by Thomas Manton
Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.—MAT. 25:41.
Now we come to the sentence itself. There we shall first take notice of the pœna damni, the loss, depart.
The point is—
Doct. This is the hell of hells, that the reprobates must all depart, or lose the fruition of God in Christ.
But before I begin to set forth this part of the punishment, let me observe something:—
1. In this part of the torment all are equal. There are degrees elsewhere, but here the reprobates are all equally excluded. Christ will thus profess, Mat. 7:23, 'Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity; I know you not.'
2. It is the greatest part of the punishment. The punishment of sense is finite in nature, though infinite in duration. Though it be from the wrath of God, it is still according to the capacity of the creature. But pœna damni is the privation of an infinite good. It is indeed a question which is the greater punishment, whether everlasting separation from God or everlasting torment? whether 'depart,' or 'everlasting fire'? According to the present state, pain is more sensible than loss. In the bodily state we judge altogether by the senses; but in the other world, when all objects are taken away, and there is a ceasing of temptations, and our judgments are mostly spiritual, there it is otherwise. The greatness of the punishment will appear:—
First, By the loss; they shall lose all heaven's joys, the favourable presence of God, the sight of Christ, the company of the blessed, and their abode in those happy mansions which are in Christ's Father's house.
1. The favourable presence of God. Hell is a deep dungeon, where the sunshine of God's presence never cometh. God is summum bonum, the chiefest good; and in the other world, omne bonum, all in all. All things are immediate from God, comforts and punishments: Ps. 16:11, 'In thy presence is fulness of joy, and at thy right hand are pleasures for evermore.' Paul's departure, how grievous was it, when he said, 'Ye shall see my face no more'! Acts 19:28. Better lose all things than God: Exod. 33:15, 'If thy presence go not up with us, carry us not hence.' The appearance of the Son of God to the three children cast into Nebuchadnezzar's fiery furnace, how comfortable was it to them!
Object. Ay! but this is not to be presupposed of the damned. Is it any grief to the wicked to want God, against whom they have such an extreme averseness and hatred? I answer—
(1.) They are sensible of the loss of happiness; their judgments are changed, though not renewed. Fogs of error, atheism, and unbelief then vanish, and they are convinced by experience. There are no atheists in hell; they learn to prize happiness by bitter experience. As rational creatures, they cannot but be sensible of their loss, that know the worth of what is lost; and so great a blessedness lost cannot but breed sadness and dejection of spirit. They look on God not as lovely in himself, but as one that might be profitable to them. Oculos quos occlusit culpa, aperiet pœna.
(2.) It would lessen their torments if their understandings might be taken away. By sad experience they know what it is to want God, though still their hatred of God remaineth. Heaven, that I am shut out of, is a blessing which others enjoy; Lazarus is in Abraham's bosom.
2. The sight of Christ. They had a glimpse before they went into hell of the glory of his presence: 2 Thes. 1:9, 'They shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord.' That short experience of Christ's appearing will remain in their minds; to all eternity it will stick by them, how they are thrust out. Christ himself, that hath the keys of death and hell, shall bid them go; as if he had said, I cannot endure your presence any longer.
3. From the company of the blessed: Luke 13:28, 'Ye shall see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and yourselves shut out.' Envy is a part of their torment as well as their loss: Luke 16:27, 'And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in Abraham's bosom.' It is a torment to think that others of the same nature and interest do enjoy what they have forfeited.
4. Their abode in those happy mansions which are in Christ's Father's house: Rev. 22:14, 15, 'Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city; for without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.'
Secondly, This loss is the more bitter and grievous because it is a loss of their own procuring. Forsaking of God was their sin, and now their misery. They first excommunicated God for a trifle: Job 22:7, 'Depart from us; we desire not the knowledge of God.' Man is like the devil: 'Art thou come to torment us before our time?' Rom. 1:28, 'They did not like to retain God in their knowledge; therefore, God gave them over to a reprobate mind.' They abhorred the thoughts of God; it was their burthen: 'The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.' Now they are filled with their own thoughts. Man was first a fugitive before he was an exile.
Thirdly, The loss is irreparable. Despair is a constant ingredient to their sorrow. They cannot hope ever to be admitted into God's presence any more. There are many ups and downs in a christian's experience. God hideth his face that he may show it afterwards the more gloriously. This is a curse that shall never be reversed. It was the church's prayer, 'Return again, and cause the light of thy countenance to shine on us, and we shall be saved,' Ps. 80:19; like the sunshine after a cloudy night. But here are fogs of darkness for evermore. The sun is to shine no more on them to all eternity: 2 Peter 2:17, 'To whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.' Hell is a region upon which the sun shall never shine.
Use 1. Lay to heart your distance from God by nature. Let us not draw this great judgment upon ourselves. Our sin will be our torment. We are estranged from the womb, Isa. 58:3. As a stream runneth away from the fountain further and further, so are we absent from God both in heart and affections as well as in state: Eph. 2:13, 'Ye were afar off;' as the prodigal went into a far country. Thoughts of God are not only strangers, but unwelcome guests. 'The devils believe and tremble;' so we. Guilt will not suffer us to look God in the face, Ps. 10:4.
2. Be not quiet till you come out of this estate by Christ; he is the bridge between earth and heaven, John 14:6. There can be no familiarity between us and God, but through him, Luke 16:26. Christ is the ladder by which we ascend, the means of intercourse between God and us. When man was driven out of paradise, the tree of life was guarded by a flaming sword. There is no coming to God but by him, and 'he is able to save to the utmost,' Heb. 7:25.
3. Avoid sin, that separateth between God and you, Isa. 59:1, 2. How will you pray when you cannot look God in the face? Fear followeth guilt. The Israelites, when they had sinned, worshipped at their tent-door. You cannot come to God with such confidence.
4. Let us often delight in communion with God and acquaintance with him. It is heaven begun. Heaven is for God's familiars. Strangers here will not be owned; and hereafter (Mat. 7:23) Christ will say unto them, 'I know you not.' But Christ will take notice of his old friends. Oh! then, love his presence, make him of your counsel, your bosom friend.
5. Live in a holy sensibleness of his accesses and recesses; for his accesses, that you may be thankful; for his recesses, to be humble. It is a question which is worst, not to take notice of his accesses or recesses, not to mourn for his absence or rejoice in his presence; both are bad. Not to mourn for his absence is the worst sin, because absence is most sensible. In the present life, when our enjoyment of him is lost, it is a temporary hell; yet it is foul ingratitude not to take notice of his presence, when he counselleth you in doubts, guideth you in straits. God will have his acts of familiarity to be observed; it is his complaint, Hosea 11:3, 'I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms; but they knew not that I healed them.' The one argueth little feeling, the other little gratitude; only want of feeling is the worser sign, for that is a sign of deadness. When God suspends all acts of familiarity, some are stupid and insensible, so they can take up with the comforts of the creature; they never mind spiritual visits. Micah mourned for his gods. Love is discovered by grief in want, as well as delight in enjoyment. The main of christianity lieth in observing how it is between us and God. When actual influences are suspended, either of grace or comfort, when prayer finds not such an answer, and when we do not find such excitation to holy duties, and God hideth himself from our prayers.
We have handled the loss. Now we come, secondly, to speak of the pain. There are sad gripes at the parting of the soul and body; what then will there be at the parting of the soul and Christ, when the terror of Christ's face shall banish them out of his presence?
Secondly, The pœna sensus. Here I shall take notice of—
1. The nature of the torment, fire.
2. The aggravation from the duration, everlasting.
3. The company and society, prepared, for the devil and his angels.
The nature of the torment, 'fire.' By fire is not meant material or ordinary fire; that cannot hurt spirits. Now this is such, a fire as is prepared for the devil and his angels. All the other expressions are metaphorical, the wood, the brimstone, the lake, the smoke, the worm, the chains; and why not this? But observe, though it be not fire, yet it noteth real and horrible torments, such, as are more painful than fire. It is called 'wrath to come,' 1 Thes. 1:10, because there was never such wrath before. The Holy Ghost useth such expressions as we are acquainted with.
1. The extremity of these pains cannot be told us. Fire is an active, furious element, the pain most searching, and no fire more scalding than brimstone; to sense that is most grievous and bitter. But the pains of hell surpass all that is spoken. Look, as when heaven is set out by gold and pearls and precious stones—the joys there are much above these shadows—so all notions come short of hell.
2. The whole man is under the pains of it, both, body and soul; both are fellows in sin, and both are punished. It appeareth partly from scripture: Mat. 10:28, 'Fear not him that can kill the body, but fear him that can destroy both body and soul in hell.' Mark, not only the soul, but the body. The body is not only the instrument, but the occasion of many sins; the law in the members, brutish motions of lusts; the eye is fed with lust; therefore the body hath its share.
[1.] For the body; what the torment shall be we cannot tell; the scripture is silent; only, in the general, that it shall have its share of punishment, is certain; and not only by the grief and anguish of the soul, but the pain residing in the body. As the saints have not only a happiness for their souls, but their bodies; their vile bodies shall be changed. At the day of judgment, when their bodies are united to their souls, their torments are increased. Here in the text it is said, 'Depart ye;' the whole man, no part free. There is a place of torment, as we proved before, as well as a state of torment; therefore the body hath its inconveniences: their eyes meet with nothing but affrighting spectacles, the devils and the damned. Every time they look on their tempter, it revives their guilt; as the saints, when they look on their Redeemer, it filleth their hearts full of love and adoration. What see they but devils to torture them, or other damned tormented with them? Wives and children through their negligence, or neighbours by their cursed example, brought into this place of torment. Their ears are filled with nothing but yellings and howlings, and hidcous outcries. More particularly I shall not define.
[2.] For the soul; the soul's evils arise from a lively and effectual sense of the wrath of God, and the gnawings of conscience. There is a fire and a worm, Mark 9:44, the wrath of God and the horrors of conscience. There is an allusion to the worms that breed in dead bodies, and the fire wherewith they were burned.
First, Let us speak a little of the worm that breedeth. The worm of conscience consisteth in three things. There is—(1.) Memoria præteritorum; (2.) Sensus præsentium; (3.) Metus fulurorum. All the periods and distinctions of time yield matter of sorrow and anguish to them, past, present, and to come.
1. Conscience worketh on what is past, the remembrance of their former enjoyments. Miserum est dixisse, fuisse beatos. It is the miserablest thing that can be to outlive our happiness; to think of what we once enjoyed, but now want: Luke 16:25, 'Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedest thy good things.' Thy day is past, now no more pleasures, now all thy carnal delights are spent. The riches of God's goodness that I despised, I shall enjoy no more. The reflection on past comforts: I was thus and thus, but where hath sin brought me! The very remembrance will aggravate their present misery, especially when the memory shall be quickened by conscience to consider their ingratitude; their carnal confidence, how they neglected God in the abundance of all things, and nothing remaineth but the sin of their comforts and the curse. Where now are all your stately houses, pleasant gardens, costly tables, furnished with delicious meats? your gorgeous and pompous apparel, your merry meetings? These things I have enjoyed, but now they are come to their full and final period.
2. The time wasted; this is a commodity never valued till it be lost, and then it cannot be recovered. In hell they see the folly of it; the misspense of time is a killing circumstance. Experience maketh us value time. The horrors of the damned may be guessed at by the complaints of the dying. Oh! for a little time! If they had but one year, one month more. Here men are prodigal of nothing so much as time, as if they had more than they could tell what to do with; but when they come to die, Oh! if God would spare them a little longer!
3. Especially opportunities of grace slighted. God reckoneth to a day, how long, how often, he hath warned them: Luke 13:7, 'These three years came I seeking fruit from this fig-tree, but behold I find none; cut it down.' Here is Christ's righteous expectation, 'These three years came I seeking fruit;' their ungrateful frustration, 'But I find none;' and then his final denunciation, 'Cut it down.' Whenever God reckoneth with a people, he reckoneth with them for time and opportunities of grace. Did not I warn you? What means we have had, and offers of grace, God's drawing nigh to us in an acceptable time! Every sermon will sting our conscience. There was a fair advantage; it is good to feel the worm while it may be killed, to take notice of checks of conscience for the present, and the motions of God's Spirit; this is a spark that will not be quenched.
4. The folly of their own choice. Men will not see now, but they shall see: Isa. 26:11, 'Lord, when thy hand is lifted up, they will not see; but they shall see, and be ashamed.' Their understandings are cleared to know the worth of things, and their eyes opened, when it is too late: Jer. 17:11, 'At his latter end he shall be a fool.' He was a fool all his lifetime to neglect God for a trifle, but now he is a fool in the judgment of his own heart. If I had been as active for God as for my lusts, it would have been otherwise with me. Temptations are gone, lusts are gone: 'The world passeth away, and the lusts thereof.' There is no relish of pleasures in hell, if they could have them; they have now the bitter experience of the cost they have been at, therefore sadly reflect upon their folly. Conviction heightens their torment: Jer. 2:17–19, 'Hast thou not procured this unto thyself, in that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God, when he led thee by the way? And now what hast thou to do in the way of Egypt, to drink the waters of Sihor? or what hast thou to do in the way of Assyria, to drink the waters of the river? Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee: Know therefore and see, that it is an evil thing and a bitter that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God.' This is your way in the valley; as when children burn, and feel the gripes of a disease, we upbraid them, This is your eating of raw fruit. Experience maketh them feel the smart of it.
2. There is the sense of their present pain. Here, when we are corrected, we are senseless, like stocks and stones; but there must needs be feeling, because there is nothing to mitigate their torment, no carnal comforts wherein to steep conscience, no carnal companions that can be a comfort to us: the more we look upon them, the more we see our own sorrow by reflection. There is nothing left but indignation and impatience, and gnawing their tongues because of their anguish. Their discontent is part of their torment.
3. For the future, their condition is hopeless. If there could be hope in hell, the punishment would be the better borne; but 'there remaineth nothing but a fearful looking for of the fiery indignation of God,' Heb. 10:27. And it is a living God, who liveth for ever and ever, that is their enemy. Oh! who can think of it without astonishment? When they have run through thousands of years they still expect more. It is tedious to think of a short fit of pain of the stone or gout; but that is for ever. They endure all at once by thinking of what is to come.
Again, there is the fire, or an active sense of the wrath of God. Consider the greatness of it in these circumstances:—
1. God hath an immediate hand in the sufferings of the wicked: Heb. 10:33, 'It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.' The wicked fall immediately into his hands; the quarrel is his own, therefore he will take revenge by his immediate power. No creature is strong enough to convey all his wrath, as a bucket cannot contain an ocean. Man's anger is like himself, weak and finite, but God's is infinite: Ps. 90:11, 'Who knoweth the power of thine anger?' Surely we do not consider what it is to fall into God's hands.
2. God sets himself a-work to see what he can do, and what a creature can bear. The capacity of the creature is enlarged to the utmost: Rom. 9:22, 'What if God, willing to show his wrath, and make his power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction?' His justice decreeth it, his wisdom designeth it, and his power executeth it. He falleth upon us as an enemy to the utmost; with one hand he upholdeth the creature, and with the other punisheth it. Here he showeth what a creature can do when armed by him, hereafter what he can do himself: Ps. 78:39, 'For he remembered they were but flesh; he did not stir up all his wrath.' It doth not break out in its full weight and force.
3. Consider some instances of God's wrath: 'When his anger is kindled but a little, blessed are all they that put their trust in him,' Ps. 2:12. In corrective discipline, when God's children fall into any disease, the burnings of a fever, the gripes of the cholic, the torment of the stone, they cannot endure two or three days' pain; how wilt thou dwell with devouring burnings? These are nothing to the sharp punishments of hell on the body. Poor creatures are at their wits' end when but a spark or flash of this fire lighteth into the conscience. Judas hanged himself, Job cursed the day of his birth; yet this is but a drop; these come from hell, they have been in the suburbs of it. Dives wished that Lazarus might but dip the tip of his finger in water to cool his tongue; these are warnings, they can tell you what a dreadful thing it is. The Lord Christ, who was the Son of God, perfect in faith and patience, he wanted no courage, he was under no despair in the midst of his agonies, yet he cried out, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' Oh! what will become of them whose portion it is? Thus for the nature.
Secondly, The duration, everlasting fire. The pains of hell are eternal.
1. The moral reasons of it are—
[1.] Partly because our obligations to God are infinite. In a way of love, God hath done as much as he could. We turn the back upon eternal happiness which was offered in the gospel. They can never restore the honour to God which they have deprived him of, therefore their punishment is for evermore: the justice of God can never be satisfied by a finite creature. Believers do it in Christ, but the wicked are in their final estate.
[2.] They still remain impenitent; the damned are not changed in hell. Melted metal groweth hard again: the bad thief, that had one foot in hell, dieth blaspheming; their judgments are changed, but not their hearts. If one should come from the dead, he might speak to you of eternity, and that in hell they suffer eternal punishments.
2. The natural reasons are—
[1.] The fire continueth for ever, Heb. 10:33; the breath of the Lord still keepeth the flame burning; the fuel continueth for ever, and wicked men continue for ever; they consume not, but are immortal in body and soul. Oh! think of this! there is no end, no intermission. No end; the fire on Sodom lasted but a day; but when the wicked have lain in hell a thousand years, it is but as the first day. When a man is sick, he tumbleth and tosseth, and telleth the hours of the night, and wisheth it were day. We are wont to think a sermon long, a prayer long; what will hell be? Conscience will ever be talking to thee, repeating over the story of thy life, and putting thee in remembrance of the wrath of God that endureth for ever. And—
[2.] It is without intermission: Rev. 20:10, 'They shall be tormented day and night, for ever and ever.' Not a drop to cool their tongues. Here sin is everlasting; all day it runneth in the mind, and all night it playeth in the fancy. Wicked men begin the morning with it, and end the day with it. Man is ever haunted with his own horrors, and the wrath of God inflicted upon him.
Thirdly, The next aggravation is, it is 'prepared for the devil and his angels;' for them principally, and others to bear them company: Satan, and all that are seduced by him, are tormented together. There is a principality among the devils, one that was chief and ringleader in the rebellion against God, he and his angels; and then wicked men make up the company in that region of darkness. It was a sad judgment on Nebuchadnezzar when he was turned out among the beasts; but the cursed of the Lord are turned out among devils. If a man knew a house were haunted, he would not lie in it for a night. You must keep company with Satan and his angels for evermore. The saints enjoy God, and have the company of good angels; but you must dwell with devils. If the devil should appear to thee in some terrible shape, would not thy heart fail thee? Thou canst not look upon any in hell but thou must remember enemies to thy soul as well as to God.
Use 1. This should make us consider the folly of sinners, that will run this hazard for a little temporal satisfaction; for as he cried out, 'For how short a pleasure have I lost a kingdom!' when he had parted with his sovereignty for a draught of water; so you, out of a desire of present contentment, forfeit heaven, and run the hazard of eternal torments. When thou art about to sin, think of this. We need all kind of helps.
1. To stir us up to godliness. If men were as they should be, sweet arguments would be enough; but now we need the scourge. It is good to counterbalance any temptation, when it is violent. My heart will call me fool to all eternity. Can I dwell with everlasting burnings?
2. To rouse us up to the consideration of our natural misery.
[1.] Partly that we may 'flee from the wrath to come,' Mat. 3:7. There is no way but by Jesus Christ. We need every day to look back. In their flight to Zoar they were not to look back upon Sodom, lest there should be relentings kindled. But it is good to look back in this sense; we shall see nothing but fire and brimstone behind us.
[2.] That we may be thankful to Christ: 1 Thes. 1:10, 'Even Jesus, which hath delivered us from wrath to come.' He was substituted in our room and place; he suffered a kind of hell in his own soul, or else this must have been our portion.
Use 2. Are we of the number? There is a catalogue of the damned crew: Rev. 21:8, 'But the fearful, and unbelieving, and abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorceres, and idolaters, and all liars, have their part in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone.' The fearful; such as, for the fear of men, swerve from the holy profession and practice of godliness. The unbelieving; all that remain in an impenitent estate. Abominable, murderers, whoremongers; impure gnostics, such as ranters: 1 Cor. 6:9, 'Be not deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.' Is there any likelihood of deceit there. Corrupt nature is always devising one shift or another wherein to harden conscience. Idolaters; it is dangerous not to be right in worship. The covetous cometh in, Gal. 5:5, 'Nor covetous man, who is an idolater: let no man deceive you; for because of these things, the wrath of God cometh upon the children of disobedience.' We think it a small matter. All liars; not only the gross liar, but the heretic; as heresy is called a lie: it is good to keep to the pattern of sound words. The hypocrite's hell is his portion: Mat. 24:51, 'Appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' Hypocrisy, it is a practical lie.