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all intelligent beings, deciding their characters, and settling their conditions forever.
We may say, This is a hard saying, who can hear it? But it may be recollected, that many do hear it patiently, and gladly, and have no other foundation, and wish for no other, upon which to rest their hopes of comfort here, and of happiness hereafter. If we were required to understand, what surpasses our comprehension, we might well complain of the unreasonableness of the requisition; but the case is far otherwise, when all we have to do is, to receive as a fact, what is supported by the testimony of God. If St. Paul was compelled to say, Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness; we need not be afraid to admit for truth that which he admitted, should we be compelled to make the same declaration respecting it.
In considering the greatness of this salvation we are to bring into view, that it is salvation from sin, both as to its condemnation, and its reigning power. Salvation, in the least important acceptation of the term, that is deliverance or preservation, from great common, and temporal, evils, should not be overlooked, but should be seriously, and gratefully considered. Jeremiah was drawn out of the dungeon where he was sinking in the mire, and thus was preserved by the kind interferance of Ebed Melech. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, were brought safely out of the burning fiery furnace; and Daniel out of the lions' den. The people of Israel experienced a great deliverance when they were set free from the bondage of Egypt. It would take up too much time to notice the instances of wonderful providential interposition, in behalf of individuals, and nations. But these interpositions, many as they are, and great, are nothing compared with the salvation to which our attention is now called. Had the prophet received no help, his sufferings in the dungeon could not have been of long continuance, and therefore however severe, might have been patiently endured. The flames of the furnace of fire would soon have reduced to ashes the bodies of those who were subjected to their raging influence, had such a termination of this affair been permitted; and the lions, had not their mouths been stopped, would not have been long in
finishing their meal; so that the pangs of these victims, had their case been the most deplorable, could have been but momentary pangs. Egyptian bondage, hard as it was, was temporary, and as the rigor of it increased, the term of enduring it would have diminished, for the harder the labor, the shorter must have been the life of each one who had it to perform.
Now what is the case of the wicked? We may see by attending to their sentence, Depart ye cursed into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. The soul is immortal, and it may be connected with a body that cannot cease to exist; so that the wicked shall die an endless death; or be destroyed with an everlasting destruction. The fire which never shall be quenched is a figure, which however inadequate, gives a dreadful idea of future misery; and the worm that never dies, represents a guilty conscience, whose stings grow continually sharper, and more tormenting. In vain is it to expect an end to the evil, for there is no end. Let the imagination extend as far as possible beyond time, and there will then be an eternity before it. As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, neither the sand of the sea measured, so will it be with the pains of hell. Those who are least acquainted with the nature of sin are least apprehensive with respect to its consequences and most disposed from mere curiosity, to inquire, what hell can be, and from what sources its pains can proceed.
Whether hell is a material world or what it is, we are not sufficiently instructed to decide; but we can see in some measure, what it is which constitutes the misery of the wicked in hell. The miser has lost his bag of gold; the ambitious man has lost his titles, and his honors; the sensualist has lost his cups and his dishes; and all the means of gratification which to him are important: and so great and so universal is the change of condition, that society has lost its ties of interest, and of natural affection; and all the individuals hateful, and hating one another, stand separated by the enmity which burns like a fire within them. If mothers, in this world have eaten their own children; or dashed out their brains upon the rocks; or burned them in the fire; or drownd them in the rivers; would they
with the same enmity increased immensely in its exercise, should they meet them in hell, dandle them upon the knee; hug them to the bosom; and imprint kisses of tender affection upon their lips? Enmity may cause damage to those towards whom it is manifested; but it most distresses those who indulge it. Think then of the misery of that society in which no good member can be found, nor any good thing; at the head of which devils are, and whose whole employment shall be wickedness, in every possible way of practising it, attended too with remorse of conscience through interminable ages! Is it not a great thing to be saved from going down into such a dark and hopeless pit, where evils are endless, and continually multiplying?
Though we have been looking across the gulph, to see what is the wretched condition of those who have received their sentence of condemnation, we are not to forget, that sin produces the same effects in the present world, differing only in degree, that it produces in the eternal world. When it is said, that the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt; no regard is had to their place, or circumstances, but to their state of mind. We must add therefore that salvation is deliverance, in part, from evils in this life, which are the natural fruit of sin. If wickedness causes in us such disquietude and confusion, as to render the agitation of the sea in a tempest, a suitable similitude, we are now in a condition of perishing necessity, and have begun to experience those torments which will be eternal, unless by the grace of God they are brought, in some measure, to an end on this side of the grave.
We have not taken into the account any evils. but such as proceed from sin, as its natural, and necessary effects. Though these evils are enormous, and overwhelming, yet since the wicked are spoken of as to be punished with an everlasting destruction, we may suppose there will be a positive punishment, dreadful in its nature, which God will himself inflict upon them. The wrath of God abides upon the unbelieving, and impenitent sinner. God, whose favor is life, and whose loving kindness is better than life, is angry with the wicked every day, and he is, and must be,
to them, a consuming fire. How inexpressibly, and to us, at present, how inconceivably, dreadful, must it be to have him for an enemy, who can, and whose justice requires that he should, destroy, both the souls and the bodies, of his enemies, with an everlasting destruction; and how great must that salvation be, by means of which, the wall of separation made up of sins, is broken down, and the sinner reconciled, is brought nigh to God, so as to view him, and to find him, his father and his best friend!
To be saved from the woes of another and an eternal world, and to be delivered from those evils which are here consequent upon sin, may be considered as a part, but by no means, the whole of salvation, Nothing more positive and interesting, is said in the scriptures, respecting the torments of the wicked in another world, and their sufferings in this, than what we find respecting the happiness of the righteous, after death, and their enjoyments on this side of the grave. Present circumstances make our conceptions so gross, that no language in which heavenly things might be literally described, would be intelligible to us, St. Paul tells us that he was caught up to the third heaven; which he calls paradise; that is, he says he knew a man who was thus translated; and that man must have been himself, but, instead of giving an account, as he would have done of things which he had witnessed in this world, he only informs us, that he heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. He was doubly barred from making any communication. The law or prohibition of God, was in his way, and he found no language in use among men, into which he could translate the language which he had heard used in the paradise above.
Those heathen writers, who have displayed all the beauty of style, and all the ingenuity of unassisted reason, in representing the condition of departed spirits, have, in their exhibition of hell, given us nothing essentially different from a picture of a common prison of correction; and in their exhibition of heaven, nothing essentially different from a picture of a place favorable to sensual gratification. How much more satisfactory is that negative account which St. Paul gives us of heaven, quoting it in substance, from
Isaiah, Eye hath not seen; nor ear heard; neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him! Not only does the sum total of good which God has in store for his children, far exceed whatever was or could be, realized in this world, but the inheritance of the saints in light, is an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled and that fadeth not away. It must therefore be something with which the common inlets of nature can never make us acquainted.
From what we know of heaven, however imperfect our knowledge, we may see, in some measure, how important it is to have an establishment there; how much they gain by dying, who die in the Lord. The body which the saints have in this world is the common body of humanity; and the best that they can say of it is, to call it the earthly house of this tabernacle; and their heart is so defiled with sin, that the more they are acquainted with themselves, the more inclined will they be to think, and pronounce themselves, the chief of sinners. A thorough change therefore is necessary, and will in due time be effected, for flesh and blood, cannot inherit the kingdom of God, neither can corruption inherit incorruption.
To the glorified body of Christ, as it appeared upon the mount of transfiguration, it is probable, that the bodies of his people, when this corruptible shall put on incorruption, and this mortal shall put on immortality, will bear a strong resemblance. Free from the weakness of infancy, and the infirmities of age; and the pains of sickness, they will be clothed in beauty, surpassing immeasurably, that of our first parents before the fall.
The intellectual powers will likewise assume new vigor; the mind will expand with knowledge; and the heart with holiness. The vision will not then be dim, as through a glass, but clear, as when we see face to face.
All who have been sensible of the burdens of a mortal body, must consider a body immortal as a great blessing; and all who have felt like David when he said, Innumerable evils have compassed me about; mine iniquities have taken hold upon me; must consider an entire renovation of the soul, as necessarily connected with happiness.