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The certainty of a judgment after this life.
PREACHED AT ST. MARY’S, OXON.
We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.
BESIDES instruction and exhortation, which have never been wanting (at least in this last age) to those of this church, there are but two ways or means more, in the ordinary course of divine Providence, by which the reasonable creature is to be wrought upon; I mean, by which man is either to be taken off from the forbidden evil he is inclined to, or drawn to the commanded good he is averse from; and those two are, the hope of a reward for one, and the fear of punishment for the other; that those who have neither ingenuity nor gratitude, nor will be allured to piety and obedience by the fruition of God’s mercies, may yet, out of a self-love at least, and impatience of suffering, be frighted from disobedience and profaneness by feeling of God’s judgments. And truly, if we of this nation had been so ingenuous and well-natured a people as that the former of these (I mean God’s mercies) would have prevailed with us, we had long since been inwardly the best, as we were outwardly 527the happiest, of all nations. For never was there any people, since the creation of mankind, that enjoyed, for so long time together, so many of God’s mercies of all kinds and degrees, and that with so many aggravating circumstances to improve and endear them to us, as we did, whilst, for almost a century together, God courted us and wooed us, as it were, without interruption or inter mission, by word and deed, by peace and plenty, and by all sorts both of temporal and spiritual expressions of his love, which were possible for a Creator to make to a creature: so that what God said once to the church and nation of the Jews, he might have said unto us not long since, Isaiah v. 4, viz. What could I have done more unto my vineyard? What could I have done more, in love and kindness to the church of England, than I have done? Why should you be used kindly any more? You will revolt more, you will but abuse my goodness, and weary my patience, and turn my grace into wantonness, as much or more hereafter than you have done already. And therefore God having, according to his usual method, first, and so long, tried all fair means to win us and keep us to him, and all in vain, (most of us still growing the worse the better we were used by him,) he was compelled at last, (after many warnings and threatenings to no purpose,) he was compelled, I say, (for he delights not in the affliction of any creature,) to make use of his other, and that which is usually his most effectual, way of working upon man, I mean, the way of his judgments; and that, first, by taking away all his blessings, which we had so long and so unthankfully abused; and secondly, by making us feel, what we would not fear, the power and effects of his wrath, which we had before so often 528and so long provoked and despised; so that the measure of the afflictions we lately suffered, though it will still fall short of the measure of our sins, yet is it correspondent, in many respects, to the measure of that happiness we formerly enjoyed; our peace being turned into war, our plenty into scarcity, our health into sickness, our strength into weakness, our religion into hypocrisy on the one side, and profaneness on the other; and we ourselves, who before had nothing almost to wish for, had, in those times, nothing almost that we could hope for, being then the object of scorn or pity, who were before the object of envy and admiration to all our neighbouring kingdoms. And now one would believe the dismal account of those times, which our own sins brought upon us, should have some good effect on our lives and conversations; one would think, I say, that, if our foreheads were not of brass, our necks iron, and our hearts adamant, we should either have been bended or broken with these sufferings; and that the bitterness of our punishment would by this time have so far exceeded the sweetness of our sins, that we should willingly have quitted the one, upon condition we might have been (as certainly we should have been) delivered from the other. But alas! such is commonly either the blindness of our minds, the hardness of our hearts, or the searedness of our consciences, or rather the spiritual lethargy (as I may so term it) of our souls, that most of us sleep in as great security in the midst of all manner of judgments, as Jonas did in the midst of that storm which his own disobedience had raised. Or if perhaps we are awake with our eyes, yet our hearts, as Nabal’s was, are dead within us. So that to all our other miseries this 529plague, which is the greatest any man can have in this world, is added also; I mean, that seeing, we should not see; and hearing, we should not hear; and understanding, we should not perceive; nay, that even feeling, we should not feel, or at least not feel what most hurts us, or what indeed was, is, and will be, the true and only cause of our sufferings. Whence it comes to pass, that very few of us are, like David, the better, but many thousands of us, like Ahaz, the worse, since we were afflicted; having, like the ground, often drank up both the former and latter rain; the former of God’s mercies, and the latter of his judgments; and yet bring forth nothing but briers and thorns, nothing but hypocrisy and profaneness; and consequently must needs be (as the ground was) nigh unto cursing, and I pray God our end be not burning: For to men so heavily plagued, and yet for all that so incorrigibly wicked, as many of us are, what remains but (as St. Paul tells us) a fearful expectation of judgment? And by judgment he means not any temporal or worldly judgment, but the conclusion, or rather consummation, of all our miseries here, with hell and damnation itself hereafter. And indeed it is the fearful expectation of that future judgment, or nothing, that must work upon obstinate offenders. The truth is, our spiritual lethargy is not curable but by a spiritual fever, and it must be the horror of an awakened and affrighted conscience that must melt and mollify the hardness of our hearts. And therefore have I made choice of this argument to discourse on at this time, as being persuaded that, if any thing at all will humble us, it must be the apprehension of and meditation on the last judgment; and this, I hope, by God’s blessing, may be effectual 530in some measure to this purpose; for surely no man can be so fast asleep in his sins, but the sounding of the last trumpet in his ears may startle him; neither can any man be running so fast or so furiously in the broad way that leadeth to destruction, but the flashing of hell-fire in his face may put him to a stand. And therefore let all profane persons or hypocrites, that live in any known sin or evil course of life, attend with fear and trembling to this most terrible and yet most infallible oracle of the great God. For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.
These words I shall not now consider (as they may be) as matter of consolation to the righteous; but only, upon this occasion, handle them in the severer sense, or that of terror only: and from these words thus considered I shall endeavour, (waving all needless criticisms,)
1st, To convince every man’s conscience that there shall be indeed such an appearance, or such a general trial or doom of all mankind after this life, as is here spoken of.
2dly, I shall try to make clear to every one of our understandings what manner of appearance, or trial, this shall be; as also before whom, and in what form of proceeding, together with the issue, effects, and consequences of it.
3dly and lastly, I will, by way of application, do my best endeavour to work upon every man’s affections, by shewing you how much all men, (of what quality and condition soever they are,) especially the wicked and ungodly, are concerned in it; and consequently 531how much it imports all men, especially such men, to think upon it and prepare for it, that, by a timely repentance, they may prevent the woful effects of it. To begin then with the
First of these general heads, in which I am to convince every man’s conscience that there shall be indeed such an appearance, or such a general trial or doom of all mankind, after this life, as is here spoken of; neither let any man think this purpose unnecessary or superfluous, as if it supposed a doubt, where none was, by making a question of a principle; for though the affirmative of this proposition (viz. that there shall be certainly such a doom or judgment after this life) be, or ought to be, a principle undeniable, indisputable, and consequently unquestionable, amongst such as are truly Christians, yet because, as St. Paul says of the Jews, all are not Jews that are Jews outwardly, so may I say too, that all are not Christians neither that are so outwardly; and because many pretend to be of the church that hardly believe all the articles of her Creed; lastly, because there are some amongst us that do not only live, but talk, as if they thought there were no account to be given of their sayings or doings after this life, or at least as if they either doubted or had forgotten this truth: for the satisfaction of all it is therefore expedient to rescue from disbelief and contempt this fundamental article of our Creed, viz. that Christ shall come again to judge both the quick and the dead. For proof of this proposition against such as deny it, I desire only this fair postulatum, the acknowledgment of that truth, which is ordinarily acquirable by the light of nature herself, viz. that there is a God, or such a power as made us, and observes our 532actions; and granting this conclusion, I question not but to make it appear even to the most profane persons, and that from the dictates of their own reason, together with such notions as they have or may have of the Deity by the light of nature itself, that there shall be a trial or judgment of all men after this life, for the things that all and every one of them have done here. in the flesh, and that,
1st, Because it is very agreeable to the nature of God.
2dly, Because it is also very consonant to the nature of the soul of man.
3dly, Because it is necessary for the manifestation of the divine justice.
4thly, Because the inequality and disproportion between actions and events; merits and rewards, men’s parts and their fortunes here in this life, doth seem to require and exact such a judgment.
5thly, Because there is an inbred notion, or natural instinct and apprehension in all men, that there will be such a judgment.
And 1st, The truth of this doctrine is very applicable to the nature of God; for what can be more agreeable to the nature of the most pure and powerful agent, than to draw and unite unto itself whatsoever is like itself, as likewise to separate and remove from itself whatsoever is unlike itself? Now what is like God, but that which is good? and what unliker him than evil? And what is it to unite the one to himself, but to reward? or to separate and remove the other, but to punish? And yet we see God neither rewards all the good, nor punishes all the wicked in this world: there must be therefore a time hereafter, when both the one and the other 533shall be performed, and that time is what I call the last judgment.
2dly, The truth of this doctrine is very agreeable to the nature of the soul of man, because otherwise the chief agent both in good and evil should have little or no reward for the one, and little or no punishment for the other. For the principal or chief agent in all our actions (whether they be good or bad) is the soul; the body is but an organized instrument, or at most but an accessary in either. And yet all rewards and punishments appointed for good and evil by laws in this life, are bodily and sensual, at least I am sure they are finite, and mortal, and consequently no way suitable or proportionable to the spiritual, immaterial, and immortal nature of the soul. That therefore the chief agent or principal in all actions may have its reward or punishment proportionable and adequate to its own nature, it is necessary that at one time or other there should be an inquisition and judgment, whose effects, whether good or bad, may be spiritual and everlasting. Now if a judgment producing such effects cannot be here in this life, it must therefore necessarily be in another hereafter.
3dly, It is not only requisite, but necessary, that there should be a judgment after this life for the manifestation of the divine justice: for though whatsoever God doth is just, and that because God does it, yet does it not always appear to be so. Now God is not only just in himself, but will appear to be so to others, and will have his justice confessed and acknowledged, at one time or other, by the hearts and consciences of all men. And though the Creator is not obliged to account to the creature for the 534manner how, or the reason why, he doth any thing; yet if he will have the creature convinced of a thing, that it is so or so, he must needs some way or other, or at some time or other, make it appear to the creature that it is so; and therefore I say for this reason it is necessary, that at some time or other there should be a general, a public, and a formal trial, wherein the actions of every particular man should be discovered to all in general, both angels and men; that so the actions being compared with the issue, and the merit balanced with the reward, God might (as the apostle says, Rom. iii. 4.) be justified when he judgeth, whether he absolves or condemns, and that not only by those that stand by, and are but the hearers of it, but even by those themselves that are judged. One of the main ends therefore, (as I humbly conceive,) why God hath appointed a day to judge all the world, (as the apostle speaks, Acts xvii. 31,) is, to give the whole world satisfaction, or to convince men and angels, whether they be good or bad, of the exact and precise integrity and impartiality of the divine justice in all and every one of the acts and effects of it. And hence it is, that this general doom is called in scripture, the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God; or the day wherein God will reveal and make it appear, that all his ways and all his judgments are righteous: though the very being of a God implies holiness and power, and consequently justice, yet the ways and means God makes use of to shew that infinite justice are not always obvious; though we know by his nature it is impossible for him to be unjust, yet are there some things, in which, though we search ever so diligently 535for the manner how they come to pass; yet I am apt to believe them beyond the capacity of human nature, and the measure even of divine revelation on this side the grave; for example, that for the offence of one, condemnation came upon all men, or that all men became liable to eternal wrath, because one man had eaten the forbidden fruit, is what we ought to deem exact truth, as consonant to express scripture; that the misery of all for the sin of one would be a most just punishment, if God should inflict it; but then we may believe likewise, that the reasons of God’s justice in both these particulars are superior to the comprehension of mortality, and not now fathomable. The like may be said in regard of the punishment of finite and temporal sin with infinite and eternal torment; which though it be true, that it shall be so, and consequently just that it should be so; yet I believe it would perplex the wisest man living to give a satisfactory answer (according to our notions of equity and justice) how in equity or justice it can be so. And therefore in regard of these, and such other δυσνόητα, or hard truths as these are, it is, that St. Paul, (though bred at the feet of Gamaliel, and wrapt up into the third heaven, and consequently knowing as much or more of God than ever man did,) cries out, as one overwhelmed in admiration and astonishment, Rom. xi. 33, O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! But at the day of judgment, the reason and equity even of these, and of all other now seeming hard sayings, shall be disclosed to us, that the righteousness of all God’s ways, and the impartiality of his dealings with 536the sons of men, may be so clearly manifested to all, that the very reprobates themselves shall be forced to see and acknowledge their own damnation to be most just, both in regard to the duration and intenseness of it, having not so much as the comfort of an excuse, nor any thing to accuse or complain of, but their own folly and fault for their destruction. And thus you see, in the third place, the necessity of a judgment after this life, for the satisfaction of the world, for the conviction of the wicked, and consequently for the full and perfect manifestation of the divine justice.
