By Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758).
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“Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts xvi. 29, 30).
We have here and in the context an account of the conversion of the jailer, which is one of the most remarkable instances of the kind in the Scriptures. The jailer before seems not only to have been wholly insensible to the things of religion, but to have been a persecutor, and to have persecuted these very men, Paul and Silas; though he now comes to them in so earnest a manner, asking them what he must do to be saved. We are told in the context that all the magistrates and multitude of the city rose up jointly in a tumult against them, and took them, and cast them into prison, charging the jailer to keep them safely. Whereupon he thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks. And it is probable he did not act in this merely as the servant or instrument of the magistrates, but that he joined with the rest of the people in their rage against them, and that he did what he did urged on by his own will, as well as the magistrates’ commands; which made him execute their commands with such rigour.
But when Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises at midnight, and there was suddenly a great earthquake, and God had in so wonderful a manner set upon the prison doors, and every man’s bands were loosed, he was greatly terrified; and in a kind of desperation, was about to kill himself. But Paul and Silas crying out to him, “Do thyself no harm, for we are all here,” then he called for a light, and sprang in, as we have the account in the text. We may observe,
1. The objects of his concern. He is anxious about his salvation: he is terrified by his guilt, especially by his guilt in his ill treatment of these ministers of Christ. He is concerned to escape from that guilty state, the miserable state he was in by reason of sin.
2. The sense which he has of the dreadfulness of his present state. This he manifests in several ways.
1. By his great haste to escape from that state. By his haste to inquire what he must do. He seems to be urged by the most pressing concern, sensible of his present necessity of deliverance, without any delay. Before, he was quiet and secure in his natural state; but now his eyes are opened, he is in the utmost haste. If the house had been on fire over his head, he could not have asked more earnestly, or as being in greater haste. He could soon have come to Paul and Silas, to ask them what he must do, if he had only walked. But he was in too great haste to walk only, or to run; for he sprang in; he leaped into the place where they were. He fled from wrath. He fled from the fire of divine justice, and so hastened, as one that fled for his life.
2. By his behaviour and gesture before Paul and Silas. He fell down. That he fell down before those whom he had persecuted, and thrust into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks, shows what was the state of his mind. It shows some great distress, that makes such an alteration in him, that brings him to this. He was broken down, as it were, by the distress of his mind, in a sense of the dreadfulness of his condition.
3. His earnest manner of inquiring of them what he shall do to escape from this miserable condition; “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” So distressed, that he is brought to be willing to do anything; to have salvation on any terms, and by any means, however difficult; brought, as it were, to write a blank, and give it in to God, that God may prescribe his own terms.
Doctrine. They who are in a natural condition, are in a dreadful condition.
This I shall endeavour to make appear by a particular consideration of the state and condition of unregenerate persons.
I. As to their actual condition in this world.
II. As to their relations to the future world.
I. The condition of those who are in a natural state, is dreadful in the present world.
First. On account of the depraved state of their natures. As men come into the world, their natures are dreadfully depraved. Man in his primitive state was a noble piece of divine workmanship; but by the fall it is dreadfully defaced. It is awful to think that so excellent a creature as man is, should be so ruined. The dreadfulness of the condition, which unconverted men are in this respect, appears in the following things:
1. The dreadfulness of their depravity appears in that they are so sottishly blind and ignorant. God gave man a faculty of reason and understanding, which is a noble faculty. Herein he differs from all other creatures here below. He is exalted in his nature above them, and is in this respect like the angels, and is made capable to know God, and to know spiritual and eternal things. And God gave him understanding for this end, that he might know him, and know heavenly things, and made him as capable to know these things as any others. But man has debased himself, and has lost his glory in this respect. He has become as ignorant of the excellency of God as the very beasts. His understanding is full of darkness; his mind is blind, is altogether blind to spiritual things. Men are ignorant of God, and ignorant of Christ, ignorant of the way of salvation, ignorant of their own happiness, blind in the midst of the brightest and clearest light, ignorant under all manner of instructions. Romans iii. 17, “The way of peace they have not known.” Isa. xxvii. 11, “It is a people of no understanding.” Jer. iv. 22, “My people is foolish, they have not known me; they are sottish children, and have no understanding.” v. 21, “Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding.” Psal. xcv. 10, 11, “It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways; unto whom I sware in my wrath, that they should not enter into my rest.” 1 Cor. xv. 34, “Some have not the knowledge of God; I speak this to your shame.”
There is a spirit of atheism prevailing in the hearts of men; a strange disposition to doubt of the very being of God, and of another world, and of everything which cannot be seen with the bodily eyes. Psalm xiv. 1, “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God.” They do not realize that God sees them, when they commit sin, and will call them to an account for it. And therefore, if they can hide sin from the eyes of men, they are not concerned, but are bold to commit it. Psalm xciv. 7, 8, 9, “Yet they say, the Lord shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it. Understand, ye brutish among the people; and, ye fools, when will ye be wise? He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? he that formed the eye, shall he not see?” Psalm lxxiii. 11, “They say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the Most High?” So sottishly unbelieving are they of future things, of heaven and hell, and will commonly run the venture of damnation sooner than be convinced. They are stupidly senseless to the importance of eternal things. How hard to make them believe, and to give them a real conviction, that to be happy to all eternity is better than all other good; and to be miserable for ever under the wrath of God, is worse than all other evil. Men show themselves senseless enough in temporal things; but in spiritual things far more so. Luke xii. 56, “Ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky, and of the earth; but how is it that ye do not discern this time?” They are very subtle in evil designs; but sottish in those things which most concern them. Jeremiah iv. 22, “They are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge.”
Wicked men show themselves more foolish and senseless of what is best for them, than the very brutes. Isa. i. 3, “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib; but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.” Jer. viii. 7, “Yea, the stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed times; and the turtle, and the crane, and the swallow observe the time of their coming; but my people know not the judgement of the Lord.”
2. They have no goodness in them. Romans vii. 18, “In me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing.” They have no principle that disposes them to anything that is good. Natural men have no higher principle in their hearts than self-love. And herein they do not excel the devils. The devils love themselves, and love their own happiness, and are afraid of their own misery. And they go no further. And the devils would be as religious as the best of natural men, if they were in the same circumstances. They would be as moral, and would pray as earnestly to God, and take as much pains for salvation, if there were the like opportunity. And as there is no good principle in the hearts of natural men, so there are never any good exercises of heart, never one good thought, or motion of heart in them. Particularly there is no love to God in them. They never had the least degree of love to the infinitely glorious Being. They never had the least true respect to the Being that made them, and in whose hand their breath is, and from whom are all their mercies. However they may seem to do things at times out of respect to God, and wear a face as though they honoured him, and highly esteemed him, it is all in mere hypocrisy. Though there may be a fair outside, they are like painted sepulchres; within, there is nothing but putrefaction and rottenness. They have no love to Christ, the glorious Son of God, who is so worthy of their love, and has shown such wonderful grace to sinners in dying for them. They never did anything out of any real respect to the Redeemer of the world, since they were born. They never brought forth any fruit to that God, who made them, and in whom they live, and move, and have their being. They never have in any way answered the end for which they were made. They have hitherto lived altogether in vain, and to no purpose. They never so much as sincerely obeyed one command of God; never so much as moved one finger out of a true spirit of obedience to him, who made them to serve him. And when they have seemed outwardly to comply with God’s commands, their hearts were not in it. They did not do it out of any spirit of subjection to God, or any disposition to obey him, but were merely driven to it by fear, or in some way influenced by their worldly interest. They never gave God the honour of one of his attributes. They never gave him the honour of his authority by obeying him. They never gave him the honour of his sovereignty by submitting to him. They never gave him the honour of his holiness and mercy by loving him. They never gave him the honour of his sufficiency and faithfulness by trusting in him; but have looked upon God as one not fit to be believed or trusted, and have treated him as if he were a liar. 1 John v. 10, “He that believeth not God hath made him a liar.” They never so much as heartily thanked God for one mercy they have received in their whole lives, though God has always maintained them, and they have always lived upon his bounty. They never so much as once heartily thanked Christ for coming into the world, and dying to give them an opportunity to be saved. They never would show him so much gratitude as to receive him, when he has knocked at their door; but have always shut the door against him, though he has come to knock at their door upon no other ground but only to offer himself to be their Saviour. They never so much as had any true desires after God or Christ in their whole lives. When God has offered himself to them to be their portion, and Christ to be the friend of their souls, they did not desire it. They never desired to have God and Christ for their portion. They had rather be without them than with them, if they could avoid going to hell without them. They never had so much as an honourable thought of God. They always have esteemed earthly things before him. And notwithstanding all they have heard in the commands of God and Christ, they have always preferred a little worldly profit or sinful pleasure before them.
3. Unconverted men are in a dreadful condition by reason of the dreadful wickedness which there is in them.
1. Sin is a thing of a dreadful nature, and that because it is against an infinitely great and an infinitely holy God. There is in the nature of man enmity against God, contempt of God, rebellion against God. Sin rises up as an enemy against the Most High. It is a dreadful thing for a creature to be an enemy to the Creator, as to have any such thing in his heart as enmity against him; as will be very clear, if we consider the difference between God and the creature, and how all creatures, compared with him, are as the small dust of the balance, are as nothing, less than nothing, and vanity. There is an infinite evil in sin. If we saw the hundredth part of the evil there is in sin, it would make us sensible that those who have sin, let it be ever so small, are in a dreadful condition.
2. The hearts of natural men are exceedingly full of sin. If they had but one sin in their hearts, it would be sufficient to render their condition very dreadful. But they have not only one sin, but all manner of sin. There is every kind of lust. The heart is a mere sink of sin, a fountain of corruption, whence issue all manner of filthy streams.
Mark vii. 21, 22, “From within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness.” There is no one lust in the heart of the devil, that is not in the heart of man. Natural men are in the image of the devil. The image of God is rased out, and the image of the devil is stamped upon them. God is graciously pleased to restrain the wickedness of men, principally by fear and respect to their credit and reputation, and by education. And if it were not for such restraints as these, there is no kind of wickedness that men would not commit, whenever it came in their way. The commission of those things, at the mention of which men are now ready to start, and seem to be shocked when they hear them read, would be common and general; and earth would be a kind of hell. What would not natural men do if they were not afraid?
Matthew x. 17, “But beware of men.” Men have not only every kind of lust, and wicked and perverse dispositions in their hearts, but they have them to a dreadful degree. There is not only pride, but an amazing degree of it: pride, whereby a man is disposed to set himself even above the throne of God itself. The hearts of men are mere sinks of sensuality. Man is become like a beast in placing his happiness in sensual enjoyments. The heart is full of the most loathsome lusts. The souls of natural men are more vile and abominable than any reptile. If God should open a window in the heart, so that we might look into it, it would be the most loathsome spectacle that ever was set before our eyes. There is not only malice in the hearts of natural men, but a fountain of it. Men naturally therefore deserve the language applied to them by Christ, Matt. iii. 7, “O generation of vipers;” and Matt. xxiii. 33, “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers.” Men, if it were not for fear and other such restraints, would not only commit all manner of sin, but to what degree, to what length would they not proceed! What has a natural man to keep him from openly blaspheming God, as much as any of the devils; yea, from dethroning him, if that were possible, and fear and other such restraints were out of the way? yea, would it not be thus with many of those, who now appear with a fair face, and will speak most of God, and make many pretences of worshipping and serving him? The exceeding wickedness of natural men appears abundantly in the sins they commit, notwithstanding all these restraints. Every natural man, if he reflects, may see enough to show him how exceedingly sinful he is. Sin flows from the heart as constantly as water flows from a fountain. Jer. vi. 7, “As a fountain casteth out her waters, so she casteth out her wickedness.” And this wickedness, that so abounds in their hearts, has dominion over them. They are slaves to it: Rom. vii. 14, “Sold under sin.” They are so under the power of sin, that they are driven on by their lusts in a course against their own conscience, and against their own interest. They are hurried on to their own ruin, and that at the same time their reason tells them, it will probably be their ruin: 2 Pet. ii. 14, “Cannot cease from sin.” On account of wicked men’s being so under the power of sin, the heart of man is said to be desperately wicked, Jer. xvii. 9; and Eph. ii. 1, “Dead in trespasses and sins.”
3. The hearts of natural men are dreadfully hard and incorrigible. There is nothing but the mighty power of God will move them. They will cleave to sin, and go on in sin, let what will be done with them. Prov. xxvii. 22, “Though thou shouldest bray a fool in a mortar among wheat with a pestle, yet will not his foolishness depart from him.” There is nothing that will awe our hearts; and there is nothing that will draw them to obedience: let there be mercies or afflictions, threatenings or gracious calls and invitations, frowning, or patience and long-suffering, or fatherly counsels and exhortations. Isa. xxvi. 10, “Let favour be showed to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness; in the land of uprightness will he deal unjustly, and will not behold the majesty of the Lord.”
Secondly. The relative state of those who are in an unconverted condition is dreadful. This will appear if we consider,
I. Their relative state with respect to God; and that because,
1. They are without God in the world. They have no interest in part in God: he is not their God: he hath declared he will not be their God. Hos. i. 9, God and believers have a mutual covenant relation and right to each other. They are his people, and he is their God. But he is not the covenant God of those who are in an unconverted state. There is a great alienation and estrangement between God and the wicked: he is not their Father and portion: they have nothing to challenge of God, they have no right to any one of his attributes. The believer can challenge a right in the power of God, in his wisdom and holiness, his grace and love. All are made over to him, to be his benefit. But the unconverted can claim no right in any of God’s perfections. They have no God to protect and defend them in this evil world: to defend them from sin, or from Satan, or any evil. They have no God to guide and direct them in any doubts or difficulties, to comfort and support their minds under afflictions. They are without God in all their affairs, in all the business they undertake, in their family affairs, and in their personal affairs, in their outward concerns, and in the concerns of their souls.
How can a creature be more miserable, than to be separated from the Creator, and to have no god, whom he can call his own god? He is wretched indeed, who goes up and down in the world, without a god to take care of him, to be his guide and protector, and to bless him in his affairs. The very light of nature teaches that a man’s god is his all. Judg. xviii. 24, “Ye have taken away my gods, and what have I more?” There is but one God, and in him they have no right. They are without that God, whose will must determine their whole well being, both here and for ever. That unconverted men are without God shows that they are liable to all manner of evil. They are liable to the power of the devil, to the power of all manner of temptation, for they are without God to protect them. They are liable to be deceived and seduced into erroneous opinions, and to embrace damnable doctrines. It is not possible to deceive the saints in this way.
But the unconverted may be deceived. They may become papists, or heathens, or atheists. They have nothing to secure them from it. They are liable to be given up of God to judicial hardness of heart. They deserve it; and since God is not their god, they have no certainty that God will not inflict this awful judgement upon them. As they are without God in the world, they are liable to commit all manner of sin, and even the unpardonable sin itself. They cannot be sure they shall not commit that sin. They are liable to build up a false hope of heaven, and so to go hoping to hell. They are liable to die senseless and stupid, as many have died. They are liable to die in such a case as Saul and Judas did, fearless of hell. They have no security from it. They are liable to all manner of mischief, since they are without God. They cannot tell what shall befall them, nor when they are secure from anything. They are not safe one moment. Ten thousand fatal mischiefs may befall them, that may make them miserable forever. They, who have God for their God, are safe from all such evils. It is not possible that they should befall them. God is their covenant God, and they have his faithful promise to be their refuge. But what mischief is there which may not befall natural men? Whatever hopes they may have may be disappointed. Whatever fair prospect there may seem to be of their conversion and salvation, it may vanish away. They may make great progress towards the kingdom of God, and yet come short at last. They may seem to be in a very hopeful way to be converted, and yet never be converted. A natural man is sure of nothing. He is sure of no good, nor is he sure of escaping any evil. It is therefore a dreadful condition that a natural man is in. They, who are in a natural state, are lost. They have wandered from God, and they are like lost sheep, that have wandered from their shepherd. They are poor helpless creatures in a howling wilderness, and have no shepherd to protect or to guide them. They are desolate, and exposed to innumerable fatal mischiefs.
2. They are not only without God, but the wrath of God abides upon them. John iii. 36, “He that believeth not the Son, shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.” There is no peace between God and them, but God is angry with them every day. He is not only angry with them, but that to a dreadful degree. There is a fire kindled in God’s anger; it burns like fire. Wrath abides upon them, which if it should be executed, would plunge them into the lowest hell, and make them miserable there to all eternity. They have provoked the Holy One of Israel to anger. God has been angry with them ever since they began to sin: he has been provoked by them every day, ever since they exercised any reason; and he is provoked by them more and more every hour. The flame of his wrath is continually burning. There are many now in hell that never provoked God more than they, nor so much as many of them. Wherever they go, they go about with the dreadful wrath of God abiding on them. They eat, and drink, and sleep under wrath. How dreadful a condition therefore are they in! It is the most awful thing for the creature to have the wrath of his Creator abiding on him. The wrath of God is a thing infinitely dreadful. The wrath of a king is as the roaring of a lion; but what is the wrath of a king, who is but a worm of the dust, to the wrath of the infinitely great and dreadful God? How dreadful is it to be under the wrath of the First Being, the Being of beings, the great Creator and mighty possessor of heaven and earth! How dreadful is it for a person to go about under the wrath of God, who gave him being, and in whom he lives and moves, who is every where present, and without whom he cannot move a step, nor draw a breath! Natural men, inasmuch as they are under wrath, are under a curse. God’s wrath and curse are continually upon them. They can have no reasonable comfort, therefore, in any of their enjoyments; for they do not know but that they are given them in wrath, and shall be curses to them, and not blessings. As it is said in Job xviii. 15, “Brimstone shall be scattered upon his habitation.” How can they take any comfort in their good, or in their possessions, when they do not know but all are given them to fit them for the slaughter.
II. Their relative state will appear dreadful, if we consider how they stand related to the devil.
1. They who are in a natural state are the children of the devil. As the saints are the children of God, so the ungodly are the children of the devil. 1 John iii. 10, “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil.” Matt. xiii. 38, 39, “The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom: but the tares are the children of the wicked one. The enemy that sowed them is the devil.” John viii. 44, “Ye are of your father, the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do.” They are, as it were, begotten of the devil; they proceed from him. 1 John iii. 8, “He that committeth sin, is of the devil.” As Adam begat a son in his own likeness, so are wicked men in the likeness and image of the devil. They acknowledge this relation, and own themselves children of the devil, by consenting that he would be their father. They subject themselves to him, hearken to his counsels as children hearken to the counsels of a father. They learn of him to imitate him, and do as he does, as children learn to imitate their parents. John viii. 38, “I speak that which I have seen with my Father, and ye do that which ye have seen with your father.” How awful a state is this! How dreadful is it to be a child of the devil, the spirit of darkness, the prince of hell, that wicked, malignant, and cruel spirit! To have any thing to do with him is very dreadful. It would be accounted a dreadful, frightful thing only to meet the devil, to have him appear to a person in a visible shape. how dreadful then must it be to be his child; how dreadful for any person to have the devil for his father!
2. They are the devil’s captives and servants. Man before his fall was in a state of liberty; but now he has fallen into Satan’s hands. The devil has got the victory, and carried him captive. Natural men are in Satan’s possession, and they are under his dominion. They are brought by him into subjection to his will, to go at his bidding, and do what he commands. 2 Timothy ii. 26, “Taken captive by him at his will.” The devil rules over ungodly men. They are all his slaves, and do his drudging. This argues their state to be dreadful. Men account it an unhappy state of life to be slaves; and especially to be slaves to a bad master, to one who is very hard, unreasonable, and cruel. How miserable do we look upon those persons, who are taken captive by the Turks, or other such barbarous nations, and put by them to the meanest and most cruel slavery, and treated no better than they treat their cattle! But what is this to being taken captive by the devil, the prince of hell, and made a slave to him! Had not a man better be a slave to any one on earth than to the devil? The devil is, of all masters, the most cruel, and treats his servants the worst. He puts them to the vilest service, to that which is the most dishonourable of any in the world. No work is so dishonourable as the practice of sin. The devil puts his servants to such work as debases them below the dignity of human nature. They must make themselves like beasts to do that work to serve their filthy lusts. And besides the meanness of the work, it is a very hard service. The devil causes them to serve him at the expense of the peace of their conscience, and oftentimes at the expense of their reputation, at the expense of their estates, and shortening of their days. The devil is a cruel master; for the service upon which he puts his slaves, is to undo themselves. He keeps them hard at work day and night, to work their own ruin. He never intends to give them any reward for their pains, but their pains are to work out their own everlasting destruction. It is to gather fuel and kindle the fire for themselves to be tormented in to all eternity.
3. The soul of a natural man is the habitation of the devil. The devil is not only their father, and rules over them, but he dwells in them. It is a dreadful thing for a man to have the devil near him, often coming to him. But it is a more dreadful thing to have him dwell with a man, to take up his constant abode with him; and more dreadful yet to have him dwell in him, to take up his abode in his heart. But thus it is with every natural man. He takes up his abode in his heart. As the soul of a godly man is the habitation of the Spirit of God, so is the soul of a wicked man the habitation of unclean spirits. As the soul of a godly man is the temple of God, so the soul of a wicked man is the synagogue of Satan.
A wicked man’s soul is in Scripture called Satan’s house, and Satan’s palace. Matthew xii. 27, “How can one enter into a strong man’s house?” meaning the devil. And Luke xi. 21, “When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace.” Satan not only lives, but reigns in the heart of a wicked man. He has not only taken up his abode there, but he has set up his throne there. The heart of a wicked man, is the place of the devil’s rendezvous. The doors of a wicked man’s heart are open to devils. They have free access there, though they are shut against God and Jesus Christ. There are many devils, no doubt, that have to do with one wicked man, and his heart is the place where they meet. The soul of a wicked man is, as it was said of Babylon, the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird. Thus dreadful is the condition of a natural man by reason of the relation in which he stands to the devil.
III. The state of unconverted men is very dreadful, if we consider its relation to the future world.
Our state here is not lasting, but transitory. We are pilgrims and strangers here, and are principally designed for a future world. We continue in this present state but a short time; but we are to be in that future state to all eternity. And therefore men are to be denominated either happy or miserable, chiefly with regard to that future state. It matters but little comparatively what our state is here, because it will continue but a short time; it is nothing to eternity. But that man is a happy man who is entitled to happiness, and he is miserable who is in danger of misery, in his eternal state. Prosperity or adversity in the present state alters them but very little, because this state is of so short continuance.
1. Those who are in a natural condition, have no title to any inheritance in another world. There are glorious things in another world; there are unsearchable riches, an unspeakable and inconceivable abundance; but they have nothing to do with it. Heaven is a world of glory and blessedness; but they have no right to the least portion of those blessings. If they should die and go out of the world as they are, they would go destitute, having no inheritance, no friend, no enjoyments to go to. They will have no God to whom they may go, no Redeemer to receive their departing souls, no angel to be a ministering spirit to them, to take care of them, to guard or defend them, no interest in that Redeemer, who has purchased those blessings. What is said of the Ephesians is true of those who are in a natural condition. “At that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenant of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world.” What a dreadful case they are in, who live in the world having no hope, without any title to any benefits hereafter, and without any ground to hope for any good in their future and eternal state!
2. Natural men are in a dreadful condition, because of the misery to which they are exposed in the future world. This will be obvious, if we consider,
1. How great the misery is of which they are in danger;
2. How great is their danger of this misery.
1. How great the misery is of which they are in danger. It is great in two respects; 1. The torment and misery are great in themselves; and 2. They are of endless duration.
1. The torment and misery, of which natural men are in danger, are exceedingly great in themselves. They are great beyond any of our words or thoughts. When we speak of them, our words are swallowed up. We say they are great, and exceedingly great, and very dreadful. But when we have used all the words we can to express them, how faint is the idea that is raised in our minds in comparison with the reality! This misery will appear very dreadful, if we consider what calamities meet together in it. In it the wicked are deprived of all good, separated from God and all fruits of his mercy. In this world they enjoy many of the streams of God’s goodness. But in the future world they will have no more smiles of God, no more manifestations of his mercy by benefits, by warnings, by calls and invitations. He will never more manifest his mercy by the exercise of patience and long-suffering, by waiting to be gracious; no more use any forbearance with them for their good; no more exercise his mercy by strivings of his Spirit, by sending messengers and using means. They will have no more testimonies of the fruits of God’s goodness in enjoying food and raiment, and comfortable dwellings and convenient accommodations, nor any of the comforts of this life; no more manifestations of his mercy by suffering them to draw near to him with their prayers, to pray for what they need. God will exercise no pity towards them, no regard for their welfare. Cut off from all the comforts of this life, shut out of heaven, they will see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven but they shall be turned away from God and from all good into the blackness of darkness, into the pit of hell, into that great receptacle, which God has provided on purpose to cast into it the filthy, and polluted, and abominable of the universe. They will be in a most dreadful condition; they will have no friends. God will be their enemy, angels and the spirits of the just will be their enemies, devils and damned spirits will be their enemies. They will be hated with perfect hatred, will have none to pity them none to bemoan their case, or to be any comfort to them. It appears that the state of the damned will be exceedingly dreadful in that they will suffer the wrath of God, executed to the full upon them, poured out without mixture. They shall bear the wrath of the almighty. They shall know how dreadful the wrath of an Almighty God is. Now none knows, none can conceive. Psalm xc. 11, “Who knoweth the power of thine anger?” Then they shall feel the weight of God’s wrath. In this world they have the wrath of God abiding on them, but then it will be executed upon them; now they are the objects of it, but then they will be the subjects of it. Now it hangs over them, but then it shall fall upon them in its full weight without any alleviation, or any moderation or restraint. Their souls and their bodies shall then be filled full with the wrath of God.
Wicked men shall be as full of wrath as any thing that glows in the midst of a furnace is of fire. The wrath of God is infinitely more dreadful than fire. Fire, yea the fiercest fire, is but an image and shadow of it. The vessels of wrath shall be filled up with wrath to the brim. Yea, they shall be plunged into a sea of wrath. And therefore hell is compared to a lake of fire and brimstone, because there wicked men are overwhelmed and swallowed up in wrath, as men who are cast into a lake or sea, are swallowed up in water. O who can conceive of the dreadfulness of the wrath of an Almighty God! Every thing in God is answerable to his infinite greatness. When God shows mercy, he shows mercy like a God. His love is infinitely desirable, because it is the love of God. And so when he executes wrath it is like a God. This God will pour out without mixture. Revelation xiv. 10, “The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb.” No mixture of mercy or pity; nothing thrown into the cup of wrath to assuage or moderate it. “God shall cast upon him and not spare,” Job xxvii. 22. They shall be cast into the wine-press of the wrath of God, where they shall be pressed down with wrath, as grapes are pressed in a winepress. Rev. xiv. 19, “Cast into the great wine-press of the wrath of God.” God will then make appear in their misery how terrible his wrath is, that men and angels may know how much more dreadful the wrath of God is, than the wrath of kings, or any creatures. They shall know what God can do towards his enemies, and how fearful a thing it is to provoke him to anger. If a few drops of wrath do sometimes so distress the minds of men in this world, so as to be more dreadful than fire, or any bodily torment, how dreadful will be a deluge of wrath; how dreadful will it be, when all God’s mighty waves and billows of wrath pass over them! Every faculty of the soul shall be filled with wrath, and every part of the body shall be filled with fire. After the resurrection the body shall be cast into that great furnace, which shall be so great as to burn up the whole world. These lower heavens, this air and this earth, shall all become one great furnace, a furnace that shall burn the earth, even to its very center. In this furnace shall the bodies of the wicked lie to all eternity, and yet live, and have their sense of pain and torment not at all diminished. O, how full will the heart, the vitals, the brain, the eyes, the tongue, the hands, and the feet be of fire; of this fire of such an inconceivable fierceness! How full will every member, and every bone, and every vein, and every sinew, be of this fire! Surely it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Who can bear such wrath? A little of it is enough to destroy us. Psalm ii. 12, “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little.” But how will men be overwhelmed, how will they sink, when God’s wrath is executed in so dreadful a degree! The misery which the damned will endure, will be their perfect destruction. Psalm 1. 22, “Now consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver.”
In several places the wicked are compared to the stubble and to briers and thorns before devouring flames, and to the fat of lambs, which consumes into smoke. Psalm xxxvii. 20, “But the wicked shall perish, and the enemies of the Lord shall be as the fat of lambs; they shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away.” They shall be as it were ground to powder under the weight of God’s wrath. Matthew xxi. 24. Their misery shall be perfect misery; and because damnation is the perfect destruction of a creature, therefore it is called death. It is eternal death, of which temporal death, with all its awful circumstances, is but a faint shadow. The struggles, and groans, and gasps of the body when dying, its pale awful visage when dead, its state in the dark grave when it is eaten with worms, are but a faint shadow of the state of the soul under the second death. How dreadful the state of the damned is, we may argue from the desert of sin. One sin deserves eternal death and damnation, which, in the least degree of it, is the total destruction of the creature. How dreadful, then, is the misery of which natural persons are in a danger, who have lived some time in the world, and have committed thousands and thousands of sins, and have filled up many years with a course of sinning, and have committed many great sins, with high aggravations, who have sinned against the glorious gospel of Christ, and against great light, whose guilt is far more dreadful than that of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah! How dreadful is the punishment to which they are exposed, in which all their sins shall be punished according to their desert, and uttermost farthing shall be exacted of them! The punishment of one idle word, or sinful thought, would be more than they could bear. How then will they bear all the wrath that shall be heaped upon them for all their multiplied and aggravated transgressions? If one sin deserves eternal death and damnation, how many deaths and damnations will they have accumulated upon them at once! Such an aggravated, multiplied death must they die every moment, and always continue dying such a death, and yet never be dead. Such misery as this may well he called the blackness of darkness.
Hell may well be called the bottomless pit, if the misery is so unfathomably great. Men sometimes have suffered extreme torment in this world. Dreadful have been the sufferings of some of the martyrs; but how little those are, in comparison of the sufferings of the damned, we may learn from 1 Peter iv. 16, 17, 18, “Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God on this behalf. For the time is come, that judgement must begin at the house of God; and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of those that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear?” The apostle is here speaking of the sufferings of Christians; and from thence he argues, that seeing their sufferings are so great, how unspeakably great will be the sufferings of the wicked! And if judgement begins with them, what shall be the end of those who obey not the gospel! As much as to say, the sufferings of the righteous are nothing to what those, who obey not the gospel, are. How dreadful, therefore, does this argue their misery to be! Well may the sinners in Zion be afraid, and fearful, and surprised. Well may the kings of the earth, and the great men, and rich men, and chief captains, and every bond man, and every free man, hide themselves in the dens, and in the rocks of the mountains, at Christ’s second coming; and cry and say to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of his wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand? Well may there be weeping and gnashing of teeth in hell, where there is such misery. Thus the misery of those who are in a natural condition, is, in itself, exceedingly great.
2. It is of endless duration. The misery is not only amazingly great, and extreme, but of long continuance; yea, of infinitely long continuance. It never will have any end. There will be no deliverance, no rest, no hope; but they will last throughout all eternity. Eternity is a thing in the thought of which our minds are swallowed up. As it is infinite in itself, so it is infinitely beyond the comprehension of our minds. The more we think of it, the more amazing will it seem to us.
Eternity is a duration, to which a long period of time bears no greater proportion than a short period. A thousand years, or a thousand ages, bear no greater proportion to eternity than a minute; or which is the same thing, a thousand ages are as much less than eternity as a minute. A minute comes as near an equality to it; or you may take as many thousand ages out of eternity, as you can minutes. If a man by the utmost skill in arithmetic, should denote or enumerate a great number of ages, and should rise by multiplication to ever so prodigious numbers, should make as great figures as he could, and rise in multiplying as fast as he could, and should spend his life in multiplying; the product of all would be no nearer equal to the duration which the wicked must spend in the misery of hell, than one minute. Eternity is that, which cannot be made less by subtraction. If we take from eternity a thousand years or ages, the remainder is not the less for it. Eternity is that which will forever be but beginning, and that because all the time which is past, let it be ever so long, is but a point to what remains. The wicked, after they have suffered millions of ages, will be, as it were but in the first point, only setting out in their sufferings, It will be no comfort to them that so much is gone, for they will have none the less to bear. There will never a time come, when if what is past, is compared to what is to come, it will not be as a point, and as nothing. The continuance of their torment cannot be measured out by revolutions of the sun, or moon, or stars, by centuries or ages. They shall continue suffering after these heavens and this earth shall wax old as a garment, till the whole visible universe is dissolved. Yea, they shall remain in their misery through millions of such ages as are equal to the age of the sun, and moon, and stars, and still it will be all one, as to what remains, still no nearer the end of their misery. Matthew xxv. 41, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” Mark ix. 44, “Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” Revelation xx. 10, “They shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” And xiv 11, “The smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever.” The damned in hell in their misery, will be in absolute despair. They shall know that their misery will have no end, and therefore they will have no hopes of it. O, who can conceive the dreadfulness of such despair as this in the midst of such torment! Who can express, or think any thing how dreadful the thought of eternity is to them, who are under so great torment! To what unfathomable depths of woe will it sink them! With what a gloom and blackness of darkness will it fill them! What a boundless gulf of sorrow and woe is the thought of eternity to the damned, who shall be in absolute and utter despair of any deliverance!
How dreadful, then, is the condition of those who are in a natural state, who are in danger of such misery.
2. The dreadfulness of their condition will appear by considering how great their danger is of this misery. This will be obvious from the following things:
1. Their danger is such, that continuing in their present state, they will unavoidably sink into this misery.
1. The state in which natural persons now are, naturally tends to it. And this, because they are separate from God, and destitute of any spiritual good. The soul that is in a state of separation from its Creator, must be miserable, because he is separate from the fountain of all good. He that is separate from God, is in great danger of ruin, because he is without any defense. He that is separate from God, must perish, if he continue so, because it is from God only that he can have those supplies which can make him happy. It is with the soul as it is with the body. The body without supplies of sustenance will miserably famish, and die. So the souls of natural men are in a famishing condition. They are separate from God, and therefore are destitute of any spiritual good, which can nourish the soul, or keep it alive; like one that is remote in a wilderness, where he has nothing to eat or drink, and therefore, if he continue so, will unavoidably die. So the state of natural men naturally tends to that dreadful misery of the damned in hell, because they are separate from God.
2. They are under the power of a mortal disease, which, if it be not healed, will surely bring them to this death. They are under the power and dominion of sin, and sin is a mortal disease of the soul. If it is not cured, it will certainly bring them to death; viz. to that second death of which we have heard. The infection of the disease has powerfully seized their vital parts. The whole head is sick, the whole heart faint. The disease is inveterate. The infection is spread throughout the whole frame; the very nature is corrupted and ruined; and the whole must come to ruin, if God by his mighty power does not heal the disease. The soul is under a mortal wound; a wound deep and dreadfully confirmed. Its roots reach the most vital parts; yea, they are principally seated there. There is a plague upon the heart, which corrupts and destroys the source of life, ruins the whole frame of nature, and hastens an inevitable death. There is a most deadly poison, which has been infused into, and spread over, the man. He has been bitten by a fiery serpent, whose bite issues in a most tormenting death. Sin is that, which does as naturally tend to the misery and ruin of the soul, as the most mortal poison tends to the death of the body. We look upon persons far gone in a consumption, or with an incurable cancer, or some other malady, as in doleful circumstances. But that mortal disease, under whose power natural men are, makes their case a thousand times more doleful. That mortal disease of natural men does, as it were, ripen them for damnation. We read of the clusters of the vine of the earth being for the wine-press of the wrath of God, Rev. xiv. 18, where by the clusters of the vine are meant wicked men. The wickedness of natural men tends to sink them down to hell, as the weight of a stone causes it to tend towards the center of the earth. Natural men have, as it were, the seeds of hell within their own hearts. Those principles of sin and corruption, which are in them, if they remain unmortified, will at length breed the torment of hell in them, and that necessarily, and of their own tendency. The soul that remains under the power of sin will at length take fire of itself. Hell will kindle in them.
2. If they continue in their present state, this misery appears to be unavoidable, if we consider the justice and truth of God.
1. If they continue in their present condition, so surely as God is just, they shall suffer the eternal misery of which we have heard. The honour of God’s justice requires it, and God will not disparage his own justice. He will not deny his own honour and glory, but will glorify himself on the wicked, as well as the godly. He will not lose his honour of any one of his creatures, which he has made.
It is impossible that God should be frustrated or disappointed. And, so surely as God will not be frustrated, so surely shall they who continue in a natural condition, suffer that eternal misery, of which we have heard. The avenging justice of God is one of the perfections of his nature, and he will glorify all his perfections. God is unalterable in this as well as his other perfections. His justice shall and must be satisfied. He has declared that he will by no means clear the guilty. Exod. xxxiv. 7; and that he will not justify the wicked. Exod. xxiii.7; and that he will not at all acquit the wicked.
Nahum i. 3. God is a strictly just Judge. When men come to stand before him, he will surely judge them according to their works. They that have guilt lying upon them, he will surely judge according to their guilt. The debt they owe to justice, must be paid to the uttermost farthing. It is impossible that any one, who dies in his sins, should escape everlasting condemnation and punishment before such a Judge. He will render to every man according to his deeds; Rom. ii. 8, “Unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil.” It is impossible to influence God to be otherwise than just in judging ungodly men. There is no bribing him. He accepteth not the person of princes, nor regardeth the rich more than the poor. Deut. x. 17, “He regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward.” It is impossible to influence him to be otherwise than strictly just, by any supplications, or tears, or cries. God is inexorably just. The cries and the moans of the malefactor will have no influence upon this Judge to pass a more favourable judgement on them, so as in any way to acquit or release them. The eternal cries, and groans, and lamentations of the wicked, will have no influence upon him. Though they are ever so long continued, they will not prevail upon God.
2. So surely as God is true, if they die in the state they are now in, they shall suffer that eternal misery. God has threatened it in a positive and absolute manner. The threatenings of the law are absolute; and they who are in a natural state, are under the condemnation of the law. The threatening of the law takes hold upon them; and if they continue under guilt, God is obliged by his word to punish them according to that threatening. And he has often, in the most positive and absolute manner, declared that the wicked shall be cast into hell; that they who believe not shall be damned; that they shall have their portion in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone; and that their misery shall never have an end. And therefore, if there be any truth in God, it shall surely be so. It is as impossible that he who dies in a natural condition, should escape suffering that eternal misery, as that God should lie. The word of God is stronger and firmer than mountains of brass, and shall not fail. We shall sooner see heaven and earth pass away, than one jot or title of all that God hath said in his word not be fulfilled. So much for the first thing, that evinces the greatness of the danger that natural men are in hell; viz. that they will unavoidably sink into hell, if they continue in such a condition.
2. Their danger will appear very dreadful, if we consider how uncertain it is, whether they will ever get out of this condition. It is very uncertain whether they will ever be converted. If they should die in their present condition, their misery is certain and inevitable. But it is very doubtful whether they will not die in such a condition. There is great danger that they will; great danger of their never being converted. And this will appear, if we consider two things.
1. They have nothing on which to depend for conversion. They have nothing in the world, by which to persuade themselves that they shall ever be converted. Left to themselves, they never will repent and turn to God. If they are ever converted, therefore, it is God who must do it. But they have no promise of God, that they ever shall be converted. They do not know how soon they may die. God has not promised them long life; and he has not promised them that they shall be ready for death before they die. It is but a peradventure, whether God will ever give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth. 2. Tim. ii. 25. Their resolutions are not to be depended on. If they have convictions, they are not to be depended on; they may lose those convictions. Their conversion depends on innumerable uncertainties. It is very uncertain, then, whether they will be converted before they die.
2. Another thing which shows the danger there is that they shall never be converted, is, that there are but few, comparatively, who are ever converted. But few of those who have been natural persons in time past, have been converted. Most of them have died unconverted. So it has been in all ages, and hence we have reason to think that but few of them, who are unconverted now, will ever be converted; that most of them will die unconverted, and will go to hell. Natural persons are ready to flatter themselves, that they shall be converted. They think there are signs of it. But a man would not run the venture of so much as a sixpence in such an uncertainty as they are, about their ever being converted, or not going to hell. This shows the doleful condition of natural men, as it is uncertain whether they shall ever be converted.
3. They who are in a natural condition, are in danger of going to hell every day. Those now present, who are in a natural condition, are in danger of dropping into hell before tomorrow morning. They have nothing to depend on, to keep them out of hell one day, or one night. We know not what a day may bring forth. God has not promised to spare them one day; and he is every day angry with them. The black clouds that are full of the thunder of God’s wrath, hang over their heads every day, and they know not how soon the thunder will break forth upon their heads. Natural men are in Scripture compared to those that walk in slippery places. They know not when their feet will slip. They are continually in danger. Psalm lxxiii. 18, “Surely thou didst set them in slippery places; thou castedst them down into destruction. How are they brought into desolation as in a moment.” Natural men hang over the pit of hell, as it were, by a thread, that has a moth continually gnawing it. They know not when it will snap in twain, and let them drop. They are in the utmost uncertainty; they are not secure one moment. A natural man never goes to sleep, but that he is in danger of waking in hell. Experience abundantly teaches the matter to be so. It shows, by millions of instances, that man is not certain of life one day. And how common a thing is it for death to come suddenly and unexpectedly! And thousands, beyond all reasonable question, are going to hell every day, and death comes upon them unexpectedly. “When they shall say, peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.” It is a dreadful condition that natural persons are in upon this account; and no wise person would be in their condition for a quarter of an hour for the whole world, because such is the danger that they will drop into hell before that quarter of an hour is expired.
Thus I have shown how dreadful the condition of natural men is, relatively considered. I shall mention two or three things more, which yet further make it appear how doleful their condition is.
1. The longer it continues, the worse it grows. This is an awful circumstance in the condition of a natural man. Any disease is looked upon as the more dreadful, for its growing and increasing nature. Thus a cancer and gangrene are regarded as dreadful calamities, because they continually grow and spread; and the faster they grow, the more dreadful are they accounted. It would be dreadful to be in a natural condition, if a person could continue as he is, and his condition grow no worse; if he could live in a natural condition, and never have it any more dreadful, than when he first begins to sin. But it is yet much more dreadful, when we consider that it every day becomes worse and worse. The condition of natural men is worse today, than it was yesterday and that on several accounts. The heart grows more and more polluted and hardened. The longer sin continues unmortified, the more is it strengthened and rooted. Their guilt also grows greater, and hell every day grows hotter; for they are every day adding sin to sin, and so their iniquity is increasing over their heads more and more. Every new sin adds to the guilt. Every sin deserves eternal death for its punishment. And therefore in every sin that a man commits, there is so much added to the punishment, to which he lies exposed. There is, as it were, another eternal death added to augment his damnation. And how much, is added to the account in God’s book every day; How many new sins are set down, that all may be answered for; each one of which sins must be punished, that by itself would be an eternal death! How fast do wicked men heap up guilt, and treasure up wrath, so long as they continue in a natural condition! How is God more and more provoked, his wrath more and more incensed; and how does hell-fire continually grow hotter and hotter! If a man has lived twenty years in a natural condition, the fire has been increased every day since he has lived. It has been, as it were, blown up to a greater and greater degree of fierceness. Yea, how dreadfully does one day’s continuance in sin add to the heat of hell-fire!
2. All blessings are turned into curses to those who live and die in such a condition. Those things which are most pleasant and comfortable, and which men esteem the blessings of life, are but curses unto such; as their meat, and their drink, and their raiment. There is a curse goes with every mouthful of meat, and every drop of drink, to such a person. There is a curse with his raiment which he puts on; it all contributes to his misery. Though it may please him, yet it does him no good, but he is the more miserable for it. If he has any enjoyment which is sweet and pleasant to him, the pleasure is a curse to him; he is really the more miserable for it. It is an occasion of death to him. His possessions, which he values himself upon, and sets his heart upon, are turned into a curse to him. His house has the curse of God upon it, and his table is a snare and a trap to him. Psalm lxix. 22. His bed has God’s curse upon it. When he lies down to sleep, a curse attends his rest; and when he goes forth to labour, he is followed with a curse on that. The curse of God is upon his fields, on his corn, and herds, and all he has. If he has friends and relations, who are pleasant and dear to him, they are no blessings to him. He receives no comfort by them, but they prove a curse to him. I say it is thus with those who live and die in a natural condition. Deuteronomy xxviii. 16, etc. “Cursed shalt thou be in the city, and cursed shalt thou be in the field. Cursed shall be thy basket, and thy store. Cursed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy land, and the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep. Cursed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and cursed shalt thou be when thou goest out. The Lord shall send upon thee cursing, vexation, and rebuke, in all that thou settest thine hand unto for to do, until thou be destroyed, and until thou perish quickly; because of the wickedness of thy doings, whereby thou hast forsaken me.” Man’s faculties of reason and understanding, and all his natural powers, are turned into a curse. Yea, spiritual mercies and privileges shall also be turned into a curse to those who live and die in a natural condition. A curse goes with the worship of God, and with sabbaths and sacraments, with instruction, and counsels, and warnings, and with the most precious advantages. They are all turned into a curse. They are a savour of death unto death. They do but harden the heart, and aggravate the guilt and misery, and inflame the divine wrath. Isaiah vi. 9, 10, “Go, make the heart of this people fat.” 2 Cor. ii. 16, “To the one we are the savour of death unto death.” It will only be an occasion of their misery, that God ever sent Christ into the world to save sinners. That which is in itself so glorious a manifestation of God’s mercy, so unspeakable a gift, that which is an infinite blessing to others who receive Christ, will be a curse unto them. 1 Peter ii. 8, “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence.” The blood of Christ, which is the price of eternal life and glory to some, is an occasion of sinking them vastly the lower into eternal burnings. And that is the case of such persons; the more precious any mercies are in themselves the more of a curse are they to them. The better the things are in themselves, the more will they contribute to their misery. And spiritual privileges, which are in themselves greater mercies than any outward enjoyments, will above all other things prove a curse to them. Nothing will enhance their condemnation so much as these. On account of these, it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgement, than for them. Yea, so doleful is the condition of natural men, that if they live and die in that condition, not only the enjoyments of life, but life itself, will be a curse to them. The longer they live, the more miserable will they be; the sooner they die, the better. If they live long in such a condition, and die in it at last, it would have been better for them if they had died before. It would have been far better for them to have spent the time in hell, than on earth; yea, better for them to have spent ten thousand years in hell, instead of one on earth. When they look back, and consider what enjoyments they have had, they will wish they had never had them. Though when on earth they set their hearts on their earthly enjoyments, they will hereafter wish they had been without them; for they will see they have only fitted them for the slaughter. They will wish they never had their houses and lands, their garments, their earthly friends, their earthly possessions. And so they will wish that they had never enjoyed the light of the gospel, that they had been born among the heathen in some of the most dark and barbarous places of the earth. They will wish that Christ had never come into the world to die for sinners, so as to give men any opportunity to be saved. They will wish that God had cast off fallen man, as he did the fallen angels, and had never made him the offer of a Saviour. They will wish that they had died sooner, and had not had so much opportunity to increase their guilt and their misery. They will wish they had died in their childhood, and been sent to hell then. They will curse the day that ever they were born, and wish they had been made vipers and scorpions, or any thing, rather than rational creatures.
3. They have no security from the most dismal horrors of mind in this life. They have no security, but their stupidity. A natural man can have no comfort or peace in a natural condition, but that of which blindness and senselessness are the foundation. And from what has been said, that is the very evil. A natural man can have no comfort in any thing in this world any further, than thought and consideration of mind are kept down in him; as you make a condemned malefactor senseless of his misery by putting him to sleep with opium, or make him merry just before his execution by giving him something to deprive him of the use of reason, so that he shall not be sensible of his own circumstances. Otherwise, there is no peace or comfort, which a natural man can have in a natural condition. Isa. xiviii. 22, “There is no peace saith my God, to the wicked.” Job xv. 20, “The wicked man travaileth with pain all his days. A dreadful sound is in his ears.” The doleful state of a natural man appears especially from the horror and amazement to which he is liable on a death-bed. To have the heavy hand of God upon one in some dangerous sickness, which is wasting and consuming the body, and likely to destroy it, and to have a prospect of approaching death, and of soon going into eternity, there to be in such a condition as this: to what amazing apprehensions must the sinner be liable! How dismal must his state be, when the disease prevails, so that there is no hope that he shall recover, when the physician begins to give him over, the friends to despair of his life; when death seems to hasten on, and he is at the same time perfectly blind to any spiritual object, altogether ignorant of God, of Christ, and of the way of salvation, having never exercised one act of love to God in his life, or done one thing for his glory; having then every lust and corruption in its full strength; having then such enmity in the heart against God, as to be ready to dethrone him, if that were possible; having no right in God, or interest in Christ; having the terrible wrath of God abiding on him; being yet the child of the devil, entirely in his possession and under his power; with no hope to maintain him, and with the full view of never ending misery just at the door. What a dismal case must a natural man be in under such circumstances! How will his heart die within him at the news of his approaching death, when he finds that he must go, that he cannot deliver himself, that death stands with his grim countenance looking him in the face, and is just about to seize him, and carry him out of the world, and that he at the same time has nothing to depend on! How often are there instances of dismal distress of unconverted persons on a death-bed! No one knows the fears, the exercise and torment in their hearts, but they who feel them. They are such that all the pleasures of sin, which they have had in their whole lives, will not pay them for. As they may sometimes see godly men go triumphing out of the world full of joy, with the foretastes of heaven, so sometimes wicked men, when dying, anticipate something of hell before they arrive there. The flames of hell do, as it were, come up and reach them in some measure, before they are dead. God then withdraws, and ceases to protect them; the tormentor begins his work, while they are alive. Thus it was with Saul and Judas; and there have been many other similar instances since; and none, who are in a natural condition, have any security from it. The state of a natural man is doleful on this account, though this is but a prelude and foretaste of the everlasting misery which follows.
Thus I have, in some measure, shown in what a doleful condition those are who are in a natural condition. Still I have said but little. It is beyond what we can speak or think. They who say most of the dreadfulness of a natural condition, say but little. And they who are most sensible, are sensible of but a small part of the misery of a natural state.
I. We may derive from this doctrine much useful and practical instruction.
1. Hence we may learn the stupidity and sottishness of many natural persons. If we consider those things which we have now heard concerning their dreadful condition, and then see how the greater part of natural men behave themselves, we may well be astonished that there should be such stupidity in the heart of man. if we rightly considered it, we should be ready to cry out with astonishment. Their sottishness appears in the following things.
1. That though they are in such a dreadful condition, they can go about easy and quiet, and in little or no concern respecting it. What might rationally be expected of such persons? If it were a new thing to us, and we had heard there was a person in a particular town or country, of such a name, who was in this awful condition; who had no interest in his Creator, who had the wrath of Almighty God abiding on him, that wrath which is great and terrible enough to make him miserable with devils in hell to all eternity; that he was a captive in the hands of the devil, was made his slave, and was under his power and dominion; that his soul was a habitation of devils; that he was condemned to be cast into the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone, to drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation, and to suffer in an inexpressible, inconceivable extremity in both body and soul for ever and ever without hope or end; to be liable to sink in this misery every day, and the longer he continued out of it, the worse his condition, the more dreadful the wrath, and the hotter the flames of hell; I say, supposing we had just now for the same time heard there was a person in this awful condition, how should we expect to see him behave himself? If he was in the exercise of his reason, should we not expect to see him trembling and quaking on account of his misery, with all the manifestations of continual terror and amazement, regardless of all things else, spending his days and nights in tears, and groans, and lamentations, crying for pity and help, crying with an exceedingly loud and bitter cry, crying to every one to pity him, and pray for him? Yea, how many are there in this dreadful condition, are easy and quiet, and appear to have nothing to trouble them! They go about the world without anxiety or alarm, as if they had no more reason to be disquieted than if they had already secured their salvation. Though they are told how dreadful their condition is hundreds of times, their tranquility is wholly undisturbed. They can sit and hear of its certainty and its nearness, of its dreadful nature, and its inconceivable degree; and then can go away with as quiet and easy hearts as they had before. There is no moving them by telling them of such things. They can sleep as quietly, and go about their business with as perfect unconcern. They can eat and drink and enjoy the pleasures of social life with no apparent load on their minds; and without being sensible of any thing in their circumstances, which should hinder them from such enjoyment. And not only so, but,
2. They can go about with a merry heart. There are many of them, who not only seem to be quiet in their minds, but they are very cheerful, as if all were well with them, and everything smiled upon them; as if they were in happy circumstances, and had every thing as they desired; and are even disposed to be merry and sportive about their own condition and the dreadful realities of the future world. For their part they choose to take their ease and pleasure, and not disturb or molest themselves with such dark and melancholy thoughts, like the persons mentioned by Isaiah. “Come ye, say they, I will fetch wine, and we will fill ourselves with strong drink; and tomorrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant.”
3. They are so senseless, that they do not think it worth their while to make any considerable effort to escape from this dreadful condition. They will not take half so much pains for it, as for a little worldly gain; and they do not think it worth the while even to ask God to deliver them from it. They think it too much labour to withdraw once or twice each day to ask God to be merciful to them, that they might not continue in their natural state. And they foolishly neglect the precious opportunities, which they enjoy to get into a better state. God gives them great advantages for it, and they are called upon, and warned, and exhorted to improve them. They are told what good opportunities they have, and the danger of letting them slip, but all is to no purpose. Thus persons will let slip the time of youth, which is a precious season to escape from their natural condition. So they will let slip a time of the moving of God’s Spirit in the place where they live. They act as if they had a wish to continue in the same state. They will put themselves so little out of the way to escape from it; they are so backward to deny themselves a little, or to make a little effort; they seem to grudge it, and think it needless. If they have a great advantage put into their hands, it is to no purpose. They had as good be without it, as with it; for they have no heart to improve it. Prov. xvii. 16, “Wherefore is there a price in the hand of a fool to get wisdom, seeing he hath no heart to it?”
4. Instead of using means to get into a better state, they are wilfully doing those things which make it worse and worse. Instead of striving for deliverance, they are striving against it. They are provoking God more, and increasing their guilt, and hardening their hearts, and setting themselves farther and farther from conversion; and this, too, when they are told, that the things, which they practice, have this tendency. They act as if they wished to be sure never to be converted. Thus it is with innumerable multitudes. So exceedingly senseless and stupid are many natural persons.
2. Hence we need not wonder, that we are directed in Scripture to strive and to be very earnest to be delivered from our natural condition. This is the direction which God gives us from time to time. Luke xiii. 24, “Strive to enter in at the strait gate.” Matt. xi. 12, “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence.” Eccl. ix. 10, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” 2 Peter i. 10, “Give diligence to make your calling and election sure.” Heb. vi. 18, “Fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.” The direction which was given to Lot, relating to his flight out of Sodom, was designed for the direction of all who are in a natural condition. Gen. xix. 17, “Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed.” This doctrine shows us the reason, why persons should be directed in such a way as this to seek their salvation. That it is such a dreadful condition is reason enough why persons should thus vehemently strive, and be violent to get into a better state, and why they should haste for their lives, and flee from the wrath to come. If the case of natural men be as we have heard, no wonder that they should have such advice given them, and that God expects that the pains which they take, and the endeavours they use for it, should be in some measure answerable to its importance. No wonder that the jailer, when made sensible of his condition, should conduct himself as we have the account in the text. No wonder that he should be in such haste as not only to run in, but to spring or leap in, to the place where Paul and Silas were, and fall down before them, and ask in such an earnest manner, “What must I do to be saved?” If he had not been indeed in a dreadful state, he would have acted like one distracted. But considering that he was in a natural condition, which is so dreadful, it was not the least wonder.
3. Hence we may learn how dismal are the effects which the fall of man has brought upon the world. It has brought all mankind into this dreadful condition of which we have heard. The far greater part of those who live in this world, are in this state, and the greater part of those who die in the world, die in this state. What a miserable world, therefore, is the world in which we live! This world lies under a curse. God has denounced woe against it; and what an immeasurable amount of woe is brought upon it! What woeful devastation has sin made in the world!
II. What has been said of the dreadfulness of their condition may well awaken and terrify the impenitent.
How many things are there in your circumstances, which are awful and terrible to think of. There is no one of those things which have been mentioned, but that the thought of it may well be frightful to you. It may well be a dreadful thought that you have no goodness in you, nor have ever done any thing which has the least goodness in it; that you never exercised one act of love, or true thankfulness or obedience, to God in your life; nor ever did the least thing out of true respect to God. The consideration of the dreadful depravity and wickedness of your heart, may well be frightful to you; to think what a sink of corruption it is, how full of all manner of wickedness, how full of enmity against God; to think that there are the same corruptions in your heart, as in the heart of the devil, and that there are the seeds of the same enmity against God, and that you are in the very image of the devil. If you look into your own heart, and strictly examine what it would entice you to do, if all restraints of fear and self-interest were taken off, it might well affright you. How awful may the thought well be to you, when you consider that you are a creature, separated from your Creator! that there is an alienation between you and that great Being, in whom you live and move, and have your being; that you are a poor desolate creature, that have no God to protect you, and guide you, and provide for you in the world; and that you are secure from no manner of mischief, into which human nature is capable of falling, either in soul or body! How terrifying should it be to you, to think how good, how mighty and terrible that God is, under whose wrath you lie down and rise up, and eat and drink, and engage in the daily business of life! How frightful should it be to you, when you consider in what relation you stand to the devil; that you are his child, and that he owns you; that you are his servant, his possession, and that your heart is his dwelling-place; that you are without Christ, and so without hope, and have no good thing in another world, in which you have any inheritance! And how amazing may it well be to you, when you consider how great that future misery is to which you are exposed and condemned, wherein God shows his wrath, and makes his power known in the destruction of the ungodly, in which they are vessels of wrath filled to the brim; and that you are in danger of being plunged in a bottomless gulf or deluge of wrath, where mighty waves and billows of wrath shall pass over you; and when you consider the torment of your body in that great furnace of fire, where every part, every organ, every vein, and every limb shall be filled full of fire, and yet full of quick sense, and that this torment shall remain to an endless duration, a duration which shall always be beginning, but never ending! And how well may it affright you, and strike a terror upon you, when you consider, that if you die in your present condition, it is as impossible that you should escape this misery, as that God should cease to be just and true; and that the greater part of those who are in your condition will suffer this misery, and that you have no security that you shall be kept from it one day, or one hour! How terrifying may it well be to you, when you consider how much more dreadful your ease continually grows! How frightful may it be to you every night, when you sit down, and consider how much greater your guilt is, and how much deeper your condemnation is, than it was in the morning! How awful and doleful may it be to you to consider, that if you live and die in your present state, every thing is cursed to you; even your greatest mercies and best enjoyments, your food, your raiment, your nearest friends, and your earthly possessions: and not only so, but he light of the gospel, and the means of grace, and life itself will be cursed to you! All will be but an occasion of your greater misery. Such persons shall wish they had been born and brought up among the heathen. They shall wish that Christ had never come into the world; they shall wish they had never been born. How awful may it be to you when you think that death will most certainly come upon you, and you know not how soon; and what dismal circumstances you would be in if you were in your present condition on a death-bed! How many things are there in your case which are of a terrifying, awful nature! How can you live in such circumstances, without living in continual terror? Here consider further the following things:
1. There is nothing which you see, but what may justly minister torment to you, while you remain in a natural condition. If you lift up your eyes, and behold the sun, moon, and stars, and cast your eyes abroad on the face of the earth, and see the mountains, and fields, and trees, it may justly put you in mind of the dolefulness of your condition; that the great God, who made all these things, who stretched forth the heavens as a curtain, who ordained the sun, moon, and stars, and laid the foundations of the earth, and causes the grass and trees to grow; is a God in whom you have no interest, but who is continually angry with you, and that his wrath abides on you. So when you look on your own body, and consider how it is formed and contrived, it may be a frightful thing to you to consider, that he who made you is not at peace with you, and that you are the object of his displeasure. If you have pleasures and enjoyments, and are in flourishing circumstances, if you see the faces of your near friends and dear relations, and look upon your children and other dear friends, and behold your costly possessions, these things may justly minister torment to you, while you are in a natural state. For consider, that you do not know but that all these things are given you in wrath. When you sit down to eat and drink, you may do it in torment, because you know not but this may be in wrath. When you lie down upon your beds, it may justly be in torment, for you do not know but you shall awake in hell. And when you awake in the morning, it may justly be with torment in your heart, to think you are still in that doleful condition. When you go forth to your daily labour, you have reason to go with a terrified heart; for you know not but you are followed with God’s curse in all that to which you put your hands. Whatever dispensations of Providence you may have, all may justly put you in mind of the dolefulness of your condition. If you meet with afflictions, these may remind you that you have no God to pity you, and that a God who is angry with you every day, sends these afflictions upon you. If you meet with prosperity, you may justly receive it with a sorrowful sense of the dolefulness of your state; for you know not but it is to fit you for the slaughter. If you hear of the death of others, it may justly terrify you, and put you in mind of your own mortality, and of your danger of dying as you now are. If you hear of others’ conversion, it may justly renew in you a sense of the dolefulness of your own state, that you still remain unconverted. If you see the Bible, an awful thought may justly go with the sight, that you have never been received any good by that book, and that all the curses written in it, stand against you. Every time you enter the house of God, it may justly renew awful thoughts of your circumstances, that you have entered there so often, and obtained no good; entered so often, and gone away worse than you came. And what danger there is, that you shall be one of those spoken of in Ecclesiastes viii. 10, “I saw the wicked buried, who had come and gone from the place of the holy, and there were forgotten in the city where they had so done.” And wheresoever you turn yourself, whatever you meet with, and whatever you behold, or hear, may justly renew a sense of the dolefulness of your state. The thought of your condition may justly cast a darkness upon every thing.
