We beg our readers to pay particular attention to this very extraordinary and powerful sermon, which was never before published, and which we have procured expressly for the Memorial. - Editor, The Baptist Memorial and Monthly Record, 1845.
The Salutations of Hell, or the Greetings of the Damned
A Sermon by the late Rev. John Ryland, D.D.
President of the Baptist College, Bristol, England
Isaiah xiv. 10. - Art thou become like unto us?
"O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord." Such was the solemn exclamation of the prophet of old, when he would excite universal and serious regard to the important message he was about to deliver in the name of Jehovah. But permit me, for once, to adopt a very different address, while I attempt to arouse the minds of slumbering sinners.
O earth, earth, earth, hear the words of the damned! Their awful language is recorded by the prophet Isaiah: "Art thou become like unto us?" These words, full of terror as they are, may yet afford a profitable subject of meditation, to both saint and sinner. All will allow the propriety of calling on the latter, not only to consider his ways, but the end of them; to think whither he is posting, and what is that abode which he seems resolutely determined to take by violence for his own. Approach, then, the borders of this pit; stand on the edge of this precipice; and before you determine to venture in, smell the steam of the brimstone, listen to the rattling of the chains, and hear the salutations of these your future companions - with what greeting they address each other - it may be, God will thus incline you to repent of your choice, to accept that redemption we publish unto you, to embrace the ministry of reconciliation, to flee to Jesus who saveth us from the wrath to come.
And ye, children of God, ye, fellow-citizens with the saints, ye co-heirs with
the blessed Jesus, ye inheritors of eternal life - think not this solemn subject undeserving your regard.
I am far from believing the soul-distressing, God-dishonoring doctrine of falling from grace; far from believing that all the fraud or force of the infernal powers, shall ever pluck you from the hands of Christ, or drag you into that prison. No, brethren, it is not the devil that keeps the keys of his own dungeon - it is your friend, your brother, your soul's mystical bridegroom, your spiritual head, who has the keys of hell and of death. And will he ever unlock those grating doors to admit one of his own family, one of his own members, the purchase of his blood, and a partaker of his spirit? Impossible! "No man ever hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it." Banish, then, the impious thought, that Jesus will thrust them into hell, who were once "members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones." Yet you also may find it profitable to pay a mental visit to those dark domains which you shall never enter in reality; to descend in idea into that place of banishment, and contemplate the everlasting burnings from which you were rescued by his almighty power. It will tend to promote your humiliation, who "were by nature children of wrath even as others;" it will excite your gratitude to the Saviour, increase the joys of your deliverance, and stimulate your thankful diligence in obedience, while you adore divine justice in the righteous punishment of those who are actually plunged into that dreadful abyss; and implore divine mercy to stop others who are now treading the downward road.
The prophet in this chapter, having foretold the return of the Jews from the Babylonish captivity, introduces a triumphal ode, which he puts into the mouths of his countrymen, depicting in the most lively colors, the wonderful justice displayed in the downfall of that idolatrous and oppressive empire. It commences, (verse 4) with expressions of sudden amazement and joy at the unexpected revolutions which have taken place. The whole earth is represented as now at rest, and its inhabitants as triumphing at the tyrant's fall, the very fir-trees and cedars of Lebanon, perhaps introduced as emblems of the princes of the nations, exulting over the king of Babylon; and then hell is described as exciting its inhabitants, especially the departed spirits of the mighty chieftains and conquered kings, who had been hurried thither before their time by the Chaldean victors, to rise up from their thrones and meet the ghost of Belshazzar, whom they taunt with insulting salutations, seeming to console themselves with his calamitous catastrophe. Then the Jews are again introduced, with fresh acclamations of wonder at his abasement, and the passengers who find his unburied corpse, are supposed narrowly to examine it, and to inquire, "Is this the man who made the earth to tremble, who shook the kingdoms?" And lastly, Jehovah closes the whole by dooming all the race of the guilty monarch to utter extermination, and threatening to sweep the seat of his empire with the besom of destruction.
The grandeur of this poem, superior in sublimity to any thing written by the pen of man, has been justly celebrated by the ablest critics, while it has been suggested with probability, that the imagery, in that part which describes the infernal regions, was borrowed from the funeral rites of the Hebrews, and the mode of burial adopted with respect to their most distinguished personages.* However, our present object is not a critical examination of poetic beauties, but a practical improvement of the most solemn realities of the invisible world, mercifully made known to us by the warnings of inspiration. Let those whose souls are safe, attend to the former at their leisure - let us all, now in the house of God, fix our attention solely on the latter. From these words we may safely infer the three following awful, but
* Lowth on the sacred poetry of the Hebrews.
instructive observations, which I will very briefly state and explain, and afterwards more largely illustrate.
I. There may be a considerable difference, in the present life, between some persons and others, who yet may all meet in hell at last.
Thus the Babylonish tyrant is represented in the contest, as once far surpassing the meaner despots of his time m worldly pomp and temporal grandeur. He made the earth to tremble, and shook the kingdoms, yea, he made the world a wilderness and destroyed the cities thereof; he opened not the house of his prisoners where captive chiefs and fettered monarchs languished and expired. Yet even he was brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit, while all the inhabitants of the realms of wo are moved for him to meet him at his coming. The strong among the mighty speak to him out of the midst of hell. Infernal hatred and indignant rage excite the vengeful ghosts; and deceased warriors, even the leaders of routed armies, or kings of vanquished nations, insult their former conqueror.
Heretofore, he had slaughtered their forces, ravaged their countries, plundered their palaces, and sent them from the bloody field to the loathsome dungeon, or from pining exile down before him to their dark abode. But now he follows; hither his naked ghost descends, without royal pomp, without the noise of his viols, as wretched and as helpless as his royal captives, or his butchered foes; yea, viler than the meanest, or the most abject of his former slaves. In vain did he once say in his heart, "I will ascend into heaven, above the stars of God, I will be like the Most High." Impartial justice regards not his former glory, except it be to abase it. Almighty power crushed him with the greatest ease, and though he had been used for a while as the scourge of nations, behold him cast out like an abominable branch into the flames of hell.
But this observation concerns not only ungodly princes, the descendants or rivals of Nimrod, that mighty hunter before the Lord; we ourselves, whatever our situation may be, are included in the admonition it implies. Ah, how vain are all the transitory, the external, the nominal distinctions which are obtained for awhile among the sons of men! "Without faith it is impossible to please God." "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord." "Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." These are the absolute decrees of heaven, and shall never be set aside in favor of any individual of the human race. But oh, what different characters are shut out of heaven by the same act of exclusion! Broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many and various are the classes of men that go in thereat. How many of the rich and opulent will find that their riches cannot profit them in the day of wrath! How short lived are the pleasures of the voluptuous! How soon will many, who are now living sumptuously every day, cry in vain for a drop of water to cool their tongues which shall be tormented by quenchless flames! while the poor, the indigent, the miserable, who too often vainly fancy that their present suffering will excuse them from future punishment, though they continue in sin and unbelief, shall then find that sin deserves, not only all the miseries of this life, and death itself, but also the pains of hell for ever. How will many of the wise and learned, hereafter, own their ignorance of the one thing needful, while the most illiterate shall find that their being no scholars, was no excuse for living without God in the world. In short, divine vengeance shall inflict the deserved doom, with impartial severity, on all those who know not God, and obey not the gospel of Jesus Christ. Ungodly princes and vicious slaves, the audacious profligate and formal professor, the proud pharisee and licentious nocturnalist, shall in like manner be driven front the presence of God, and feel the power ot his anger, in proportion to the nature, number, and aggravation of their respective
crimes. Neither their former temporal circumstances, nor their exterior conduct, nor their religious privileges, nor their outward profession, will make any difference, except as they may have enhanced or restrained the evil of their lives. It is true that he who knew his Master's will and did it not, shall be beaten with many stripes; while he who knew it not and did things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with comparatively few stripes. None shall be punished for those sins which they never committed, but every sin shall be punished in proportion to its criminality. In one view, all sins are infinite in demerit; that is, as they are violations of infinite obligations, and, therefore, all shall have punishment in one respect, infinite; that is, in duration; but in another view, all sins are finite, and vary in their degree of malignity, according to innumerable circumstances; and, therefore, there will, no doubt, be an inconceivable variety, as to the intensity of torment among the damned. But miserable, eternally miserable, though not equally so, will be the lot of all those who die in a state of unregeneracy, impenitency and unbelief.
II. Some will go to hell, that will make the other damned wonder to see them in that place of torment.
Not only may there be some difference in the present life, between those who meet at last in the world of wo, but the difference so great, that the recollection of it may fill hell itself with wonder at the entrance of some particular characters into the regions of misery. Our text evidently speaks the language of surprise; "Art thou become like unto us?" say the lost spirits of the kings of nations, to the ruined Belshazzar, filled with astonishment to see him brought down to the infernal pit, who had before smitten the people in wrath with a continual stroke. His conquered foes, once the victims of his relentless fury, and his cringing vassals, who on earth had reverenced his grandeur and majesty, as though he were more than human, alike stand aghast at his destruction. Scarcely can they believe that he whom justice has now levelled with themselves in abject misery, is he who once ruled the nations in anger. And doubtless there have been many others, both of similar and widely different characters, besides this unhappy monarch, who have excited wonder in hell, by the comparison between their former situations, whether in civil dignity or religious privileges, and their final complicated wo. Our Lord himself, in his severe rebnke of the Scribes and Pharisees, assures us that exalted honors, peculiar credit among others, and special privileges being abused, would sink hypocritical professors and self-righteous Pharisees into greater damnation. He taught also that obstinate infidelity, under superior degrees of light and evidence, would render it less tolerable for the inhabitants of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, in the day of judgment, than for the nations of Tyre and Sidon, or even Sodom and Gomorrah. By parity of reasoning, I do not hesitate to say, that the punishments of such sinners as perish in England, under the sound of the gospel, which they have neglected and despised, will be more awful and severe than the doom of negroes and hottentots. It is not to display our rhetoric, but seriously to alarm your consciences, that we tell you, that unless you repent, heathens and Turks will ere long be astonished at your sin, and at the just severity of your condemnation. They will express their surprise to see you come to hell from the land of bibles, and say, " Art thou become like unto us?"
III. That lost spirits will exult over each other, and rejoice in each other's misery.
Our text seems to imply this. It is plainly the language of sarcastic insult. The vanquished foes and the oppressed subjects of the departed tyrant, who had gone down to hell before him, now meet him at his entrance into the unseen world, and triumph over him in his state of degradation and despair. For as lost spirits
will be from all satisfaction, or even a momentary happiness, yet in many cases, they will no doubt feel a kind of infernal pleasure in the destruction of others. All semblance of good nature and friendship, of love and affection, which once existed between some of the ungodly, shall be done away. Even they who ate together the bread of oppression, or drank together of stolen waters, and accounted them sweet, shall now upbraid and insult each other. Close companions in sin, who had been mutual tempters, shall now be not only companions in torments, but tormentors to each other. They will for ever lacerate each other's conscience, and harrow up the powers of their souls. The fierce and vengeful passions of the mind, malice and envy, spite and rage, will then be let loose with ten-fold fury. Men will be given up to the full dominion of their evil passions and evil tempers, which they indulged on earth; and while this necessarily precludes all idea of sympathy, it naturally confirms our opinion, that they will be glad to see others who had injured or oppressed them, or whom they hated, envied, or dreaded in this world, involved in the same condemnation with themselves. The prophet Ezekiel represents the wicked as gone down into hell with their weapons of war, viz., with increased enmity to God, and with all the evil dispositions of their hearts, which render them hateful to him, and induce them to hate one another. O direful regions of everlasting misery! Who can describe the horrors of these dreadful abodes? Nothing but obedience to divine authority, and benevolence to our perishing fellow-sinners, whom we wish to warn that they come not to that place of torment, could induce us to dwell on such an awful subject, or unveil before our hearers the horrors of damnation. But for their sakes, who have so often turned a deaf ear to the voice of the charmer - who have made light of the message of reconciliation, and caused the ambassadors of peace to weep bitterly - for their sakes would we sound the alarm, praying that God would attend it with the energy which shall cause the last trumpet to awaken the dead. Willing to try every spring of action. O sinners, we address your fears as well as your hopes, and knowing the terrors of the Lord, we would persuade men to pay a mental visit to the world of wo; if perhaps it may be a means of preventing their actual entrance into that place of torment. To illustrate, therefore, in the most striking manner, the preceding observations, give me leave to propose that we should place ourselves in idea at the gates of hell, and take especial notice of some peculiar characters among those who may enter the portals of destruction; and that we hearken, as it were, to the dreadful salutations and the sarcastic insults with which the children of disobedience aggravate each other's wo.
Oh! could we really draw back the curtain, and look into the invisible world, what a scene would open to our view! When we consider the number of mankind in every quarter of the globe, we may conclude that every moment transmits some fresh inhabitant to the other worlds. Heaven is continually resounding with praises for new instances of the triumphs of grace; and hell receives every hour crowds of sinners into her enlarged domains.
Placed then at the wide gate of destruction, I notice the multitudes that throng the broad way that leads thither. I view the wretched ghosts of idolaters, adulterers, tyrants, and extortioners - the profane, the profligate, the unjust, the unholy, the ignorant, the self righteous - them that loved the world, or sin, or self, rather than God; in short, those who in what mode soever lived without God in the world, now descending into that place of punishment, where divine justice shall for ever glorify itself by rendering unto sinners of every class according to their works. O, accursed sin, what hast thou done! By what unnumbered ways hast thou ruined unnumbered millions!
But as we proposed to notice particular instances, let us imagine that among the throng of lost sinners, just entering into misery, one appears, like Saul among the children of Israel, or rather the children of. Edom, elevated above the rest, at whose approach hell from beneath is moved, and the alarm is suddenly given, that his holiness is coming. Methinks hell is startled at the very name of holiness. Its affrighted inhabitants exclaim, "Bar the gates, bar the gates; nothing that is holy shall enter here." "Leave your uproar;" replies Satan, "here is nothing of holiness but the name. Behold my son, my firstborn, who under that appellation disguised the man of sin, and while he pretended to be the vicar of Christ, was in fact my own deputy and vicegerent, and the real antichrist." And now, behold, whole crowds throng round the wretched ghost. The departed spirits of cardinals and metropolitans, monks and friars, and numerous other tribes who once received him as their lord god, the pope, - who, while on earth, thought it their highest honor to kiss his slipper, hold his stirrup, or even to receive his more distant benediction - these now express their wonder and astonishment, and with a mixture of surprise and insult, accost him in the language of the text, "Art thou become like unto us?" Once we beheld thee sitting in the temple of God, showing thyself as thou wast God, claiming power to remit sin, and professing to have the keys of heaven and hell in thine own custody; thou that soldest pardons to others, art thou awfully condemned? Thou that openedst heaven to others, art thou brought down to the infernal pit? How art thou fallen, O Lucifer, son of the morning! No more are we dazzled at the splendor of thy triple crown - no longer do we dread the thunder of thine anathemas - thou thyself art made our anathema, and sunk deeper in misery than we thy blinder dupes." He who trod on the necks of princes, is now made the footstool of the common herd. Surely, if the text will apply to any besides Belshazzar himself, it must be applicable to the great antitype of Babylon,* and surely the three observations laid down in the beginning of the discourse, would in this case be remarkably verified.
Thus, could we view the entrance of secular, as well as ecclesiastical tyrants and oppressors into that place of torment, whether they had an opportunity to act out their principles of pride and cruelty, in a larger or smaller degree, we might expect to see many who were once their cringing vassals, that groaned beneath their despotic yoke, but who would now insult them with sarcastic gratulation. "Art thou become like unto us?" say they to him who once disdained to set them with the dogs of his flock. "Once we trembled before thee, while the pride of thy heart taught thee to treat us as reptiles, who belonged not to the same class of beings as thyself. But now, behold thou art become such as we, and all thy pageantry and pomp are gone for ever! Receive now the reward of thy doings; exchange now thy purple robe for purple flames; thy sumptuous fare for endless want; thy flattering levee for the eternal scorn, contempt, and insult of these thy wretched companions, who gladly see thee as far sunk below them in misery, as thou wast raised above them in arrogance and pride."
See the descent of the man of pleasure,
* If we reflect for a moment on the blasphemous claim of the pope of Rome, not to mention the enormous vices of too many of the successors of St. Peter, no protestant surely can be offended at the representntion of a pope going to hell, or charge the description as savoring of unchristian severity; nor yet that a number of poor deluded papists should be represented as rising up to meet him upon his entering the infernal regions. The author had no intention to imply that none who wear the name of papist, can be in a state of salvation. He firmly believes that there are some who have not known the depths of Satan, whose salvation shall prove that there is nothing too hard for the Lord.
and notice with what manner of salutation he is addressed by his former companions who had been cut off in their sins before him - those who were once his bosom associates, with whom he had drunk wine in bowls, and forgotten the afflictions of the needy - those whom he had enticed to join with him in his midnight revels, and whom he had led into all the excesses of dissipation and debauchery - they meet him at his coming, and instead of pitying his calamity, insult and aggravate his woes. Their former semblance of friendship has utterly vanished - not a word of condolence - not a sigh of sympathy have they now to bestow; but thus they taunt and upbraid him: "Art thou become like unto us? thou whom once we envied as able to sin with less remorse than we, no longer envied now - thou who heretofore couldst laugh at hell as a mere bugbear, and ridicule the checks of conscience we sometimes felt, as the effects of superstition, and the signs of a mean and timid spirit? How fatally true have we found the monster we were emboldened by thee to disregard! How have these flames given thy daring infidelity the lie! Surely the laughter of fools is madness! the mirth of the sinner is mischievous madness! O that we had never been cursed with thy acquaintance on earth, there to partake of thy sins, here of thy plagues - persuade us now that these pains are imaginary - prove sin to be harmless, and eternal misery a fiction - yea, tell us how to put an end to our existence, or lull those spirits which thou once toldest us would have no consciousness after death, into slumber and insensibility. Miserable ghost! In vain would be the attempt to divert thy own mind from its horrors - no relief canst thou afford to thyself, and none to thy former associates. Thou hast no delight in our company, and we have none in thine, save the wretched satisfaction of seeing thee sunk deeper in misery than ourselves. He that laughed at our fears and allured us onward in sin, is subject to the like punishment with us, and as unable to bear it." Thus will the recollections of their former pleasures only aggravate their present pains, while too deep a gloom has overwhelmed them for a sprightly fancy to disperse. Memory loads them - imagination presents no scenes but those of terror - reason condemns them - their infuriated passions torment them - conscience upbraids them, and they mutually insult and increase each other's wretchedness. So end the pleasures of sin, but they wish in vain for myriads of ages to end its pains.
Let us now view the formal, self-righteous moralist. He also is accosted with a similar salutation, "Art thou become like unto us? thou whom we heard so often saying, more in the language of self-gratulation, than humble adoration, 'God, I thank thee that I am not as other men.' But where is the difference now? Say no more, 'Stand by, I am holier than ye are;' for thou art become wretched as we - thy portion is with hypocrites and unbelievers - thy fastings, thy prayers, and thy alms-deeds, which were done to be seen of men - thy constant adherence to the church, aud regular preparation for the sacrament - thy exact observation of ceremonies, days, and times; though they were expected to commend thee to the applause of thy own bosom, the approbation of the virtuous, and the plaudit of God, have all failed thee. Thy good works, which were to have purchased thee a seat in glory, were mere tinsel - thou wast weighed in the balances and found wanting. Thou scornedst the imputed righteousness of Christ - thou deridedst the renewing influences of the Spirit - the web which thou hadst woven should array thee, and thy heart was too good to need creating anew - but thy garment has become moth-eaten, neither could thy works cover thee - a deceived heart turned thee aside - thou couldst not deliver thy own soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand? Though thou walkedst by the light of thy own fire, and in the sparks which thou hadst kindled, yet thy lamp is put out in obscure darkness, and thou must lie down in endless sorrow."
What will be the case of the licentious Arminian? Take notice whom I mean. I am far from supposing that all Arminians will perish eternally, and far from supposing that all Arminians are friends to licentiousness. But there have been men of such a character, and those who die under such a character will go to hell. A licentious Arminian will as surely perish as a licentious Calvinist. One of the prime asserters of arminianism in England, was well known to have been a licentious man, and would plead his principles in excuse, when reproved by a friend for his criminal excesses.* "Oh," said he, "I am a child of the devil now, but I have free will, and can repent at any time, and I will make myself a child of God to-morrow." Now, suppose a man of these principles to be entering hell, would not the inhabitants be ready to address him thus? "Art thou become like unto us? Have thy boasted determination and free will brought thee hither? Thou who scornedst to be beholden to the will of God, to predestinating love, to efficacious grace - who wast sufficient to choose for thyself, and keep thyself from falling! Is this thy chosen abode ? Art thou fallen hither? Wast thou unwilling to owe thy salvation to God alone? To whom dost thou now owe thy damnation? Unwilling to acknowledge that another made thee to differ, now comfort thyself that no difference has been made. These mansions resound not with the mortifying, humiliating praises of free grace. All thou shalt here enjoy is of thy own procuring. But why, if redeemed as much as any soul in glory, didst thou not put thy own importance before the cyphers of the obedience, satisfaction, and intercession of Christ, to make them of some value? Why, if predestinated conditionally to eternal life, not fulfil those conditions? Why resist God's purpose and determination, when he would fain have thee comply, and longed to save thee, if he could but have done it without the destruction of thy free agency, and an affront to thy self-determining power? Didst thou prefer, not only a self-chosen vice to a forced virtue, but self-bought misery to happiness conferred on thee as a free gift?"
* One Mr. Thompson. See the excellent David Clarkson on Free Grace, p. 80 - and Hickman's Adimadversions on Heylin, pp. 9 and 227.
(The Sermon Concluded.)[p. 68]
Reflect on the doom of the Evangelical hypocrite, who with a head full of notions, but a heart full of carnality, perished under the sound of the gospel. How many of this character have sunk down to the depths of the pit! How many who were reputed saints on earth, has hell thus saluted: "Art thou become like unto us?" Gospel professors, with an orthodox creed, and even a plausible semblance of Christian experience, who once had a name and a place in a regular congregated church, have perished; and their destruction has afforded the prince of darkness peculiar triumph. "Here comes a professor," says Satan; "O that professors were all of this sort! When this man came first under the sound of the gospel, I was afraid I should lose him. I endeavored to lull his conscience to sleep, but he was alarmed, again and again. He dreaded divine vengeance, and broke off his outward vices; no longer could the spirit of profaneness and impurity keep possession of him; his heart was swept by information, and garnished with religious opinions; but I flattered myself I should not lose him, because his heart still seemed empty of grace. At first he heard the word with joy, but I soon perceived he was satisfied with the notion of safety, and was unwilling to receive Jesus as King. I therefore helped forward his comforts, persuaded him that all was well, and encouraged him to make a profession of religion, which he might wear as a decent cloak, while I filled his heart with spiritual pride and carnal security; with love to the world, and aversion to the power of godliness.
Then I had little fear of losing him, as he had no jealousy of himself. I minded not his professed regard to religion, when I plainly saw that worldly gain was ten times dearer to him than the cause of God. It gave me no pain to hear him tell the tale of his conversion, while he never concerned himself about growing in grace. I expected to find that when there was neither growth nor deep concern for the want of it, there could be only a painted appearance, and nothing of the life of it in the soul. I could see that his shop was visited with more delight than his closet, and the market day far more welcome than the Lord's day. The chief thing that I dreaded was the hammer of the word; but the love of self and of the world, soon rendered him more insensible than the anvil. His notions, his past convictions, his church membership, I turned to my own advantage. If any arrow from the pulpit ever reached his conscience, I soon healed the wound; yea, in my absence he would heal it himself. "Well," thought he, "I assent to these truths, I know that salvation is all of grace, I am no blind Arminian, I understand the gospel scheme, I remember also when I wept under the word, though it does not now make so deep an impression. I have heard many old professors say that they have not such lively feelings now as at their first conversion: such is my experience, but all may be well notwithstanding, for I have been a church member many years, and no one can lay any thing capital to my charge. I am well persuaded there is no perfection here, nor shall I weary myself with pursuing it. People that have more leisure, may spend more time in their closets; I seldom live a whole day without prayer; I must provide for my family; I see no reason to question my state, on account of some change in my frame." Thus he went on, satisfied with the form of godliness, but destitute of the power, and now his religion has left him at the gates of heaven." So Satan triumphs in his rain, while his former neighbors, who had died in their sins, gather round his wretched spirit, and upbraid him with his pretensions to peculiar privileges, and deride his present misery, while some, perhaps, remind him of his secret sins, which were never publicly known on earth, but had come to their ears in private, and encouraged them to blaspheme the holy name whereby he was called, and to charge the whole body with which he was connected, with hypocrisy.
Such, but in some respects more dreadful, will be the lot of the avowed Antinomian, who openly indulged his lusts, while he had the audacity to plead the doctrines of grace in his excuse. There have been such miscreants, and the apostle pronounces their damnation to be singularly just. Hell cannot be surprised at their coming, but hell itself must justify their destruction. I suppose a wretch of this description to be met on his entrance into these drear abodes, by two spirits who had gone thither before him. They are the ghosts of his two children. One of them accosts him, "O, my father; 'Art thou become like unto us?' I am that wretched young man whom you were the instrument of bringing to this place of torment, I sucked in the poison of your principles; I learned to abuse the grace of the gospel, to presume upon God's decrees, to snatch the gospel consolations, and to make the imputed righteousness of Christ a cloak for sin, and by which I might come nigh to God's bosom, the place of his children, while I stabbed his cause by my wicked life. I presumed I could never fall from grace, though I knew nothing of grace, except that of groundless positivity, which I called the assurance of faith. I formed to myself a notion of perseverance, as connecting a fancied conversion and eternal glory, while I left walking with God out of the question. Alas! my beginning was delusive, and my end is damnation. However, I am glad to see thee, father - cursed for thy sake be the name - sunk in the same perdition with myself. How much of my present misery do I owe to you,
and how shall I upbraid and abhor you for ever!"
"I, too," says the other miserable spirit, "rejoice in your destruction, though I never drank into your sentiments. Your perverted principles and pernicious practices prejudiced me entirely against the truths of revelation; my reason and conscience assured me of the evil of your conduct, and I hastily concluded that the religion you abused really coincided with your detestable morals. I never thoroughly examined the true nature or tendency of its doctrines, but gave myself up to infidelity. Thus, while I escaped in a great measure the lusts of the flesh, which destroyed my brother, I was ruined by the lust of the mind, the pride of reason, the poison of unbelief, and confidence in an irreligious morality. A dead faith, without any regard to holiness, ruined him and you; and dead works, without any vital faith or real regard to the divine glory, have ruined me. You, miserable man, that begat us and brought us up, were accessory to the ruin of us both. Your conduct had a different effect upon us, but its awful end is the same. Glad we are that thou art become like unto us in misery, who thus cruelly neglected and destroyed the souls of thy offspring. Expect from us both eternal upbraidings, and incessant aggravations of thy wo."
Time would call us to unfold the various awful scenes the infernal world displays. There is our text daily fulfilled in countless varieties.
Methinks at the descent of the unpreaching prelate, I hear a cry, "Room, room in Latimer's Gap* - make room for a slothful and unprofitable servant, faithful only to the interests of hell." Heathens, sages, and priests, refuse to associate with so shocking a character, and the quondam votaries of Moloch shun the man whose lawn sleeves are stained with the blood of souls. "Art thou become like unto us? Nay, we disown the relation, though our writings were preferred by thee on earth to the volume of inspiration. We return no compliments here - we who perished in idolatrous superstition, without having heard of the book of God, abhor the man who in the midst of christian light, not only neglected the great salvation himself, but, undertaking the cure of souls, never sought their welfare; professing himself inwardly moved by the Holy Spirit, never felt any bowels of compassion towards his fellow-sinners; and paid for defending the gospel revelation, never concerned himself for its propagation. Let the unfaithful watchman feel the miseries of which he refused to give warning. Let the dumb guardian of the fold, who minded only the fleece, and had no concern for the flock, now feel his tongue loosed to eternal howlings."
But one character still more dreadful than the preceding, strikes my mind with peculiar awe, - it is that of the unconverted preacher of the gospel, who with an orthodox head, a fluent tongue, a semblance of piety, and a fictitious zeal, preached an unfelt gospel and an unknown Christ. - Christ indeed was the matter of his discourses, but self his end in all. He cast out devils in the name of Jesus, but Satan dwelt in the hiding place of his bosom. He pointed out the straight road to others, but wandered in crooked paths himself. Acquainted with the truth in its theory, but a stranger to internal godliness, he deceived himself and others; but God could not be deceived, and would not be mocked; and he is unmasked before the devils
* "Oh, that a man might have the contemplation of hell - that the devil would allow a man to look into hell, to see the state of it, as he did of all the world when he tempted Christ in the wilderness. If any one were admitted to view hell thus, and behold it thoroughly, the devil would say, 'on yonder side are unpreaching prelates.' I think a man should see as far as an angel, and perceive nothing but unpreaching prelates. We might look as far as Calais, I warrant you." - Bishop Latimer's Sermon before Edward VI.
and the damned, and sentenced to the pit of perdition. What horrors fill his soul! What triumphs echo through extended Tophet! With what insults must he meet! If any thing could give a momentary suspension to the pains of devils, it would be to see a preacher of the gospel enter hell. Hark! how they taunt him! "Art thou become like unto us? thou who wast an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, who hadst the form of knowledge, and of the truth? Thou warnedst others to escape the wrath to come, and has it overtaken thee? Thou who didst point others to the city of refuge, has the avenger of blood found thee without the gate?" All Hell must doubtless triumph with peculiar malignity in the ruin of such a man. But let these instances suffice, I would hasten to the improvement of so tremendous a subject.
1. Let unconverted sinners consider what reason they have to wonder that Hell has not yet rejoiced over them, and what reason to dread lest this should be their case at last. You that are unregenerate, ought seriously to reflect, that if you had been cut off in your present state, as many younger persons than you have been in a like condition, Hell would certainly have triumphed in your destruction.
Our text contains the very language with which, it is very probable, some of your companions in sin, met your other wretched acquaintance who died last. Why are not you in his case? Why has God spared you so long? You have run into an excess of riot; you have broken the restraints of education; you have cast off the cords of wholesome discipline; you have added sin to sin; you have been often warned, and you have hardened your neck. Why have you not been suddenly destroyed, and that without remedy? You have had convictions, and have stifled them; mercies have not allured you, and chastisements have not corrected you. You have been so brutish as to despise reproof, and hate your reprovers. You have neglected the great salvation, and made light of the calls of the gospel. You have caused the ambassadors of peace to weep bitterly, and almost broken the hearts of your godly friends. Why then are you out of hell? Have you not hated Christ, and acted as though you were in love with death? Have you not seemed as though you would take hell by violence, so fond have you been of your sins? Why should you be smitten any more? Surely God will soon say, "Let him alone - let his parents and his friends let him alone." Is it not a wonder that God does not take your praying friends to heaven, that you may grieve them no longer, and that they might let you alone? For you have loved idols, you are joined to idols, you aw a companion of fools, and may expect accordingly to be destroyed. Oh, if God says, "My Spirit shall let him alone, I will give him up to his lusts, and he shall take his course." Then you will soon hear another sort of lecture from this text. Yes, you will sink into endless perdition, and the inhabitants of hell will gather round you, gaping to wonder at your destruction, and to rejoice therein. But you have not yet experienced this - no, and I pray you never may - I pray God will stop you in your course. I hope he has mercy in store for you. I know he has, if you are willing now to accept it. "If you will inquire, inquire ye, return, come. Observe! If thou wilt return, return unto me, saith the Lord. - Come take with you words, and return unto the Lord, and say unto him, Take away all iniquity and receive us graciously, so will we render unto thee the calves of our lips."
2. But if sinners have reason to wonder at God's forbearance, how much more reason have believers to be astonished at divine forgiveness. You who sometime ago were afar off from God, are now become fellow citizens with the saints; you were as indisposed to return to him as the worst sinners out of hell, yea, you would before this, have arrived at that world of wo, had not grace prevented. Grace alone has made all the difference between
you and the damned, and grace will make an external difference. Surely you are debtors, not to the flesh to live after the flesh, which had almost brought you to endless ruin, but to God and grace. Be concerned, therefore, under a sense of your infinite obligations, to live to the Spirit, and to show forth the praises of that grace which has snatched you as brands from the burning. Eternity will not suffice fully to express all your obligations. Oh, show them in time that you are sensible of them. Having been saved from eternal misery, can you murmur at the troubles of life? Being called to eternal glory, can you be attracted by earthly vanities? Can you forbear showing your gratitude to your Redeemer who bought you with his precious blood? Can you forget that you are not your own, but bound with the strongest ties to glorify God with your bodies and spirits, which are his?
3. That we may not conclude without contemplating a more pleasing theme, I would call your attention to one inference more. Sinners will wonder and rejoice with a very different kind of joy at each other's salvation.
In the mansions of glory above, "Art thou become like unto us?" will be the language of angels to the redeemed from among men. Those benevolent spirits which rejoice in a sinner's conversion will doubtless exult at a believer's entrance into bliss, - no jealousy at seeing their younger brethren of Adam's fallen race, more honored than themselves, will prevent their hailing with joy the christian's arrival at the haven of rest. They disdain not to minister to the heirs of salvation in their present low and imperfect state, and they will not fail to congratulate them when they shall be added to the spirits of the just made perfect.
The poor believer who is now half afraid to tell what God has done for his soul to his saved fellow worms, shall then rehearse the mighty acts of Jehovah to an innumerable company of listening seraphim. They who are now complaining of such darkness, and coldness, and deadness, and sin, shall then be free from every subject of complaint, and shall be as the angels in light, in life, in love, in zeal, in purity, in incessant, unwearied, delightful activity for God, while angels who never fell will rejoice to see the redeemed placed nearer the throne than themselves. Our text thus differently applied will be adopted in heaven, not only as the language of angels to saints, but of saints to each other. Those who wept and complained together below, will surely rejoice and exult together above. "Art thou become like unto us?" will be the question which happy spirits will address to each new comer to the heavenly Jerusalem. - They will have no fear lest their own portion should be lessened by the increase of their Father's family. Every fresh instance of the riches of grace in bringing another son to glory will increase the aggregate of heavenly bliss, and afford new pleasure to every individual that was there before, and as we may hope that heaven is filling continually, so the happiness of heaven in this view, as in others, is continually increasing.
We may indeed invert all the three observations which we made at the beginning, and show that a very considerable difference may subsist on earth between those who shall at last meet in glory. There may be a great difference in outward conduct, in natural disposition, in their degrees of light and knowledge, in their opinions about the less weighty parts of truth, and in their inward exercises and conflicts - while they all are building their hopes on the mercy of God in Christ - all born of God - all friends of holiness, and all appointed, not unto wrath, but to obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.
We may also observe that as some characters will fill hell with peculiar surprise, so in heaven there will be some, whose arrival in that blissful place will be peculiarly marvellous, though all will have
reason to wonder at finding themselves there, and will rejoice in each other's happiness.
As before we placed ourselves in imagination at the gates of hell; now give me leave for a few minutes to conduct your ideas to the entrance of heaven, that we may notice some pleasing scenes which will there take place.
As one angelic convoy approaches the pearly gates to present a happy soul, which had just left the body, to the Redeemer, - methinks I see a kindred spirit fly forth to meet him: - "Art thou become like unto us?" is the friendly language he uses, - "What! is my child at last brought safe to these happy mansions? Surely I am doubly saved in thy salvation! What joy unspeakable and full of glory do I feel at the sight! This, my son, was dead and is alive, was lost, and is found. - Thousands of times have I wrestled with God in secret, with groanings unutterable, and often with floods of tears, for thy conversion - but I did not live to see my prayers answered, when I lay on my own deathbed - though I rejoiced to think whither I was going, yet my triumph was interrupted by the heart-rending supposition that I should never more see my poor child, but at a vast distance, separated from me, separated from happiness, at the left hand of the Judge. But oh, surprising grace! God remembered his mercy and answered my prayers, after he had taken me to himself. I heard long ago, by an angelic messenger, of thy return to God, and now I meet thee actually arrived in heaven! O, my son, let us proceed together to the footstool of the glorified Immanuel, and adore him with raptures of joy for the riches of his grace."
