other.
Hear, therefore, O heavens! and give ear O earth! and let angels and devils join their astonishment; that creatures, who would strenuously contend, and warmly exert themselves, I will not say merely for an earthly kingdom, but in an affair where only a few pounds, or perhaps a few shillings or pence were concerned, are indifferent here, where, by their own confession, a happy or miserable eternity is in question. For indifferent, I fear, some of you are and will continue. I have represented these things in the integrity of my heart, as in the sight of God, not in artful forms of speech, but in the genuine language, which the strong emotions of my own soul, in the views of them, most naturally dictated. Yet I think it not at all improbable, that some of you, and some perhaps who do not now imagine it, will, as soon as you return home, divert your thoughts and discourses to other objects; and may, perhaps, as heretofore, lie down upon your beds without spending one quarter of an hour, or even one serious minute, in lamenting your miserable state before God, and seeking that help and deliverance which his grace alone can give. But if you thus lie down, make, if you can, a covenant 211with death that it may not break in upon your slumbers; and an agreement with hell, (Isa. xxviii. 15,) that before the return of the morning, it may not flash in upon your careless souls another kind of conviction, than they will now receive from the voice of reason and the word of God.212
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