And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image…
I. WE AFFIRM THERE IS A HELL; PUNISHMENTS FINITE IN DEGREE, BUT INFINITE IN DURATION.
1. Scripture gives no countenance to this absurd opinion, that the wicked shall have no part in resurrection and judgment (Romans 3:4, 5; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:12, 13, 15; John 5:28, 29).
2. Scripture clearly affirms that the punishment of the damned shall not consist of annihilation, but of real and sensible pain (Matthew 26:24; Matthew 11:24). Scripture-images of hell, which are many, will not allow us to confine future punishment to annihilation. It is a worm, a fire, a darkness; they are chains — weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth.
3. It appears by Scripture that future punishment will be eternal (Matthew 25:41; Mark 9:44; Matthew 18:8; Revelation 20:10).
II. IF THE DOCTRINE OF ETERNAL PUNISHMENT IMPLY A CONTRADICTION, IT MUST EITHER REGARD MAN, THE SUFFERER OF THE PAIN, OR GOD, WHO THREATENS TO INFLICT IT.
1. The nature of man hath nothing incongruous with that degree and duration of punishment of which we speak.
2. Let us attend now to objections taken from the nature of God. A man, who opposeth our doctrine, reasons in this manner. Which way soever I consider a Being supremely perfect, I cannot persuade myself that He will expose His creatures to eternal torments. All His perfections secure me from such terrors as this doctrine seems to inspire. In short, when I consider God under the idea of an equitable legislator, I cannot comprehend how sins committed in a finite period can deserve an infinite punishment.
(1) Observe this general truth. It is not probable God would threaten mankind with a punishment, the infliction of which would be incompatible with His perfections.
(2) Take each part of the objection drawn from the attributes of God, and said to destroy our doctrine, and consider it separately. The argument taken from the liberty of God would carry us from error to error, and from one absurdity to another. For, if God be free to relax any part of the punishment denounced, He is equally free to relax the whole. The difficulty taken from the goodness of God vanisheth when we rectify popular notions of this excellence of the Divine nature. Goodness in men is a virtue of constitution which makes them suffer when they see their fellow creatures in misery, and which excites them to relieve them. In God it is a perfection independent in its origin, free in its execution, and always restrained by laws of inviolable equity and exact severity. Justice is not incompatible with eternal punishment. It is not to be granted that a sin committed in a limited time ought not to be punished through an infinite duration. It is not the length of time employed in committing a crime that determines the degree and the duration of its punishment, it is the turpitude and atrociousness of it. The justice of God, far from opposing the punishment of the impenitent, requires it. Were we to examine in this manner each part of the objection opposed against our doctrine, we should open a second source of solutions to answer it.
(3) The doctrine of degrees of punishment affords us a third. There is an extreme difference between a heathen and a Jew; there is an extreme distance between a Jew and a Christian; and a greater still between a Christian and a heathen. The gospel-rule is, "Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required." Take this principle which Scripture establisheth in the clearest manner; press home all its consequences; extend it as far as it can be carried; give scope even to your imagination till the punishments which such and such persons suffer in hell are reduced to a degree that may serve to solve the difficulty of the doctrine of their eternity; whatever system ye adopt on this article, I will even venture to say whatever difficulty ye may meet with in following it, it will be always more reasonable, I think, to make of one doctrine clearly revealed a clue to guide through the difficulties of another doctrine clearly revealed too, than rashly to deny the formal decisions of Scripture. I mean to say, it would be more rational to stretch the doctrine of degrees too far, if I may venture to speak so, than to deny that of their eternity.
(4) The fourth source of solutions is a maxim from which a divine ought never to depart, and which we wish particularly to inculcate among those who extend the operations of reason too far in matters of religion. Our maxim is this. We know, indeed, in general, what are the attributes of God, but we are extremely ignorant of their sphere, we cannot determine how far they extend. We know, in general, God is free, He is just, He is merciful. But we are too ignorant to determine how far these perfections must go, because the infinity of them absorbs the capacity of our minds. Apply this to our subject. The idea of hell seems to you repugnant to the attributes of God, you cannot comprehend how a just God can punish finite sins with infinite pain; how a merciful God can abandon His creature to eternal miseries. Your difficulties have some probability, I grant. Your reasons, I allow, seem well grounded. But dost thou remember the attributes of God are infinite? Remember, thy knowledge is finite. You think future punishment inconsistent with the attributes of God, but your notion of inconsistence ought to vanish at the appearance of Scripture-light.
III. OBSERVE THE QUALITY AND THE DURATION OF THE PUNISHMENTS OF HELL.
1. The quality of the punishments of hell is expressed in these terms — smoke, torment. These metaphorical terms include five ideas. Privation of heavenly happiness, sensation of pain, remorse of conscience, horror of society, increase of crime.
2. It remains only that we consider the length and duration of them. But by what means shall we describe these profound articles of contemplation? Can we number the innumerable and measure that which is beyond all mensuration? Can we make you comprehend the incomprehensible? And shall we amuse you with our imaginations?
Parallel VersesKJV: And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand,