Consider first, that though the fire of hell, with all the rest of the exterior torments which the damned must for ever endure in that woful place be terrible beyond all that an be expressed or conceived, yet it is no ways comparable, in the judgment of divines, to the interior pangs and agonies of the soul, caused by the
paena damni, or the eternal loss of God and of all that is good, and the perpetual sense they shall ever have of the greatness of this their loss and all its dreadful consequences. Alas! eternally they have lost their God for ever. They are divorced eternally from him; they are stripped of all his gifts and all his graces; no light is left in their soul; no glimpse of hope; no sense of good, no power of love either for God or their neighbours. Ah! unhappy wretches that cannot love! They are excommunicated from God; they are sent into an eternal banishment far from him; far from his glorious kingdom and the happy society of his children; far from their true country and all its blissful joys, which were once purchased for them by the blood of the Son of God. They are eternally separated from the ocean of all good.
Consider 2ndly, how much the damned will regret this most dreadful of all evils – this eternal separation from God. Alas! poor sinners, here, while they lie grovelling in the mire of the earth, diverted from the thought of God by a thousand impertinences, and yet continually partaking many ways of his sweetness and goodness in some or other of his creatures, have little or no idea of what it is absolutely to lose God for evermore. But the damned, by their own woful experience, will be fully convinced, when it is too late, that none of all the rest of the torments of hell can be compared to this loss. God is an infinite good in himself; and he is the inexhaustible source of all our good, and of everything that is any ways good in his creatures: he is our universal good. In losing him, then the damned have lost an infinite good – form their first beginning and their last end, by whom and for whom they were created: they have lost their sovereign good, their universal good, their immense eternal good, the overflowing fountain, the very ocean of all good, their true and only happiness. They have lost him totally; they have lost him irrevocable; they have lost him eternally; they have lost him in himself; they have lost him in themselves; they have lost him in all his creatures. There is an immense gulf between him and them, never, never to be passed.
Consider 3rdly, still further, how dreadfully the damned will be tormented with the perpetual thinking on this most rueful of all losses. Ah! their lively sense of this most dismal and irreparable loss, and of all the sad consequences of it, will continually rack their despairing souls; they will not be able so much as to turn away their thought one moment from it. For whichever way they shall turn to seek any one jot of ease or comfort in him, or from him, they shall meet with none: all things shall seem to conspire against them – all things shall tell them they have lost their God. They shall always find themselves bound down fast in eternal chains, which will keep them in a state of violence far away from him; and all the efforts of their vehement longing after him will only serve to redouble their misery. Hence there flow a thousand other evils that make their whole soul a hell to itself. Hence black despair, sadness, rage, hatred, and blasphemy.
Conclude never to turn away from God in this life nor to lose him by wilful sin, and then thou shalt effectually prevent this last and worst of all evils, of being eternally separated from him.
Consider first, that as we are assured by the word of God that the fire of hell shall never be quenched, so are we also assured by the same unerring word that the worm of the damned shall never die, (St. Mark ix.) this never-dying worm of a wicked conscience, like a black poisonous serpent, will for ever fasten itself upon their breast: it will continually gnaw them; it will eat its way in their hearts; it will perpetually prey upon their very souls. O who can conceive the greatness of this torment? this eternal remorse; this most bitter but fruitless repentance; this dismal melancholy; this extremity of anguish, accompanied with everlasting horror, confusion, and despair! O how hateful, how abominable will all their former crimes now appear in the eyes of the damned! O how will they now be convinced when ‘tis too late of the enormity of them! O how will they now detest them!
Consider 2ndly, that what eternally feeds this never dying worm is the enormous guilt of mortal sin with which the souls of the damned are eternally stained, infected, and corrupted. This dreadful guilt is ever written on their foreheads: it penetrates them on all sides; renders them more ugly and filthy than the very dungeons of hell; eternally odious in the eyes of their creator; and most intolerable and insupportable to themselves – the very devils are not more hateful to them than their own souls are as long as they see them thus strangely tainted and corrupted, and eternally possessed by this hellish monster – or rather by as many hellish monsters as they have committed mortal sins. Ah! Christians, see by this what the guilt of mortal sin is. See what the dreadful consequences of it are for eternity! And learn from hence to detest it above all evils. O be assured that hell itself can produce nothing worse!
Consider 3rdly, what a racking torture it will be to the damned to all eternity to be revolving, without ceasing, in their memory their past folly, stupidity, and madness in forfeiting the eternal joys of heaven, which they might have obtained at so easy a rate, and selling both their God and their souls for an empty toy – for a filthy satisfaction, that lasted but one moment, and left nothing behind it but guilt and remorse; or for some punctilio of honour or petty interest, by which thy were then robbed of all their true treasures and of all their true honour, and for which they are now reduced to the extremity of all kinds of misery. Oh! what will their judgment be of this cheating world, and of all its short-lived fooleries and vanities, when, after having been millions of years in hell, looking back and scarce being able to find in that immense duration the small point of their mortal life, they shall, with most bitter regret, be continually comparing together time and eternity, past enjoyments and present punishments, virtue and vice, heaven and hell.
Conclude to keep off from the guilt of wilful sin, and the worm of hell shall never come near thee: it can prey upon nothing but mortal sin.
Consider first, that what above all other things makes hell intolerable is the eternity of its torments. It is this eternity that is an infinite aggravation to all and every one of them. It is this bitter ingredient which makes every drop of that cup of the divine vengeance, of which all the damned are forced to drink, so unsupportable. Were there so much as the least glimpse of hope that the miseries of the damned should one day have an end, though it were after millions of ages, hell would be no longer hell; because it would admit of some comfort. But, for all these inexpressible torments to continue for ever, as long as God shall be God, without the least hope of ever seeing an end of them – oh, this it is that is the greatest rack of the damned! O eternity, eternity, how little do worldlings apprehend thee now! How unwilling are they to believe thee (notwithstanding the express declaration of God’s unerring word) for fear thou shouldst put a restraint upon their vicious inclinations! O how terrible wilt thou be to them hereafter when they shall find themselves ingulfed in the bottomless abyss.
Consider 2ndly, if one short night seems so long and tedious to a poor sick man in a burning fever; if he tosses and turns, and nowhere finds rest; if he counts ever hour, and with so much impatience longs for the morning, which yet will bring him but little relief or comfort; what must this dreadful night of eternity be in the midst of all the pains of hell? No man in his senses would purchase a kingdom at the rate of lying for ten year confined to a soft bed without once coming off. Ah! what a misery, then, must it be to be chained down to a bed of fire, and such a fire as that of hell is, with all the rest of its torments – not for ten years only, not for ten thousand times ten years – but for as many hundred thousand million of ages as there are drops of water in the ocean or atoms in the air; in a word, for a never-ending eternity!
Consider 3rdly, in order to frame a better idea of this miserable eternity, what an immense space of time would be required for any one of the damned, if he were to shed but one tear in a thousand years, to shed tears enough to fill the sea. The world has not yet lasted six thousand years, so that the first of all the damned would not have shed six tears. And yet, O dreadful eternity! the time will most certainly come when any one of these wretches shall be able with truth to say, that at the rate of one tear for a thousand years, he might have shed tears enough not only to make a sea, but to drown the whole world, and to fill up the vast space between heaven and earth. And yet alas! after these millions of millions of ages he shall be as far off from the end of his misery as he was the first day he came into that place of woe. Compute after this, if thou pleasest, as many hundred thousand millions of years as thy thoughts can reach to; suppose if thou wilt the whole surface of the earth to be covered with numeral figures; cast up, if thou canst, this prodigious sum of years, and then multiply if by itself; and multiply again a second time the product by itself; and then at the foot of this immense sum write down here begins eternity. O terrible eternity! Is it possible that they who believe should not fear thee? Is it possible that they who fear thee should dare to sin?
Conclude ever to fly with all thy power, for the time to come, all such sins as lead to this miserable eternity. And as to thy past guilt, to take the best care thou art able to wash away now all the stains of thy soul in the blood of the Lamb, by the means of a hearty repentance, and sincere confession. Penitential tears are capable of effacing those stains at present, which everlasting flames shall never be able to burn away hereafter.
Consider first, and ponder well those words of the apostle, 1 Cor. ii. 9, that
‘eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love him.’ O! what then must this happiness of heaven, what must this eternal glory be, which so far exceeds all our thoughts and conceptions! God is infinite in all his attributes, in his majesty, power, wisdom, justice, &c., but his goodness and mercy, his liberality, bounty, and magnificence in his gifts and rewards overflow as it were the banks, and show themselves in a most extraordinary manner above all his works, Ps. cxliv. If then his justice be so terrible as we have seen, with regard to his enemies, how much more shall his mercy, his goodness, and his bounty declare themselves in favour of his friends? O what then must this blessed kingdom of heaven be, which in his infinite goodness he has prepared for his beloved children? – which he has contrived by his infinite wisdom, and effected by his infinite power, for the manifestation of his glory and for the entertaining them all with an eternal banquet worthy of himself?
Consider 2ndly, that if by the cost and price of a thing we may guess at its worth, we cannot make too advantageous a judgment of the happiness of heaven, the purchasing of which has cost the precious blood and life of the Son of God himself, which is indeed an infinite price; and which, notwithstanding his purchase, is not to be obtained by us without much pains and labour without many crosses and sufferings, and without giving up our whole selves in exchange for it: and after all, though we were to labour ever so hard all our lifetime for the acquiring of it, and should give ourselves and all things else for it, yet our labours, and all and whatsoever we can give, bear so little proportion with the greatness of this happiness that we are said even so to receive this water of life at free cost. Apoc. xxii. 17. Nay, though we should even suffer a thousand deaths for the sake of this eternal life, we are still assured, Rom. viii. 18, that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to this heavenly glory that is to come. So much does the bliss of heaven exceed all that we can say, think, or conceive.
Consider 3rdly, the definition divines give of beatitude, or eternal happiness, when they term it a state made perfect by assembling together, and comprising in itself all good things – Status omnium bonorum aggregatione perfectus – that is to say, a permanent and everlasting state, replenished with all that is good, without the least mixture of evil; a general and universal good, comprising at once and for ever all manner of good things, filing brimful the vast capacity of the affections and desires of the soul, and eternally securing her from all fear or danger of want or change. O my soul, see then thou turn all thy pursuits after this time and eternal felicity; all things else are but mere toys in comparison with this thy sovereign and universal good.
Conclude with most humble and hearty thanks to the infinite goodness of God, who before thou wast born hath prepared such an eternal happiness for thee, and provided all necessary means for thee to obtain it. But resolve at the same time to be diligent in the use of all these means of thy salvation. For he who ‘made thee without thy concurrence, will not save thee without thy concurrence.’ – St. Augustine.
Consider first, that the things which are most apt to allure the children of this world, and to draw their affections after them, are honours, riches, and pleasures; but their error is that they seek these things where they are not to be found, and suffer themselves to be imposed upon by false appearances. True honours, true riches, and true pleasures are not to be found in the broad road of the world, nor in the ways of sin; but are to be met with together with all other good things in the land of the living. Here all the inhabitants are advanced to the highest dignity, even to a fellowship with the living God, and a partnership with Jesus Christ in his throne. Here all are most noble and most renowned, most wise and most holy. Here all are of blood-royal, children and heirs of the king of kings. All are kings and queens, crowned for ever with wreaths of immortal glory, and shining far more brightly than the sun. These are honours indeed, and truly worthy of the Christian’s ambition. And all these, O my soul, if thou pleasest, may be thine for ever.
Consider 2ndly, the riches that flow in this happy land of promise, where the inhabitants want nothing, cover nothing, and enjoy all things. This beatitude of the saints is called in Scripture a kingdom; and such a kingdom it is to all those happy souls, for in plenty of all things, wealth, power, greatness, and endless duration, it infinitely exceeds all the kingdoms of the world. It is likened to a treasure of immense value, which all the riches of the world are not worthy to purchase. For the riches of this kingdom are of a far superior kind to all earthly treasures: gold and precious stones are valued no more than dirt here, where the inhabitants have the stars under their feet. The great treasure of the blessed is the eternal possession of God himself with all his riches. And, O my soul, what more can be desired?
Consider 3rdly, that this heavenly land flows also for ever with the milk and honey of pure and immortal delights, pleasures, and joys. For here are all eternally inebriated, according to the Psalmist, ‘with the plenty of God’s house, and are made to drink of the torrent of his pleasures; for here with him is the fountain of life,’ &c., Ps. xxxv. Yea, the great river of the water of life, clear as crystal, which proceeds from the throne of God, and of the Lamb, to water all the streets of the heavenly Jerusalem, having the tree of life growing upon its banks, with all the variety of its excellent fruits, Apoc. xxii. and this same is that torrent of pleasure that eternally flows, (bringing with it all these delicious fruits,) into the souls of God’s servants, quite replenishing them and filling brimful all their powers, senses, and faculties with inconceivable delight. O who would not gladly part with all the satisfactions the world can afford for such immortal pleasures as these!
Conclude to be no longer a slave to worldly toys, vain honours, false riches, and fading pleasures; but to turn away, without loss of time, from this Egypt, that can afford thee nothing but muddy water, incapable to quench thy thirst, and to bend thy course towards thy true country, where thou shalt meet with all thou canst desire, and that for eternity.
