An educational look at how Christians used to think about natural disasters and judgments from God. Here is Thomas Brooks writing about the Great Fire of London, September 2–5, 1666:
By Thomas Brooks, 1670
A serious discourse concerning “The Great Fire”
which recently turned our once renowned City
into a ruinous heap. Also the several lessons
that are incumbent upon those whose houses
have escaped the consuming flames.
(13.) The Thirteenth support to bear up the hearts of the people of God under the recent fiery dispensation, is this—namely, There is a worse fire than that which has turned London into a ruinous heap—namely, the fire of HELL, which Christ has freed believers from. A frequent and serious consideration of hell-fire, and of your happy deliverance from it, may very well bear and cheer up your hearts under all your greatest sufferings.
The fire of hell is “unquenchable fire!” Mat 3:12, “He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire!” There are “everlasting burnings!” Isaiah 33:14, “The sinners in Zion are terrified; trembling grips the godless—Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?” Luke 3:17; Mat. 18:8. Wicked men, who are now the jolly fellows of the times, shall one day go from burning to burning; from burning in sin, to burning in hell; from burning in flames of lusts, to burning in flames of torment, except there be found repentance on their sides, and pardoning grace on God’s side. O sirs! in this devouring fire, in these everlasting burnings, Cain shall find no cities to build, nor shall his posterity have any instruments of music there; none shall take up the timbrel or harp, or rejoice at the sound of the organ. There Belshazzar cannot drink wine in bowls, nor eat the lambs out of the flock, nor the calves out of the midst of the stall. In everlasting burnings there will be no merry company to pass time away; nor any dice to cast care away; nor any cellars of wine wherein to drown the sinner’s grief, Gen. 4:17; Amos 6:5; Job 21:12; Dan. 5:23 Amos 6:4.
The fire is eternal! Mat. 25:41, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels!” This dreadful sentence breathes out nothing but fire and brimstone, terror and horror, dread and woe! The last words that Christ will ever speak to the ungodly will be the most tormenting and dreadful, the most killing and damning, the most stinging and wounding, “Depart from me.” Here is utter rejection: “Depart from Me–Pack! Begone! Get out of My sight! Let Me never more see your faces!”
It was a heavy doom that was passed upon Nebuchadnezzar, Dan. 4:25, that he should be driven from the society of men, and, in an extremity of a sottish melancholy, spend his time among the beasts of the field; but that was nothing to this soul-killing word, “Depart from me.” The remembrance of which made one to pray thus, “O Lord, deliver me at the great day from that killing word DEPART.”
“This word depart, the goats with horror hears;
But this word come, the sheep to joy appears.”
Basil says, “That the alienation and utter separation from God is more grievous than the pains of hell.” Chrysostom says that “the torments of a thousand hells, if there were so many, comes far short of this one—to be turned out of God’s presence with an, I know you not!” What a grief were it here to be banished from the king’s court with Absalom, or to be turned out of doors with Hagar and Ishmael, or to be cast out of God’s presence with cursed Cain! But what is all this, compared to a man’s being excommunicated, and forever cast out of the presence of God? To be secluded from the presence of God is of all miseries the greatest, Heb. 12:22-23. The serious thoughts of this made one say, “Many do abhor hell—but I esteem the fall from eternal glory to be a greater punishment than hell itself; it is better to endure ten thousand thunder-claps than be deprived of the beatifical vision.” Certainly the tears of hell are not sufficient to bewail the loss of heaven! If those precious souls wept because they should see Paul’s face no more, Acts 20:38, how deplorable is the eternal deprivation of the beatifical vision! “Depart from me,” is the first and worst of that dreadful sentence which Christ shall pass upon the ungodly at last. Every syllable sounds horror and terror, grief and sorrow, dread and astonishment to all whom it concerns.
Here is imprecation—”You who are cursed!” “But Lord, if we must depart, let us depart blessed!” “No! Depart–you who are cursed!” You have cursed others, and now you shall be cursed yourselves; you shall be cursed in your bodies, and cursed in your souls; you shall be cursed by God, and cursed by Christ, and cursed by angels, and cursed by saints, and cursed by devils, and cursed by your wicked companions. Yes, you shall now curse your very selves, your very souls, that ever you have despised the gospel, refused the offers of grace, scorned Christ, and neglected the means of your salvation! O sinners, sinners, all your curses, all your maledictions shall at last recoil upon your own souls! Now you curse every man and thing which stands in the way of your lusts, and which cross your designs; but at last all the curses of heaven and hell shall meet in their full power and force upon you! Surely that man is eternally cursed, who is cursed by Christ himself! [Cursings now are wicked men’s hymns; but in hell they shall be their woes! Rev. 16:9, 11, 21.]
