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THE FUTURE PUNISHMENT OF THE WICKED UNAVOIDABLE AND INTOLERABLE.
Can thine heart endure, or can thine hands be strong, in the days that I shall deal with thee? I the Lord have spoken it, and will do it.
IN the former part of this chapter, we have a dreadful catalogue of the sins of Jerusalem; as you may see from the first to the thirteenth verse. In the thirteenth, which is the verse preceding the text, God manifests his great displeasure and fearful wrath against them for their iniquities. “Behold, I have smitten mine hand at thy dishonest gain which thou hast made, and at thy blood which hath been in the midst of thee. 7171 Ezek. xxii. 13. ” The expression of God’s smiting his hand, signifies the greatness of his anger, and his preparing himself, as it were, to execute wrath answerable to their heinous crimes. It is an allusion to what we sometimes see in men when they are surprised, by seeing or hearing of some horrid offence, or most intolerable injury, which very much stirs their spirits, and animates them with high resentment; on such an occasion they will rise up in wrath and smite their hands together, as an expression of the heat of their indignation, and full resolution to be avenged on those who have committed the injury; as in chap. xxi. 17. “I will also smite mine hands together, and I will cause my fury to rest: I the Lord have said it.” Then, in the text, the punishment of that people is represented.
1. The nature of their punishment is more generally represented in that, God will undertake to deal with them.—The prophets could do nothing with them. God had sent them one after another; but those sinners were too strong for them, and beat one, and killed another. Therefore now God himself undertakes to deal with them.
2. Their punishment is more particularly represented in three things, viz. The intolerableness, the remediless-ness, and the unavoidableness of it.—The intolerableness of it: can thine heart endure?—Its remedilessness, or the impossibility of their doing any thing for their own relief: can thine hands be strong?—Its unavoidableness: I the Lord have spoken it, and wilt do it.
Since God hath undertaken to deal with impenitent sinners, they shall neither shun the threatened misery, nor deliver themselves out of it, nor can they bear it.
In handling this doctrine I shall, 1. Show what is implied in God’s undertaking to deal with impenitent sinners. 2. That therefore they cannot avoid punishment. 3. That they cannot in any measure deliver themselves from it, or do any thing; for their own relief under it. 4. That they cannot bear it. 5. I shall answer an inquiry; and then proceed to the use.
I. I shall show what is implied in God’s undertaking to deal with impenitent sinners. Others are not able to deal with them. They baffle all the means used with them by those that are appointed to teach and to rule over them.-They will not yield to parents, or to the counsels, warnings, or reproofs of ministers: they prove obstinate and stiff-hearted. Therefore God undertakes to deal with them. This implies the following things:
1. That God will reckon with them, and take of them satisfaction to his justice. In this world God puts forth his authority to command them, and to require their subjection to him. In his commands he is very positive, strictly requiring of them the performance of duties, and as positively forbidding things contrary to their duty. But they have no regard to these commands. God continues commanding, and they continue rebelling. They make nothing of God’s authority—God threatens but they despise his threatenings.—They make nothing of dishonouring God; they care not how much their behaviour is to his dishonour. He offers them mercy, if they will repent and return; but they despise his mercy as well as his wrath. God calleth, but they refuse. Thus they are continually plunging themselves deeper and deeper in debt, and at the same time imagine they shall escape the payment of the debt, and design entirely to rob God of his due.
But God hath undertaken to right himself. He will reckon with them; he hath undertaken to see that the debts due to him are paid. All their sins are written in his book; not one of them is forgotten, and every one must be paid. If God be wise enough, and strong enough, he will have full satisfaction: he will exact the very uttermost farthing. He undertakes it as his part, as what belongs to him, to see himself righted, wherein he hath been wronged. “To me belongeth vengeance.” Ibid Deut. vii. 10. “He will not be slack to him that hateth him; he will repay him to his face.”
2. He hath undertaken to vindicate the honour of his majesty. His majesty they despise. They hear that he is a great God; but they despise his greatness; they look upon him as worthy of contempt, and treat him accordingly. They hear of him by the name of a great King; but his authority they regard not, and sometimes trample upon it for years together.
But God hath not left the honour of his majesty wholly to their care. Though they now trample it in the dust, yet that is no sign that it will finally be lost. If God had left it wholly to their hands, it would indeed be lost. But God doth not leave his honour and his glory with his enemies; it is too precious in his eyes to be so neglected. He hath reserved the care of it to himself: he will see to it that his own injured majesty is vindicated. If the honour of God, upon which sinners trample, finally lie in the dust, it will be because he is not strong enough to vindicate himself. He hath sworn, in Numb. xiv. 21. “As truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord.”
Sinners despise his Son, and trample him under their feet; but he will see if he cannot make the glory of his Son appear, with respect to them; that all the earth may know how evil a thing it is to despise the Son of God. God intends that all men and angels, all heaven and all earth, shall see whether he be sufficient to magnify himself upon sinners who now despise him. He intends that the issue of things with respect to them shall be open, that all men may see it.
