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QUEST. XXVIII. What are the punishments of sin in this world?
ANSW. The punishments of sin in this world, are either inward as blindness of mind, a reprobate sense, strong delusions, hardness of heart, horror of conscience, and vile affections; or outward, as the curse of God upon the creatures for our sakes, and all other evils that befall us in our bodies, names, estates, relations, and employments, together with death itself. QUEST. XXIX. What are the punishments of sin in the world to come?
ANSW. The punishments of sin in the world to come, are everlasting separation from the comfortable presence of God, and most grievous torments in soul and body, without intermission, in hell-fire for ever.
N the former of these answers, we have an account of those punishments which sin exposes men to in this world. These are distinguished as being either inward or outward, personal or relative; of which, those that are styled outward, which more especially respect our condition in the world, as we are liable to many adverse dispensations of providence therein, and are generally reckoned, by sinners, the greatest, as they are most sensible while they groan under the many evils and miseries which befall them, in their bodies, names, estates, relations, and employments, and they end in death, the most formidable of all evils; though, in reality, the punishments of sin, which are styled inward, such as blindness of mind, hardness of heart, &c. how little soever they are regarded by those who fall under them, by reason of that stupidity, which is the natural consequence thereof: yet they are, by far, the greatest and most dreaded by all, who truly fear God, and see things in a just light being duly affected with that which would render them most miserable in the end.
Here we shall consider,
First, Those punishments that are called inward, which respect either the understanding, will, conscience, or affections. Accordingly,
1. We are said to be exposed to blindness of mind: This the apostle describes in a most moving way, when he speaks of the Gentiles, as walking in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart, Eph. iv. 17, 18. Ignorance and error are defects of the understanding, whereby it is not able to find out, nor desirous to enquire after the way of truth and peace; and accordingly the apostle says, The way of peace have they not known,
Rom. iii. 17. and by reason hereof, we are naturally inclined to deny those doctrines, which are of the greatest importance, namely, such as more immediately concern the glory of God, and our own salvation. This ignorance is certainly most dangerous, and cannot be exempted from the charge of sin, much more when we are judicially left to it, as a punishment for other sins committed by us.
2. Another punishment of sin, mentioned in this answer, is strong delusion, which is the consequence of the former. This is taken from the apostle's words, For this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie, 2 Thess. ii. 11. the meaning of which is nothing else but this, that God' suffers them, who receive not the love of the truth, but take pleasure in unrighteousness, to be deluded, by denying them that spiritual and saving illumination, which would have effectually prevented it. Now, that we may consider what the apostle means by these strong delusions, we may observe, that every error, or mistake in lesser matters of religion, is not intended hereby; for then few or none, would be exempted from this judgment; but it includes in it a person's entertaining the most abominable absurdities in matters of religion, which are contrary to the divine perfections, and the whole tenor of scripture, and subversive of those truths, which are of the greatest importance; or, when persons pretend to revelations, or are turned away from the truth by giving credit to the amusements of signs, and lying wonders; with which Antichrist is said to come, after the working of Satan; and the consequence hereof is, that they believe a lye, which they suppose to be confirmed hereby.
Errors, in matter of religion, are sometimes invincible and unavoidable, for want of objective light, or scripture-revelation, as in the Heathen, Mahometans, and others, who through the disadvantages and prejudices of education, are estranged from the truth: but even this in some respects, may be said to be judicial; for, though such do not sin against the gospel-light, yet they are guilty of other sins, which justly provoke God to leave them in this state of darkness and ignorance. But the punishment of sin, when God gives men up to this judgment, is more visible in those, who have had the advantages of education, above others, and have had early instructions in the doctrines of the gospel; yet, by degrees, they are turned aside from, and have denied them, and so forsaken the guide of their youth, Prov. ii. 17. These sometimes call those sentiments about religious matters, which once they received, implicit faith, and please themselves with their new schemes of doctrine, looking, as they call it, with pity, or, I might rather say, disdain, on others, who are not disentangled from their fetters,
or have not shook off the prejudices of education, nor arrived to so free and generous a way of thinking, as they pretend to have done. But how much soever they may glory in it, it is a sad instance of God's giving them up, in a judicial way, to the vanity and delusion of their minds; and accordingly they believe that to be a truth, which others can prove to be a lie, and which they themselves once thought so. Now this appears to be a punishment of sin, in that the gospel, which once they professed to believe, had not that effect, or tendency, as it ought, to subdue their lusts and corruptions; but they rebelled against the light, and were under the power of presumptuous sins: their understanding, and talents of reasoning, have been enlarged, and, at the same time, the pride and vanity of their minds hath not been subdued, and mortified, by the grace of God; whereupon, they have been given up first to question, then to deny, and afterwards to oppose, and, in the most profane and invidious manner, to ridicule those sacred and important truths, which they once received. This is a sad instance of the punishment of sin; and the use that I would make of it, may be in the following inferences.
(1.) That we ought not to be content with a bare speculative knowledge of divine truths, but should endeavour to improve them, to promote practical godliness, as they have a tendency to do in all those, who, as the apostle saith, have so learned Christ, as that they have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus, Eph. iv. 21.
(2.) We ought not to content ourselves with an implicit faith, or believe the doctrines of the gospel, merely because they have been received by wise and good men, in former or later ages, but should be able to render a reason of the faith and hope that is in us, as built upon clear scripture evidence; so, on the other hand, we must take heed that we do not despise the many testimonies which God's people have given to the truth, or forsake the footsteps of the flock, as though God had left his servants to delusions, or groundless doctrines, and there were no light in the world, or the church, till those, who have studiously endeavoured to overthrow the faith delivered to, and maintamed by the saints, brought in that which they, with vainboasting, call new light, into it.
(3.) Let us strive against the pride of our understanding, which oftentimes tempts us to disbelieve any doctrine which we cannot fully account for, by our shallow methods of reasoning, as though we were the only men that knew any thing; and, as Job says, Wisdom must die with us, Job xii. 2.
(4.) If we are in doubt concerning any important truth, let us apply ourselves, by faith and prayer, to Christ, the great prophet of his church, who has promised his Spirit to lead his
people into all necessary truth, to establish them in, and to keep them from being turned aside from it, by every wind of doc trine, through the management and sophistry of those who lie in wait to deceive. And to this we may add, that we ought to bless God for, and to make a right use of the labours of others, who have not only been led into the knowledge of the gospel themselves, but have taken a great deal of pains, and that with good success, to establish the faith of others therein.
(5.) If we have attained to a settled knowledge of the truth, and, more especially, if we have been blessed with a spiritual and practical discerning thereof, let us bléss God for it, and endeavour to improve it to the best purposes, which will be a preservative against this sore judgment of being given up to the blindness of our minds, or strong delusions, and thereby to forsake our first faith.
3. Another punishment of sin, which more especially respects the will, is hardness of heart, and a reprobate sense, when men are given up to the perverseness and obstinacy of their natures, so that they are fixedly resolved to continue in sin, whatever be the consequence thereof, when they cannot bear reproof for, and refuse to be reclaimed from it, whatever methods are used in order thereunto. Thus the prophet speaks, concerning a people, which had had forewarnings by sore judgments, and were, at that time, under sad rebukes of providence; yet God says, concerning them, They will not hearken unto me; for all the house of Israel are impudent and hard-hearted, Ezek. iii. 7. and the apostle speaks of some, who have their consciences seared with a hot iron, 1 Tim. iv. 2. and others, who are described, as sinning wilfully, Heb. v. 26. that is, resolutely, being head-strong, and determined to persist therein; and are as the man described in Job, Who stretcheth out his hand against God, and strengtheneth himself against the Almighty; he runneth upon him, even upon his neck, upon the thick bosses of his bucklers, Job xv. 25. Thus corrupt nature expresses its enmity and opposition to God; and, as sinners are suffered to go on in this way, it may well be reckoned a punishment of sin, or an instance of God's judicial hand against them for it. This hardness of heart is sometimes compared to a stone, Ezek. xxxvi, 26. or a rock, Jer. xxiii. 19. or an adamant, which is hardly broken with a hammer, Zech. vii. 12. or an iron sinew, and their brow is said to be as brass, Isa. xlviii. 4. and sometimes they are compared to a swift dromedary, traversing her ways; or the wild ass, used to the wilderness, that snuffeth up the wind at her pleasure, Jer. ii. 23, 24. and the bullock unaccustomed to the yoke, Jer. xxxi. 18. or to the deaf adder, that stoppeth her ears; that will not hearken to the voice of the charmers, charming never so wisely, Psal. Iviii, 4, 5. This stupidity of VOL. II.
the heart of man is so great, that it inclines him to go on in a course of rebellion against God, and, at the same time, to conclude all things to be well; whereas, this is the most dangerous symptom, and a visible instance of God's judicial hand, as a punishment of sin in this life. There are several instances, in which this hardness of heart discovers itself; as,
(1.) When men are not afraid of God's judgments threatened, nor regard the warnings given thereof before-hand, or when they refuse to humble themselves under them, as God says to Pharaoh, How long wilt thou refuse to humble thyself before me? Exod. x. 3.
(2.) When they stifle, and do not regard those convictions of conscience, which they sometimes have; and, though they know that what they do is sinful, and displeasing to God, yet they break through all those fences, which should have prevented their committing it, as the apostle speaks of some, Who knowing the judgment of God, that they who commit such things, are worthy of death; not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them, Rom. i. 32.
(3.) Men may be said to be hardened in sin, when they do not mourn for, or repent of it, after they have committed it: but, on the other hand, endeavour to conceal, extenuate, and plead for it, rather than to forsake it. And here we may take occasion to enquire,
[1.] What are those sins which more especially lead to this judgment of hardness of heart. These are,
1st, A neglect of ordinances, such as the word preached, as though we counted it an indifferent matter, whether we wait at wisdom's gate, or no, or make a visible profession of subjection to Christ, and desire of communion with him herein; and particularly when we live in the constant neglect of secret prayer: thus the hardened sinner is described, when it is said, Yea, thou castest off fear, and restrainest prayer before God, Job xv. 4.
2dly, Another sin leading to it, is, a person's delighting in, or associating himself with such companions, as are empty and vain, express an enmity to the power of godliness, and frequently make things sacred, the subject of their wit and ridicule, choosing such for his bosom-friends, who cannot bear to converse about divine things, but rather depreciate, or cast contempt upon them; such an one is called, A companion of fools, and is opposed to those that walk with wise men, who shall be wise, Prov. xiii. 20. and there is no method which will have a more direct tendency to harden the heart, or root out any of the remains of serious religion, than this.
3dly, A shunning faithful reproof, or concluding those our enemies, who are, in this respect, our best friends. He that can not bear to be told of his crimes, by others, will, in a little