2. Consider that the time will soon come, when you will be sensible that the dolefulness of your condition is as great as I have represented it; that I have not enlarged or magnified the matter, but that the case is as I have declared it. You will then see that it is so. Whether you are sensible of it now or not, yet in a little time you will surely be sensible, and will need no argument to convince you of it. Yea, you will be sensible that it is more doleful than I have represented. After all that has been told you now and at other times, the time will come when you will say, that the one half was not told you.
3. Your condition is thus doleful, notwithstanding every thing with which you may flatter yourself. You may be ready to flatter yourself, that though the condition of some natural persons is thus doleful, yet yours is not; that you are in better circumstances than other natural men commonly are. Or particularly, you may flatter yourself that you are not so bad as others; you do not find such dreadful corruptions in your heart, as you hear are in others. Herein you deceive yourself. It is because you are ignorant of your own heart. What has been said of the depraved state of natural men, of their blindness, their hardness, their deadness, all belongs to you. You may possibly flatter yourself that your condition is not so doleful, because you have always walked orderly, you have been moral and religious. Here also you deceive yourself. For notwithstanding your moral and religious behaviour and all your sobriety, you never did the least thing from a gracious respect to God. You have a heart in the likeness of the heart of the devil. You are without God in the world. God is angry with you every day; his wrath is not at all appeased. You may flatter yourselves that you are the children of godly parents, that you have many godly friends, who may put up many prayers for you, and that your case is not so doleful on that account, and that your danger is not extremely great. But in this you miserably deceive yourself. You are children of the devil notwithstanding all this. If you die in your present condition, it is impossible that you shall escape eternal misery. And there is great danger, that you will die in it. You have no security that you shall not be in hell before tomorrow morning. Do not flatter yourself from such things as these, that you are not in a doleful condition. Some of those who flatter themselves most, and think their condition the least doleful, are indeed in the most doleful condition. It is more dreadful than their neighbours; more so than that of many, whom they esteem ten times worse than themselves. And this is one thing which adds to the dolefulness of their condition, that they so flatter themselves, and think their state so good. So it was of old with the scribes and Pharisees. Matt. xxi. 31, “Verily I say unto you, the publicans and harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.”
III. This subject may well excite joy and thankfulness in the hearts of the truly penitent, that God has found out a way to deliver them from such a condition; that God has been pleased to send his Son into the world to die for them; that he has given them the gospel and the means of grace; and that he has delivered them from this dreadful condition.
You were in the same circumstances. 1 Cor. vi. 11, “Such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” It is mere grace which has made the difference. There is no cause of boasting. God might have taken others, and left you. You deserved no more than they. You had no more righteousness of your own. Probably you have done worse than many who have eternally perished. Take heed, that you entertain no boasting thought, and that your joy in this be an humble joy; accompanied with continual praise to God, who has done such great things for you, and from all eternity set his love upon you.
IV. This subject should lead those, who are in a natural condition, earnestly to seek for deliverance.
Will you rest in such a condition, when there is a way of salvation provided, and an opportunity for an escape? Will you of choice continue still in this state? Though your case is very dangerous, yet there is a possibility of rescue, if you have but a heart to improve your opportunity. But besides what has been said, I would desire you further to consider, how happy will be your state, should you obtain deliverance. A converted state is not less happy than a natural condition is miserable and dreadful. You will be brought out of darkness into marvelous light. It will be like the dawning of the morning after a long night of darkness. It will be a joyful morning to you. The day-star will arise in your heart. Then will be given you the morning star. You will then have a discovery of the glory of God, and the beauty and excellency of Jesus Christ, made to your soul; and then will be opened to your view the glorious fountain of divine grace. You will then look back and see how you have dwelt in darkness throughout your lives, and in the region and shadow of death. Matt. iv. 16, “The people which sat in darkness saw great light, and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death, light is sprung up.” You will then be brought out of a dreadful bondage into glorious liberty. You will come forth as from a dark dungeon, to see the glorious light of the Sun of righteousness. Your eyes will then be opened, and you will be brought out of the prison house. Isa. lxi. 1, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek, he hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captive, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.” Then you who are dead will be made alive and you that have been lost will be found. What you will then obtain will richly repay you for all the labour which you have undergone. If you have spent ever so many years in wrestling with corruption and temptation, in striving to enter in at the strait gate, you will not repent it. But more particularly consider,
1. How glorious will be the alteration made in your nature. Old things will be done away, and all things will become new. Sin will be mortified in you, and the glorious image of God conferred upon you. You will have holy and spiritual principles imparted to you, a spirit of divine love and heavenly-mindedness, a relish for spiritual enjoyments, a delight in the Lord Jesus Christ, a truly meek, humble, charitable, and benevolent spirit. You will be changed, from being more filthy and hateful than a reptile, into the likeness of the glorious Son of God. You will be taken out of the mire of brutal lusts and spiritual abominations, will be washed from all your filthiness, and will be adorned with the most glorious ornaments; those ornaments of mind, which in the sight of God are of great price, ornaments which will render you a thousand times more beautiful and lovely than the robes of princes. You will obtain those graces of the Spirit of God which are the ornaments of angels.
2. Consider the safety of the condition in which you will then be. The terrible wrath of the great God, which abides in wicked men, will then be removed from you. Christ will be to you as a hiding-place from the storm, and as a shadow from the heat of God’s wrath. You will then be safe from hell, and will be for ever delivered from that dreadful misery which is endured by the damned, and to which you are now condemned. Rev. xx. 6, “On such the second death hath no power.” You will be safe from the power of Satan. Christ will be your protector, so that you shall be out of his reach, that he will not be able to destroy you. You shall dwell on high. Your place of defense shall be the munition of rocks, where you may laugh at the power of the enemy. And though you are in a world full of enemies and sinners, yet God will be your Rock, and the most high God your Redeemer. God will carry you as on eagles’ wings through the world, aloft out of the reach of your enemies. They may see you, and wish your ruin, and gnash their teeth, but shall not be able to accomplish it. Satan will desire to have you, But Christ will have prayed for you, and that will be your security. You will be safe from death; that will not be able to hurt you. Natural men are in continual danger from death. They know not when nor how death may come. But if it comes while they are in that condition, it sinks them into hell. But you need not be afraid to meet death, either by day or night. Whenever it comes, and in whatever form, you are safe. While others walk in slippery places, your feet will be established on a rock. In a time of sickness and mortality, while others tremble, you need not fear. If you are sick, you need not dread the issue. For though your flesh and your heart shall fail you, yet God will be the strength of your heart, your present help, and your portion for ever. Though the earth should be removed, you will be safe. Psal. xivi. 1, 2, 3, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear thought the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.” If you are once in Christ Jesus, none shall ever pluck you out of his hands. John x. 28, “They shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand.” You will be freed from condemnation; for who is he that shall condemn you? it is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again. Who shall separate you from the love of Christ? “Neither life, nor death, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature.” What a glorious foundation will there be for your peace and quietness! Isa. xxxii. 17, “And the work of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance for ever.” Let this consideration, therefore, prompt you earnestly to seek, that you may obtain that happy condition. Can you consider how happy the change would be to you, how desirable such safety is, and not be willing earnestly to seek and do everything which lies in your power, that you may obtain it?
