Consider first, that in this middle state of souls, (which are neither so perfect and pure as to be presently associated with the angels and saints in heaven, nor yet so bad as to be condemned to that lower hell, out of which there is no redemption,) these spirits in prison suffer much from their being kept at a distance from their God, their only true and sovereign good. They are perfectly sensible now how infinite he is in himself, in goodness, beauty, truth, and all perfections; and what an infinite happiness it is to be with him and to enjoy him eternally. All those created goods that before claimed any share in their affections are now vanished away, and their whole hearts are now carried towards him with such vehement, longing desires as by us mortals can neither be expressed or conceived; so that their being detained from him, in whom alone they can find repose, is an unspeakable anguish to their souls. And what adds to their torture is the sense they now have of their sins – of all those spots and stains which disqualify them for the enjoyment of their God, and of those unhappy debts that keep them at a distance from him, which they resent with so great horror that heaven itself would be no heaven to them if their sins were to follow them thither.
Consider 2ndly, that besides these two kinds of sufferings from the absence of God and the presence of sin, which are common (though not in equal degree) to all those imprisoned spirits, there are other great torments inflicted on such as have been great debtors and negligent penitents, but all with a just proportion to their sins. ‘They shall be saved,’ says the apostle, ‘yet so as by fire,’ 1 Cor. iii. 15. But what kind of fire? O! a fire kindled by the wrath of God – a fire which shall penetrate their whole souls and burn without consuming – in some for many years, in some perhaps even to the day of judgment! But because it is said they shall be saved this fire is made light of, saith St. Austin, (Psalm xxvii.,) but surely, though they shall be saved by it, yet is this fire more grievous than whatsoever a man can suffer in this life. Christians, see, then, how much you are enemies to your own souls when, for fear of hurting these sinful carcasses, you neglect to punish your sins by mortifications and penance, and by this means reserve so much more fuel for this purging fire.
Consider 3rdly, that however rigorous the divine justice is in the punishments it inflicts on account of sin upon those souls that are in this state of a fiery purgation, yet their condition admits of many comforts that are denied to the damned, which make an immense difference between the one fire and the other. For as these souls have departed this life in the state of charity and grace, true penitents though imperfect, they are here comforted with a good conscience, and with the assurance they have that they love God and are loved by him: they know that they are his children and under his protection, and that their sufferings shall soon have an end, (for all time is short,) and shall terminate in the never-ending joys of a happy eternity. In the meanwhile the love they have for God gives them a perfect conformity with his blessed will, and a certain peace, content, and joy in all they suffer, because such is his will; they even desire that divine justice should be satisfied, and lovingly embrace those flames that are to purify them from the rust of sin and to fit them for him. O how happy should we be if, under all our sufferings here, we entered into the like sentiments! Such a purgatory as this, of temporal sufferings endured with resignation, humility, and love, would go a great way towards purifying our souls from our sins, and fitting them for heaven.
Conclude, since nothing impure can ever come to be united to the infinite purity of God till it be first thoroughly purged, either in this world or the next, to make it thy business to get thyself thoroughly purified here by penitential labours, by patience in sufferings, and by fervour in the practice of all virtues, but especially of divine charity. For this will be to thee a far more easy, mild, and wholesome purgatory than the dreadful fire of the world to come.
Consider first, that nothing can be conceived more terrible than the prospect the Scripture gives us of the last accounting day, with all the prodigies that shall go before it. The sun shall be darkened, the moon red as blood; the stars without light, and seeming to fall from the firmament; the earth shall be shaken with violent earthquakes; the sea swelling and roaring with unusual tempests; the elements all in confusion, and whole nature in disorder.
‘The great day of the Lord is near,’ said the prophet, (Sophon. i. 14, 15,)
‘it is near and exceeding swift:’ ‘That day is a day of wrath, a day of tribulation and distress, a day of calamity and misery, a day of darkness and obscurity, a day of clouds and whirlwinds,’ &c. But oh! what shall then be the thoughts of unhappy sinners who shall see themselves threatened with all these frightful signs of the divine indignation? Alas! they shall presently ‘wither away,’ according to the expression of the Gospel, (Luke xxi. 26,) ‘for fear and expectation of what shall come upon the whole world;’
and through the apprehension of that dismal tragedy, which shall suddenly follow after these frightful preludes.
