Consider first, how the great judge, after having invited the just to his glorious kingdom, turning himself towards the wicked on his left hand, with fire in his eyes and terror in his countenance, shall thunder out against them the dreadful sentence of their irrevocable doom in these words:
‘Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels,’ Matt. xxv. O! sinners, weigh well every word of this frightful sentence. Depart, saith he – go, begone for ever from me, far from the joys of my kingdom and the society of my children, into the place you have chosen and blindly preferred before heaven, into the darksome dungeons of hell below, prepared for Satan and his associates, whose part you have taken against me. O terrible excommunication, to be cut off for ever from the society of Jesus Christ and his saints! O cruel divorce, to be eternally separated from God and all that is good! O dismal and everlasting banishment, to be excluded from the city of God, and sent into the low and horrid region of the second death! Ah! wretches, who make so little now of losing God and his grace by mortal sin; what shall you then think when you shall be doomed to this eternal separation from the source of all good? But whither are you to go from him? Alas! into everlasting fire, there to burn as long as God is God, in the company of the devil and his angels. O dreadful eternity!
Consider 2ndly, that terrible and universal curse which this sentence of condemnation involves! ‘Depart from me, you cursed,’ says the sovereign judge, as if he should say, you shall go from me, but take my curse along with you. I would have given you my blessing but you would not receive it; a curse you have chosen, and a curse shall be your everlasting lot. It shall stick close to you like a garment, which you shall never put off; it shall enter into your very bowels and search into the very arrow of your bones. A curse upon your eyes, never to see the least glimpse of comfortable light; a curse upon your ears to hear no other music for all eternity but frightful shrieks and groans; a curse on your taste to be ever embittered with the gall of dragons; a curse on your smell, to be always tormented with the intolerable stench of the bottomless pit; a curse on your feeling and on all the members of your body, to be for ever burning, and never to consume, in a fire that shall never be quenched. O dreadful complication of irremediable evils!
Consider 3rdly, that this terrible curse shall not only be extended to the body and all its senses and members, it shall also reach the soul and all its powers and faculties. As if the great judge should also say: a curse upon your understanding, never to be enlightened with any ray of truth; a curse upon your will, never to attain to anything it loves or desires, but to be always bound down to what it hates and abhors; a curse upon your memory, to be ever revolving, in the bitterness of a fruitless repentance, the folly and vanity of all those short-lived pleasures and worldly toys for which you have forfeited a happy eternity; a curse upon your conscience, to be ever gnawed by the worm that never dies; a curse upon your whole soul, to be a hell to itself, ever torn to pieces with most violent passions of fury, envy, hatred, and despair. Good God! let me never be so miserable as to incur this dreadful and irrevocable curse. But see how this sentence is no sooner pronounced but the earth opens and swallows down at once all this wretched multitude, with the devils that seduced them, into the lowest hell, and then the gate is shut upon them, never, never to be opened. O the fatal consequences of all worldly pride! O the dismal end of carnal pleasures!
Conclude to turn now to God with thy whole heart, and henceforward to keep close to him; thus thou shalt secure to thyself a blessing at that day instead of a curse.
Consider first, that St. James, the son of Zebedee, the elder brother of St. John the apostle, was one of those disciples to whom our Lord was pleased to show a more particular favour and love. He was one of the three that were chosen to be witnesses of the glory of his Transfiguration; one of the three that were admitted to be present when he raised to life the daughter of Jairus; and one of the three whom he took along with him to stay and watch with him in his prayer and agony in the garden. O how great must the faith and love of St. James have been that he should be such a favourite of Jesus? How happy are they that, like St. James, keep close to Jesus in his sorrows and sufferings no less than in his joys and glory! The zeal and fervour of St. James and his brother St. John in the cause of Christ obtained for them from our Lord the surname of Boanerges, or sons of thunder. This glorious name they made good in their preaching and in their labours – and St. James with this advantage, that he was the first of all the apostles that laid down his life for the love of his master, and sealed his doctrine with his blood. O glorious death! to die for love, nor of any mortal beauty or worldly honour, of friends or country, but for the love of our Lord, the true and everlasting life. O how happy are all those sufferings that are endured for the love of Christ!
Consider 2ndly, from the epistle of this day, (1 Cor. iv.,) what kind of sufferings St. James and his fellow apostles endured daily for the love of Christ, and with what patience and charity they supported them. ‘I think,’ says St. Paul, ‘that God hath set forth us apostles, the last, as it were men appointed to death; because we are made a spectacle to the world, and to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake – we are weak – we are without honour. Even unto this hour we both hunger and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no fixed abode; and we labour, working with our own hands; we are reviled, and we bless; we are persecuted, and suffer it; we are ill spoken of, and we entreat; we are made as the refuse of the world, the offscouring of all even until now.’ See. Christians, in what manner the greatest favourites of heaven were treated by the children of the world. But no wonder, for their master himself was treated no better, and all that will reign with him must be content to suffer with him. O happy those crosses that bring the soul to the eternal enjoyment of her God!
Consider 3rdly, from the gospel of this festival, that St. James and St. John, though they had been now trained up for three years in the school of Christ,, yet before his passion and death, and their receiving the Holy Ghost, had not yet perfectly put off the old man, or purged away the old leaven of ambition or self-seeking; and therefore they induced their mother to petition for them that they might sit, the one on the right hand of Christ, and the other on the left, in his kingdom. Christians, beware of ambition, beware of desiring to be honoured, to be praised, to be exalted or preferred before others; beware of all the subtilties of pride and self-love: if it found its way even into the school of Christ, (as it had done before into the earthly paradise, and even into heaven itself,) it is recorded as a warning for us; that so dangerous and subtile an evil may not make its way with far greater ease into our unguarded souls. But hearken to the words of our Lord upon this occasion. ‘You know not,’ says he, ‘what you ask. Can you drink of the chalice that I shall drink?’ &c. O how true it is that we know not what we ask, when we ask for honours, preferments, riches, pleasures, &c., which, instead of bringing us nearer to our God, are too apt to carry us far away from him! ‘Tis drinking with Christ of the chalice of his passion, ‘tis taking up our cross and following him, is the true means of divine appointment, which is to bring us to Christ, and to entitle us to sit down with him on his throne, and to reign eternally with him.
Conclude to let it be thy great ambition to keep as close as thou canst to thy Lord, with thy cross upon thy shoulders, by diligently working, suffering, and loving, and instead of pretending to high things, sit thee down, by humility, in the lowest place, and the highest shall be given thee.
Consider first, that what gives us the highest idea of the supereminent sanctity of St. Anne, and of her blessed consort St. Joachim, is that they were chosen by the decrees of heaven to be the parents of that immaculate virgin who was to bring forth the Saviour of the world, and to be the mother of God. O what grace did they not receive, to qualify them to furnish this virgin spouse to the Spirit of God, and this virgin mother to the Son of God! What a saint-like, what a heavenly education did they not give to their blessed child! How perfectly did they make good thereby that sentence of their divine grandson, that ‘the tree is to be known by its fruit!’ What reverence then, what esteem, what affection, what devotion do we not owe to this blessed couple! All the time children of Christ have ever loved his mother and considered her as their mother; how then can we do otherwise than love also these two great saints to whom we stand indebted for such a mother!
Consider 2ndly, from the lesson or epistle that is read on the feast of St. Anne, (out of Prov. xxxi.,) the properties of a valiant, that is, of a wise and virtuous woman, as all perfectly agreeing in this great saint: particularly her perpetual attention to do good, and not evil, all the days of her life; her unwearied industry in acquiring the spiritual riches of all virtues, and storing up a treasure for eternity; her diligence in the exercise of works of mercy and charity, &c. ‘Strength and beauty are her clothing,’ saith the wise man, speaking of her interior, ‘and she shall laugh in the last day:’ even in that day when the foolish admirers of worldly vanities shall all be sad and sorrowful. ‘She hath opened her mouth to wisdom, and the law of clemency is on her tongue:’ by her being ever prudent in her words, and charitably compassionate in excusing the defects of her neighbours. ‘She hath looked well to the paths of her house, and hath not eaten her bread idly:’ by a serious application to keep herself always well employed, and to see that all under her charge are orderly. Such was St. Anne, such ought all Christian matrons to be: of such as these the Spirit of God adds, in the conclusion of the chapter, ‘Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain:’ the woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates. Yes, the Lord himself shall give her the eternal reward of the fruit of her hands and the gates of the heavenly Sion shall resound with her praises for ever.
