They then that have lost, or shall lose their souls are bound to their place, as well as to their sins. When Judas went to hell, he went to his home, 'to his own place' (Acts 1:25). And when the righteous go hence, they also go home to their house, to their own place; for the kingdom of heaven is prepared for them (Matt 25:34). Between heaven and hell 'there is a great gulf fixed' (Luke 26:26). That is a strange passage: 'There is a great gulf fixed.' What this gulf is, and how impassable, they that shall lose their souls will know to their woe; because it is fixed there where it is, on purpose to keep them in their tormenting place, so that they that would pass from hell to heaven cannot. But, I say, 'Would they not change places? would they not have a more comfortable house and home for their souls?' Yes, verily, the text supposes it, and the 16th of Luke affirms it; yea, and could they purchase for their souls a habitation among the righteous, would they not? Yes, they would give all the world to such a change. What shall, what shall not, a man, if he had it, if it would answer his design, give in exchange for his soul?
Third, As the damned would change their own vices for virtues, and the place where they are for that into which they shall not come, so what would they give for a change of condition? Yea, if an absolute change may not be obtained, yet what would they give for the least degree of mitigation of that torment, which now they know will without any intermission be, and that for ever and ever. 'Tribulation and anguish, indignation and wrath' (Rom 2:8,9), the gnawing worm, and everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power, cannot be borne but with great horror and grief (2 Thess 1:7-10). No marvel, then, if these poor creatures would, for ease for their souls, be glad to change their conditions. Change!—with whom? with an angel, with a saint; ay, with a dog or a toad; 29 for they mourn not, they weep not, nor do they bear indignation of wrath; they are as if they had not been; only the sinful soul abides in its sins, in the place designed for lost souls, and in the condition that wrath and indignation for sin and transgression hath decreed them to abide for ever. And this brings me to the conclusion, which is, 'that seeing the ungodly do seek good things too late,' therefore, notwithstanding their seeking, they must still abide in their place, their sins, and their torment—'For what can a man give in exchange for his soul?' Therefore, God saith, that they there must still abide and dwell, no exchange can be made. 'This shall ye have of Mine hand, ye shall lie down in sorrow;' they shall lie down in it, they shall make their bed there, there they shall lie (Isa 50:11; Eze 32:25-27). And this is the bitter pill that they must swallow down at the last; for, after all their tears, their sorrows, their mournings, their repentings, their wishings and woundings, and all their inventings, and desires to change their state for a better, they must 'lie down in sorrow.' The poor condemned man that is upon the ladder or scaffold has, if one knew them, many a long wish and long desire that he might come down again alive, or that his condition was as one of the spectators that are not condemned and brought thither to be executed as he. How carefully also doth he look with his failing eyes, to see if some comes not from the king with a pardon for him, all the while endeavouring to fumble away as well as he can, and to prolong the minute of his execution! But at last, when he has looked, when he has wished, when he has desired, and done whatever he can, the blow with the axe, or turn with the ladder, is his lot, so he goes off the scaffold, so he goes from among men; and thus it will be with those that we have under consideration; when all comes to all, and they have said, and wished, and done what they can, the judgment must not be reversed—they must 'lie down in sorrow.'
They must, or shall lie down! Of old, when a man was to be chastised for his fault, he was to lie down to receive his stripes; so here, saith the Lord, they shall lie down—'And it shall be, if the wicked man be worthy to be beaten, that the judge shall cause him to lie down, and to be beaten before his face' (Deu 25:2). And this lying down was to be his lot after he had pleaded for himself what be could—and the judge shall cause him to be beaten before his face, while he is present to behold the execution of judgment; and thus it shall be at the end of the world; the wicked shall lie down, and shall be beaten with many stripes in the presence of Christ, 'and in the presence of the holy angels' (2 Thess 1; Rev 14:10). For there will be His presence, not only at the trial as Judge, but to see execution done, nay, to do it Himself by the pouring out, like a river, His wrath as burning brimstone upon the soul of the lost and cast away sinner.
He shall lie down! These words imply that, at last, the damned soul shall submit; for to lie down is an act that signifies submission, especially to lie down to be beaten. 'The wicked shall be silent in darkness' (1 Sam 2:9). When the malefactor has said and wished all that be can, yet at last he submits, is silent, and, as it were, helps to put his head into the halter, or doth lay down his neck upon the block; so here it is said of the damned—They shall lie down in sorrow. There is also a place that saith, 'These shall go away into everlasting punishment' (Matt 25:46). To go, to go to punishment, is also an act of submission. Now, submission to punishment doth, or should, flow from full conviction of the merit of punishment; and I think it is so to be understood here—For 'every mouth shall be stopped, and all the world (of soul losers) become guilty before God' (Rom 3:4,19; Luke 13:25-28; Matt 25:46). Every mouth shall be stopped, not at the beginning of the judgment, for then they plead, and pray, and also object against the Judge; but at the end, after that by a judicial proceeding He shall have justified against them His sayings, and have overcome these His judges, then they shall submit, and also lie down in s orrow; yea, they shall go away to their punishment as those who know they deserve it; yea, they shall go away with silence.
How they shall behave themselves in hell, I will not here dispute; whether in a way of rage and blasphemy, and in rending and tearing of the name and just actions of God towards them, or whether by way of submission there; I say, though this is none of this task, yet a word or two, if you please.
Doubtless they will not be mute there; they will cry and wail, and gnash their teeth, and, perhaps, too, sometimes at God; but I do not think but that the justice that they have deserved, and the equal administration of it upon them, will, for the most part, prevail with them to rend and tear themselves, to acquit and justify God, and to add fuel to their fire, by concluding themselves in all the fault, and that they have sufficiently merited this just damnation; for it would seem strange to me that just judgment among men shall terminate in this issue, if God should not justify himself in the conscience of all the damned. But as here on earth, so He will let them know that go to hell that He hath not done without a cause, a sufficient cause, all that He hath done in damning of them (Eze 14:23).
[USE AND APPLICATION.]
I come now to make some use and application of the whole. And,
USE FIRST—If the soul be so excellent a thing as we have made it appear to be, and if the loss thereof be so great a loss, then here you may see who they are that are those extravagant ones; I mean, those that are such in the highest degree. Solomon tells us of 'a great waster,' and saith also, that he that is slothful in his business is brother to such an one (Prov 18:9). Who Solomon had his eye upon, or who it was that he counted so great a waster, I cannot tell; but I will challenge all the world to show me one, that for wasting and destroying, may be compared to him that for the lusts and pleasures of this life will hazard the loss of his soul. Many men will be so profuse, and will spend at that prodigal rate, that they will bring a thousand pound a year to five hundred, and five hundred to fifty, and some also will bring that fifty to less than ninepence; 30 but what is this to him that shall never leave losing until he has lost his soul? I have heard of some who would throw away a farm, a good estate, upon the trundling of one single bowl;31 but what is this to the casting away of the soul? Nothing can for badness be compared to sin; it is the vile thing, it cannot have a worse name than its own; it is worse than the vilest men, than the vilest of beasts; yea, sin is worse than the devil himself, for it is sin, and sin only, that hath made the devils devils; and yet for this, for this vile, this abominable thing, some men, yea, most men, will venture the loss of their soul; yea, they will mortgage, pawn, and set their souls to sale for it (Jer 44:4). Is not this a great waster? doth not this man deserve to be ranked among the extravagant ones? What think you of him who, when he tempted the wench to uncleanness, said to her, If thou wilt venture thy body, I'll venture my soul? Was not here like to be a fine bargain, think you? or was not this man like to be a gainer by so doing? This is he that prizes sin at a higher rate than he doth his immortal soul; yea, this is he that esteems a quarter of an hour's pleasure more than he fears everlasting d amnation. What shall I say? This man is minded to give more to be damned, than God requires he should give to be saved; is not this an extravagant one? 'Be astonished, O ye heavens! at this, and be horribly afraid!' (Jer 2:9-12). Yea, let all the angels stand amazed at the unaccountable prodigality of such an one.
Objection 1. But some may say, I cannot believe that God will be so severe as to cast away into hell fire an immortal soul for a little sin.
Answer. I know thou canst not believe it, for if thou couldst, thou wouldst sooner eat fire than run this hazard; and hence all they that go down to the lake of fire are called the unbelievers; and the Lord shall cut thee, that makest this objection, asunder, and shall appoint thee thy portion with such, except thou believe the gospel, and repent (Luke 12:46).
Objection 2. But surely, though God should be so angry at the beginning, it cannot in time but grieve Him to see and hear souls roaring in hell, and that for a little sin.
Answer. Whatsoever God doeth, it abideth for ever (Eccl 3:14). He doth nothing in a passion, or in an angry fit; He proceedeth with sinners by the most perfect rules of justice; wherefore it would be injustice, to deliver them whom the law condemneth, yea, He would falsify His word, if after a time He should deliver them from hell, concerning whom He hath solemnly testified, that they shall be there for ever.
Objection 3. O but, as He is just, so He is merciful; and mercy is pitiful, and very compassionate to the afflicted.
Answer. O, but mercy abused becomes most fearful in tormenting. Did you never read that the Lamb turned lion, and that the world will tremble at the wrath of the Lamb, and be afflicted more at the thoughts of that, than at the thoughts of anything that shall happen to them in the day when God shall call them to an account for their sins? (Rev 6:16,17). The time of mercy will be then past, for now is that acceptable time, behold now is the day of salvation; the gate of mercy will then be shut, and must not be opened again; for now is that gate open, now it is open for a door of hope (2 Cor 6:2; Matt 25:10; Luke 13:25).
The time of showing pity and compassion will then be at an end; for that as to acting towards sinners will last but till the glass of the world is run, and when that day is past, mark what God saith shall follow, 'I will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; when your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you' (Prov 1:26,27). Mark you how many pinching expressions the Lord Jesus Christ doth threaten the refusing sinner with; the sinner with, that refuseth Him now—I will laugh at him, I will mock at him. But when, Lord, wilt thou laugh at, and mock at, the impenitent? The answer is, 'I will laugh at their calamities, and mock when their fear cometh; when their fear cometh as desolation, and their destruction like a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon them.'
Objection 4. But if God Almighty be at this point, and there be no moving of Him to mercy at that day, yet we can but lie in hell till we are burnt out, as the log doth at the back of the fire.
Answer. Poor besotted sinner, is this thy last shift? wilt thou comfort thyself with this? Are thy sins so dear, so sweet, so desireable, so profitable to thee, that thou wilt venture a burning in hell fire for them till thou art burnt out? Is there nothing else to be done but to make a covenant with death, and to maintain thy agreement with hell? (Isa 28:15). Is it not better to say now unto God, Do not condemn me? and to say now, Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner? Would not tears, and prayers, and cries, in this acceptable time, to God for mercy, yield thee more benefit in the next world than to lie and burn out in hell will do?
But to come more close to thee. Have not I told thee already that there is no such thing as a ceasing to be? that the damned shall never be burned out in hell? there shall be no more such death, or cause of dissolution for ever. This one thing, well considered, breaks not only the neck of that wild conceit on which thy foolish objection is built, but will break thy stubborn heart in pieces. For then it follows, that unless thou canst conquer God, or with ease endure to conflict with His sin-revenging wrath, thou wilt be made to mourn while under His everlasting wrath and indignation; and to know that there is not such a thing as a burning out in hell fire.
Objection 5. But, if this must be my case, I shall have more fellows; I shall not go to hell, nor yet burn there, alone.
Answer. What, again; is there no breaking of the league that is betwixt sin and thy soul? What, resolved to be a self-murderer, a soul murderer? what, resolved to murder thine own soul? But is there any comfort in being hanged with company? in sinking into the bottom of the sea with company? or in going to hell, in burning in hell, and in enduring the everlasting pains of hell, with company? O besotted wretch! But I tell thee, the more company, the more sorrow; the more fuel, the more fire. Hence the damned man that we read of in Luke desired that his brethren might be so warned and prevailed with as to be kept out of that place of torment (Luke 16:27,28). But to hasten; I come now to the second use.
USE SECOND.—Is it so? Is the soul such an excellent thing, and the loss thereof so unspeakably great? Then here you may see who are the greatest fools in the world—to wit, those who, to get the world and its preferments, will neglect God till they lose their souls. The rich man in the gospel was one of these great fools, for that he was more concerned about what he should do with his goods, than how his soul should be saved (Luke 7:16-21). Some are for venturing their souls for pleasures, and some are for venturing their souls for profits; they that venture their souls for pleasures have but little excuse for their doings; but they that venture their soul for profit seem to have much. 'And they all with one consent began to make excuse;'—excuse for what? why, for the neglect of the salvation of their souls. But what was the cause of their making this excuse? Why, their profits came tumbling in. 'I have bought a piece of ground;' 'I have bought five yoke of oxen;' and 'I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come' (Luke 14:15-20).
Thus also it was with the fool first mentioned; his ground did bring forth plentifully, wherefore he must of necessity forget his soul, and, as he thought, all the reason of the world he should. Wherefore, he falls to crying out, What shall I do? Now, had one said, Mind the good of thy soul, man; the answer would have been ready, But where shall I bestow my goods. If it had been replied, Stay till harvest; he returns again, But I have no room where to bestow my goods. Now, tell him of praying, and he answers, he must go to building. Tell him, he should frequent sermons, and he replies, he must mind his workmen. 'He cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?' (Isa 44:20).
And see if, in the end, he did not become a fool; for though he accomplished the building of his barns, and put in there all his fruits and his goods, yet even till now his soul was empty, and void of all that was good; nor did he, in singing of that requiem which he sung to his soul at last, saying, 'Soul, take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry,' show himself ever the wiser; for, in all his labours he had rejected to get that food that indeed is meat and drink for the soul. Nay, in singing this song he did but provoke God to hasten to send to fetch his soul to hell; for so begins the conclusion of the parable—'Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee; then whose shall those things be which thou hast provided?' So that, I say, it is the greatest folly in the world for a man, upon any pretence what ever, to neglect to make good the salvation of his soul.
There are six signs of a fool, and they do all meet in that same man that concerns not himself, and that to good purpose, for the salvation of his soul. 1. A fool has not an heart, when the price is in his hand, to get wisdom. (Prov 17:16). 2. 'It is a sport to a fool to do mischief.' and to set light by the commission of sin (Prov 10:23). 3. 'Fools despise wisdom;' 'fools hate knowledge' (Prov 1:7,22). 4. 'A fool,' after restraint, 'returneth to his folly' (Prov 26:11). 5. 'The way of a fool is right in his own eyes' (Prov 7:15). 6. The fool goes merrily 'to the correction of the stocks' (Prov 7:22).
I might add many more, but these six shall suffice at this time, by which it appears that the fool has no heart for the heavenly prize, yet he has to sport himself in sin; and when he despises wisdom, the way is yet right before him; yea, if he be for some time restrained from vice, he greedily turneth again thereto, and will, when he has finished his course of folly and sin in this world, go as heedlessly, as carelessly, as unconcernedly, and quietly, down the steps to hell, as the ox goeth to the slaughter-house, This is a soul fool, a fool of the biggest size; and so is every one also that layeth up treasure for himself on earth, 'and is not rich towards God' (Luke 7:21).
Objection 1. But would you not have us mind our worldly concerns?
Answer. Mind them, but mind them in their place; mind thy soul first and most; the soul is more than the body, and eternal life better than temporal; first seek the kingdom of God, and prosper in thy health and thy estate as thy soul prospers (Matt 6:33; 3 John 2). But as it is rare to see this command obeyed, for the kingdom of God shall be thought of last, so if John's wish was to light upon, or happen to some people, they would neither have health nor wealth in this world. To prosper and be in health, as their soul prospers—what, to thrive and mend in outwards no faster? then we should have them have consumptive bodies and low estates; for are not the souls of most as unthrifty, for grace and spiritual health, as is the tree without fruit that is pulled up by the roots?
Objection 2. But would you have us sit still and do nothing?
Answer. And must you needs be upon the extremes? must you mind this world to the damning of your souls? or will you not mind your callings at all? Is there not a middle way? may you not, must you not, get your bread in a way of honest industry; that is, caring most for the next world, and so using of this as not abusing the same? (1 Cor 7: 20-31). And then a man doth so, and never but then, when he sets this world and the next in their proper places, in his thoughts, in his esteem, and judgment, and dealeth with both accordingly (2 Cor 4:18). And is there not all the reason in the world for this? are not the things that are eternal best? Will temporal things make thy soul to live? or art thou none of those that should look after the salvation of their soul? (Deu 8:3; Matt 5:4; Heb10:39).
Objection 3. But the most of men do that which you forbid, and why may not we?
Answer. God says, 'Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil' (Exo 23:2). It is not what men do, but what God commands; it is not what doth present itself unto us, but what is best, that we should choose (Matt 6:23; Luke 10:41,42). Now, 'He that refuseth instruction, despiseth his own soul;' and 'He that keepeth the commandment, keepeth his own soul' (Prov 15:32; 19:16). Make not, therefore, these foolish objections. But what saith the Word? how readest thou? That tells thee, that the pleasures of sin are but for a season; that the things that are seen are but temporal; that he is a fool that is rich in this world, and is not so towards God; 'and what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?'
Objection 4. But may one not be equally engaged for both?
Answer. A divided heart is a naughty one (Heb 10:2). 'You cannot serve God and mammon' (Matt 6:24; Luke 16:13). 'If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him,' (1 John 2:15); and yet this objection bespeaks that thy heart is divided, that thou art a Mammonist, or that thou lovest the world. But will riches profit in the day of wrath? (Prov 11:4). Yea, are they not hurtful in the day of grace? do they not tend to surfeit the heart, and to alienate a man and his mind from the things that are better? (Luke 21:34). Why, then, wilt thou set thy heart upon that which is not? yea, then what will become of them that are so far off of minding of their souls, that they, for whole months, and years together, scarce consider whether they have souls to save?
USE THIRD.—But, thirdly, is it so? Is the soul such an excellent thing, and is the loss thereof so unspeakably great? Then this should teach people to be very careful to whom they commit the teaching and guidance of their souls.
This is a business of the greatest concern; men will be careful to whom they commit their children, who they make the executors of their will, in whose hand they trust the writing and evidences of their lands; but how much more careful should we be, and yet the most are the least of all careful, unto whom they commit the teaching and guidance of their souls. There are several sorts of soul shepherds in the world: 1. There are idol shepherds (Zech 6:5). 2. There are foolish shepherds (Zech 11:15). 3. There are shepherds that feed themselves, and not their flock (Eze 34:2) 4. There are hard-hearted and pitiless shepherds (Zech 9: 3). 5. There are shepherds that, instead of healing, smite, push, and wound the diseased (Eze 34:4,21). 6. There are shepherds that 'cause their flocks to go astray' (Jer 50:6). 7. And there are shepherds that feed their flock; these are the shepherds to whom thou shouldst commit thy soul for teaching and for guidance.
Question. You may ask, How should I know those shepherds?
Answer. First, surrender up thy soul unto God, by Christ, and choose Christ to be the chief Shepherd of thy soul; and He will direct thee to His shepherds, and He will, of His mercy, set such shepherds over thee 'as shall feed thee with knowledge and understanding' (1 Peter 2:25; 4:19; John 10:4,5; Song 1:7, 8; Jer 3:15; 23:4). Before thou hast surrendered up thy soul to Christ, that He may be thy chief Shepherd, thou canst not find out, nor choose to put thy soul under the teaching and guidance of His under shepherds, for thou canst not love them; besides, they are so set forth by false shepherds, in so many ugly guises, and under so many false and scandalous dresses, that, should I direct thee to them while thou art a stranger to Christ, thou wilt count them deceivers, devourers, and wolves in sheeps' clothing, rather than the shepherds that belong to the great and chief Shepherd, who is, also, the Bishop of the soul.
Yet this I will say unto thee, take heed of that shepherd that careth not for his own soul, that walketh in ways, and doth such things, as have a direct tendency to damn his own soul; I say, take heed of such an one, come not near him, let him have nothing to do with thy soul; for if he be not faithful to that which be his own soul, be sure he will not be faithful to that which is another man's. He that feeds his own soul with ashes, will scarce feed thine with the bread of life; wherefore, take heed of such an one; and many such there are in the world (Isa 44:20). 'By their fruits you shall know them;' they are for flattering of the worst, and frowning upon the best; they are for promising of life to the profane, and for slaying the souls that God would have live; they are also men that hunt souls that fear God, but for sewing pillows under those arm holes which God would have to lean upon that which would afflict them. These be them 'that, with lies, do make the heart of the righteous sad, whom I have not made sad;' saith God; and that have 'strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he shall not return from his wicked way, by promising of him life' (Eze 13:18-22).
And as thou shouldest, for thy soul's sake, choose for thyself good soul shepherds, so also, for the same reason, you should choose for yourself a good wife, a good husband, a good master, a good servant; for in all these things the soul is concerned. Abraham would not suffer Isaac to take a wife of the daughters of Canaan, (Gen 24:3); nor would David suffer a wicked servant to come into his house, or to tarry in his sight (Psa 101:7). Bad company is, also, very destructive to the soul, and so is evil communication; wherefore, be diligent to shun all these things, that thou mayest persevere in that way, the end of which will be the saving of thy soul (Prov 13:20; 1 Cor 15:33).
And since, under this head, I am fallen upon cautions, let me add these to those which I have presented to thee already:
Caution 1. Take heed, take heed of learning to do evil of any that are good. 'Tis possible for a good man to do things that are bad; but let not his bad action embolden thee to run upon sin. Seest thou a good man that stumbleth at a stone, or that slippeth into the dirt—let that warn thee to take heed; let his stumble make thee wary, let his fall make thee look well to thy goings; 'ever follow that which is good' (1 Thess 5:15). Thy soul is at stake.
Caution 2. Take heed of the good things of bad men, for in them there lies a snare also; their 'good words and fair speeches' tend to deceive (Rom 16:17, 18). Learn to be good, by the Word of God and by the holy lives of them that be good; envy not the wicked, 'nor desire to be with them;' 'choose none of his ways' (Prov 3:31; 24:1). Thy soul lies at stake.
Caution 3. Take heed of playing the hypocrite in religion. What of God and His Word thou knowest, profess it honestly, conform to it heartily, serve Him faithfully; for what is the hypocrite bettered by all his profession, 'when God taketh away his soul?' (Job 27:8).
Caution 4. Take heed of delays to turn to God, and of choosing His ways for the delight of thy heart, 'for the Lord's eye is upon them that fear Him, to deliver their souls' (Psa 33:18,19).
Caution 5. Boast not thyself of thy flocks and thy herds, of thy gold and thy silver, of thy sons and of thy daughters. What is a house full of treasures, and all the delights of this world, if thou be empty of grace, 'if thy soul be not filled with good?' (Eccl 6:3). But,
USE FOURTH.—Is it so? Is the soul such an excellent thing, and is the loss thereof so unspeakably great? Then, I pray thee, let me inquire a little of thee, what provision thou hast made for thy soul? There be many that, through their eagerness after the things of this life, do bereave their soul of good, even of that good the which if they had it would be a good to them for ever (Eccl 4:8). But I ask not concerning this; it is not what provision thou hast made for this life, but what for the life, and the world to come. 'Lord, gather not my soul with sinners,' saith David, (Psa 26:9); not with men of this world: Lord, not with them that have their portion in this life, whose belly Thou fillest with Thy hid treasures. Thus you see how Solomon laments some, and how his father prays to be delivered from their lot who have their portion in this life, and that have not made provision for their soul. Well, then, let me inquire of thee about this matter. What provision hast thou made for thy soul? And,
1. What hast thou thought of thy soul? What ponderous thoughts hast thou had of the greatness and of the immortality of thy soul? This must be the first inquiry: for he that hath not had his thoughts truly exercised, ponderously exercised, about the greatness and the immortality of his soul, will not be careful, after an effectual manner, to make provision for his soul, for the life and world to come. The soul is a man's all, whether he knows it or no, as I have already showed you. Now a man will be concerned about what he thinks is his all. We read of the poor servant that 'setteth his heart upon' his wages (Deu 24:14,15). But it is because it is his all, his treasure, and that wherein his worldly worth lieth. Why, thy soul is thy all; it is strange if thou dost not think so! and more strange if thou dost think so, and yet hast light, seldom, and trivial thoughts about it. These two seem to be inconsistent, therefore let thy conscience speak; either thou hast very great and weighty thoughts about the excellent greatness of thy soul, or else thou dost not count that thy soul is so great a thing as it is, else thou dost not count it thy all.
2. What judgment hast thou made of the present state of thy soul? I speak now to the unconverted. Thy soul is under sin, under the curse, and an object of wrath; this is that sentence that by the Word is passed upon it—'Woe unto their soul,' saith God, 'for they have rewarded evil unto themselves.' (Isa 3:9). This is the sentence of God. Well, but what judgment hast thou passed upon it while thou livest in thy debaucheries? Is it not that which thy fellows have passed on theirs before thee, saying, 'I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart, to add drunkenness to thirst' (Deu 29:19). If so, know thy judgment is gross, thy soul is miserable, and turn, or in little time thine eyes will behold all this.
3. What care hast thou had of securing of thy soul, and that it might be delivered from the danger that by sin it is brought into? if a man has a horse, a cow, or a swine that is sick, or in danger by reason of this or that casualty, he will take care for his beast, that it may not perish; he will pull it out of the ditch on the Sabbath day. But, oh! that is the day on which many men do put their soul into the ditch of sin; that is the day that they set apart to pursue wickedness in. 32 But, I say, what care hast thou taken to get thy soul out of this ditch?—a ditch out of which thou canst never get it without the aid of an omnipotent arm. In things pertaining to this life, when a man feels his own strength fail, he will implore the help and aid of another; and no man can, by any means, deliver by his own arm his soul from the power of hell, which thou also wilt confess, if thou beest not a very brute; but what hast thou done with God for help? hast thou cried? hast thou cried out? yea, dost thou still cry out, and that day and night before him—'Deliver my soul' (Psa 17:13) 'Save my soul, preserve my soul' (Psa 25:20) 'Heal my soul,' (Psa 42:4), and, 'I pour out my soul unto thee?' (Psa 62:5). Yea, canst thou say, My soul, my soul waiteth upon God, my soul thirsteth for Him, my soul followeth hard after him? (Psa 63:1,8). I say, dost thou this, or dost thou hunt thine own soul to destroy it? The soul, with some, is the game, their lusts are the dogs, and they themselves are the huntsmen, and never do they more halloo, and lure, and laugh, and sing, than when they have delivered up their soul, their darling, to these dogs—a thing that David trembled to think of, when he cried, 'Dogs have compassed me. Deliver my darling,' my soul, 'from the power of the dog' (Psa 22:16,20). Thus, I say, he cried, and yet these dogs were but wicked men. But, oh! how much is a sin, a lust, worst than a man to do us hurt; yea, worse than is a dog, (or) a lion, to hurt a lamb!
4. What are the signs and tokens that thou bearest about thee, concerning how it will go with thy soul at last? There are signs and tokens of a good, and signs and tokens of a bad end that the souls of sinners will have; there are signs of the salvation of the soul, (Heb 6:9); evident tokens of salvation; and there are signs of the damnation of the soul, evident signs of damnation (Phil 1:27,28; Job 21:29,30; 1 Sam 3:9). Now, which of these hast thou? I cannot stand here to show thee which are which; but thy soul and its salvation lieth before thee, and thou hast the book [the Holy Bible] of signs about these matters by thee; thou hast also men of God to go to, and their assemblies to frequent. Look to thyself; heaven and hell are hard by, and one of them will swallow thee up; heaven, into unspeakable and endless glory, or hell, into unspeakable and endless torment. Yet,
5. What are the pleasures and delights of thy soul now? Are they things Divine, or things natural? Are they things heavenly, or things earthly? Are they things holy, or things unholy? For look what think thou delightest in now, to those things the great God doth count thee a servant, and for and of those thou shalt receive thy wages at the day of judgment—'His servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness' (Rom 16:16).
Wicked men talk of heaven, and say they hope and desire to go to heaven, even while they continue wicked men; but, I say, what would they do there? If all that desire to go to heaven should come thither, verily they would make a hell of heaven; for, I say, what would they do there? why, just as they do here, scatter their filthiness quite over the face of heaven, and make it as vile as the pit that the devils dwell in. 33 Take holiness away out of heaven, and what is heaven? I had rather be in hell, were there none but holy ones there, than be in heaven itself with the children of iniquity. If heaven should be filled with wicked men, God would quickly drive them out, or forsake the place for their sakes. It is true, they have been sinners, and none but sinners, that go to heaven; but they are washed—' Such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God' (1 Cor 6:11). When the maidens were gathered together for the great king Ahasuerus, before they were brought to him into his royal presence, they were to be had to the house of the women, there to be purifed with things for purification, and that for twelve months together—to wit, six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with sweet odours, and other things, and so came every maiden to the king (Esth 2:3,9,12,13). God also hath appointed that those that come into His royal presence should first go to the house of the women, the church, 34 and there receive of the eunuchs things for purification, things to make us 'meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light' (Col 1:12). None can go from a state of nature to glory but by a state of grace, the Lord gives grace and glory; hence he that goeth to heaven is said to be wrought for it, fitted, prepared for it (1 Cor 5:5; Rom 19:23).
USE FIFTH, Again, fifthly, Is it so? is the soul such an excellent thing, and is the loss thereof so unspeakably great? Then this doctrine commends those for the wise ones, that above all business concern themselves with the salvation of their souls; those that make all other matters but things by the by, and the salvation of their souls the one thing needful. But, but few comparatively will be concerned with this use; for where is he that doth this? Solomon speaks of one man of a thousand (Eccl 7:28). However, some there be, and blessed be God for some; but they are they that are wise, yea, wise in the wisdom of God.
1. Because they reject what God hath rejected and that is sin. 2. Because they esteem but little of that which, by the Word, is counted but of little esteem, and that is the world. 3. Because they choose for a portion that which God commendeth unto us for that which is the most excellent thing—viz., Himself, His Christ, His heaven, His Word, His grace, and holiness; these are the great and most excellent things, and the things that He has chosen that is truly wise for his soul (and all other wise men are fools in God's account, and in the judgment of His Word), and if it be so, glory and bliss must needs be their portion, though others shall miss thereof—'The wise shall inherit glory, but shame shall be the promotion of fools' (Prov 3:35).
Let me, then, encourage those that are of this mind to be strong, and hold on their way. Soul, thou hast pitched right; I will say of thy choice as David said of Goliath's sword, 'There is none like that; give it me.' 'Hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown' (Rev 3:11). Oh! I admire this wisdom; this is by the direction of the Lawgiver; this is by the teaching of the blessed Spirit of God: not the wisdom which this world teacheth, nor the wisdom which the world doth choose, which comes to nought (1 Cor 2: 6). Surely thou hast seen something of the world to come, and of the glory of it, through faith; surely God has made thee see emptiness in that wherein others find a fulness, and vanity in that which by others is counted for a darling. Blessed are thine eyes, for they see; and thine ears, for they hear.
But who told thee that thy soul was such an excellent thing as by thy practice thou declarest thou believest it to be? What! set more by thy soul than by all the world? What! cast a world behind thy back for the welfare of a soul? Is not this to play the fool, in the account of sinners, while angels wonder at and rejoice for thy wisdom? What a thing is this, that thy soul and its welfare should be more in thy esteem than all those glories wherewith the eyes of the world are dazzled! Surely thou hast looked upon the sun, and that makes gold look like a clod of clay in thine eyesight.
But who put the thoughts of the excellencies of the things that are eternal—I say, who put the thoughts of the excellency of those things into thy mind in this wanton age?—in an age wherein the thoughts of eternal life, and the salvation of the soul, are with and to many like the Morocco ambassador and his men, men of strange faces, in strange habit, with strange gestures and behaviour, monsters to behold. But where hadst thou that heart that gives entertainment to these thoughts, these heavenly thoughts? These thoughts are like the French Protestants, banished thence where they willingly would have harbour.35 How came they to thy house, to thy heart, and to find entertainment in thy sou1? The Lord keep them in every imagination of the thoughts of thy heart for ever, and incline thine heart to seek Him more and more.
And since the whole world have slighted and despised, and counted foolish the thoughts and cogitations wherewith thy soul is exercised, what strong and mighty supporter is it upon and with which thou bearest up thy spirit, and takest encouragement in this thy forlorn, unoccupied, and singular way? for so, I daresay, it is with the most; but certainly it is something above thyself, and that is more mighty to uphold thee than is the power, rage, and malice of all the world to cast thee down, or else thou couldst not bear up, now wind and weather, now the stream and the force thereof are against thee.
Objection 1. 'I know my soul is an excellent thing, and that the world to come and its glories, even in the smallest glimpse thereof, do swallow up all the world that is here; my heart also doth greatly desire to be exercised about the thoughts of eternity, and I count myself never better than when my poor heart is filled with them; as for the rage and fury of this world, it swayeth very little with me, for my heart is come to a point; but yet, for all that, I meet with many discouragements, and such things that indeed do weaken my strength in the way.'
But, brave soul, pray tell me what the things are that discourage thee, and that weaken thy strength in the way?
Why, the amazing greatness of this my enterprise, that is one thing. I am now pursuing things of the highest, the greatest, the most enriching nature, even eternal things; and the thoughts of the greatness of them drowned me; for when the heat of my spirit in the pursuit after them is a little returned and abated, methinks I hear myself talking thus to myself: Fond fool! canst thou imagine that such a gnat, a flea, a pismire as thou art, can take and possess the heavens, and mantle thyself up in the eternal glories? If thou makest first a trial of the successfulness of thy endeavours upon things far lower, more base, but much more easy to obtain, as crowns, kingdoms, earldoms, dukedoms, gold, silver, or the like, how vain are these attempts of thine; and yet thou thinkest to possess thy soul of heaven! Away, away! by the height thereof thou mayest well conclude it is far above out of thy reach; and by the breadth thereof it is too large for thee to grasp; and by the nature of the excellent glory thereof, too good for thee to possess. These are the thoughts that sometimes discourage me, and that weaken my strength in the way.
Answer. The greatness of thy undertaking does but show the nobleness of thy soul, in that it cannot, will not, be content with such low and dry as the baseborn spirits that are of the world can and do content themselves withal. And as to the greatness of the things thou aimest at, though they be, err they are indeed, things that have not their like, yet they are not too big for God to give, and He has promised to give them to the soul that seeketh Him; yea, He hath prepared the kingdom, given the kingdom, and laid up in the kingdom of heaven, the things that thy soul longeth for, presseth after, and cannot be content without (Luke 7:32; Matt 25:14; Col 1:5; 1 Peter 1:4). As for thy making a trial of the successfulness of thy endeavours upon things more interim and base, that is but a trick of the old deceiver. God has refused to give His children the great, the brave, and glorious things of this world, a few only excepted, because He has prepared some better thing for them (1 Cor 1:27; Heb 11:36-40). Wherefore faint not, but let thy hand be strong, for thy work shall be rewarded (Gal 6:9). And since thy soul is at work for soul-things, for divine and eternal things, God will give them to thee; thou art not of the number of them that draw back unto perdition, but of them that believe to the saving of the soul; thou shalt receive the end of thy faith, the salvation of thy soul (Heb 10:39; 1 Peter 1:8,9).
Objection 2. But all my discouragement doth not lie in this. I see so much of the sinful vileness of my nature, and feel how ready it is to thrust itself forth at all occasions to the defiling of my whole man, and more. Now this added to the former, adds to my discouragement greatly.
Answer. This should be cause of humiliation and of self-abasement, but not of discouragement; for the best of saints have their weaknesses, these their weaknesses. The ladies as well as she that grinds at the mill, know what doth attend that sex; and the giants in grace as well as the weak and shrubs, are sensible of the same things, which thou layest in against thy exercising of hope, or as matter of thy discouragement. Poor David says (Psa 77:2) 'My soul refused to be comforted,' upon this very account, and Paul cries out under sense of this, 'O wretched man that I am!' and comes as it were to the borders of doubt, saying, 'Who shall deliver me?' (Rom 7:24). Only he was quick at remembering that Christ was his righteousness and price of redemption, and there he relieved himself.
Again; this should drive us to faith in Christ; for therefore are the corruptions by Divine permission still left in us; they are not left in us to drive us to unbelief, but to faith—that is, to look to the perfect righteousness of Christ for life. And for further help, consider, that therefore Christ liveth in heaven, making intercession, that thou mightest be saved by His life, not by thine, and by His intercessions, not by thy perfections (Rom 5: 6-9; Col 1:20). Let not therefore thy weaknesses be thy discouragements; only let them put thee upon the duties required of thee by the gospel—to wit, faith, hope, repentance, humility, watchfulness, diligence, etc. (1 Peter 1:13; 5:5; 2 Cor 7:11; Mark 13:37; 2 Peter 1:10).
Objection 3. But I find, together with these things, weakness and faintness as to my graces; my faith my hope, my love, and desires to these and all other Christian duties are weak; I am like the man in the dream, that would have run, but could not; that would have fought, but could not; and that would have fled, but could not.
Answer 1. Weak graces are graces, weak graces may grow stronger; but if the iron be blunt, put to the more strength (Eccl 10:10). 2. Christ seems to be most tender of the weak: 'He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.' (Isa 40:11). And again, 'I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick' (Eze 34:16). Only here will thy wisdom be manifested—to wit, that thou grow in grace, and that thou use lawfully and diligently the means to do it (2 Peter 3:18; Phil 2:10,11; 1 Thess 3:11-13).
USE SIXTH, I come, in the next place, to a use of terror, and so I shall conclude. Is it so? is the soul such an excellent thing, and is the loss thereof so unspeakably great? Then this showeth the sad state of those that lose their souls. We use to count those in a deplorable condition, that by one only stroke, are stript of their whole estate; the fire swept away all that he had; or all that he had was in such a ship, and that ship sunk into the bottom of the sea; this is sad news, this is heavy tidings, this is bewailed of all, especially if such were great in the world, and were brought by their loss from a high to a low, to a very low condition; but alas! what is this to the loss about which we have been speaking all this while? The loss of an estate may be repaired, or if not, a man may find friends in his present deplorable condition to his support, though not recovery; but far will this be from him that shall lose his soul. Ah! he has lost his soul, and can never be recovered again, unless hell fire can comfort him; unless he can solace himself in the fiery indignation of God; terrors will be upon him, anguish and sorrow will swallow him up, because of present misery; slighted and set at nought by God and His angels, he will also be in this miserable state, and this will add to sorrow, sorrow, and to his vexation of spirit, howling.
To present you with emblems of tormented spirits, or to draw before your eyes the picture of hell, are things too light for so ponderous a subject as this; nor can any man frame or invent words, be they never so deep and profound, sufficient to the life to set out the torments of hell.
All those expressions of fire, brimstone, the lake of fire, a fiery furnace, the bottomless pit, and a hundred more to boot, are all too short to let forth the miseries of those that shall be damned souls. 'Who knoweth the power or God's anger?' (Psa 90:11). None at all; and unless the power of that can be known, it must abide as unspeakable as the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.
We hear it thunder, we see it lighten; yea, eclipses, comets, and blazing stars are all subject to smite us with terror; the thought of a ghost, of the appearing of a dead wife, a dead husband, or the like, how terrible are these things! 36 But alas, what are these? mere flea bitings, nay, not so bad, when compared with the torments of hell. Guilt and despair, what are they? Who understands them unto perfection? The ireful looks of an infinite Majesty, what mortal in the land of the living can tell us to the full, how dismal and breaking to the soul of a man it is, when it comes as from 'the power of His anger,' and arises from the utmost indignation? Besides, who knows of all the ways by which the Almighty will inflict His just revenges upon the souls of damned sinners? When Paul was caught up to the third heaven, he heard words that were unspeakable; and he that goes down to hell shall hear groans that are unutterable. Hear, did I say? they shall feel them, they shall feel them burst from their wounded spirit as thunderclaps do from the clouds. Once I dreamed that I saw two (whom I knew) in hell, and methought I saw a continual dropping from heaven, as of great drops of fire lighting upon them, to their sore distress. Oh! words are wanting, thoughts are wanting, imagination and fancy are poor things here; hell is another kind of place and state than any alive can think; and since I am upon this subject, I will here treat a little of hell as the Scriptures will give me leave, and the rather because I am upon a use of terror, and because hell is the place of torment (Luke 16).
1. Hell is said to be beneath, as heaven is said to be above; because as above signifieth the utmost joy, triumph, and felicity, so beneath is a term most fit to describe the place of hell by, because of the utmost opposition that is between these two; hell being the place of the utmost sorrow, despair, and misery; there are the underlings ever trampled under the feet of God; they are beneath, below, under (Prov 15:24)!
2. Hell is said to be darkness, and heaven is said to be light; light, to show the pleasureableness and the desireableness of heaven; and darkness, to show the dolesome and wearisomeness of hell; and how weary, oh! how weary and wearisomely, as I may say, will damned souls turn themselves from side to side, from place to place, in hell, while swallowed up in the thickest darkness, and griped with the burning thoughts of the endlessness of that most unutterable misery (Matt 22:13)!
3. Men are said to go up to heaven, but they are said to go down to hell; up, because of exaltation, and because they must abound in beauty and glory that go to heaven; down, because of those sad dejections, that great deformity and vile contempt that sin hath brought them to that go to hell (Eze 32:18).
4. Heaven is called a hill or mount, (Heb 12); hell is called a pit, or hole, (Rev 9:2); heaven, a mount, the mount Zion, (Rev 14); to show how God has, and will exalt them that loved Him in the world; hell, a pit or hole, to show how all the ungodly shall be buried in the yawning paunch and belly of hell, as in a hollow cave.
5. Heaven! It is said of heaven, the height of heaven, (Job 22:12). and of hell, the bottomless pit, (Rev 9:2; 20:3). The height of heaven, to show that the exaltation of them that do ascend up thither is both perfect and unsearchable; and hell, the bottomless pit, to show that the downfall of them that descend in thither will never be at an end—down, down, down they go, and nothing but down, down still!
6. Heaven! It is called the paradise of God, (Rev 2:7); but hell, the burning lake (Rev 20:15). A paradise, to show how quiet, harmless, sweet, and beautiful heaven shall be to them that possess it, as the garden was at the beginning of the creation; hell, the burning lake, to allude to Sodom, that since its destruction is turned into a stinking lake, and to show that as their distress was unutterable, and to the highest amazement, full of confusion and horror, when that tempestuous storm of fire and brimstone was rained from the Lord out of heaven upon them, so, to the utmost degree, shall it be with the souls that are lost and cast into hell.
7. It is said that there are dwelling houses, or places in the kingdom of heaven (John 14: 1-3; Zech 3:7; Isa 57:1,2). And also that there are the cells or the chambers of death in hell (Prov 7:27). There are mansions or dwelling places in heaven, to show that every one of them that go thither might have his reward, according to his work; and that there is hell, and the lowest hell (Deu 32:22; Psa 86:13). And the chambers of death in hell to show there are places and states in hell too, for sinners to be imprisoned in, according to their faults; hence it is said of some, These shall receive greater damnation, (Luke 20:47); and of others, That it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the judgment than for them, etc. (Luke 10:12, 14).
The lowest hell. How many hells there are above that, or more tolerable tormenting places than the most exquisite torments there, God, and they that are there, know best; but degrees without doubt there are; and the term 'lowest' shows the utmost and most exquisite distress; so the chambers of death, the second death in hell, for so I think the words should be understood—'Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death' (Prov 7:27). These are the chambers that the chambers in the temple, or that the dwelling places in the house in heaven, are opposed to: and this opposition shows, that as there will be degrees of glory in heaven, so there will of torments in hell; and there is all reason for it, since the punishment must be inflicted by God, the infinitely just. Why should a poor, silly, ignorant man, though damned, be punished with the same degree of torment that he that has lived a thousand times worse shall be punished with? It cannot be; justice will not admit it; guilt, and the quality of the transgression, will not admit it; yea, the tormenting fire of hell itself will not admit it; for if hell fire can kindle upon nothing but sin, and the sinner for the sake of it, and if sin be as oil to that fire, as the Holy Ghost seems to intimate, saying, 'Let it come into his bowels like water, and like oil into his bones' (Psa 109:18). Then as the quantity of the oil is, so will the fire burn, and so will the flaming flame ascend, and the smoke of their torment, for ever and ever. Suppose a piece of timber a little bedaubed with oil, and another that has been soaking in it many a year, which of these two, think you, would burn fiercest? and from whence would the flaming flame ascend highest, and make the most roaring noise? Suppose two vessels filled with oil, one containing the quantity of a pint, the other containing the quantity of a hogshead, and suppose that in one place they were both set on fire, yet so that they might not intermix flames; nay, though they did, yet all would conclude that the most amazing roaring flame would be upon the biggest vessel, and would be the effect of the greatest quantity of oil; so it will be with the wicked in hell. The lowest hell is for the biggest sinners, and theirs will be the greater damnation, and the more intolerable torment, though he that has least of this oil of sin in his bones, and of the kindlings of hell fire upon him, will find he has hell enough, and will be weary enough thereof, for still he must struggle with flames that are everlasting; for sin is such a thing, that it can never be burned out of the soul and body of a damned sinner.