Consider first, how our Lord, taking with him Peter, James, and John, brought them up into a high mountain apart, and was transfigured before them; so that
‘his face did shine on the sun, and his garments became white as snow. And there appeared to them Moses and Elias, talking with him, (concerning his decease that he should accomplish in Jerusalem,’) Luke ix. 31. Now Peter being transported with the glory of this vision, cried out, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles, one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. And as he was yet speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and lo! a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him,’ Matt. xviii. This transfiguration of our Lord, full of lessons and instructions for us, is honoured by the church in the festival of this day, with a particular view to the raising up the thoughts and hopes of her children, in the midst of the hardships and labours of their mortal pilgrimage, to the eternal repose and glory of their heavenly country, that blessed Jerusalem which the true Israelites must never forget; though constrained as yet by a miserable captivity to sit down and weep upon the banks of the rivers of Babylon, and lament their distance from the house of God in Sion.
Consider 2ndly, in this mystery of the transfiguration of our Lord, how wonderfully he was here pleased to confirm our faith, as well by the joint testimonies of the law and the prophets bearing witness to the gospel, represented by the glorious apparition of Moses and Elias with Christ; as by the testimony of God himself in all the three persons, by the voice of the father, by the glory of the Son, and by the manifestation of the Holy Ghost in the bright cloud. See how he was pleased by the same glory of this transfiguration to encourage all his followers to bear with patience the afflictions, labours, crosses, and persecutions of this life, in hopes of a share in that eternal glory of which he has given us as it were a sketch in this mystery, ever remembering that of the apostle, 2 Cor. iv. 17. ‘that our present tribulation, which is momentary and light, worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory.’ But O, let us take along with us that other lesson also, which we are taught by the voice of the heavenly father, in the transfiguration of our Lord, that the true way to a happy eternity, and to all good, is ever to hear and obey the Son of God.
Consider 3rdly, how St. Peter, being out of himself with the joy of this vision, was desirous to be always in the same happy situation, and always enjoying the like glory; and therefore he cried out, ‘Lord,it is good for us to be here;’ not knowing, saith St. Luke, what he said, ch. x. 33. Because though it was inconceivable delightful to see and enjoy (though for a short time) the least glimpse of heavenly light and glory, yet as this present life was not to be the time of enjoyment, but of labours and of sufferings; and the Son of God himself was to enter into his glory by labours and sufferings (Luke xxiv. 26,) it was inordinate to desire here for a continuance of that which was reserved for hereafter, and for such only as should be entitled to it by labours and sufferings. Learn from hence, O my soul, with regard to divine consolations, and such like favours, that though thou art to receive them, when given, with humility, gratitude, and love –admiring the goodness and bounty of God, who is pleased thus to look down upon thee the most unworthy of sinners – yet art thou not to set thy heart upon them, nor to be disturbed and discouraged when they are taken away; for merit and perfection consists not in them, but in working, suffering, and loving; and for the time of this mortal life, ordinarily speaking, it is far better for thee to be with the Lord upon Mount Calvary, than upon Mount Thabor.
Conclude, instead of being eager after these transitory consolations, which at the best are but as small drops of water that fall from the clouds of heaven to refresh us for a moment in this dry desert through which we are now travelling, to aspire continually after that great overflowing river above, which gives joy without end to the city of God; and which alone is capable of quenching thy thirst and satisfying thy soul.
Consider first, how glorious and beautiful those mansions are that are prepared for the eternal abode of the servants of God in the heavenly Jerusalem.
‘How lovely are thy tabernacles, O Lord of Hosts,’ cries out the royal prophet, Ps. lxxxiii. ‘My soul longeth and fainteth for the courts of the Lord.’ The beauty and glory of this city of God every way correspond with the riches, bounty, and magnificence of this almighty monarch, who has built it for the manifestation of his power, wisdom, and goodness, and to be the eternal habitation of his dearest friends and children. and what great things will he not do, when both his own glory and his love for us call upon him to exert himself? See, my soul, how noble a place he has given us here below, even in this place of our banishment; beautified with the sun, moon, and stars; accomplished and furnished with an almost infinite variety of minerals, plants, flowers, trees, and living creatures, in the earth, air, and waters, all subservient to man, and all wonderfully beautiful in their kinds, & c. If then he has so richly provided for us in this vale of tears, in this region of the shade of death, what must our eternal habitation be in the land of the living? If here he is so bountiful even to his enemies, in affording them so commodious and so noble a dwelling, what may not his friends and children expect in his external kingdom; where alone, according to the prophet, ‘our Lord is magnificent!’
Isaia xxxiii. 21.
Consider 2ndly, how the Scripture, to accommodate itself to our low way of thinking, describes the glory and beauty of this heavenly city by representing it unto us under the figures of such things as we must admire here below; when it tells us that the walls of this city of God are built with precious stones, and that its streets are watered with the bright crystal streams of the river of the water of life, flowing from the throne of God; and that on the banks of this river, on both sides, grows the tree of life; that there shall be no night, nor any want of sun or moon, but that God himself shall be its everlasting light, and that every one of the just shall shine like the sun, &c. ‘O how glorious are these things that are said of thee, O city of God!’ Ps. lxxxvi. But O how much more glorious are those great things that are veiled under these figures?
Consider 3rdly, that Jerusalem is interpreted the sight or vision of peace; and therefore this name is given to the city above, because there alone is the true seat of eternal peace. ‘There is the tabernacle of God with men, and he shall dwell with them; and he shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more, for the former things are passed away,’ Apoc. xxi. 3, 4. No heats, no colds, no rain, no storms, no diseases, no pains, no conflicts or adversities of any kind, have any access to this city, or can ever come near this blessed abode. But a most bright day, a most serene calm, an everlasting peace perpetually reigns there; ‘a solid peace, a peace never to be disturbed, but always secure, a peace both within and without, a peace every way firm’ – Kempis.
Conclude ever to aspire after this blessed Jerusalem, and to despise all earthly toys in comparison with this heavenly city. O how good is our God, who has prepared such lovely and everlasting mansions for us! O blessed for ever by all his creatures be his infinite goodness!
Consider first, the multitude, beauty, and glory of the inhabitants of this blessed Jerusalem; those millions of millions of bright heavenly spirits, that always surround the throne of God, as we learn from the vision of the prophet, Dan. vii., ‘Thousands of thousand minister to him, and ten thousand times a hundred thousand stand before him’ – that immense number of Cherubim and Seraphim, all on fire with divine love; that infinite multitude of saints and martyrs and other servants of God, of both sexes gathered out of all nations, tribes, and tongues, and above them all the blessed virgin mother of God, the queen of saints and angels. The number of these heavenly citizens is innumerable. They are all ever beautiful, and ever young; they are all most bright and most glorious. They wear the name of God on their foreheads expressed by the unalterable serenity, joy, peace, and light that shines from their countenance. The very sight of any one of them, as we learn from the experience of some of the saints and servants of God, is enough to ravish the soul into an ecstasy, and to fill it with inexpressible delight; and what shall it be to see them all, and to enjoy their happy society for all eternity!
Consider 2ndly, that one of the most happy things that a good Christian could meet with or desire on this side of eternity would be to live quite separated from the company and conversation of the wicked, and of all the fools and the slaves of this world, and to converse only with the wise and with the holy, and to be joined with them in a perfect band of fraternal charity, friendship, and union. ‘O how good and how pleasant it is,’ said the Psalmist, ‘for brethren to dwell together in unity,’ Ps. cxxxii. But O what company, what conversation, what friendship here upon earth, how pure soever, can bear any comparison with that of the blessed in heaven? for there we shall meet with millions of millions of brethren and friends, all most loving, all most wise, all most holy; in a word, all full of God. Their communications one with another are most pure; their conversation most sublime and heavenly; the praises of God and his eternal truths are their perpetual theme; harmonious hymns of divine love are their constant entertainment.
Consider 3rdly, more in particular the inexpressible charity and love which the blessed have one for another, which is so great that they all have but one heart and one soul. This makes them take such an inconceivable delight in each other’s happiness, through the love they bear each other, as to look upon the happiness of their brethren as their own, and to rejoice in it as if it were their own. So that by means of this their heavenly charity, the joy and satisfaction of every individual is multiplied to as manifold a degree as there are angels and blessed souls in heaven. Oh how lovely is this heavenly friendship! O let us aspire after this happy society! Let us aim as much as human weakness will permit, at an imitation of this blessed charity, by rejoicing at every real good we discover in our neighbours as if it were our own; and by inviting all we can to join with us here in the love and praises of God, and in the practice of all other virtues; that so both we and they may hereafter be happily united together, associated for eternity, in singing to our Lord the immortal songs of Sion.
Conclude, if thou desirest to be eternally happy in the society of the saints in the heavenly Sion, to flee now from the midst of the Babylon of a wicked world, and to associate thyself as much as thou canst with the true servants of God. There is nothing will be of more service to thy soul during thy mortal pilgrimage.
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