Consider 3rdly, from the gospel of this day, that excellent treasure which St. Anne found and made her own, by giving up all things else to purchase it for herself. ‘The kingdom of heaven,’ says our Lord, Matt. xiii. 44, ‘is like unto a treasure hidden in a field, which when a man hath found he hideth it, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.’ The kingdom of heaven, in this and other passages of the gospel, is understood of the kingdom of God within us, by his grace in the soul; that kingdom by which he lives and reigns in our interior, by faith, hope, and love, and the spirit of recollection and prayer. Now this kingdom of God in our souls is a treasure indeed, of infinite value, which enriches us by the possession of God himself, here by grace and hereafter in glory. This treasure Is hidden from the children of the world,, who are strangers to the value of it, and have a very mean idea of the happiness of a spiritual and internal life; but the children of God, whose eyes are open to the truth, discover this inestimable treasure: and spare neither pains nor cost to get it into their own possession; they even sell all they have to purchase it; that is, they give up their humours, their passions, their worldly affections, their sensual inclinations, their own will, and everything else that opposes so great a happiness; and thus they themselves become God’s kingdom. Thus they begin to enjoy a heaven upon earth.
Conclude to seek first the kingdom of God in thy soul, above all things, and all other things shall be added unto thee: thou shalt also be reimbursed, with infinite advantage, whatever thou hast expanded in the purchase of it; and all good things shall come to thee along with it.
Consider first, that it will be of no small service to thee, in order to keep thee from going down into hell after thy death, if thou wilt now, by a serious meditation, go down thither whilst thou art alive, and take a view of that wretched place by the help of those lights which the unerring word of God will furnish thee with. Give ear then first to what is said of hell in the Old Testament: where it is called, Job x.,
‘A land (from which there is no coming back) dark, and covered with the obscurity of death; a land of misery and darkness; where the shadow of death and no order, but everlasting horror dwelleth.’ And Isaia xxx., where it is called Topheth, (from the name of that dismal valley near Jerusalem, otherwise called Gehenna, where the idolaters burnt their children in sacrifice to the devil,) of which he says,
‘Topheth is prepared from yesterday, prepared by the king, deep and wide. The nourishment thereof is fire, and much wood; the breath of the Lord as a torrent of brimstone kindleth it.’
And what kind of torments are there prepared for the wicked, the same prophet informs us, chap. xxxiii. 14. when he puts the question to them, ‘Which of you can dwell with devouring fire? Which of you shall dwell with everlasting burnings?’ The wise man adds, Eccles. xxxi.,
‘That there are spirits that are created for
vengeance, and in their fury they lay on grievous torments: in the time of destruction they shall pour out their force, and shall appease the wrath of him that made them. Fire, hail, famine, and death, all these were created for vengeance; the teeth of beasts and scorpions, and serpents.’
Consider 2ndly, what a description our Lord himself has given us of hell in his gospel, where he calls it ‘the gehenna of fire, or the fiery gehenna,’ Matt. v., ‘A fire that cannot be quenched, where their worm dieth not, and their fire is not extinguished; and where every one shall be salted with fire,’ St. Mark ix. ‘An eternal fire and everlasting punishment,’ St. Matt. xxv. ‘A place of torments in flames, where the wicked shall not be allowed even so much as one drop of water to cool their tongue,’ St. Luke xvi. ‘A furnace of fire where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth,’ St. Matt. xiii. ‘A binding hand and foot, and casting into exterior darkness,’ St. Matt. xxii. To which St. John adds, Rev. xiv., ‘that the damned shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God – and shall be tormented with fire and brimstone; and that the smoke of their torments shall ascend up for ever and ever; and that they have no rest day or night,’ Rev. xx.; ‘That they shall be cast into the pool of fire and brimstone,’ which is the second death. To which St. Jude also adds, ‘darkness and everlasting chains,’ verse 6. And St. Paul, 2 Thess. i., ‘that they shall suffer eternal punishment in destruction, from the face of the Lord.’
Consider 3rdly, what a dreadful scene of misery and woe is here set before our eyes in these texts of holy Scripture: what a complication of all the worst of evils, and all of them eternal; how many bitter ingredients of this cup of the divine wrath, of which the wicked must drink in hell for evermore. Take a view of them, O my soul, at thy leisure, that the sight of them may imprint in thee wholesome fear of sin, the only evil that can condemn thee to that place of torments. O! consider well this dying life, or rather this living death of the damned; this darksome land; these dungeons of horror and misery; this binding hand and foot in eternal chains; this pool of fire and brimstone; this salting with fire; these devouring flames which always burn, and yet never consume; this feeling ever fresh for sufferings; these gnawing serpents; this worm that never dies; this dreadful second death; this eternal separation from God and all that is good; this perpetual weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, &c., and that all this is endured in the company of devils and other damned wretches, all hating and cursing one another; all hating and blaspheming God. And that all these insupportable sufferings are to be without end, intermission, or remission. Ah! such is hell according to holy writ; according to God’s infallible word; and who can bear the least part of it? and shall Christians, that believe the word of God, dare to sin?
Conclude, seeing thou canst endure so little here, to take the most effectual means thou are able, now whilst thou hast time, to keep thyself from ever coming into this place of torments. The fire of hell can burn nothing but wilful sin. Get rid of this enormous evil, and hell can have no hold of thee.
Consider first, that as it is said in holy writ, 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:’ so we may also say with truth, that neither eye hath seen nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of any mortal to conceive what dreadful torments are prepared in hel’ for obstinate sinners that wilfully die enemies of God. The Almighty is infinite in all his attributes, as in his power, wisdom, goodness, &c., so in his avenging justice too. He is a God in hell, as much as in heaven. So that by the greatness of his love, mercy, and patience here, we may measure the greatness of his future wrath and vengeance against impenitent sinners. By his pure goodness and love he has drawn them out of nothing, and made them for himself and a happy eternity; he has preserved them and sustained them for a long time, ever loading them with his benefits; he has even come down from his throne of glory, to seek them when gone astray; he has suffered himself to be nailed to a disgraceful cross for their eternal salvation; he has frequently delivered them from the dangers to which they were daily exposed; has patiently borne with their repeated insolence and treasons; still graciously inviting them to return to him by repentance; and still offering them his mercy and all good, both for time an eternity. Ah! how justly then does his patience and goodness, after being so long abused, turn into fury! His mercy at length gives place to justice; and a thousand woes to those wretches that must for ever feel the dreadful weight of the avenging hand of the living God.
Consider 2ndly, that beatitude, according to divines, is defined ‘A perfect and never-ending state of happiness, comprising at once all that is good, without any mixture of evil.’ If then damnation be the opposite to beatitude, it must needs be an everlasting deluge of all that is evil, without the least mixture of good, without the least alloy of ease, without the least glimpse of comfort; a total privation of all happiness, and a chaos of all misery.
Consider 3rdly, that the misery of the damned is unchangeable, because they carry with them out of this world the enormous guilt of mortal sin; an infinite debt, of which they can never discharge the least part; a dreadful poison which has tainted and corrupted their whole souls, for which there is now no medicine; a dismal stain which has penetrated them through and through, and never can be effaced; which is even proof against all the flames of hell, which it continually nourishes; and all the gnawings of the never-dying worm, which eternally preys upon it. For as there is no remission of sins in hell, the whole guilt remains unchangeable in the soul, with all the debt and all the stain; and consequently calls without ceasing for all the wrath of God’s avenging justice; which cannot but eternally hate and eternally punish everlasting sin. Oh! how true it is that this dreadful evil of mortal sin is the very worst of all the ingredients of eternal damnation, and the source and cause of all the rest!
Conclude ever to detest and fly from this monster, sin; which is thus odious to thy God, and pernicious to thy soul; and thou shalt have no need to apprehend eternal damnation.
Consider first, that hell is a prison that lies deep in the bowels of the earth, in which the damned are confined for all eternity; a prison whose gates are eternally shut down and bolted upon them by the irreversible decrees of heaven; so as to prohibit for ever to them all intercourse or communication with the world above; to stop up all access to all manner of good, comfort, or ease; and to shut in with them all that can make them completely miserable. Hell is a dismal dungeon, of black and fetid flames; and crammed brimful with the black and fetid carcasses of the damned, eternally frying in those dark flames. O my soul, what a prison! What a dungeon! What dreadful locks and bars, which shut out all good, and admit of nothing of God but his avenging justice!
Consider 2ndly, that this prison of the damned is every way most hideous and loathsome, and full of horror and darkness. No sun, no moon, no stars ever appear in that gloomy region; but a dismal night reigns eternally there; a night that knows no morning, nor ever expects a return of the dawning of the day. No breath of air from above, no glimpse of light, can ever penetrate into that deep, that bottomless pit. The very fire that rages there is black and darksome; it affords no light to the wretched prisoners, except it be to represent to their eyes such odious objects as may serve to increase their misery. O who can bear the thought of such a scene of woe!
Consider 3rdly, that in this frightful dungeon the damned are bound down in eternal chains, so that they can neither stir hand nor foot – St. Matt. xxii. – in fiery chains that wrap up their whole bodies, and penetrate them on all sides, and fix them immovable to their place of torments. That head which by their pride and rebellion they had lifted up against God, is now eternally nailed down at an immense distance from him; that stiff neck which they refused to submit to his sweet yoke, is now loaded with the enormous weight of the chains of hell; and all their senses and members which they gratified in their life, by indulging them in the false liberty of sinful pleasures, are now condemned to an everlasting confinement and slavery, in links of grinding flames. Oh that sinners would be wise, and would think of these things, and would cease from sin!
Conclude, thou at least my soul, to take care whilst thou hast time to provide effectually for thy eternal welfare; that thou mayest never come to be cast into this dreadful and everlasting prison.
Consider first, what kind of entertainments are prepared in a miserable eternity, to succeed the banquets, and revellings, and other extravagances of a voluptuous life, in which worldlings pass the short time of their mortality. Oh. how strangely shall the scene be altered, when immediately after death they shall find their souls buried in hell! Ah! what kind of feasting shall they meet with there! What ravenous hunger and thirst, without being ever able to obtain so much as one drop of water!
‘Their wine is the gall of dragons, and the venom of asps, which is incurable,’ Deut. xxxii. 33. ‘Their cups are full of the wine of the wrath of God,’ Rev. xiv. Cups of liquid fire, and fetid sulphur. Their gardens of pleasure are turned into a pool of fire and brimstone. Their carnal embraces into the eternal gnawings of infernal serpents, ever preying upon their bosoms.
Consider 2ndly, the music with which these wretches shall be for ever entertained in hell: eternal howlings and yellings; eternal shrieks and groans; eternal curses and blasphemies; the insulting voices of the tormentors, scoffing at their sufferings; the lashes of their scourges, &c. Ah! unhappy sinners, how will you like such entertainments as these? Surely if there were nothing else in hell, but the being condemned to an everlasting night, in the midst of all this horror and confusion of so many frightful noises, dismal groans, and horrid blasphemies, any reasonable man would choose the worst of temporal evils rather than to be condemned for eternity to such a melancholy entertainment.
Consider, 3rdly, that the sense of smelling in the damned will also have its share in this infernal feast; where it will be for ever regaled with the loathsome exhalations of those filthy dungeons below, and with the intolerable stench of those half putrefied carcasses that are broiling there. And what shall come in to complete the misery of their entertainment, will be the abominable company which thy must have with them for endless ages, of so many hideous spirits; so many merciless devils; and what will be worse to them than devils, the unhappy partners of their sins. O what bitter hatred, what hellish rage and fury, will their former love be now turned into? O how will they now curse, how will they tear and torment one another; being eternally chained together, in those black fiery links, which by their dark passions and lusts they have in their lifetime made for themselves. O worldlings, break then your bonds asunder now, whilst you have time; withdraw yourselves now from all the objects of your criminal passions, and all disorderly affections; lest if you carry them with you out of this world, they serve for nothing else but to add so many fiery links to your everlasting chains, and to bind you down to as many devils.
Conclude to fly for the future from a voluptuous life, and all the sinful entertainments of the children of this world; ‘who have their consolation here; and who laugh now, but shall mourn and weep hereafter;’ St. Luke vi., and for thy part to lament henceforward the shall thou hast had with them, whilst thou hast walked on with them in the broad road of a worldly life; and by these penitential tears, joined with a new life, thou wilt escape having a share with them in the entertainments of hell.
Consider first, that in hell every vice shall meet with its peculiar torment. There the proud shall be debased and confounded, and trodden under foot by insulting devils. There the covetous, and the lovers of the mammon of this world shall groan under the extremity of want and misery. There the lascivious shall exchange their dark and filthy pleasures for fetid sulphur and black flames. There gluttons and drunkards shall be oppressed with an insupportable hunger and thirst, and so of the rest. But the general punishment of all the damned, and that which is most frequently inculcated in holy writ, is that they shall burn in everlasting fire. O who can endure the thought of this eternal burning in that dreadful pool of fire and brimstone? Christians, what are you doing? Do you believe this eternal fire; and do you dare to sin? If you believe it not, you are not Christians; and if you believe it, and still persist in going on in such sins as you know are the high road to this everlasting burning, you must be worse than madmen.
Consider 2ndly, that of all bodily torments which we can suffer in this world there is none more terrible than to burn alive. But alas! there is no comparison between burning here and burning in hell. All our fires upon earth are but painted flames if compared to the fire of hell. The fire of this world was made to serve us and to be our comfort; that of hell to be an instrument of God’s vengeance upon sinners. The fire of this world cannot subsist without being nourished by some combustible matter, which it quickly dispatches and consumes; the fire of hell, kindled by the breath of an angry God, requires no other fuel than sin, and on this it feeds without ever decaying or consuming. The fire of this world can only reach the body, but the fire of hell not only pierces the body through and through in all its members, and penetrates into all the inward parts with most exquisite tortures, but also reaches the soul herself in her very inmost recesses with its searching flames. Ah! who could endure such a fire as this even for one moment? How much less for an endless eternity?
Consider 3rdly, that there is no man upon earth that has not quite lost his senses who would be willing, even for the empire of the world, to be broiled like Laurence on a gridiron, or roasted for half an hour by a slow fire, though he was sure to come off with his life. Nay, where is the man that would even venture to hold his finger in the flame of a candle for a quarter of an hour for any reward this world can give? Where is then the judgment of the greater part of Christians who pretend to believe hell-fire and yet live on with so little apprehension and concern, and that oftentimes for years together, in guilt of mortal sin, in danger every moment of falling into this dreadful and everlasting fire: having no more all this while than a hair’s-breath – that is, the thin thread of an uncertain life between their souls and a miserable eternity? Good God, deliver us from this wretched blindness, from this desperate folly and madness.
Conclude never to expose thyself to the danger of this everlasting fire by mortal sin, nor to endure any such guilt, though it were even for one moment, lest in that very moment God should break the thread of thy life and let thee drop into that fire that will never be quenched. O what mercy it is of thy God that it has not been thy case long ago!
Contents of Challoner's Meditations
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