3. Consider how exceedingly it will be for the comfort and pleasure of your life, if you are converted. You are not only under the greatest necessity to become converted, because a natural condition is so dreadful a condition, but you will gain by it every way. You will not only gain eternal life by it, but you will gain unspeakably by it while in this world. Your pains will be richly rewarded while here, though that be but little to your future reward. You cannot take a more direct course to make your life pleasant. You will obtain by it the most excellent delight and pleasure, in comparison with which the pleasures which are to be in worldly things are low and vile. Hereby you may obtain the most substantial, soul-satisfying, soul-refreshing pleasures. You may then live a life of divine love and communion with that glorious Being, who is the object of your love. Then you will be blest with the best company, and with heavenly society. Far better is a little with the fear of the Lord, than great treasures with that trouble which wicked men have with their enjoyments. Then you may enjoy what God in his providence bestows upon you with peace of conscience; and may rejoice in it, as the fruit of the love of God. Then you may have the comfort of considering that you have God’s blessing on what you possess. Your enjoyments will then be sweet to you, for you will enjoy God in the fruits of his bounty. Your life will be abundantly more pleasant in all the circumstances and concerns of it. It will make God’s house a more delightful resort; your own house a more pleasant residence, for then the blessing of heaven will rest upon it; and your closet a sweeter retirement. It will make your labour sweeter to you, and it will sweeten your rest. You may then say with the psalmist, Psal. iv. 8, “I will both lay me down and sleep, for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety.” It will tend to make your life pleasant, and to make your death-bed comfortable to you. When all other comforts fail, this will stand you instead. It will remain as a living spring, which will never fail. John iv. 14, “The water that I shall give him, shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” This will make time comfortable, and will make the thoughts of eternity comfortable to you, when you shall have those pleasures which are at God’s right hand for ever, in more immediate prospect; and shall have that faithful promise of God, that hereafter you shall see God, and shall dwell in his presence, and shall from the hands of Christ receive a crown of life.
Direction. 1. In general be directed to act as if you were in a dreadful condition; as one who looks upon his case to be dreadful, not merely as one looks upon his case undesirable and worse than that of another; but as one who is sensible that his state is inexpressibly dismal and terrible.
Consider how men act when they apprehend their circumstances to be very dreadful, though only in temporal respects. As for instance: if they are in danger of being consumed by fire, or only having their substance consumed, Or if in danger of being seized by an enemy, or otherwise in danger of some dreadful evil. How do the thoughts of danger awake their powers! What earnestness appears in them, in what haste are they! Be directed to seek for deliverance from a natural condition, in like manner, if you would be delivered. The jailer acted as one who was sensible that his condition was dreadful. So be you directed to act, if you would have the like success. Particularly,
1. Be in haste. The jailer, when he was made sensible of his dreadful condition, sprang into the presence of Paul and Silas, and cried out, what must I do to be saved? So you cannot be in too much haste. When ministers direct those who are seeking salvation to wait until God’s time comes, if they understand the Scriptures, they cannot mean, that they should not be in haste to obtain a better condition, or that they should be at rest, or continue in such a condition one hour, or one moment. They can only mean these two things: that you should wait or persevere in opposition to giving up in discouragement: and that they should wait in opposition to quarrelling with God for not delivering them, and not in opposition to being uneasy in a natural condition. For persons ought to be uneasy, and it argues awful stupidity to be otherwise; but in opposition to a quarrelling spirit because God does not show mercy sooner. We should persevere in our efforts to obtain salvation, as being sensible that God is not obliged to bestow it in our time, or at all; that he may, if he will, refuse to show mercy; and if he does show mercy, that he may do it in his own time. Remember that the command of Christ to you is, “Repent and believe the Gospel.” You cannot lawfully continue in your present state one day or hour. Those who defer and put off repentance till another hour. Those who defer and put off repentance till another time are not in a likely way to obtain deliverance. The way is, to improve the present time; to do now, what must be done ever. We should make securing our salvation our present and immediate business. Therefore inquire, whether you do not put it off. If you do not put off the while of the work, yet do you not put off part of it? Do you think you now strive as much for salvation, as it will ever be needful that you should? If not, delay no longer. Let it not be said of you tomorrow, that there is any thing delayed today, which you your thought needful to be done, or in your power to do, in order to your salvation. If you are sensible that you are in this dreadful condition, you certainly will make haste; you will need no other motive to it.
2. Let nothing, which you do in seeking salvation, be done with slackness. The direction is, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” Therefore, let nothing be done with the slack hand. Do every thing which you do in this great work earnestly. There are many things which you have to do; many duties to be performed, many means to be employed. Let all be done with your strength. Be earnest in prayer, earnest in hearing the word preached, diligent and faithful in watching over your own heart, diligent in searching your heart, diligent in reflecting on your past life, diligent and laborious in meditation, laborious and earnest in striving against temptation. And do not perform merely the duties of religion towards God earnestly, but also its duties towards your neighbour. Be earnest that you may do every duty required of you towards all men. Be earnest and diligent to do justly and honestly, and to render every man his due. Be earnest to watch against an envious, malicious, and revengeful spirit. Be earnest to do all the duties of charity: Labour with your might, that you may behave charitably towards men, and neglect no duty of charity required of you. Be earnest in performing every relative duty: in rendering suitable honour to your parents; in manifesting kindness and confidence to your husband or your wife; in instructing and governing your children, bringing them up in religion, and seeking their salvation in every way pointed out in the Scripture. Do this earnestly, and with all your strength. You shall not merely do some things earnestly, but all.
3. Take heed lest this your earnestness be not transient: but that you continue in it to the end. It is the misery of many persons, that they seem to be very warmly engaged for a little time, but it does not last. It is a very rare thing, that any who are thoroughly and perseveringly in earnest for salvation, fail of it, unless they have put off the work until they are near death before they begin. How unstable is the heart of man, and how many are there who go to hell through backsliding! It is often the case when persons begin with much seeming earnestness, that they do it upon a secret dependence that they shall not need to make these efforts very long. They flatter themselves, that in a little time they shall obtain what they seek, and then they may take their ease: therefore, when they have gone on a while, and fail of that expectation, they soon slacken their exertions. They never consented to seek in this diligent persevering manner, always; but they appointed a time of their own, and sought it on terms of their own fixing. But a man is then in a hopeful way to be converted, when he has so great a sense of his misery, and his necessity of conversion, that he is disposed to do his utmost, to be violent for the kingdom of heaven, and to devote his life to it. If you are seeking salvation, inquire how it is with you as to this matter. Do you feel a disposition in yourself to be at the pains and difficulty of a most laborious seeking God’s grace in the denial of every lust, and in a painful performance of every duty as long as you live? Or does this seem to you to be too much; more than you can find a heart to comply with? You may be ready to say, that you could be willing to do all this, if you knew you should obtain at last. But that is not sufficient. You should be willing to run the venture of that, and seek upon what encouragement is given you, and to wait God’s sovereign will and pleasure in that way. And if you cannot become willing for this, be sensible there is a defect in your manner of seeking, which is behoves you to mend. And do not think that you seek it in the right way until you come to it. If you have a right sense of the dolefulness of your condition, it will bring you to it. Consider the great encouragement there is for this way of seeking. Prov. viii. 34, “Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors.” Hosea vi. 3, “Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord.”
4. Seek that you may be brought to lie at God’s feet in a sense of your own exceeding sinfulness. Seek earnestly that you may have such a sight yourself; what an exceedingly sinful creature you are, what a wicked heart you have, and how dreadfully you have provoked God to anger; that you may see that God would be most just if he should never have any mercy upon you. Labour, that all quarrelling about God’s dispensations towards sinners may be wholly subdued; that your heart may be abased and brought down to the dust before God; that you may see yourself in the hands of God; and that you can challenge nothing of God, but that God and his throne are blameless in the eternal damnation of sinners, and would be in your damnation. Seek that you may be brought off from all high opinion of your own worth, all trust in your own righteousness, and to see that all you do in religion is so polluted and defiled, that it is utterly unworthy of God’s acceptance; and that you commit sin enough in your best duties to condemn you for ever. Seek that you may come to see, that God is sovereign, that he is the potter and you the clay, and that his grace is his own, and that he may bestow it on whom he will, and that he might justly refuse to show you mercy. Seek that you may be sensible, that God is sovereign as to the objects of his grace, and also as to the time and manner of bestowing it, and seek to God and wait upon him as a sovereign God. Seek that you may be sensible that God’s anger is infinitely dreadful, yet, at the same time, be sensible that it is just. Labour that when you have a sense of the awfulness of the wrath of God in your mind, you may fall down before an angry God, and lie in the dust. Seek that you may see, that you are utterly undone, and that you cannot help yourself; and yet, that you do not deserve that God should help you and that he would be perfectly just if he should refuse ever to help you. If you have come to this, then you will be prepared for comfort. When persons are thus humble, it is God’s manner soon to comfort them. When you are thus brought low, doubtless God will soon lift you up. God will not bestow such a great and infinite mercy as eternal life upon persons, who will not acknowledge his sovereignty in that matter. When once there has been that conviction upon the heart which casts down imagination, and every high thing that exalts itself against God, the God is wont speedily to reveal his grace and love, and to pour the oil of comfort into the soul.
5. Abound in earnest prayer to God, that he would open your eyes, that you may behold the glorious and rich provision made for sinners in Jesus Christ. The souls of natural men are so blinded that they see no beauty or excellence in Christ. They do not see his sufficiency. They see no beauty in the work of salvation by him; and as long as they remain thus blind, it is impossible that they should close with Christ. The heart will never be drawn to an unknown Saviour. It is impossible that a man should love that, and freely chose that, and rejoice in that, in which he sees no excellency. But if your eyes were opened to see the excellency of Christ, the work would be done. You would immediately believe on him; and you would find your heart going after him. It would be impossible to keep it back. But take heed that you do not entertain a wrong notion of what it is, spiritually to see Christ. If you do, you may seek that which God never bestows. Do not think that spiritually to see Christ, is to have a vision of him as the prophets had, to see him in some bodily shape, to see the features of his countenance. Do not pray or seek for any such thing as this. But what you are to seek is, that you may have a sight of the glorious excellence of Christ, and of the way of salvation through him, in your heart. This is a spiritual sight of Christ. This is that for which you must cry to God day and night. God is the fountain of spiritual light. He opens the eyes of the blind. He commands the light to shine out of darkness. It is easy with God to enlighten the soul, and fill it with these glorious discoveries, though it is beyond the power of men and angels.