3. He hath undertaken to subdue impenitent sinners.—Their hearts while in this world are very unsubdued. They lift up their heads and conduct themselves very proudly and contemptuously, and often sin with a high hand. They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongues walk through the earth. They practically say as Pharaoh did, “Who is the Lord? I know not the Lord, neither will I obey his voice. 7272 Exodus v. 2. ” “They say to God, Depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways.”
Some, who cover their sin with their specious show, who put on a face of religion, and a demure countenance and behaviour, yet have this spirit secretly reigning in their breasts. Notwithstanding all their fair show, and good eternal carriage, they despise God in their hearts, and have the weapons of war about them, though they carry their swords under their skirts. They have most proud, stubborn, and rebellious hearts, which are ready to rise in opposition, to contend with him, and to find fault with his dispensations. Their hearts are full of pride, enmity, stubbornness, and blasphemy, which work in them many ways, while they sit under the preaching of the word, and while the Spirit of God is striving in them: and they always continue to oppose and resist God as long as they live in the world; they never lay down the weapons of their rebellion.
But God hath undertaken to deal with them and to subdue them; and those proud and stubborn hearts, which will not yield to the power of God’s word, shall be broken by the power of his hand. If they will not be willing subjects to the golden sceptre, and will not yield to the attractives of his love, they shall be subject to the force of the iron rod, whether they will or not.
Them that proudly set up their own righteousness, and their own wills, God hath undertaken to bring down: and without doubt, it will be done. He hath undertaken to make those who are now regardless, to regard him. They shall know that he is Jehovah. Now they will not own that he is the Lord; but they shall know it. Isa. xxvi. 11. “Lord, when thine hand is lifted up, they will not see: but they shall see.”
Now wicked men not only hate God, but they slight him; they are not afraid of him. But he will subdue their contempt. When he shall come to take them in hand, they will hate him still; but they will not slight him; they will not make light of his power as they now do; they will see and feel too much of the infinity of his power to slight it. They are now wont to slight his wrath; but then they will slight it no more, they will find by sufficient experience that his wrath is not to be slighted: they will learn this to their cost, and they never will forget it.
4. God hath undertaken to rectify their judgments. Now they will not be convinced of those things which God tells them in his word. Ministers take much pains to convince them, but all is in vain. Therefore God will undertake to convince them, and he will do it effectually.—Now they will not be convinced of the truth of divine things. They have indeed convincing arguments set before them; they hear and see enough to convince them; yet so prone are they to unbelief and atheism, that divine things never seem to them to be real. But God will hereafter make them seem real.
Now they are always doubting of the truth of the Scriptures, questioning whether they be the word of God, and whether the threatenings of Scripture be true. But God hath undertaken to convince them that those threatenings are true, and he will make them to know that they are true, so that they will never doubt any more for ever. They will be convinced by dear experience. Now they are always questioning whether there be any such place as hell. They hear much about it, but it always seems to them like a dream. But God will make it seem otherwise than a dream. Now they are often told of the vanity of the world; but we may as well preach to the beasts, to persuade them of the vanity of earthly things. But God will undertake to convince them of this; he will hereafter give them a thorough conviction of it, so that they shall have a strong sense of the vanity of all these things.
Now ministers often tell sinners of the great importance of an interest in Christ, and that that is the one thing needful. They are also told the folly of delaying the care of their souls, and how much it concerns them to improve their opportunity. But the instructions of ministers do not convince them, therefore God will undertake to convince them.
Impenitent sinners, while in this world, hear how dreadful hell is. But they will not believe that it is so dreadful as ministers represent. They cannot think that they shall to all eternity suffer such exquisite and horrible torments. But they shall be taught and convinced to purpose, that the representations ministers give of those torments, agreeable to the word of God, are indeed as dreadful as they declare.—Since God hath undertaken to deal with sinners, and to rectify their judgments in these matters, he will do it thoroughly; for his work is perfect; when he undertakes to do things, he doth not do them by halves; therefore before he shall have done with sinners, he will convince them effectually, so that they shall never be in danger of relapsing into their former errors. He will convince them of their folly and stupidity in entertaining such notions as they now entertain.
Thus God hath undertaken to deal with obstinate unbelievers. They carry things on in great confusion; but we need not be dismayed at it: let us wait, and we shall see that God will rectify things. Sinners will not always continue to rebel and despise with impunity. The honour of God will in due time be vindicated; and they shall be subdued and convicted, and shall give an account. There is no sin, not so much as an idle word that they shall speak, but they must give an account of it; Matt. xii. 36. And their sins must be fully balanced, and recompensed, and satisfaction obtained. Because judgment against their evil works is not speedily executed, their hearts are fully set in them to do evil. Yet God is a righteous judge; he will see that judgment is executed in due time.—I come now,
II. To show, that therefore impenitent sinners shall not avoid their due punishment. God hath undertaken to inflict it; he hath engaged to do it; he takes it as what properly belongs to him, and we may expect it of him. If he hath sworn by his life, that he will do it; and if he hath power sufficient; if he is the living God, doubtless we shall see it done. And that God hath declared that he will punish impenitent sinners, is manifest from many Scriptures; as Deut. xxxii. 41. “I will render vengeance to mine enemies, and will reward them that hate me.” Deut. vii. 10. “He will not be slack to him that hateth him: he will repay him to his face.” Exod. xxxiv. 7. “That will by no means clear the guilty.” Nahum i. 3. “The Lord is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked.”