But again; having treated thus of hell, we will now speak a word or two of sin, for that is it upon which hell fire seizes, and so on the soul by that. Sin! it is the sting of hell—the sting of death is sin (1 Cor 15:56). By 'death' in this place we must not understand that which is natural, but that which is in hell, the second death, even everlasting damnation; for natural death the saints die, yea, and also many sinners, without the least touch of a sting from that; but here is a death that has a sting to hurt, to twinge, and wound the sinner with, even then when it has the utmost mastery of him. And this is the death that the saved are delivered from; not that which is natural, for that is the end of them as of others (1 Cor 15:55; Eccl 2:15, 16). But the second death, the death in hell, for that is the portion of the damned, and it is from that that the saints have a promise of deliverance—'He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death' (Rev 2:11). And again, 'Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection; on such the second death hath no power' (Rev 20:6). It is this death, then, that hath the chambers to hold each damned soul in: and sin is the twining, winding, biting, poisoning sting of this death, or of these chambers of hell, for sinners to be stricken, stung, and pierced with. 'The sting of death is sin.' Sin, the general of it, 37 is the sting of hell, for there would be no such thing as torment even there, were it not that sin is there with sinners; for, as I have hinted already, the fire of hell, the indignation and wrath of God, can fasten and kindle upon nothing but for or because of sin; sin, then, as sin, is the sting and the hell of hells, of the lowest and upmost hells. Sin, I say, in the nature of it, simply as it is concluded both by God and the damned to be a breach of His holy law, so it is the sting of the second death, which is the worm of hell. But then, as sin is such a sting in itself, so it is heightened, sharpened, and made more keen and sharp by those circumstances that as concomitants attend it in every act: for there is not a sin at any time committed by man, but there is some circumstance or other attends it, that makes it, when charged home by God's law, bigger and sharper, and more venom and poisonous to the soul than if it could be committed without them; and this is the sting of the hornet, the great sting. I sinned without a cause to please a base lust, to gratify the devil; here is the sting! Again, I preferred sin before holiness, death before life, hell before heaven, the devil before God, and damnation before a Saviour; here is the sting! Again, I preferred moments before everlastings, temporals before eternals, to be racked and always slaying before the life that is blessed and endless; here is the sting! Also, this I did against light, against convictions, against conscience, against persuasion of friends, ministers, and the godly lives which I beheld in others; here is the sting! Also, this I did against warnings, forewarnings, yea, though I saw others fall before my face by the mighty hand of God for committing of the same; here is the sting!
Sinners, would I could persuade you to hear me out! A man cannot commit a sin, but, by the commission of it, he doth, by some circumstance or other, sharpen the sting of hell, and that to pierce himself through and through, and through, with many sorrows (1 Tim 6:10) Also, the sting of hell to some will be, that the damnation of others stand upon their score, for that by imitating of them, by being deluded by them, persuaded by them, drawn in by them, they perish in hell for ever; and hence it is that these principal sinners must die all these deaths in themselves, that those damned ones that they have drawn into hell are also to bear in their own souls for ever. And this God threatened to the prince of Tyrus, that capital sinner, because by his pride, power, practice, and policy, he cast down others into the pit; therefore saith God to him, 'They shall bring thee down to the pit, and thou shalt die the deaths of them that are slain in the midst of the seas.' And again; 'Thou shalt die the deaths of the uncircumcised by the hand of strangers; for I have spoken it, saith the Lord God' (Eze 28:8,10). Ah! this will be the sting of them, of those that are principal, chief and, as I may call them, the captain and ringleading sinners. Vipers will come out of other men's fire and flames, and settle upon, seize upon, and for ever abide upon their consciences; and this will be the sting of hell, the great sting of hell to them.
I will yet add to all this; how will the fairness of some for heaven, even the thoughts of that, sting them when they come to hell! It will not be so much their fall into the pit, as from whence they fell into it, that will be to them the buzzing noise and sharpened sting of the great and terrible hornet. 'How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer!' there is the sting (Isa 14:12). Thou that art exalted up to heaven shalt be thrust down to hell, though thou hast made 'thy nest among the stars,' from thence I will fetch thee down; there is a sting (Matt 11:23; Oba 4). To be pulled, for and through love to some vain lust, from the everlasting gates of glory, and caused to be swallowed up for it in the belly of hell, and made to lodge for ever in the darksome chambers of death, there is the piercing sting!
But again, as there is the sting of hell, so there is the strength of that sting; for a sting though never so sharp, or venom, yet if it wanteth strength to force it to the designed execution, it doth but little hurt. But this sting has strength to cause it to pierce into the soul; 'the sting of death is sin: and the strength of sin is the law' (1 Cor 15:56). Here then is the strength of the stings of hell; it is the law in the perfect penalty of it; 'for without the law, sin is dead' (Rom 7:8). Yea, again he saith, 'where no law is, there is no transgression' (Rom 4:15). The law then followeth, in the executive part of it, the soul into hell, and there strengtheneth sin, that sting of hell, to pierce by its unutterable charging of it on the conscience, the soul for ever and ever; nor can the soul justly murmur or repine at God or at His law, for that then the sharply apprehensive soul will well discern the justness, righteousness, reasonableness, and goodness of the law, and that nothing is done by the law unto it, but that which is just and equal. 38
This, therefore, will put great strength and force into sin to sting the soul, and to strike it with the lashes of a scorpion. Add yet to these the abiding life of God, the Judge and God of this law, will never die. When princes die, the law may be altered by the which at present transgressors are bound in chains; but oh! here is also that which will make this sting so sharp and keen, the God that executes it will never die. 'It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God' (Heb 10:30, 31).
1 'Gospellers,' a term of reproach given to our reformers under Henry VIII; changed to 'Puritan' under Elizabeth and the Stuarts; and to 'Methodist,' or 'Evangelical' in more recent times. All these terms were adopted by the reformers as an honorable distinction from the openly profane.—Ed.
2 Having the most solemn warnings mercifully given to us by God, whose word is truth itself, how strange it is, nay, how insane, to neglect the Saviour. Our author, in his 'Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners,' gives a solemn account of his own distracted feelings, when he, by Divine warnings, contemplated the probable loss of his never-dying soul; and, believing in the truth of God's revealed will, he felt, with inexpressible horror, his dangerous state. He describes his mental anguish, by comparing it with the acute bodily sufferings of a criminal broken on the wheel. Can we wonder that he was in 'downright earnest' in seeking salvation. Oh! reader, may we be thus impelled to fly from the wrath to come.—Ed.
3 Many have been the attempts to define the qualities, nature, and residence of the soul. The sinful body is the sepulchre in which it is entombed, until Christ giveth it life. The only safe guide, in such inquiries, is to follow Bunyan, and ascertain 'what saith the Lord' upon a subject so momentous and so difficult for mortal eyes to penetrate.—Ed.
4 The poor soul, under the irresistible constraints of conscience, bears witness against itself; sits in judgment upon, and condemns itself; and goeth, without a jailor, to conduct it, into the dread prison, where it becomes its own tormentor. 'A wounded spirit (or conscience) who can bear?'—Ed.
5 My Lord Will-be-will was a very eminent captain in the town of Mansoul, during the Holy War: wherefore Diabolus had a kindness for him, and coveted to have him for one of his great ones, to act and do in matters of the highest concern. Bunyan represents him as having been wounded in the leg, during the seige. 'Some of the prince's army certainly saw him limp, as he afterwards walked on the wall.'—Ed.
6 To the unregenerate, unsanctified soul, the language of the Saviour in John 6:48-58, must appear, as it did to the Jews, perfectly inexplicable—' He that eateth My flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.' Blessed mystery! to be one with Christ, in obedience to His will, and in partaking of His inheritance. To be enabled to say, 'For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.'—Ed.
7 Nothing short of a Divine influence can direct the passions of the soul to a proper use of their energies. 'Godly sorrow worketh repentance—carefulness—indignation—fear—a vehement desire—zeal—revenge,' (2 Cor 7:11). Reader, has thy spirit been thus excited against sin?—Ed.
8 This is perfectly true, but is only felt by those who are taught of the Holy Spirit rightly to appreciate Divine worship. How many pay undue respect to buildings in which public prayer is offered up? It is the worship that consecrates the place and solemnizes the mind. Very remarkably was this the case with Jacob while wandering in the open wilderness. He put stones for his pillow, and in a dream saw the angels visiting the earth, and said, THIS is the house of God, and the gate of heaven.—Ed.
9 If the body, which is to return to dust, 'is fearfully and wonderfully made,' past our finding out in its exquisite formation, how much more so must be that immortal soul which we can only contemplate by its own powers, and study in the Bible. It never dies, although it may be dead in sin, in time; and be ever dying—ever in the agonies of death, in eternity. Solemn consideration! May our adorning be 'the hidden man of the heart, which is not corruptible; a meek and quiet spirit; that which is in the sight of God of great price' (1 Peter 3:4).—Ed.
10 One of the first revelations to our race was, that 'God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.' And this great and important fact has, by tradition, extended over the whole of the human family.—Ed.
11 'An old horse shoe' must be mentioned, to throw utter contempt upon a custom, then very prevalent, and even now practised, of nailing an old horse shoe over the door of the house, to prevent a witch from entering. When will these absurd heathenish customs cease in Christian England?—Ed.
12 'A point,' the tag at the end of a lace.—Ed.
13 Nothing can more fully display the transcendant worth and excellency of the soul, than these two considerations:—first, That by the operation of the Eternal Spirit, it is made a habitation for God Himself, and susceptible of communion and converse with God, nay, of being even filled with all the fulness of God; and, second, The infinite price that was paid for its redemption from sin and woe—the precious blood of the Son of God.—Mason.
14 'A Relation of the Fearful Estate of Frances Spira.' He had been a Protestant, but, for some unworthy motives, became a Papist, and was visited with the most awful compunctions of conscience. A poetical introduction thus describes the guilty wretch:—
'Reader, wou'dst see what, may you never feel, Despair, racks, torments, whips of burning steel? Behold this man, this furnace, in whose heart, Sin hath created hell. Oh! In each part What flames appear; His thoughts all stings; words swords; Brimstone his breath; His eyes flames; wishes curses; life a death; A thousand deaths live in him, he not dead; A breathing corpse, in living scalding lead.'
It is an awful account, and has added to it a narrative of the wretched end of John Child, a Bedford man, one of Bunyan's friends, who, to avoid prosecution, conformed; was visited with black despair, and hung himself. A copy of this curious little book is in the editor's possession.—Ed.
15 Nothing more properly excited horror throughout Christendom, than the conduct of the Algerines in making slaves of their captives; because their victims had white skins, and were called Christians. Hundreds of thousands of pounds sterling were paid to redeem the Christian captives, and thus the pirates were strengthened to continue their ferocious deeds. Many contributed to those funds the very money which they derived from the negro slave trade; who, while they professed to execrate white man slavery, perpetrated the same barbarities upon their brethren of a different colour and caste. How strangely does sin pervert the understandings of men, who arrogate to themselves the highest grade of humanity and civilization!—Ed.
16 These awful denunciations are so many proofs of the immutablilty of the justice and of the Word of God.—Ed.
17 'Saith Christ;' Peter in Acts i. 20, applies this Psalm to Christ, when the Jews cried, 'His blood be upon us and upon our children;' then did they put on the envenomed garment which has tormented them ever since. It is girded about their loins; the curse has penetrated like water, and entered the very bones like oil. How awful will be the state of those who crucify Him afresh, and again put Him to open shame!—Horsley.
18 How awfully inconceivable is that eternal death that never dieth; that final end that never endeth—an immortal death—a soul-murdering life—ever dying, but never dead; were the mountains and rocks to fall upon and and crush them, still eternity would intervene between them and death. Oh that grace may be given to ransom our souls from the doom we have deserved!—Ed.
19 'Weal;' wealth, happiness, prosperity; 'wherefore taking comfort and boldness, partly of your grace and benevolent inclination toward the universal weal of your subjects, partly inflamed with zeal, I have now enterprized to describe, in our vulgar tongue, the form of a just public weal.' Sir T. Elyot, Dedication of the Governor to Henry VIII.—Ed.
20 'From the belly,': from its birth.
21 Bunyan having been engaged in the civil war, accounts for his using this military idea.—Ed.
22 God hates not the sinner, but the sin; the glorious provision made for salvation, proves His good will to sinful souls. This will be 'the worm that dieth not,' to sinners to reflect, that, in rejecting the inviting promises of God, they have sealed their own condemnation.—Mason.
23 'Hideth his sins,' is quoted from the Genevan, or Puritan version.—Ed.
24 'Pother;' to be, or cause to be, as one involved in dust, in a cloud; to perplex, to puzzle, to confound.—Ed.
25 This is an allusion to a custom, nearly obsolete, originating in the feast of tabernacles, of sacrificing to Vacina at the harvest home. The Papists substituted St. Bartholomew for the heathen goddess. Upon his day, the harvest being completed, an image of straw was carried about, called the corn, or Bartholomew, baby; and masters, mistresses, men, and maidens danced and rioted together; thus, under the guise of harmless joy, much evil was perpetrated.—Ed.
26 'A blandation,' an obsolete word, which means wheedling, flattering speech, soft words.—Ed.
27 Knowing the certainty that this wrath to the uttermost will be poured out, our blessed Lord exhorts all to 'fear God, who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell.' In that doleful pit, the soul, re-united with the body, will suffer under the outpourings of Divine wrath.—Mason.
28 Bunyan probably here refers to his own experience when he was in prison, and was threatened by the judge to be hung for not going to parish church. 'I thought with myself, if I should make a scrabbling shift to clamber up the ladder, yet I should, either with quaking or other symptoms of faintings, give occasion to the enemy to reproach the way of God. I was ashamed to die with a pale face and tottering knees in such a cause as this.'—Grace Abounding, No. 334.—Ed.
29 This wish has been felt while in a desponding state, under the terrors of the law, and a fearful looking for of fiery indignation. Thus Bunyan says, 'I blessed the condition of the dog and toad, and counted the estate of everything that God had made far better than this dreadful state of mine.' Grace Abounding, No. 104.—Ed.
30 Alluding to the old proverb of bringing a noble to ninepence, and ninepence to nothing.—Ed.
31 At the popular game of nine pins—Ed.
32 In our comparatively happy days, we have little if any conception of the manner in which our forefathers desecrated the Sabbath. When Popery clouded the country, mass was attended on the Lord's day morning early; it was a recital of certain unknown words, after which parties of pleasure, so called, spent the day in places attractive for the frivolity or wantonness of their entertainments—in dancing, and carousing; the evening being devoted to the theatres or ball rooms. This was afterwards encouraged by our English 'heads of the church,' in a book of lawful sports to be used on Sundays. Even in our time a flood of iniquity continues to flow on those sacred days, which human laws cannot prevent. As the influence of the gospel spreads, the day will become sanctified and this will ever prove a correct standard of its progress.—Ed.
33 How solemn, nay, awful is the thought that heaven's gates must be shut against all impurity. None who live and die in the love of sin can enter heaven, lest they should defile it—'And there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither worketh abomination, or a lie' (Rev 21: 27).—Ed.
34 In 'The Pilgrim's Progress,' in the house called Beautiful, all the inmates, except the porter, are females.—Ed.
35 The edict of Nantes was issued April 1598; but in violation of it, Rochelle was taken from the Protestants in 1628. From that time horrid barbarities were practised upon them. In 1676, the elector of Brandenburg appealed to the French king on behalf of his Protestant subjects, of whom multitudes fled for refuge to England and Germany. In 1685, the edict of Nantes was revoked, and a frightful persecution ensued.—Ed.
36 Great allowance must be made for the times in which Bunyan lived. Baxter, and all the great divines, Sir M. Hale, and the judges, believed in witches, ghosts, and other chimeras; in fact, any one professing unbelief in these wild fancies, would have been counted among infidels and atheists.—Ed.
37 Sin 'in the general of it,' or sin wherever it may be found.
38 The law is a transcript of the mind of God, it is holy, just, and good—so that he that offendeth in one point is guilty of all. The law convicts and shows the sinner that God is all eye to see, and all fire to consume, every unclean thing. Thus the law gives sin its strength, and death its warrant, to arrest and execute the sinner.—Mason.