4thly, The strange disproportion and unsuitableness betwixt actions and events, merits and rewards, men’s parts and their fortune here in this life, doth seem to exact, as it were, at the hands of a righteous God, that there should be a day of an after-reckoning, to rectify this, which is in appearance so great a disorder and confusion: and to put a real and a visible difference betwixt the evil and the good, the holy and the profane; for now there seems to be none at all, it being long since the observation of one of the wisest of men, Ecclesiastes ix. 2, That all things happen alike unto all: there is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked; to the clean, and to the unclean; to him that sacrificeth, and to him that sacrificeth not: as is the good, so is the sinner; and he that sweareth, as he that feareth an oath. Nay it were well, if it were no worse; but the same wise man tells us, Eccles. viii. 14, that there he just men, to whom it happens according to the work of the wicked; and there he wicked men, to whom it happens according to the work of the righteous: for a just man, says he, 537Eccles. vii. 15, many times perisheth in his righteousness, and a wicked man many times prolongs his life in his wickedness. The self-evident truth of these propositions cannot be questioned by any man (though they were not in holy writ) that sees and observes the dispensation of good and bad things in this life. To conclude; we see that riches, honour, pleasure, and whatsoever the foolish world calls good, they are for the most part and in the greatest measure the portion of the worst of men; whereas poverty, pain, and shame, and whatever else we usually term evil, are for the most part and in the highest degree the lot of the righteous; Dives being a type, as it were, of the one, and Lazarus of the other. There must therefore, in all reason and equity, be another audit, or time of account after this life, to the end that, as Abraham said unto Dives, those that have received good things in this life, and been evil, may be tormented; and those that have received evil things in this life, and been good, may be comforted; for if in this life only good men had hope in Christ, they were (as the apostle tells us, 1 Cor. xv. 19) of all men most miserable. This argument, drawn from the seeming unequal distribution of things here below, I mean the calamity of good men, and the prosperity of bad men in this life, is urged by the elder Pliny, and some few others of the heathen moralists, to prove the nonexistence of a God: for if, say they, there be a God, he must needs be just and good; and if he be just and good, he would not, he could not suffer good men to be unrewarded, and evil men unpunished; much less could he or would he endure, that evil men should thrive in and by their wicked 538courses, and good men fare the worse for their goodness, as in common experience we see they do. And truly if my conclusion concerning the certainty of a judgment to come after this life were not true, this argument of theirs would shrewdly shake the first article and foundation of all our creed, viz. the being of a God. But supposing such a judgment to come, wherein all good men shall finally and fully be rewarded, and all wicked men finally and fully punished, we do at once vindicate the power, the wisdom, the providence, the justice, and consequently the very being and essence of God, from all blasphemy and contradiction, notwithstanding any disproportion or incongruity whatever, that is or seems to be between actions and events, merits and rewards, men’s parts and their fortunes, here in this life. And this is the fourth reason, why, granting there is a God, we must necessarily grant likewise, that there shall be a day of judgment.
5thly, The last reason I shall make use of, to necessitate the evidence and enforce the truth of the doctrine of a future judgment, is that inborn and inbred notion and apprehension, which all men have by nature, that there is such a thing, together with the general expectation of all men, that there will be such a thing: and this reason, how slight soever it may appear to others, to me it seems (what I hope I shall make it seem to you also) most effectual and convincing; for whatsoever it is that all men think will be, without doubt it shall be, because whatsoever all men agree in, is the voice of nature itself, and consequently must be true: for the dictates of nature are stronger than the probats of reason, I mean of reason not abstracted, but as it 539is in us mortals; and therefore of all other arguments, that which is drawn from natural impression and instinct is most forcible and concluding, and the knowledge arising from such impression or instinct, though it be not so full and perfect, yet it is more certain and infallible than any other knowledge whatsoever, arising from a man’s own fallible discourse and reasoning. I confess indeed that knowledge, the produce of instinct and natural impression only, is not so full, so perfect, nor perhaps so properly termed knowledge, (because the word scire properly denotes per causas scire,) as that which is concluded by demonstration, or drawn from an evident connection of one thing with another, or a consequence of one thing from another; because when a man knows any thing by natural impression or instinct only, he knows not the reasons of what he knows; he knows ὅτι ἔστι, that there is such a thing, but not διότι ἔστι, why it is; no, nor perhaps τὶ ἔστι, what it is; I mean not what it is in the exact or distinct nature of it neither; and yet for all that, this knowledge is (as far as it reaches) more certain and infallible than any conclusion drawn from our own reasoning and discourse can be. 1st, Because this inbred notion, or this knowledge which we have of any thing by natural impression or instinct, is not (as all other human or acquired knowledge is) a conclusion made by us from our own discourse and judgment, which is always fallible, or subject unto error; but it is a conclusion made in us by nature, or rather by the God of nature himself, who can neither deceive nor be deceived; and therefore whatsoever we know in this manner, must needs be certain.540
2dly, Because if the knowledge we have by our instinct were not certain or infallible, this received, and as yet undoubted maxim both in natural philosophy and divinity, viz. That God and nature do nothing in vain, would not be true: for if that were not so indeed, which all men in general, and every man in particular is naturally inclined to believe to be so; then that natural impression or instinct, whereby they are inclined to think so, should be planted in them to no purpose; the affirmation of which is not only a reproach in nature, but a blasphemy against God himself; because indeed that which we call nature is but God’s ordinary method of working in and by the creature.
3dly, That the knowledge which is an effect of natural impression or instinct is indeed certain and infallible, will easily and clearly appear, if we but consider those creatures who have not the use of reason, or of instruction, of revelation, of tradition, or of any other means of knowledge, (excepting that of sense) but this of instinct or natural impression only; and yet we see, that those irrational creatures have their knowledge more immediately, more certainly, and more infallibly, than any man’s deductions from his own discourse and reason. For instance, who amongst us is there that doth or can know his enemy (after the clearest discovery he can make of him) so certainly, or avoid him so suddenly, as the lark doth the hobby at the first sight? What sick man, nay, what physician, knows his own disease, and the remedy for it so exactly, as the dog knows his vomit, and that which will procure it? What husbandman knows his seasons more exactly, or observes them more duly or punctually, than the 541stork, the crane, and the swallow? Lastly, (pardon the lowness of the similitude,) what landlord or what tenant foresees the ruin of his own house so certainly, or avoids it so seasonably, as the vermin his inmates? And yet the lark never studied Machiavel, nor the dog Hippocrates, neither were the stork, the crane, or the swallow ever taught by natural philosophy to distinguish seasons; nor the vermin by judicial astrology to foresee casual and contingent events: but it has pleased the all-wise and gracious Creator to supply the defects of reason in these poor helpless animals, with a knowledge which, though it be not so large and perfect, yet it is more certain and infallible, especially in those things that are necessary for the preservation of their existence and species, than any knowledge attainable by men, by disquisition or speculation, because (as I said before) it is a knowledge not gotten by, but infused in them by God and nature, who cannot err; and such a knowledge as this (I mean for the kind of it) is that which all men have of a judgment to come, or of something to be suffered by evil doers after this life; a knowledge, I say, which is planted in them, and not learned by them, but originally in every man, and universally in all men; and whatsoever is so, must needs be taught them by God and nature, and consequently cannot be erroneous or uncertain. It is true indeed, that some particular men, or some particular sort or sect of men, may believe and maintain false and foolish opinions, such as have neither solidity of truth in them, nor reality of object without them: but then such opinions as these had their creation and production at first from some one man’s fancy, and from thence derived 542by education and tradition, may afterwards infect many; and thus the opinion and practice of idolatry, or the worship of more gods than one, came into the world, and spread itself over most part of mankind, for it was not so from the beginning. But the dictates and impressions of nature do very much differ from conceits or imaginations of fancy, and from traditional errors of custom and education; in the first place, because the dictates and impressions of nature are not only general in most men, but universal in all men; whereas conceits of fancy, and traditional errors of custom or education, flowing from thence, though they may be, and often are consented to, and believed by many, yet none of them ever were or ever will be consented to and believed by all. Thus were the philosophers of old, and thus are the Christians at this day divided into their several sects and heresies.
2dly, The dictates and impressions of nature, as they are universally in all men, so are they originally in every man without teaching. And hence it is that St. Paul tells us, Rom. ii. 14, that the Gentiles that had not the law, (he means that were never taught the law as the Jews were,) had yet notwithstanding that very law in regard to the fundamental notions of piety, justice, and sobriety, written in all and every one of their hearts by nature itself, and together with the law, by necessary consequence, a belief and expectation of a reward for good and punishment for evil after this life; as appears by their consciences accusing and excusing them, even for those things which were not punishable or rewardable, nor perhaps discernible by any but themselves here in this world. Whence it follows, 543that those notions of law and suggestions of conscience (which St. Paul tells us were in all the Gentiles without teaching) must needs be dictates and impressions of a simple and uncorrupted nature.
3dly, The dictates and impressions of nature, (in quantum et quatenus,) or as far as they are merely from nature, receive neither addition nor diminution (as they may do either) from other principles: as they are universally in all men without exception, and originally in every man without instruction, so are they equally and alike in all men without distinction, in the Gentile as well as in the Jew, in the Barbarian as well as in the Greek, in the Pagan as well as in the Christian, and in those that have no learning, as well as in those that have; whereas opinion, arising from conceit of fancy, and knowledge, which is the product of human reason, and faith itself, which is an effect of and assent to divine revelation, are all of them stronger or weaker, more or less in their several subjects, according to the strength, measure, and working of the several principles from whence they flow. And consequently they are none of them equal in all men, nor any one of them equally at all times in those that have them: but the other natural, impressive knowledge is quite contrary; such a knowledge as this is that apprehension which all men have or would have (if their natural impressions were not defaced in them) of a judgment to come, or of a reward for the good, and a punishment for the wicked after this life; for never was there any good man but hoped for it, or any wicked man but at some time or other was afraid of it. In a word, there was never in any age in the world, either nation in general, or any one 544man in particular, that owned the being of a God, but he acknowledged a judgment to come also; although the notion they perhaps had of it was but in a confused and imperfect manner; as appears by those Elysian fields, or places of rest and happiness for the good, and Phlegethon and Cocytus, those black and burning lakes of fire and brimstone, the places of torment for the wicked, after this life; which the poets or heathen divines speak of, as the general and received opinion of all mankind, together with Minos, Rhadamanthus, and Æacus, which were to be the judges; Alecto, Megara, and Tisiphone, the fiends or furies which were to be the tormentors of the damned. This, I say, was the general and the constant doctrine and opinion of the heathen, which was registered, but not invented by the poets; being indeed in substance the same which we Christians are now taught more perfectly by divine revelation, but was always instilled by nature itself, though more obscurely and imperfectly, into all mankind. Nay, those very men themselves, who both by their words and actions would make others believe that they believed no God, do many times shake and tremble upon the apprehension and expectation of some terrible thing or other that is to come; so that whilst they deny a judge with their mouths, they acknowledge a judgment in their hearts. And indeed bad men are not always so bold as they would seem to be, nor so little afraid of God as they would have the world think they are. For of all men, these atheists, that would be, whenever they are in any great extremity or danger, have the poorest, the basest, and the most dejected spirits. Give me a man of the coldest and softest 545constitution, and let him be but innocent, and he shall look death (I mean a present, an evident, a deliberate, and an unavoidable death) with more courage and bravery in the face, than a man of the most fiery temper and most exalted spirit, if he be a villain, or guilty of any horrid or heinous crime. And what is or can be the reason of this, but that one is secure, and the other is afraid of some terrible thing after death, which can be no other but that general doom or judgment we now speak of, the harbinger or forerunner whereof hath taken up his lodging in the breasts and bosoms of all men; and that is conscience, which hath always (unless it be asleep, or seared, as St. Paul calls it, with an hot iron) one of its eyes upon sin here, and the other upon punishment hereafter; which whosoever tells me he does not believe, he must pardon me, if I tell him again, that I do not believe him; for it is impossible that those inborn characters, that handwriting of God and nature, I mean that innate impression or instinct which all men have of a future reward or punishment, should be utterly blotted out of any man; forgotten perhaps, or not thought upon, or defaced, it may be, but absolutely lost and annihilated it cannot be: and therefore if there be any man afraid or loath to own this truth, he betrays a secret belief of it by his fears; or if he do not now, he will do so at some time or other hereafter. But against this which has been said it may be objected, that if the belief of a judgment to come were, as I affirm it to be, an effect of natural impression or instinct, then it would be universally equal in all, and consequently equal in every one of the same kind; for we see, say they, that all larks are equally afraid of the hobby, 546and every particular lark as much at one time as at another. Besides, it is apparent, that all men do not equally believe this truth; nay, it is to be feared, that some men do not believe it at all; and of those who do, some believe it at one time more, and less at another. And therefore that this belief of a judgment to come (in whomsoever it is) is the effect of some other cause, and not of natural impression or instinct. To this objection I answer, that it is true indeed, that all inbred and inborn impressions or instincts are universally and constantly equal in all particulars of the same kind; and always continue to be so in those creatures which are not capable of either infection from without or corruption from within. And such are all living creatures, besides man; which neither sway the rule of nature, nor are swerved from it, but are always constantly and equally guided by it, as having no other principle from without to corrupt or control it. But with men it is far otherwise; for in them those notions of nature that are born with them may and do receive augmentation or diminution, alteration or corruption from some other principles either without us or within us. For instance, those inborn notions, that there is a God, that there will be a reward for those that live well, and a punishment for those that live ill, and that we should do unto others as we would have others do unto us, and the like, may and do receive augmentation from divine revelation, and from right reason, and from a good, either religious or moral education and conversation; so that what was imprinted in us by nature may be and is improved and confirmed in us by other principles; and therefore I will not deny, but a Christian may have 547a more constant and more confirmed and more perfect knowledge both of a God and of a judgment to come, and of that fundamental equity which ought to be betwixt one man and another, than he that hath no knowledge of these and the like things, but by the light of nature only. And by the same reason one Christian may have a more constant, distinct, and perfect knowledge of the same truths than another Christian, according as the one may be more or less enlightened by those higher principles than the other, or may make a better or a worse use of them. Again: as the knowledge we have by instinct may be augmented and improved, confirmed and perfected; so it may be lessened and weakened, defaced and corrupted; nay, and for a time so obscured, as it may seem both to ourselves and others to be quite extinguished, and that either by our own depraved reason, together with our perverse will and affections from within us, or by an evil education, or a worse conversation from without us, which many times infuse such opinions (both concerning God and ourselves) into us, as are quite contrary to and destructive of our first notions; and yet because they are more suitable to our perverse will and affections, they are frequently received and defended by our depraved reason against the light of nature itself. As a man may easily perceive, that will but read attentively the first and second chapters of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, where the apostle having laid it down for an undoubted conclusion, that the law, (he means the moral law,) or the fundamental notions of our duty towards God and man, was written by nature in the heart of all the Gentiles, and has proved it to be so, 548because their consciences did justify them when they did well, and accuse them when they did ill; yet he affirms likewise, that this very law (though written in their hearts by nature) was so obscured, and almost quite erased from their judgment, by their more perverse wills and affections, that as they worshipped beasts for God, so they made beasts of themselves, and behaved themselves worse than beasts to one another. This behaviour does no way invalidate the forcibleness of this argument, but rather intimates a deep stupefaction by a long, inveterate habit of ill, fallen on their minds. So that, to conclude this point, there may be and is a natural knowledge in all men of a future judgment, as well as the existence of a God; though in some perhaps the impression of either of these truths is not always active or operative; for we see that some men are grown to such a habit of sensuality, or brutality, that they do nothing almost according to reason; and yet I hope that no man will from thence conclude, that such men are not reasonable creatures, or that they have no such natural principle or faculty as reason at all in them. And let this suffice for our conviction in point of judgment or conscience, that there shall be a day of judgment after this life; which was my first general. I am therefore now, in the
Second place, to inquire (as far as the light of divine revelation will enable me) what manner of thing this judgment or last doom will be. Know then, that the great appearance, trial, or judgment which my text speaks of, is the general or grand assize of the whole world, held in a heavenly high court of justice by our Saviour, to hear, examine, and finally 549determine, of all thoughts, words, and actions, that ever were thought, spoken, or committed, together with the causes, occasions, circumstances, and consequences of all and every one of them, and accordingly to pronounce an irrevocable sentence either of absolution or condemnation upon all men. In which solemn description you have,
1st, The Judge.
2dly, The parties to be judged.
3dly, The things controverted, or for what they shall be judged.
4thly, The form of this trial, or the manner of proceeding that shall be held in it.
5thly and lastly, The sentence itself, with the issue and execution of it.
First, then, for the judge at this general and grand assize; he must, as my text tells you, be Christ: For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; God and man, in his two capacities of Godhead and manhood connected; for as he was our redeemer, so he is to be our judge in both his natures: he must in the first place be our judge, as he is God; because none but God has jurisdiction over all the parties that are to be tried at that judgment, which are angels as well as men, princes as well as subjects, and the greatest peers as well as the meanest peasants. Now though one creature may have jurisdiction over another, nay over many other creatures, yet no one has or can have authority over all his fellows, this being a royalty or prerogative of the Creator himself only. Again: Christ must be judge, as he is God, because none but Omniscience can discern the main and principal things that shall be there called in question, which are not words and 550actions only, but the hearts, consciences, thoughts, purposes, and intentions of all men. Lastly: Christ must be judge, as he is God, because none but God can give life and execution to the sentence as pronounced then, whether of absolution or condemnation; for none else can render the creature infinitely and eternally happy, which is the execution of one of the sentences; or on the other side, render the other part of the sentence of infinite and everlasting misery effectual, but God only: and therefore the judge at that trial must necessarily be God, and consequently this very act or office of Christ, the execution of justice in this judgment, is an irrefragable argument of his godhead. But though God only is or can be our judge at that great tribunal, yet nevertheless he must not be God only, but man likewise; and that first in regard of the judgment itself, to manifest the equity, the indiscriminateness, and the impartiality of it; which might be perhaps doubted of, if the judge were either God or man only. For if he were only God, he would be the party offended; and if only man, the person offending: and a judgment, though really never so just, may be, or seem to be, suspected to be otherwise, when either of the parties concerned is judge; whereas Christ, being God as well as man, and man as well as God, must needs be acknowledged to be an equal, an indifferent and impartial judge betwixt God and man, as being equally allied unto them both. Again: Christ must be judge as he is man, in regard to the parties triable at that day, whether they be sheep or goats; I mean, whether they be the just that are to be absolved, or the wicked that are to be condemned. For among the just there is 551none so good but he might fairly be afraid to appear at that judgment, if the same person were not our Saviour who is to be our judge, who if he brought not to the bench with him the pity and compassion of a man, as well as the power and justice of a God; nay, if God at that trial did not look upon us through himself as man, and beholding the merits in his own person, impute them to us, not one of all mankind could be saved. He is to be judge as man therefore, that the just to be absolved may not fear to appear before him: and he must be judge as man too, that the condemned wicked may have no cause of complaint, how severe usage soever they find from him. For how can even the damned themselves murmur, repine, or except against the judgment, where the trial (as I shall shew you presently) is by the evidence of their own conscience, and their condemnation pronounced by that judge, who laid down his life to save sinners, and consequently cannot possibly be imagined to condemn any but such as would not be saved by him. Lastly: Christ must be judge, as he is man, in regard of all mankind, or in regard of humanity itself; I mean for the dignifying and exalting of human nature: that as the nature of man was debased, and brought down to the lowest degree of meanness in the person of our Saviour, in his birth, life, and at his death; so the same nature, in the same person, might be exalted and raised up to so high a degree of power, majesty, and honour, that not only men that had despised him, and devils that had tempted him, but even the blessed and glorious angels themselves, whose comfort and assistance he once stood in need of, should fall down, and tremble at his presence. 552And thus much for the judge at this awful trial.
The second thing considerable in the description I gave you of this judgment are the parties to be judged; and those, briefly, (to speak nothing of the evil angels, who are then also to receive their full and final doom,) are all persons, of all sorts, qualities, conditions, and professions, young and old, rich and poor, high and low, one with another. For at this bar, princes have no prerogatives, the nobles have no privileges, nor the clergy exemptions and immunities, nor the lawyer any more favour than his client; the rich shall neither be regarded for their bags, nor the poor pitied for his poverty; but all indifferently shall have the same judge and the same trial, the same evidence and the same witness; and if their cases be alike, (how different soever their persons or estates may be here,) their fate shall there be the same: and thus much for the parties to be judged.
The next thing is, thirdly, the matters that shall be questioned at that trial; and those are not our actions only, but our words also, and not only our words, but our thoughts too, and not only our thoughts, but our very inclinations or dispositions themselves likewise; together with the place, time, occasion, intention, and end, for which every thing was done, thought, or spoken, and that from the first birth or instant of time, to the very last periodical minute of it.
And then, fourthly, for the manner of proceeding, there will be no occasion for examination of witnesses or reading depositions; there will be no allegata or probata; for every man shall be indicted and arraigned, cast or acquitted, condemned or absolved, by the testimony of his own conscience, which shall 553readily, though never so unwillingly, assent to whatever the Judge shall charge it with, whether it be good or evil; whether it be for him or against him. The book of life shall be opened, wherein is registered and recorded whatever good or evil, at any time, from the beginning of the world till the end of it, has been done, spoken, consented to, or imagined by any or all mankind: and what is more wonderful, this is written in such a character, that all men (of what nation or language soever) must needs understand and acknowledge the truth of it; this book being nothing else but the counterpart (as it were) of every man’s conscience, which God keeps by him as an undeniable evidence to convince all men with at the last judgment.
In which I shall now consider the fifth and last thing proposed to this description, viz. the sentence itself, (whether of absolution or condemnation,) the form of both which is judicially set down by Christ himself, (Matth. xxv. 34.) That of absolution in these terms; Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: but of this sentence the present occasion of our humiliation will not permit me to speak, as too triumphant a topic for this day. That other sentence, therefore, (the sad but seasonable object of our present meditation,) you may find in the 41st verse of the same chapter, in these words; Depart ye cursed into everlasting fire, prepared for the Devil and his angels. A dismal and woful sentence, my beloved, a sentence carrying hell and horror in the very sound of it; whilst every syllable does, as it were, stab the soul, and every word bring with it a new death (if I may so say without a paradox) to those 554that can never die. Have we any of us ever been present, when the sentence but of a bodily death has been pronounced upon a prisoner at the bar? and may not we observe what horror and amazement does instantly seize the poor wretch, what a deadly paleness covers his face, what a ghastly distraction rises in his countenance, what a faltering in his speech, what a trembling in his joints, what a cold sweat over his whole body? and yet all these were but weak and faint expressions of what his soul suffered. If any of us, who have seen and observed all this, had but once felt in ourselves what we have seen in others; then perhaps we might guess, and yet but guess, at the fear and trembling, the horror and amazement, which will not only seize and lay hold upon, but devour and swallow up the soul of man, upon the hearing of that dreadful knell, that direful and fatal sentence, which will at once both pronounce, and make him unspeakably, unconceivably, irrecoverably, and everlastingly miserable. But why do I compare things together so infinitely disproportionate, as temporal with eternal, corporeal with spiritual, the death of the body alone, with the death of soul and body too, or the benches of men with the tribunal of God? No, my beloved, if the sentence of that Judge were like those of ours here, it would be well for the greatest part of mankind; for then perhaps it might either be appealed from, or reversed; or if neither, yet at worst it might be endured, without their being utterly and for ever undone by it. Here on earth, perhaps, appeals may be lodged, and carried from one place to another, from an inferior to a superior authority. But at the last day, to whom shall we appeal from God our sovereign and supreme 555judge? Or what higher court of judicature is there than that of heaven?
Lastly: when our Advocate himself condemns us, who will be so compassionate, or dare be so impudent as to plead for us? When, therefore, this sentence is once pronounced, there is no more hope left either of reprieve or pardon; of ease or intermission, of alteration or ending; but (which is the misery of miseries) that torment which is intolerable for a moment, must last for ever: a word that must vex and rack the understanding, puzzle and weary the imagination, distract and confound all the powers and faculties of the soul. What pain is there, or can there be so little, as man could be content on any consideration to endure for ever? What man amongst us is there so poor or so covetous, as that he would be hired, or so stout or so patient, (if he were hired,) that he could endure but the aching of one tooth in extremity, if he hoped for no end of his pain? And yet the toothache, the gout, the stone, and the strangury, the rack, and the wheel, with the rest of our natural diseases or inventions of cruel ingenuity, are but as so many fleabitings, or inconsiderable trifles, compared with the torments of the damned. All pains here are either tolerable, or not durable; either we may suffer them, or at least shall sink under them. But there, there I say, in hell, is acuteness of sense with acuteness of torment, extremity of pain and extremity of feeling, insupportable anguish, and yet ability to bear it, where the fire always burns, and yet consumes not, where fuel is still devoured, and yet it wastes not; where, if a man had a world of earth, he would give it all for one drop of water, and yet the whole ocean would not cool him; where there 556is perpetual darkness, without rest, continual night, void of sleep: and (to conclude what never shall be concluded indeed) where there is always distraction without madness, dying without death, misery without pity, and wishing without hope. Such things as these can hardly be thought of, much less dwelt on without the greatest horror. If St. Paul, a prisoner at the bar, discoursing on this argument, could make an insulting Felix tremble; how much greater fear ought they to have, who living in any known breach of God’s commands, or open sin unrepented of, are therefore much more concerned in that future judgment than Felix could be! He, you know, was a heathen, but we are Christians; and you may be assured the least Christian sinner is greater than the greatest among the heathens: because they can sin but against the light of nature, and their own reason only; whereas wicked Christians sin not only against the light of nature and reason, but against divine revelation in the known precepts of the law, and those plainer ones of the gospel also; at once most desperately slighting the terrible threats of the one, and most profanely despising the gracious offers of the other. So that if the honour either of God’s mercy or of his justice be dear unto him, it must necessarily be easier, not only for Felix, that never heard of Christ, but even for Pontius Pilate himself, who condemned him, than it will be for any wicked, impenitent Christian at the day of judgment. And therefore for application of all unto ourselves, let us now, (according to my third and last general,) endeavour to be informed how far we ourselves are like to be concerned in the future judgment, taken (as I have taken it all this while) in the worst sense, and 557consequently how we ought to think of and prepare for it. Well then, if there be indeed such a judgment to come, as I hope I have fairly proved, we may from thence conclude, 1st, That the greatest pretenders to wisdom in this world are not the wisest men; I mean those great Ahithophels, those subtle steersmen of states and kingdoms, those deep politicians, and civil oracles, (as it were,) of courts and councils, who think this doctrine of a future judgment, as well as most of the other mysteries of the Christian religion, to be indeed nothing else but reasons of state, or the politic devices and inventions of the wiser sort of men, (they mean such as they themselves are,) to keep the weaker judgments and stronger passions in the greatest awe, and so to make them the more pliable and conformable to the laws and commands of men. So that the end of all religion is (as these political Christians suppose) terminated in this life; and that whatsoever foolish bookworms may talk of after this life, whether it be the resurrection of the body, or the appearance of both body and soul in another place, with the eternal existence of them both in extremity either of pain or pleasure, with whatsoever else our Christian faith obliges us to believe, in order to another life, they are but so many bugbears to fright children withal. Or at best, (in those men’s opinion,) they are but the vain speculations of idle and curious wits, or the issue and product of melancholy brains, and fitter for the exercise of men’s disputative faculties in the schools, than for the object of a wise man’s hopes or fears in any of his actions, as having indeed nothing of solid truth or reality in them. But how miserably mistaken and shamefully deceived will these giant-wits, these mighty 558Solomons, (as they are now thought,) then find themselves to be, when awakened by the sudden, the general, and fearful alarm of the last trumpet out of that sleep, which they well hoped would have been endless, they shall see themselves (to their inexpressible horror and amazement) first summoned and haled to judgment, and afterwards hurried and dragged away by stranger and subtler spirits than themselves, to torment and execution; where their senses will quickly convince their intellects, that what they formerly supposed but a chimera, an idle speculation, or at best but a politic invention, is indeed a sad, a serious, and severe truth. Neither will it be the least part of these men’s hell, that they shall eternally reproach themselves with folly, after so exalted an opinion of their own wisdom. To proceed, again, in the second place: all other hypocrites, as well as atheistical statesmen, are fools also; I say all other hypocrites, because indeed these Christian politicians, or politic Christians I just now mentioned, are a sort of hypocrites, viz. moral or civil hypocrites, (as I may so call them,) because they seem to believe what they do not, and enjoin others what they care not for themselves; I mean the belief of Christian doctrines and duties, and that for a moral and civil respect or end only; to wit, in order to the preservation of public peace and welfare in the state; which certainly were a very good end, if it were not their only end in so doing. But the other hypocrites I now speak of are religious hypocrites, and not so called because they are more religious than the other, but because they are such hypocrites as to pretend religion for their main end, though indeed they intend and use it only as a 559means to advance and compass, not the public, but their own particular designs by it, (whether they be honest or dishonest,) and that often to the prejudice of the public interest both of church and state; nay sometimes, (as in our late intestine broils,) to the apparent ruin or hazard of them both. And therefore this kind of hypocrites, as they are much more wicked and mischievous here in this world, so (supposing a future reckoning) they will be far more miserable in another state, than those hypocrites or atheists lately mentioned. Indeed, if God was as easily to be deceived as men are, with false, specious shews and pretences; or if these hypocrites could hope to work upon God, as they once did upon the populace, by false words and flattering insinuations; or, lastly, if they could make God (as they would fain have made the king) believe, that the demolishing of his palaces, the robbing him of his revenues, the persecuting of his ministers by their false interpreting and misapplying of his word, nay, and by driving himself (as much as in them lies) out of his own kingdom, the church; if they can, I say, when they come to appear before the judgment seat of Christ, make him believe that these and all other things they have done of the like kind, were all of them done in order to his service, and with an intention to make him a much more glorious God than he was before; then let them be thought as wise as they would seem religious: nay, let them name their own places and preferments in heaven, as they did here on earth in the time of their usurpation; for certainly no preferment can hardly be adequate to such transcendent spirits and undertakings. And yet all this would be no difficult 560matter for them to bring to pass; if either, in the first place, they might always be owned as the highest and supreme judicatory; that is, if they might be hereafter, as they will needs be here, their own judges: or, secondly, if they may not be their own judges, or absolved by their own votes, yet if they might at least be but tried (as they think it very equitable they should be) by their own ordinances, that is, by laws and rules of their own composure, without and contrary to the consent of the supreme legislator: or, lastly, if at that great assize they can neither be their own judges, nor be tried by their own ordinances, yet at least if they may but have their own preachers or advocates, (who pleaded so powerfully for them to the people,) to plead for them likewise before God; and withal, if those advocates of theirs may but be allowed to interpret that sentence which shall then be pronounced, with the same assurance and falsity as they have interpreted others of holy writ; neither they themselves, nor any of their party, will run any great hazard. For then (I mean if their scribes and pharisees, if their doctors of the law and interpreters of the gospel, may be believed) the meaning of Go ye cursed shall be the contrary, Come ye blessed; and on the contrary the blessing shall tacitly imply only a curse; as if that which was spoken to those on the left hand was meant to those on the right; and the words directed to those on the right intended for those on the left hand: it being the usual interpretation of those doctors to make the sense of God’s word (how opposite soever to the letter of it) to be always in favour of themselves, and to condemn their foes; who because they are enemies to 561the good old cause, must needs be esteemed God’s also. But whether this supposition be true or false, (with all other controversies betwixt us and them,) they will be fully, finally, and impartially determined, when they and we shall appear before the judgment seat of Christ; For we shall all appear, says my text; that is, we shall not only be there, but be present every one of us in his proper shape and likeness: no disguising of persons, no palliating of actions, no concealing of purposes, no dissembling of intentions at all there: For we must all appear, says my text, γυμνοὶ καὶ τετραχηλισμένοι, (as the same apostle says in another place,) naked and barefaced, and laid, as it were, flat upon our backs, not before a close or a grand committee of ignorant and partial men, who may deceive and be deceived, but before Christ, the most exact searcher and infallible discerner of all hearts; and before Christ attended on by all the holy angels and blessed saints, amongst whom, to their greater confusion, hypocrites shall perhaps see some sitting at Christ’s right hand, whom they have formerly condemned and executed as malignants and delinquents. And amongst these, I doubt not but they will see him whom they have pierced, (I mean not Christ God, but God’s Christ, or God’s anointed,) that blessed saint and martyr their own sovereign, whom they so inhumanly and barbarously murdered; and whom though they would not look upon as an object either of reverence or pity here, they shall, though unwillingly, behold him as an object of horror and confusion there: an object which, next unto hell itself, shall be most dreadful and terrible unto them, whilst his wounds, bleeding afresh at the sight of his murderers, 562shall at once upbraid, accuse, and condemn them. Howsoever, I am sure they must appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that Christ who is truth itself, and in whose mouth there was no guile, and therefore he cannot choose but abhor an hypocrite beyond all sinners: that Christ, who would not have his own life defended against the unjust violence of the lawful magistrate, and therefore cannot endure a rebellious hypocrite, of all hypocrites, nor a rebel upon a false pretence of religion, of all rebels. Lastly, before that Christ that knows well enough that his name and his worship, his word and his sacraments, prayer, fasting, and the rest of his sacred ordinances were only made a stale by the hypocrites of those times, to conceal, to make way for, and to compass their own covetous, malicious, or ambitious ends: and consequently whilst they bragged of setting him upon his throne, they placed a reed in his hand instead of a sceptre, and crowned him in jest, whilst they crucified him in earnest, and what is this, but to mock Christ himself as well as the world here? And therefore they themselves shall be mocked by Christ before all the world hereafter: for as they have most unjustly made many innocent and upright men spectacles to men and angels here in this life, so shall they, unless a repentance followed, be made a spectacle to men and angels in the life to come, being first put to open shame by having their mask of piety plucked off, and consequently all the rottenness of their hearts and villainy of their designs made evident and apparent, and afterwards a double portion of the most exquisite torments that hell can afford shall be given to them; one moiety for their sins, and another for 563their hypocrisy; one for their great presumption in their daring to mock God, and another for their far greater impudence in pretending to honour and serve, whilst they did but mock him. This, I say, shall be the portion of the hypocrite at the day of judgment, which appears to be a very bitter one by that of our Saviour, Matth. xxiv. 51, where it seems, a greater punishment cannot be threatened or given than a portion with the hypocrite; and yet even from thence we may collect, that some sinners who are not hypocrites, yet are equally bad, otherwise they would not have their portion assigned with them; and those are such, who are so far from hypocrisy, that they do not nor will not so much as pretend to be religious; I mean those that call themselves Christians, and yet are worse than the worst of pagans, such as sin with a high hand, those impudently presumptuous and profane persons, that are so far from concealing or disguising any of their lewd courses or practices, though never so sinful and shameful, that they not only own and avow them, but value themselves for them, as if to be a witty scoffer, a bold blasphemer, a strong drinker, a notorious fornicator or adulterer, and a desperate contemner of all divine and human laws, were the necessary ingredients towards the composition of a gallant man, and consequently, as if it were impossible to be a gallant man and a good Christian; nay, as if it were not possible to be a gallant man, and to be a man, that is, a rational creature, without being metamorphosed and transformed into a swine, a goat, or some such brutish creature, by giving up a man’s self to all manner of beastly lusts, with as much liberty, and as little shame or remorse, as 564beasts themselves do: as if God had given men reason, not to govern and restrain, but to stir up and be subservient to their sensual appetite; and what is all this, but to do what is in a man’s own power to unman himself, and turn a rebel, not against divinity and religion, but against humanity and nature itself also? And now though this, one would think, were as bad as could be, yet it were to be wished that some were not worse; by not worse, I mean, that they would be content and satisfied to walk alone by themselves in the ways and works of darkness, without making it their business (as we see they do) to draw as many others as they can down into hell with them, like the companions of Ulysses, who having drunk of Circe’s enchanted cup themselves, and thereby become beasts, afterwards made use of all the beastly inducements they could to prove the preference of that to man’s life, and so persuade their other fellows to drink of the same cup, and partake of a like fate with them. And what is this but to play the Devil’s part, or to be the prince of darkness’s agents or factors here in this world? For as the Devil himself is called Διάβολος, or the tempter, because it is his business, delight, and study to tempt others; so all that are tempters of others into sin may, by the same reason, be called devils; I am sure they do the Devil’s work, and shall have (unless they repent) the Devil’s wages for it. For if those that turn other men unto righteousness (as the prophet says) shine like stars, or have a much greater degree of glory in heaven than other good men, who have not been so zealous or industrious to convert others; by the same reason, those who tempt other men into sin shall have a much greater degree 565of torment in hell than other wicked men, who have not been so malicious or contagious in corrupting and infecting those who have conversed with them; which is an effect of the most diabolical spirit that any man whilst on this side the grave can possibly be possessed or endued withal. But whence, I wonder, is this courage against God? Or what is it makes some men so bold and confident, not only by being as wicked as they can themselves, but by endeavouring to make others their proselytes? Is it because they never think of any thing at all beyond the present? If so, they are no wiser than the brute beasts. Or is it because they think of nothing beyond death? And, of death too, perhaps, in the most gentle and comfortable notion; I mean, as death is a rest from all labours, a cure of all diseases, an asylum from all enemies, and generally, as it is an end of all worldly troubles, and a deliverance from all earthly calamities and vexations? Truly, I must confess, to have such a notion of death as this is, is no pleasant meditation, especially when we are ready to sink under any severe difficulties or troubles. But, alas! my beloved brethren, death is to be thought upon by Christians, not only as it is the end of one life, but as the commencement of another, which for better or worse must last for ever. Nay, death is to be thought upon by wicked Christians, not as the beginning of another life, but as the entrance or passage unto another death; where men shall be dead to all pleasure, to all joy, to all comfort, to all hope; this shall be their deathless life, or a lifeless death; they shall be however alive to pain, alive to shame and horror of conscience, and (which is worst of all) 566living to despair of ever attaining any end or ease of those torments. And now I would fain know, whether any the most profligate person has courage enough to think of such a death as this without fear, or the confidence to expect it without trembling? Let us therefore consider it, and you especially, whoever you are, must consider it seriously that forget God, or at least forget him as he is a judge. Consider it, you that by your drunkenness or uncleanness, or by any other profane course of life, do seem, as it were, to have made a covenant with death and hell, and think perhaps to have the more favourable usage from the prince of darkness hereafter, the more boldly you have avowed yourselves to be his servants in advancing of his kingdom here; you that have done what you can to prevent your Judge by pronouncing sentence upon yourselves, and damning yourselves as often as you swear, which is almost as often as you speak, (for such is the custom of common swearers,) think with yourselves, I beseech you, whether your courage, how great soever it be, will serve you, and your strength, how much soever it be, will support you, and for ever too, in such a place and such a condition as I have imperfectly described unto you; Can any of you dwell., and dwell for ever, in everlasting burnings? And yet this shall be the dwelling, this shall be the portion of the hypocrite, says the prophet, (Isai. xxxiii. 14.) And the like portion with the hypocrite shall the profane person participate. For though the way of the profane and the hypocrite seem contrary, yet they shall meet, and their -end shall be the same; and though they deride and laugh at one another here, yet they shall both of them weep and gnash their 567teeth together hereafter. For the hypocrite shall be as tow, and the profane person as flax, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them. God of his infinite goodness give them both grace to foresee in time, and by repentance to prevent this their so great danger; for certainly for any man to despise the divine justice, with the endless and intolerable effects of it, is not courage, but madness. And therefore to conclude all in a word, the best method we can take is to judge ourselves, that we may not be judged of the Lord; and because that day (as the Lord himself tells us) shall come as a thief in the night, suddenly and unexpectedly, let us always be sure to have oil in our lamps, that is, faith and repentance in our hearts, justice and charity in our actions; and whatever else we have to do, let it be one part of our daily business seriously to meditate,
1st, Upon the vanity and shortness of our lives; and,
2dly, Upon the certainty and uncertainty of our deaths.
3dly, Upon the great exactness and severity of the judgment to come after death; and,
4thly, and lastly, Upon the eternity and immutability of every man’s condition in the other world, whether it be good or evil. And then, I hope, by God’s grace sanctifying these our endeavours, our condition there will be such, as we shall have no cause to desire either an end or an alteration of it.
Which God of his mercy grant us all, through the merits of his Son, and the happy conduct of his holy Spirit. Amen.
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