Another spirit arrives from the land of mortality, and is met by the soul of an old neighbor, who had been some time in heaven. "Art thou," says he, "become like unto us; who wast once such a champion for Satan? I remember thy former enmity to religion, and thy spite towards the people of God. I recollect, with deep humiliation, my own cowardice - how for fear of the persecution of thy abusive tongue, I scarcely dared to pass by your door to the house of God. I remember that in a time of affliction, you felt some pangs of conscience - made some promises of amendment - sent for me to pray by you, - and seemed to be crying out for salvation. But after your recovery you became more desperately wicked than before, and when I left the world, I had little expectation of your being brought at last to glory. But what has God wrought? I feel somewhat of the same pleasure that our dear brother Stephen felt, when Paul entered this happy world: - On earth I prayed for my persecutors, and felt unfeigned love for your soul, when you used me so despitefully. But that sweet christian temper was then very imperfect, and I sometimes felt a lamentable disposition to the contrary. But now, my dear brother, I rejoice in your salvation with my whole heart. Welcome, welcome to eternal joy!
Hear another heavenly salutation: - "Art thou become like unto us?" says one to his new associate in bliss. "I was acquainted with you on earth, and I remember your destitute and afflicted circumstances. Though God had made you rich in faith, and an heir of his kingdom, yet you were ready sometimes to stagger through unbelief. When you looked to the things which were seen, you were tempted to conclude that you could not be a child of God, because you were so chastised. You sometimes thought - surely the Lord has no regard for me, or he would not suffer my trials to be so heavy, and to continue so long. But now, my brother, you can bless God for all your former troubles, and see that his end in permitting them was wise and gracious, nor hath one word of his promise failed. Your light and momentary afflictions have wrought out for you a far more exceeding and eternai weight of glory. As for me, I was placed below, in a very different situation. Riches flowed in upon me, and I found
but few interruptions to my prosperity. But though I am glad that I had an opportunity to assist you, and many others, unaer your temporal difficulties, yet upon the whole I am induced to conclude that the dangers of my station were greater than yours.
O how often was I tempted to forget the Lord, though surrounded with his mercies! How apt was I to set my heart upon the world, and realize its empty enjoyments! How often did the hurry of business distract my thoughts, and draw them off from more important objects Surely if it had not been for the riches of grace, I had been drowned in endless perdition. But God has saved me from the snares of prosperity, and delivered you out of all your adversity. Let us vie with each other in singing his praise for ever."
"Art thou become like unto us?" says another, to a soul just entering into rest. "I well remember that when we were upon earth, you were almost always fearing, desponding, complaining. Your harp hung silent on the willows, and scarcely ever sounded the praises of Jehovah. You were tossed with tempests and not comforted. But where are you now? The foundations of this city are of sapphire, and its stones are adorned with fair colors. The days of your mourning are ended - sorrow and sighing are fled away - and God, even your own God, has wiped away all tears from your eyes. Unbelief cannot enter here. Satan has shot his last dart, and the enemies you once saw, you shall see no more for ever - at least you shall see them no more in a formidable way, - you shall only see them when at last you shall set your feet upon their necks, and sit as an assessor to judge angels. Once, you were perpetually complaining of darkness and gloominess, but here is no night - eternal day surrounds us all - the Lord God and the Lamb enlighten us, and your bosom is warmed with heaven's calm sunshine, and filled with heart-felt joy."
But perhaps few characters will afford more wonder in heaven than a restored backslider. Methinks I see one entering heaven, and hear him thus addressed: - "Art thou become like unto us? Then grace is free indeed! Oh, I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thy espousals, when we both set out in religion, and took sweet counsel together - we were baptized upon a profession of faith, and received into the church upon the same day, and often prayed and praised with each other. I remember also, how you afterwards declined, and recollect many circumstances of your backsliding. First, you appeared elated with pride and self-confidence - then you let down your watch - you neglected prayer - you entered into ensnaring connexions with the ungodly, - you forsook the assemblies of the saints - you resented reproof - you entertained prejudices against your brethren - you shunned my company, though we were once so intimate - and at length you fell into open sin. You were separated from the church, and yet seemed not to lay it to heart. How was I staggered for a time by your fall, and tempted to believe that all religion was a delusion! And when I got over that temptation, I was still greatly grieved and distressed on your account. But at last I almost gave you up. I was convinced God was faithful, but I was ready to infer that you were a hypocrite from the first, or the Lord would never have suffered you to fall thus awfully, and to continue so long in a blacksliding state. At the time of my death, I had little hope of your coming to heaven. But soon after I had joined this blessed company, I heard that God had brought you back to himself - that he had granted you repentance, and taught you to do your first works; and though you had caused the wicked to triumph so long, and the followers of Jesus to mourn, yet he had restored to you the joys of his salvation. I find he enabled you to walk humbly the rest of your days; he assisted you to strengthen your brethren, and to teach transgressors his ways; and
now, my dear brother, I congratulate you most sincerely in your entrance into his kingdom."
Thus will the saved of the Lord rejoice in each other's felicity - thus will they welcome each other to Immanuel's land. And do we hope to join this happy train? Do we expect that angels and saints will congratulate us? - we who deserved a portion more dreadful than being crushed under rocks and mountains! - we who might so justly have been consigned to weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth? Have we, I say, this bliss in prospect? - with angels and saints rejoice to see us made like unto themselves in happiness? Let us begin now to be as like to them as possible in humility, in love, in gratitude, in holiness.
Remember now as much as possible, the saints in glory. Be now like angels active for God as flames of fire. Show that you are now one body, or rather one spirit with those that stand round the throne. Thus shall heaven be begun on earth. Amen.
[From The Baptist Memorial and Monthly Record, 1845, pp. 36-42; 68-75. Document from Google Books On-line. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall]
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