“But, Lord, if we must depart, and depart cursed, oh let us go into some good place!” No! Depart into the eternal fire!” [“Of this fire you had need of some devil or accursed wretch to describe,” says one.] There is the vengeance and continuance of it. You shall go into fire, into eternal fire, which shall neither consume itself, nor consume you. The eternity of hell, is the hell of hell. The fire in hell is like that stone in Arcadia, which being once kindled, could never be quenched. If all the fires that ever were in the world were contracted into one fire, how terrible would it be! Yet such a fire would be but as a ‘painted fire’ upon the wall, compared to the fire of hell. It is a very sad spectacle to behold a malefactor’s body consumed little by little in a lingering fire. But ah, how sad, how dreadful, would it be to experience what it is to lie in unquenchable fire, not for a day, a month, or a year, or a hundred or a thousand years—but forever and ever! “If it were,” says Cyril, “but for a thousand years, I could bear it; but seeing it is for eternity, this frightens and horrifies me!” “I am afraid of hell,” says Isidore, “because the worm there never dies, and the fire never goes out!” For to be tormented without end, this is that which goes beyond all the bounds of desperation. Grievous is the torment of the damned for the bitterness of the punishments; but more grievous for the diversity of the punishments; but most grievous for the eternity of the punishments!
To lie in everlasting torments, to roar forever in anguish of heart, to rage forever for madness of soul, to weep, and grieve, and gnash the teeth forever—is a misery beyond all expression! Mat. 25:46. Bellarmine tells of a learned man who, after his death, appeared to his friend complaining that he was adjudged to hell-torments, “which,” says he, “were they to last but a thousand thousand years, I would think it tolerable; but, alas—they are eternal!”
And it is called “eternal fire,” Jude 7. I have read of a prison among the Persians which was deep, and wide, and dark, and out of which the prisoners could never get, and therefore it was called by them Lethe, Forgetfulness: this prison was a paradise, compared to hell. Mark, everything that is conducible to the torments of the damned is eternal.
(1.) God who damns them is eternal, Isaiah 33:14; Romans 16:26.
(2.) The fire which torments them is eternal, Isaiah 30:33, and 66:24; Jude 7. [1 Pet. 3:19. Lucian says that it was the common opinion among them that the wicked were held in chains by Pluto, (so they call the prince of devils,) in chains, which cannot be loosed.]
(3.) The prison and chains which hold them are eternal, Jude 6-7, 13; 2 Pet. 2:17.
(4.) The worm which gnaws them is eternal, Mark 9:44. Melanchthon calls it a hellish fury.
(5.) The sentence which shall be passed upon them shall be eternal, Mat. 25:41-42.
The fire of hell is called a burning lake: Rev. 20:15, “Whoever was not found written in the book of life, was cast into the lake of fire.” You all know that fire is the most tormenting element. Oh the most dreadful impressions which fire makes upon the flesh!
It is disputed among many of the learned whether there is material fire in hell or not. That it is very probable that there is material fire in hell, and that it is most dreadful, may be thus evidenced—
[1.] First, The fire of hell is frequently mentioned in the blessed Scripture. “Whoever shall say to his brother, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell-fire.” At the day of judgment the tares are burnt in the fire, Mat. 13:40. Into this fire offending members are cast, Mat. 18:18-19. To this everlasting fire the goats are adjudged, Mat. 25:41. In this fire those who worship the beast are tormented, Rev. 14:10. And the Sodomites at this very day suffer the vengeance of eternal fire, Jude 7. Into this fire shall all barren and unfruitful professors be cast: Mat. 3:10, “And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees, therefore every tree which brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” Mere morality will never secure a man either from the axe or from the fire. Yes, every man and woman under heaven, who lives and dies outside of Christ, and who are never entered into a marriage union with Christ—they shall all be cast into this fire! John 15:6, “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch that is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” Thus you see how the Scripture runs. You know that it is safest for us to adhere to the very letter of the Scripture, unless evident and necessary occasion draws us away from a literal interpretation of it. But,
[2.] Secondly, To this fire is ascribed sulphur, flames, wood. “Topheth has long been prepared; it has been made ready for the king. Its fire pit has been made deep and wide, with an abundance of fire and wood; the breath of the Lord, like a stream of burning sulfur, sets it ablaze.” Isaiah 30:33. Tophet is an allusion to hell; those dreadful shrieks and yellings of those children who were sacrificed there, are but faint representations of the pains and miseries of the damned. Now he shall be an Apollo to me, who can show me where the Lord in his word gives such properties to immaterial fire which are here given in the text. But yet remember this—that that God that makes the damned live without food, is able to maintain this fire without wood! But,
[3.] Thirdly, Fire is the most furious of all elements, and therefore the bodies of men cannot be more exquisitely tormented than with fire. [Water can only kill—but fire does vex, terrify, and torment in killing!] The bodies which sinned on earth shall be punished and tormented in hell. Now what can be more grievous and vexatious, more afflicting and tormenting to the bodies of men, than material fire? Bilney the martyr could not endure to hold his finger in the flame of a candle for a little while, for a quarter of an hour, though he tried to do it before he burnt at the stake. Oh, then, how will the bodies of men endure to dwell in unquenchable fire, to dwell in everlasting burnings! The brick-kilns of Egypt, the furnace of Babylon—are but as a spark, compared to this tormenting Tophet, that has been prepared of old to punish the bodies of sinners with. But,
[4.] Fourthly, Several of the fathers and schools generally agree that the fire which shall torment the wicked in hell shall be material fire; but yet they say that this material fire shall amazingly exceed ours, both in degree of heat and fierceness of burning. Our earthly fire is no more to be compared with the fire of hell, than fire painted upon the wall, is to be compared with fire burning in our furnaces!
OBJECTION: But if it be material fire, then it may be quenched; besides, we see by common experience that material fire in a short time will consume and spend itself. Neither can we see how material fire can make impressions upon spirits, as the devils and souls of men are.
[1.] First, Do not we find that the bush burned and was not consumed? Exod. 3:2-3. Though all clothes by daily experience wax old—yet when the Israelites were in their wilderness condition, their clothes did not wear out: Deut. 8:4, “Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years.” Neh. 9:21, “For forty years you sustained them in the desert; they lacked nothing, their clothes did not wear out nor did their feet become swollen.” Their clothes were never the worse for wearing. God by his almighty power kept their clothes from wearing out for these forty years. Just so, God by his almighty power can keep the fire of hell unquenchable. But,
[2.] Secondly, Such as thus object—they draw things according to their own scant reason, which will be of dangerous consequence both to themselves and others. Certainly such as go about to make the fire of hell only spiritual fire, they go about to make it no fire at all; but a spiritual fire is greater than a natural fire. But,
[3.] Thirdly, We see in this life that bodily tortures work upon the sprits in the same bodies—why may it not be so in hell? Do not men by their daily experience find that their souls are frequently afflicted in and under physical distempers, diseases, and weaknesses? Doubtless God can by his almighty power infuse such power into material fire as to make it the instrument of his dreadful wrath and vengeance, to plague, punish, scorch, and burn the souls of damned sinners!
Bodies and souls are co-partners in the same sins—and therefore God may make them co-partners in the same punishments! Every creature is such as the great God will have it to be, and commands it to be; and therefore if the Lord shall lay a command upon the fire of hell to reach and burn the souls of damned sinners—it shall certainly do it! God is the God of nature as well as the God of grace; and therefore I can see how the fire of hell can be said now to act against its own nature, when it does but act according to the will and command of the God of nature. I readily grant that if you consider fire in itself, or in its own nature—it cannot have any power on such a spiritual substance as the soul of man is. But if you consider fire as an instrument in an almighty hand—it can act upon such spiritual beings as devils and damned souls are, and make the same dreadful and painful impressions upon them, as it would do upon physical beings!
Though spirits have nothing material in their nature which that infernal fire should work upon—yet such is the almighty power of God that he can make spirits most sensible of those fiery tortures and torments which he has declared and appointed for them to undergo. “Let them tell us,” says Jackson, “how it is possible that the soul of man, which is an immortal substance, should be truly wedded to the body or material substance—and I shall as easily answer them, that it is as possible for the same soul to be as easily wrought upon by a material fire.”
It is much disputed and controverted among the schoolmen how the devils can be tormented with physical fire, seeing they are spirits; and, as I suppose, it is well concluded of them thus—
1. First, That in hell there is physical fire, as appears thus: Because the Scripture affirms it, Mat. 3:10, 5:22, and 25:41. Because the bodies sinning against God are to be vexed and tormented with physical pains.
2. Secondly, They conclude that the devils are tormented in that fire because Christ says so: Mat. 25:41, “Depart from me, you cursed, into eternal fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.”
3. Thirdly, It being demanded, “How the devils are tormented in that fire?” They are tormented, not only with the sight of hell-fire; or with a fearful apprehension of hell-fire; but as an instrument ordained of God for punishment, for hell is a fiery region, or a region of fire. Therefore the devils being contained and included therein, must needs be tormented thereby. None must question this truth—that souls and spirits are punished by fire, seeing our Savior himself tells us that Dives, who was in hell but in soul, was tormented in the flames, Luke 16:24. But,
[4.] Fourthly, It is not safe to leave the plain letter of the Scripture to allegorize. Allegories are not to be admitted but where the Scripture itself does warrant them; and commonly where an allegory is propounded, there it is also expounded. As in Gal. 4:24, “Which things are an allegory; for these are the two testaments.” But,
[5.] Fifthly and lastly, I cannot tell but that the fire by which the damned shall be punished, may be partly material, and partly spiritual; partly material, to work upon the body, and partly spiritual, to torment the soul. The fire of hell in not a consuming fire—but a torturing fire; and so far as it is physical—it torments the body; and so far spiritual—it torments the soul.
Says Bolton, “You may imagine that there is no real fire in hell. Yet I assure you this—that you shall be scorched with fire; the fire of God’s wrath shall torment you more than physical fire can do! Therefore it will be your wisdom not so much to question this or that about hell-fire—as to make it your prime concern not to go there!”
Bernard gave good counsel who said, “Let us go down to hell while we are alive—that we may not go to hell when we are dead!” And so did Chrysostom who, speaking of hell, said, “Let us not seek to figure out where it is—but how we shall avoid it!” The same author gives this further counsel—namely, “That at all banquets, feasts, and public meetings, people should talk of hellish pains and torments, so that their hearts may be overawed, and they provoked to avoid them and secure themselves against them!” Surely, the serious thoughts of hellish pain while men live, is one blessed way to keep them from going into those torments after they die! