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THE FINAL ISSUE OF SIN, AN ARGUMENT FOR REPENTANCE.
What fruit had ye then in those things, whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now, being made free from sin, and be come servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.—Rom. vi. 21, 22.
THESE words are a comparison between a holy and virtuous, and a sinful and vicious course of life, and set before us the manifest inconveniencies of the one, and the manifold advantages of the other. I have entered into a discourse upon the first of these heads; viz. the manifest inconveniencies of a sinful and vicious course: and the text mentions these three:
I. That it is unprofitable.
II. That the reflection upon it afterwards is matter of shame. These two I have spoken largely to. I shall now proceed to the
III. Third and last inconvenience, which the text mentions, of a sinful and vicious course of life; viz. that the final issue and consequence of these things is very dismal and miserable; “The end of those things is death.” No fruit then when ye did these things; shame now that you come to reflect upon them; and misery and death at the last.
There are, indeed, almost innumerable considerations and arguments to discourage and deter men 353from sin; the unreasonableness of it in itself; the injustice, and disloyalty, and ingratitude of it in respect to God; the ill example of it to others: the cruelty of it to ourselves; the shame and dishonour that attends it; the grief and sorrow which it will cost us, if ever we be brought to a due sense of it; the trouble and horror of a guilty conscience, that will perpetually haunt us; but above all, the miserable event and sad issue of a wicked course of life continued in, and finally unrepented of. The temptations to sin may be alluring enough, and look upon us with a smiling countenance, and the commission may afford us a short and imperfect pleasure; but the remembrance of it will certainly be bitter, and the end of it miserable.
And this consideration is of all others the most apt to work upon the generality of men, especially upon the more obstinate and obdurate sort of sinners, and those whom no other arguments will penetrate—that, whatever the present pleasure and advantage of sin may be, it will be bitterness and misery in the end.
The two former inconveniencies of a sinful course which I lately discoursed of, viz. that sin is unprofitable, and that it is shameful, are very consider able, and ought to be great arguments against it to every sinner, and considerate man: and yet how light are they, and but as the very small dust upon the balance, in comparison of that insupportable weight of misery which will oppress the sinner at last! “Indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil.” This, this is the sting of all, that “the end of these things is death.”
It is very usual, in Scripture, to express the greatest 354happiness and the greatest misery by life and death; life being the first and most desirable of all other blessings, because it is the foundation of them, and that which makes us capable of all the rest. Hence we find, in Scripture, that all the blessings of the gospel are summed up in this one word: (John xx. 31.) “These things are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through his name.” (1 John iv. 9.) “In this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his only-be gotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.” So that under this term or notion of life, the Scripture is wont to express all happiness to us, and more especially that eternal life which is the great promise of the gospel. And this is life by way of eminency; as if this frail, and mortal, and miserable life which we live here in this world, did not deserve that name.
And, on the other hand, all the evils which are consequent upon sin, especially the dreadful and lasting misery of another world, are called by the name of death. “The end of these things is death.” So the apostle, here in the text, and ver. 23. “The wages of sin is death;” not only a temporal death, but such a death as is opposed to eternal life: “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” So that death here in the text is plainly intended to comprehend in it all those fearful and astonishing miseries, where with the wrath of God will pursue and afflict sinners in another world.
But what and how great this misery is, I am not able to declare to you; “it hath” no more “entered into the heart of man,” than those great and glorious 355things which “God hath laid up for them that love him:” and as I would fain hope, that none of us here shall ever have the sad experience of it; so none but those who have felt it, are able to give a tolerable description of the intolerableness of it.
But by what the Scripture hath said of it in general, and in such metaphors as are most level to our present capacity, it appears so full of terror, that I am loath to attempt the representation of it. There are so many other arguments that are more humane and natural, and more proper to work upon the reason and ingenuity of men; as, the great love and kindness of God to us; the grievous sufferings of his Son for us; the unreasonableness and shamefulness of sin; the present benefit and advantage, the peace and pleasure, of a holy and virtuous life; and the mighty rewards promised to it in another world; that one would think these should be abundantly sufficient to prevail with men to gain them to goodness, and that they need not be frighted into it, and to have the law laid to them, as it was once given to the people of Israel, in “thunder and lightning, in blackness, in darkness and tempest,” so as to make them “exceedingly to fear and tremble.” And it seems a very hard case, that when we have to deal with men sensible enough of their interest in other cases, and diligent enough to mind it, we cannot persuade them to accept of happiness with out setting before them the terrors of eternal darkness, and those amazing and endless miseries which will certainly be the portion of those who refuse so great a happiness: this, I say, seems very hard, that men must be carried to the gate of hell before they can be brought to set their faces towards heaven, and to think in good earnest of getting thither.356
And yet it cannot be dissembled, that the nature of men is so degenerate as to stand in need of this argument; and that men are so far engaged in an evil course, that they are not to be reclaimed from it by any other consideration but of the endless and unspeakable misery of impenitent sinners in another world. And therefore God, knowing how necessary this is, doth frequently make use of it; and our blessed Saviour, than whom none was ever more mild and gentle, doth often set this consideration before men, to take them off from sin, and to bring them to do better. And this, St. Paul tells us, (Rom. i. 18.) is one principal thing which renders the gospel so powerful an instrument for the reforming and saving of mankind, because “therein the wrath of God is revealed from heaven, against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.”
So that, how harsh and unpleasant soever this argument may be, the great stupidity and folly of some men, and their inveterate obstinacy in an evil course, makes it necessary for us to press it home, that those who will not be moved, and made sensible of the danger and inconvenience of sin by gentler arguments, may be roused and awakened by the terrors of eternal misery.
That the last issue and consequence of a wicked life will be very miserable, the general apprehension of mankind concerning the fate of bad men in another world, and the secret misgivings of men’s consciences, give men too much ground to fear. Besides that, the justice of Divine providence, which is not many times in this world so clear and manifest, does seem to require that there should be a time of recompence, when the virtue and patience of good men should be rewarded, and the insolence 357and obstinacy of bad men should be punished. This cannot but appear very reasonable to any man that considers the nature of God, and is persuaded that he governs the world, and hath given laws to mankind, by the observance whereof they may be happy, and by the neglect and contempt whereof they must be miserable.
But, that there might remain no doubts upon the minds of men concerning these matters, God hath been pleased to reveal this from heaven, by a person sent by him on purpose to declare it to the world; and to the truth of these doctrines concerning a future state, and a day of judgment, and recompences, God hath given testimony by unquestionable miracles wrought for the confirmation of them, and particularly by “the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, whereby he hath given an assurance unto all men, that he is the person ordained by God to judge the world in righteousness, and to render to every man according to his deeds; to them who, by patient continuance in well doing, seek for glory, and honour, and immortality, eternal life; but to them who obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil.”
So that, how quietly soever wicked men may pass through this world, or out of it (which they seldom do), misery will certainly overtake their sins at last; unspeakable and intolerable misery, arising from the anguish of a guilty conscience, from a lively apprehension of their sad loss, and from a quick sense of the sharp pain which they labour under; and all this aggravated and set off with the consideration of past pleasure, and the despair of future ease. 358Each of these is misery enough, and all of them together do constitute and make up that dismal and forlorn state which the Scripture calls hell and damnation.
I shall, therefore, briefly represent (for it is by no means desirable to dwell long upon so melancholy and frightful an argument),
First, The principal ingredients which constitute this miserable state. And,
Secondly, The aggravations of it.
First, The principal ingredients which constitute this miserable state; and they are these three which I have mentioned:
I. The anguish of a guilty mind.
II. The lively apprehensions of the invaluable happiness which they have lost.
III. A quick sense of the intolerable pains which they lie under.
I. The anguish of a guilty conscience. And this is natural; for there is a worm that abides in a guilty conscience, and is continually gnawing it. This is that our Saviour calls “the worm that dies not.” And though God should inflict no positive punishment upon sinners, yet this is a revenge which every man’s mind would take upon him; for things are so ordered by God in the original frame and constitution of our minds, that, on the one hand, peace and pleasure, contentment and satisfaction, do naturally arise in our minds from the conscience of well-doing, and spring up in the soul of every good man: and, on the other hand, no man knowingly does an evil action, but his guilty conscience galls him for it, and the remembrance of it is full of bitterness to him.
And this the sinner feels in this world; he disguiseth 359and dissembleth his trouble as much as he can, and shifts off these uneasy thoughts by all the diversions he can devise, and by this means palliates his disease, and renders his condition in some sort tolerable unto himself; but when he is alone, or cast upon the bed of sickness, and his thoughts are let loose upon him, and he hath nothing to give them a diversion, how does his guilt ferment and work! And the fever, which lurked before, does now shew itself, and is ready to burn him up; so that nothing can appear more dismal and ghastly, than such a man does to himself.
And much more, when sinners come into the other world, and are entered into the regions of darkness, and the melancholy shades where evil spirits are continually wandering up and down, where they can meet with nothing either of employment or pleasure, to give the least diversion to their pensive minds; where they shall find nothing to do, but to reflect upon and bemoan themselves; where all the wicked actions that ever they committed shall come fresh into their minds, and stare their consciences in the face. It is not to be imagined what sad scenes will then be present to their imaginations, and what sharp reflections their own guilty minds will make upon them, and what swarms of furies will possess them.
So soon as ever they are entered upon that state, they will then find themselves forsaken of all those comforts which they once placed so much happiness in; and they will have nothing to converse with but their own uneasy selves, and those that are as miserable as themselves, and therefore incapable of administering any comfort to one another. They will then have nothing to think on but what will trouble 360them; and every new thought will be a new in crease of their trouble. Their guilt will make them restless, and the more restless they are, the more will their minds be enraged; and there will be no end of their vexation, because the cause and ground of it is perpetual. For there is no possible way to get rid of guilt but by repentance; and there is no encouragement, no argument, to repentance, where there is no hope of pardon. So that if God should hold his hand and leave sinners to themselves, and to the lashes of their own conscience, a more severe and terrible torment can hardly be imagined, than that which a guilty mind would execute upon itself.
II. Another ingredient into the miseries of sinners in another world, is the lively apprehension of the invaluable happiness which they have lost by their own obstinacy and foolish choice. In the next world wicked men shall be for ever separated from God, who is the fountain of happiness, and from all the comforts of his presence and favour. This, our Saviour tells us, is the first part of that dreadful sentence that shall be passed upon the wicked at the great day, “Depart from me;” which words, though they do not signify any positive infliction and torment, yet they import the greatest loss that can be imagined. And it is not so easy to determine which is the greatest of evils, loss or pain. Indeed, to a creature that is only endowed with sense, there can be no misery but that of pain and suffering: but to those who have reason and understanding, and are capable of knowing the value of things, and of reflecting upon themselves in the want of them, the greatest loss may be as grievous and hard to be borne as the greatest pain.
It is true, that sinners are now so immersed in the 361gross and sensual delights of this world, that they have no apprehension of the joys of heaven, and the pleasures of God’s presence, and of the happiness that is to be enjoyed in communion with him, and therefore they are not now capable of estimating the greatness of this loss. But this insensibleness of wicked men continues no longer than this present state, which affords them variety of objects of pleasure and of business to divert them and entertain them: but when they come into the other world, they shall then have nothing else to think upon, but the sad condition into which they have brought themselves, nothing to do but to pore and meditate upon their own misfortune, when they shall lift up their eyes, and, with the rich man in the parable, in the midst of their torments, look up to those who are in Abraham’s bosom; and their misery will be mightily increased by the contemplation of that happiness which others enjoy, and themselves have so foolishly forfeited and fallen short of; insomuch, that it would be happy for them if that God, from whose presence they are banished, that heaven from which they have excluded themselves, and that everlasting glory which they have despised and neglected, might be for ever hid from their eyes, and never come into their minds.
III. This is not all, but besides the sad apprehension of their loss, they shall endure the sharpest pains. These God hath threatened sinners withal, and they are in Scripture represented to us, by the most grievous and intolerable pains that in this world we are acquainted withal; as, by the pain of burning. Hence the wicked are said to be “cast into the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, and into the fire which is not quenched;” which, 362whether it be literally to be understood or not, is certainly intended to signify the most severe kind of torment; but what that is, and in what manner it shall be inflicted, none know but they that feel it, and lie under it. The Scripture tells so much in general of it, as is enough to warn men to avoid it; that it is the effect of a mighty displeasure, and of anger armed with omnipotence, and consequently must needs be very terrible, more dreadful than we can now conceive, and probably greater than can be described by any of those pains and sufferings which now we are acquainted withal; for “who knows the power of God’s anger,” and the utmost of what almighty justice can do to sinners? Who can comprehend the vast significancy of those expressions, “Fear him who, after he hath killed, can destroy both body and soul in hell?” And again, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!” One would think this were misery enough, and needed no farther aggravation; and yet it hath two terrible ones, from the consideration of past pleasures which sinners have enjoyed in this world, and from an utter despair of future ease and remedy.
1. From the consideration of the past pleasures which sinners have enjoyed in this life. This will make their sufferings much more sharp and sensible; for, as nothing commends pleasure more, and give happiness a quicker taste and relish, than precedent sufferings and pain, there is not perhaps a greater pleasure in the world, than the strange and sudden ease which a man finds after a sharp fit of the stone or cholic, or after a man is taken off the rack, and nature which was in an agony before is all at once set at perfect ease: so, on the other hand, 363nothing exasperates suffering more, and sets a keener edge upon misery, than to step into afflictions and pain immediately out of a state of great ease and pleasure. This we find in the parable was the great aggravation of the rich man’s torment, that he had first received good things, and was afterwards tormented. We may do well to consider this, that those pleasures of sin which have now so much of temptation in them, will in the next world be one of the chief aggravations of our torment.
2. The greatest aggravation of this misery will be, that it is attended with the despair of any future ease; and when misery and despair meet together, they make a man completely miserable. The duration of this misery is expressed to us in Scripture, by such words as are used to signify the longest and most interminable duration. “Depart ye cursed into everlasting fire,” (Matt. xxv. 41.) “Where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched,” (Mark ix. 44.) And (2 Thess. i. 7.) it is there said, that “those who know not God, and obey not the gospel of his Son, shall be punished with everlasting destruction, from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.” And (Rev. xx. 10.) that “the wicked shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” And what can be imagined beyond this? This is the perfection of misery, to lie under the greatest torment, and yet be in despair of ever finding the least ease.
And thus I have done with the first thing I propounded to speak to from this text; viz. The manifest inconveniencies of a sinful and vicious course of life; that it brings no present benefit or advantage to us; that the reflection upon it causeth shame; 364and that it is fearful and miserable in the last issue and consequence of it. “What fruit had you,” &c.
I should now have proceeded to the second part of the text, which represents to us the manifold advantages of a holy and virtuous course of life: (ver. 22.) “But now being made free from sin and become the servants of righteousness, ye have your fruit unto holiness;” there is the present advantage of it: “and the end everlasting life;” there is the future reward of it. But this is a large argument, which will require a discourse by itself, and therefore I shall not now enter upon it; but shall only make some reflections upon what hath been said, concerning the miserable issue and consequence of a wicked life impenitently persisted in.
And surely, if we firmly believe and seriously consider these things, we have no reason to be fond of any vice; we can take no great comfort or contentment in a sinful course. If we could, for the seeming advantage and short pleasure of some sins, dispense with the temporal mischiefs and inconveniencies of them, which yet I cannot see how any prudent and considerate man could do: if we could conquer shame, and bear the infamy and reproach which attends most sins, and could digest the upbraidings of our own consciences, so often as we call them to remembrance, and reflect seriously upon them; though for the gratifying an importunate inclination, and an impetuous appetite, all the inconveniencies of them might be born withal; yet methinks the very thought of the end and issue of a wicked life, that “the end of these things is death,” that “indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish,” far greater than we can now describe, or imagine, “shall be to every soul of man that doeth 365evil,” should overrule us. Though the violence of an irregular lust and desire are able to bear down all other arguments, yet methinks the eternal interest of our precious and immortal souls should still lie near our hearts, and affect us very sensibly. Methinks the consideration of another world, and of all eternity, and of that dismal fate which at tends impenitent sinners after this life, and the dreadful hazard of being miserable for ever, should be more than enough to dishearten any man from a wicked life, and to bring him to a better mind and course.
And if the plain representations of these things do not prevail with men to this purpose, it is a sign that either they do not believe these things, or else that they do not consider them; one of these two must be the reason why any man, notwithstanding these terrible threatenings of God’s word, does venture to continue in an evil course.
It is vehemently to be suspected, that men do not really believe these things, that they are not fully persuaded that there is another state after this life, in which the righteous God “will render to every man according to his deeds:” and, therefore, so much wickedness as we see in the lives of men, so much infidelity may reasonably be suspected to lie lurking in their hearts. They may indeed seemingly profess to believe these things; but he that would know what a man inwardly and firmly believes should attend rather to his actions than to his verbal professions: for if any man lives so, as no man that believes the principles of the Christian religion in reason can live, there is too much reason to question whether that man doth believe his religion; he may say he does, but there is a far greater 366evidence in the case than words; the actions of the man are by far the most credible declarations of the inward sense and persuasion of his mind.
Did men firmly and heartily believe that there is a God that governs the world, and regards the actions of men, and that “he hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness,” and that all mankind shall appear before him in that day, and every action that they have done in their whole lives shall be brought upon the stage, and pass a strict examination and censure, and that those who have made conscience of their duty to God and men, and have “lived soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world,” shall be unspeakably and eternally happy in the next; but those who have lived lewd and licentious lives, and persisted in an impenitent course, shall be extremely and everlastingly miserable, without pity, and without comfort, and without remedy, and with out hope of ever being otherwise; I say, if men were fully and firmly persuaded of these things, it is not credible, it is hardly possible that they should live such profane and impious, such careless and dissolute lives, as we daily see a great part of man kind do.
That man that can be awed from his duty, or tempted to sin, by any of the pleasures or terrors of this world, that for the present enjoyment of his lusts can be contented to venture his soul, what greater evidence than this can there be, that this man does not believe the threatenings of the gospel, and how “fearful a thing it is to fall into the hands of the living God?” That man that can be willing to undergo a hard service for several years, that he may be in a way to get an estate, and be rich in this 367world, and yet will not be persuaded to restrain himself of his liberty, or to deny his pleasure, or to check his appetite or lust, for the greatest reward that God can promise, or the severest punishment that he can threaten; can any man reasonably think, that this man is persuaded of any such happiness or misery after this life, as is plainly revealed in the gospel, that “verily there is a reward for the righteous, and verily there is a God that judgeth the earth?” For what can he that believes not one syllable of the Bible do worse than this comes to?
A strong and vigorous faith, even in temporal cases, is a powerful principle of action, especially if it be backed and enforced with arguments of fear. He that believes the reality of a thing, and that it is good for him, and that it may be attained, and that if he doth attain it, it will make him very happy, and that without it he shall be extremely miserable; such a belief and persuasion will put a man upon difficult things, and make him to put forth a vigorous endeavour, and to use a mighty industry for the obtaining of that, concerning which he is thus persuaded.
And the faith of the gospel ought to be so much the more powerful, by how much the objects of hope and fear, which it presents to us, are greater and more considerable. Did men fully believe the happiness of heaven, and the torments of hell, and were they as verily persuaded of the truth of them, as if they were before their eyes, how insignificant would all the terrors and temptations of sense be to draw them into sin, and seduce them from their duty?
But, although it seems very strange, and almost 368incredible, that men should believe these things, and yet live wicked and impious lives; yet, because I have no mind, and God knows there is no need, to increase the number of infidels in this age, I shall choose rather to impute a great deal of the wickedness that is in the world to the inconsiderateness of men, than to their unbelief. I will grant that they do in some sort believe these things, or at least that they do not disbelieve them; and then the great cause of men’s ruin must be, that they do not attend to the consequence of this belief, and how men ought to live that are thus persuaded. Men stifle their reason, and suffer themselves to be hurried away by sense, into the embraces of sensual objects and things present, but do not consider what the end of these things will be, and what is like to become of them hereafter; for it is not to be imagined, but that that man who shall calmly consider with himself what sin is, the shortness of its pleasure, and the eternity of its punishment, should seriously resolve upon a better course of life.
And why do we not consider these things, which are of so infinite concernment to us? What have we our reason for, but to reflect upon ourselves, and to mind what we do, and wisely to compare things together, and, upon the whole matter, to judge what makes most for our true and lasting interest? To consider our whole selves, our souls as well as our bodies, and our whole duration, not only in this world, but in the other, not only with regard to time, but to eternity? To look before us to the last issue and event of our actions, and to the farthest consequence of them, and to reckon upon what will be hereafter, as well as what is present; and if we suspect, or hope, or fear, especially if we 369have good reason to believe, a future state after death, in which we shall be happy or miserable to all eternity, according as we manage and behave ourselves in this world, to resolve to make it our greatest design and concernment while we are in this world, so to live and demean ourselves, that we may be of the number of those that shall be accounted worthy to escape that misery, and to obtain that happiness, which will last and continue for ever?
And if men would but apply their minds seriously to the consideration of these things, they could not act so imprudently as they do; they would not live so by chance, and without design, taking the pleasure that comes next, and avoiding the present evils which press upon them, without any regard to those that are future, and at a distance, though they be infinitely greater and more considerable: if men could have the patience to debate and argue these matters with themselves, they could not live so preposterously as they do, preferring their bodies before their souls, and the world before God, and the things which are temporal before the things that are eternal.
Did men verily and in good earnest believe but half of that to be true which hath now been declared to you, concerning the miserable state of impenitent sinners in another world; (and I am very sure, that the one half of that which is true concerning that state hath not been told you;) I say, did we in any measure believe what hath been so imperfectly represented, “What manner of persons should we all be, in all holy conversation and godliness, waiting for and hastening unto (that is, making haste to 370make the best preparation we could for) the coming of the day of God!”
I will conclude all with our Saviour’s exhortation to his disciples, and to all others; “Watch ye therefore and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things, and to stand before the Son of man: to whom, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.”371
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