God saith in the text, “and will do it;” which leaves no room to doubt of the actual fulfilment of the threatening in its utmost extent. Some have flattered themselves, that although God hath threatened very dreadful things to wicked men for their sins, yet in his heart he never intends to fulfil his threatenings, but only to terrify them, and make them afraid, while they live. But would the infinitely holy God, who is not a man that he should lie, and who speaketh no vain words, utter himself in this manner: I the Lord have spoken it, and will do it; I have not only, threatened, but I will also fulfil my threatenings; when at the same time these words did not agree with his heart, but he secretly knew that though he had spoken, yet he intended not to do it? Who is he that dares to entertain such horrid blasphemy in his heart?
No; let no impenitent sinner flatter himself so vainly and foolishly. If it were indeed only a man, a being of like impotency and mutability with themselves, who had undertaken to deal with them; they might perhaps with some reason flatter themselves, that they should find some means to avoid the threatened punishment. But since an omniscient, omnipotent, immutable God hath undertaken, vain are all such hopes.
There is no hope that possibly they may steal away to heaven, though they die unconverted. There is no hope that they can deceive God by any false show of repentance and faith, and so be taken to heaven through mistake: for the eyes of God are as a flame of fire; they perfectly see through every man; the inmost closet of the heart is all open to him.
There is no hope of escaping the threatened punishment by sinking into nothing at death, like brute creatures. Indeed, many wicked men upon their death-beds wish for this. If it were so, death would—be nothing to them in comparison with what it now is. But all such wishes are vain.
There is no hope of their escaping without notice, when they leave the body. There is no hope that God, by reason of the multiplicity of affairs which he hath to mind, will happen to overlook them, and not take notice of them, when they come to die; that their souls will slip away privately, and hide themselves in some secret corner, and so escape divine vengeance.
There is no hope that they shall be missed in a crowd at the day of judgment, and that they can have opportunity to hide themselves in some cave or den of the mountains, or in any secret hole of the earth; and that while so doing, they will not be minded, by reason of the many things which will be the objects of attention on that day.-Neither is there any hope that they will be able to crowd themselves in among the multitude of the saints at the right hand of the Judge, and so go to heaven undiscovered. Nor is there any hope that Cod will alter his mind, or that he will repent of what he hath said; for he is not the son of man that he should repent. Hath he said, and shall he not do it? Hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good? When did God ever undertake to do any thing and fail?-I come now,
III. To show, that as impenitent sinners cannot shun the threatened punishment; so neither can they do any thing to deliver themselves from it, or to relieve themselves under it. This is implied in those words of the text, Can thine hands be strong? It is with our hands that we make and accomplish things for ourselves. But the wicked in hell will have no strength of hand to accomplish any thing at all for themselves, or to bring to pass any deliverance, or any degree of relief.
1. They will not be able in that conflict to overcome their enemy, and so to deliver themselves. God, who will then undertake to deal with them, and will gird himself with might to execute wrath, will be their enemy, and will act the part of an enemy will a witness; and they will have no strength to oppose him. Those, who live negligent of their souls under the light of the gospel, act as if they supposed, that they should be able hereafter to make their part good with God. 1 Cor. x. 22. “Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?”—But they will have no power, no might to resist that omnipotence, which will be engaged against them.
2. They will have no strength in their hands to do any thing to appease God, or in the least to abate the fierceness of his wrath. They will not be able to offer any satisfaction: they will not be able to procure God’s pity. Though they cry, God will not hear them. They will find no price to offer to God, in order to purchase favour, or to pay any part of their debt.
3. They will not be able to find any to befriend them, and intercede with God for them. They had’ the offer of a mediator often made them in this world; but they will have no such offers in hell. None will befriend them in hell; all there will be their enemies. They will have no friend in heaven: none of the saints or angels will befriend them: or if they should, it would be to no purpose. There will be no creature that will have any power to deliver them, nor will any ever pity them.
4. Nor will they ever be able to make their escape. They will find no means to break prison and flee. In hell they will be reserved in chains of darkness for ever and ever. Malefactors have often found means to escape the hand of civil justice. But none ever escaped out of the prison of hell, which is God’s prison. It is a strong prison: it is beyond any finite power, or the united strength of all wicked men and devils, to unlock or break open the door of that prison. Christ hath the key of hell; “he shuts and no man opens.”
5. Nor will they ever be able to find any thing to relieve them in hell. They will never find any resting place there; any secret corner, which will be cooler than the rest, where they may have a little respite, a small abatement of the extremity of their torment. They never will be able to find any cooling stream or fountain, in any part of that world of torment; no, nor so much as a drop of water to cool their tongues. They will find no company to give them any comfort, or to do them the least good. They will find no place, where they can remain, and rest, and take breath for one minute: for they will be tormented with fire and brimstone; and will have no rest day nor night for ever and ever.
Thus impenitent sinners will be able neither to shun the punishment threatened, nor to deliver themselves from it, nor to find any relief under it.
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