Consider 2ndly, that these terrors shall chiefly affect the wicked, against whom they are all levelled: so that ‘they shall begin to say to the mountains, fall upon us; and to the hills, cover us,’ (Luke xxiii.30,) ‘and hide us from the face of him that sitteth upon the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of their wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?’ Apoc. vi. 16, 17. But as for the true servants of God – who are his friends and children – when these things shall begin to come to pass, they are told, (Luke xxi. 28,) ‘to look up and to lift up their heads, because their redemption is at hand.’ and surely the more they love God, and take to heart the interest of the glory of Christ, and the coming of his everlasting kingdom; the more will they rejoice at the approaches of that day that shall be so glorious to him, and so happy for all his elect. The day in which he shall be publicly acknowledged by the whole universe for the great lord and judge of all; the day in which he shall finally triumph over all his enemies, and make all his servants sharers in his triumph and glory; the day in which he shall put an end to the usurpation of Satan and to the reign of sin and death, and send them all to their proper place, never to come out any more; the day in which he shall abolish for ever the corruption of the flesh, together with the old man, and all the errors and lying fooleries of a deluded and a deluding world, and shall establish the eternal reign of incorruption, justice, and truth. In fine, the day in which he shall wonderfully renew both heaven and earth, and bring all his servants into the never-ending joy of their Lord. O when shall that happy day come!
Consider 3rdly, that after all those frightful symptoms above rehearse, of the last agony and final expiring of this sinful world, a fire shall come raging like a torrent that shall at once involve all the kingdoms of the earth in devouring flames, sweeping off and consuming all it shall find upon the whole face of the globe, and reducing all to smoke and ashes. Where then, O ye worldlings, will be all those painted toys you are now so found of? Where will be your gardens and palaces? Where your gold and silver, your costly plate and jewels, your pompous equipages, and whatever else you seem to possess in this dream of your mortal life. Alas! all these things shall end in smoke, and when you wake you shall ‘find nothing in your hands,’ Ps. lxxv. ‘O that men would be wise, and would understand, and would provide for their last end!’ Deut. xxxii. 29. Do thou at least, O my soul, learn to be wise by the consideration of this last fire, that shall so suddenly put an end to all these worldly bubbles; and take thou care to provide for thyself by laying up thy treasure in heaven, where alone it shall be out of the reach of this fiery deluge.
Conclude to be always afraid of sin; to fly and abhor it above all evil, and thou shalt have nothing to fear at the last day.
Consider first, that this world being now at an end, the archangel shall sound the last trumpet, and with aloud voice shall call for all the dead to arise, and to come to judgment; this voice shall at once be heard over all the universe, and presently obeyed; it shall pierce the highest heavens and penetrate down to the lowest abyss of hell. At this voice, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, by the almighty power of our great creator, all the children of Adam, from the first to the last, shall arise from the dust, and every soul shall again be united to its own body, never more to part for eternity; that as the soul and body have in this world been partners in good or evil, so they may, in the world to come, be sharers also in reward or punishment. Christians, let the sound of this last trumpet always echo in your ears.
Consider 2ndly, the wonderful difference there shall be at the time of this general resurrection between the bodies of the just and those of the wicked. The just shall rise in bodies most beautiful, purer than the stars, brighter than the sun, immortal and impassible; but the wicked shall rise in bodies suitable to their deserts, foul, black, hideous, and every way loathsome and insupportable; immortal ‘tis true, but to no other end than to endure immortal torments. Oh! what an inexpressible torture shall it be to these wretched souls to be forced into such odious carcasses; and to be condemned to an eternal confinement in such a horrid and filthy prison? O learn then, my soul, to keep thy body now pure from the corruption of carnal sins, lest otherwise it come to be at that day a sad aggravation of thy never-ending misery.
Consider 3rdly, with how much joy and delight the souls of the just shall be again united to their bodies, which they have so long desired; and with what affection they shall embrace those old companions and partners of all their labours, of all their sufferings and mortifications; and now designed to share with them in the glory of the heavenly Sion, and to give no small addition to their everlasting happiness. But oh! what dreadful curses shall pass at the melancholy meeting of the souls and bodies of the reprobate? Accursed carrion, shall the soul say, was it to gratify thee, and to indulge thy brutal inclinations, that I have forfeited the immortal joys of heaven? Ah! wretch, to give thee a filthy pleasure of a moment, I have damned both myself and thee to all eternity. O thrice-accursed carcass, ‘tis just that thou who hast been the cause of my damnation should be my partner in eternal woe! But oughtest not thou rather, O unhappy soul, to be a thousand ties over accused by thy body, since it was thy business, and was in thy power, to have subjected its passions and lusts to the rules of reason and religion; and thou didst rather choose for the sake of a momentary delight, to enslave thyself to sensual inclinations, and so to purchase hell both for thyself and it? Ah, Christians, let us at least learn to be wise, and so to keep both our body and soul in good order here, that they both may be eternally happy together hereafter.
Conclude to prevent the terrors that shall seize the wicked at the great summons of the last trumpet, which shall call the dead from their graves to go forth to meet the judge, by giving ear now to another summons of the great trumpet of the Holy Ghost, calling upon thee by the apostle, (Eph. v. 14,) ‘Rise, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead,’ (that is, from the death of sin to the life of grace,) ‘and Christ shall enlighten thee.’ Thus by having part in the first resurrection thou shalt provide in time against that great day when time shall be no more. Thus thou shalt escape the second death.
Consider first, that the dead, being risen, shall immediately be assembled together from all places to meet the judge: and this, as ‘tis thought, near Jerusalem, in the sight of Mount Olivet, and of Mount Calvary, where our Lord heretofore shed his blood for our redemption. O! what a sight will it be to behold our redemption. O! what a sight will it be to behold here all the children of Adam, an innumerable multitude of all nations, ages, and conditions, standing together, without any distinction now of rich or poor, great or little, master or servant, monarch or subject; excepting only the distinction of good or bad which shall be wonderful and eternal. Alas! how mean a figure shall an Alexander or a Caesar make at this appearance; or any of those celebrated heroes of antiquity, whose very name has made whole nations tremble? Those mighty monarchs that had once the world at their beck, are now levelled with the meanest of their slaves, and would wish a thousand times they had never worn the diadem. And hast thou, my soul, ever well considered the part thou shalt have to act in this last scene?
Consider 2ndly, how the great judge shall immediately make his appearance, and every eye shall see him coming down from heaven, with great power and majesty; armed with all the terrors of his justice, and surrounded by all his heavenly legions. O how different from his first coming shall this his second appearance be! His first coming was with wonderful meekness and humility; because that was our day, in which he came to redeem us by his mercy; but at his second coming, it will be his day, in which his justice will revenge upon sinful man the cause of his injured mercy, with a final vengeance once for all. Ah, miserable sinners! how shall you then be able to stand before his face, or bear his wrathful countenance? How shall you then wish to hide your guilty heads, even in the lowest hell, rather than to endure his dreadful appearance? But all in vain; you must stand it out.
Consider 3rdly, how upon this occasion the royal standard of the cross, (the sign of the Son of Man,) shall be carried before the judge, shining more bright than the sun, to the unspeakable comfort of the good, and the intolerable anguish and confusion of the wicked, for having made so little advantage of the inestimable benefit of their redemption. Here they shall plainly see what their God has suffered for their salvation, and how great has been his love for them; that boundless and unparalleled love which brought him down form his throne of glory, and nailed him to the cross. O how shall they now condemn their past obstinacy in sin, with all their blindness and ingratitude! O how shall this glorious ensign justify, in the face of the whole universe, the conduct of God, and the dreadful torments he has prepared for unrepenting sinners! For what less than a miserable eternity can be punishment enough for so much obstinacy in sin, after so much goodness and love?
Conclude to take care, whilst thou hast time, to make a proper provision for this great appearance, by turning now to God with thy whole heart, and embracing a penitential life; for why should thou go on any longer adding daily sin to sin, and ‘treasuring up to thyself wrath against this day of wrath?’ Rom. ii. 5.
Consider first, how the sovereign judge, being seated on his glorious throne aloft in the air, attended by all his millions of millions of angels, in their different orders and hierarchies, shall presently give his command, which shall be instantly obeyed, for the final and the eternal separation of the good from the bad; after which these two companies shall never, never more meet. Then shall all the true servants of God
‘be caught up in the clouds, to Christ in the air;’ 1 Thess. iv. 16, and shall be placed with honour on his right hand, and such of them as, like the apostles, have in their lifetime quitted all things else to follow him, shall also take their seats with him, as judges both of angels and men, Matt xix. 28. 1 Cor. vi. 2, 3,. But all the wicked, together with the devils whom they have followed, shall be driven with ignominy to the left hand. And thou, my soul, where dost thou expect to stand at that day? In which of these two companies shalt thou be ranked? Thou hast it now in thy choice; but wilt not; have it then. Choose then now
‘in this thy day, that better part, that shall never be taken from thee,’ Luke x.
Consider 2ndly, what will then be the thoughts of the grandees of the world, of the rich, of the worldly wise, of the great heroes, of the fine ladies, & c., when they shall see the poor in spirit, the meek, the humble that were so contemptible in their eyes when they were here in this mortal life, now honoured and exalted, and crowned with immortal glory, dignity, strength, and beauty; but themselves depressed to the lowest extremity of disgrace, contempt, and irremediable want of all things. O! what horror, what confusion what envy, what rage shall oppress their souls to see this strange catastrophe! O what shall then be their sentiments of all those empty toys which they had been so found of in their mortal life! How shall they now condemn their own madness, in having set their hearts upon those lying follies, to the eternal loss of their immortal souls! How shall they now wish, a thousand and a thousand times, they had followed the examples of the saints, and walked in the charming paths of virtue and devotion!
Consider 3rdly, in what manner the sentiments which the wicked shall have on this occasion, are expressed by the spirit of God, (Wisdom v.) ‘These seeing it,’ (viz. the glorious exaltation of the just,) ‘shall be troubled with horrible fear, and shall be amazed at the suddenness of their unexpected salvation; saying within themselves, repenting and groaning for anguish of spirit: These are they whom we had heretofore in derision, and for a parable of reproach; we fools esteemed their life madness, and their end without honour; behold, how they are numbered among the children of God, and their lot is among the saints. Therefore we have erred from the way of truth, and the lights of justice hath not shined unto us; wearied ourselves in the way of iniquity and destruction; and we have walked through hard ways, but the way of the Lord we have not known. What has pride profited us? or what advantage hath the boasting of riches brought us? All those things are passed away like a shadow, and like a post that runneth on, and as a ship that passeth through the waves, whereof, when ‘tis gone by, the trace cannot be found – so we, being born, forthwith ceased to be, and have been able to show no mark of virtue, but are consumed in our wickedness.’ Ah! Christians, mark well these speeches of the reprobate, and take effectual measures whilst you have time, that their misfortunes may never be yours.
Conclude to ‘fly now from the midst of Babylon,’ by standing off from the corruption and infection of a wicked world, and separating yourselves from the society of the wicked in time, that you may not be involved in their eternal misery.
Consider first, that we read in the word of God of the opening of the books, when God shall sit down to judge, Daniel vii., ‘I beheld,’
saith the prophet, ‘till thrones were placed, and the ancient of days sat down. – Thousands of thousands ministered to him, and ten thousand times a hundred thousand stood before him: the judgment-seat and THE BOOKS WERE OPENED.’ And Rev. xx. 11, 12,
‘I saw a great white throne,’ saith St. John, ‘and one sitting upon it, from whose face the earth and heaven fled away, and there was no place found for them. And I saw the dead great and small, standing before the throne, and THE BOOKS WERE OPENED; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged by those things which were written in the books, according to their works.’
Christians, attend to these awful truths; and think well on these books, by the contents of which you are to be judged. The study of these will be of infinitely more importance to you than the knowledge of all the books of the belles lettres and human science, which must all perish in the last fire.
Consider 2ndly, what these books are which shall be produced and set open at the day of judgment. In the first place, there shall be the books of our consciences, with all the divine records in which our thoughts, words, and action are punctually registered. In the second place, the books of the gospel of the rules of life prescribed by Jesus Christ, and of the commandments of God. And lastly, the book of life; even that book in the first line of which it is written of Jesus Christ, (Ps. xxxix.,) that he should come ‘to do his father’s will;’ and in which the names of all stand recorded under the name of Jesus Christ, who with him, and through him, have made it the main business of their lives to do the will of him and of his father, and who have embraced the law of his love in the very midst of their hearts. Christians, examine yourselves now by these books, judge yourselves now by these books, and all shall be well with you then. See how your accounts now stand in your own consciences; but oh! beware of the delusions of self-love. Reflect how all your thoughts, words, and actions, in the moment they go from you, are presently enrolled in the divine book. Ah! in what condition are yours to appear there? Will your life be able to stand the trial of the book of the gospel? Or will not rather your faith rise up in judgment against you, and condemn you for having renounced in practice what you professed to believe? Has your name any place in the book of life, where none are entered but such as do the will of God?
Consider 3rdly, how upon the opening of these books, the sins of the reprobate shall not only all appear in their most odious shapes to their own eyes, but also be exposed to the public view of that whole immense assembly of all heaven and earth: visible and evident to the eyes of all, both angels and men, good and bad. Ah! poor sinner, where wilt thou then hide thy head? What shame, what anguish shall oppress thee, when all thy filth and abominations, all thy works of darkness which thou hast committed in the greatest security, and which thou wouldst not have had known to thy friends and acquaintances for all the world; and perhaps couldst not find in thy heart to disclose even to one person bound by all laws to an eternal secrecy, shall now be displayed before thy face, with all their aggravating circumstances, in this great consistory of the whole universe?
Conclude to prevent by a hearty repentance and a sincere confession of thy guilt now, whilst thou hast time, the dreadful confusion which otherwise thou wilt suffer at that day; and the great judge will then ratify the absolution that has been given thee here, by virtue of his commission, and clear thee from all thy sins.
Consider first, the sudden and wonderful change God was pleased to work in the heart of this glorious penitent. ‘Behold, a woman in the city, that was a sinner,’ (says St. Luke) ‘when she knew that Jesus was at meat in the house of the Pharisee, brought an alabaster box of ointment; and standing behind at his feet, she began to wash his feet with her tears, and she wiped them with the hairs of her head, and she kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment,’
Luke vii 37, 38. See here, my soul, a penitent indeed; thoroughly penetrated with the sense of the dreadful evil of her sins, and therefore not to be restrained either by shame or fear, or any consideration of what the world would think or say, from running immediately to her Saviour, though then at table, and in the midst of the Pharisees, and there to do public penance, without regard to their censures or contempt. O see what it is for a soul to have her eyes truly opened to discover the deformity of her sins, and to view those odious monsters in their true shape, which have so long possessed her! She thinks every moment of age till by running to our Lord she can get rid of her guilt, whatever it may cost her, or whoever may scoff at her, or censure her for it.
Consider 2ndly, the chiefest ingredients in Magdalene’s conversion – her faith, her humility, her love, her penitential tears, and her dedicating now to the service of her Lord all that she had before employed in sin. Her faith, joined with her humble confidence in the goodness and mercy of her Saviour, appears in her running to him, to be washed and cleansed by him from all her filth in the true fountain of life. Her humility appears to her not daring to come before his face, nor to address herself to him in words, but standing behind at his feet, and speaking to his heart by floods of tears. Her ardent love shows itself in her often kissing his feet, and in the penitential tears it produces, and is therefore taken notice of by our Lord, as the main disposition towards her justification. ‘Many sins are forgiven her,’ (said he,) ‘for she hath loved much,’ verse 47. And now her hair, her precious ointments, her whole person are wholly dedicated to her Saviour; to whom, from this time forward, she adheres with such an inviolable fidelity and unalterable affection, as not even to suffer herself to be kept off from him either by the ignominy of the cross or the horror of the sepulchre. See, sinners, what it is to be a perfect convert, what it is to be a penitent indeed.
Consider 3rdly, the lessons all Christians may learn from Magdalene’s conversion. And first, a sense of the wonderful mercies of God, who thus changes in an instant the greatest sinners into the greatest saints, that so we may never despair of the conversion of any one, nor ever presume to despise poor sinners, how abandoned soever, to prefer ourselves before any of them, since whatever they are to-day to-morrow they may be great penitents and great favourites of heaven. Secondly, we must learn from this great example a ready compliance with the races and calls of God, with a courage and resolution to overcome the opposition we shall be sure to meet with in our return to God from old habits, human respects, or any other considerations. Alas! if Magdalene had regarded the censures of the world or delayed her conversion, for fear of what the Pharisees should say or think of her, in all appearance she would have died in her sins. Thirdly, we may learn by her example, that the most effectual means for the remission of all our sins and the advancing of our souls to the perfection of all holiness, is an ardent love of our blessed Redeemer, and a repentance influenced by love. Happy we if we can but learn of her to go daily in this penitential spirit to the feet of Christ: he never rejects a penitent lover.
Conclude, if thou hast followed Magdalene in her sins to imitate her also in her conversion; and the more and the greater thy sins have been to make the greater return of love to him who has so mercifully spared thee in thy sins, and so lovingly forgiven thee that immense debt which thou owedst to his justice.
Consider first, that the great assizes of the last day shall be concluded by a definitive sentence, by which the just, after a glorious rehearsal of all their good works, shall be called up to a kingdom where sorrows never enter and joys never end; and the wicked shall be condemned to the dismal dungeons of everlasting fire. But first give ear, O my soul, to that sweet and amiable invitation, (which thou hopest shall be one day thine,) by which our dear Lord shall call his servants, his friends, and his children into the glorious mansions of eternal bliss.
‘Come ye blessed of my father,’ shall he say, ‘possess the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world,’
Matt. xxv. 34. O happy invitation! O happy, thrice happy they that shall be found worthy to partake of this joyful sentence! What unspeakable satisfaction and delight, what torrents of joy and pleasure shall flow into their souls at the hearing of it? But oh! what envy, what rage shall possess the souls of the reprobate when they shall hear this invitation and shall see several of their own acquaintance going to take possession of that eternal kingdom which they might also have so easily purchased, but by their folly and stupidity have blindly exchanged for the flames of hell?
Consider 2ndly, and weigh well at thy leisure the words of this happy sentence: ‘Come,’ says the judge, ‘ye blessed of my father,’ &c. Come, (O sweet invitation!) from the vale of tears to the blissful regions of never-ending joys. Come from a tedious banishment to your true heavenly country; from your mortal pilgrimage in the midst of crosses, labours, conflicts, and dangers, to your blessed home in the fair and lovely mansions of rest and peace, in the eternal Sion where you shall meet with all that your hearts desire to complete your happiness; where you shall be for ever inebriated by the plenty of my house, and drink for ever at the fountain of life. ‘Arise, my beloved, the winter is now past, the floods and storms are all over, arise and come. Come, enter into the joy of your Lord, the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning;’ an universal good, a blessing including all blessings, and extended to endless ages. O my soul, learn thou to despise all other happiness in hopes of having a share one day in this blessed sentence.
Consider 3rdly, that what is most to be admired and loved in this heavenly sentence is, that it brings our souls to an eternal union with God himself, our only true and sovereign good. This come, this sweet word of salvation, draws us to our God, unites us to him, receives us into the very bosom of his goodness, and in a manner transforms us into him. And nothing less could ever truly satisfy our souls! O happy blessing indeed, to be thus ‘blessed of the father’ by an eternal union with himself. O happy kingdom, in which we shall eternally live and reign with the ever-living God! ‘I rejoiced,’ said the royal prophet, Ps. cxxi., ‘at the things that were said to me: We shall go into the house of the Lord.’ But, O my soul, how much more oughtest thou to rejoice at the happy prospect of thy being one day called, not only into the house of the Lord, but even to an union with the Lord himself.
Conclude to spare no pains to secure to thyself this happy sentence by a diligence in all good works, more especially works of mercy and charity, which according to the gospel are particularly calculated to ensure to us the sentence of the elect.
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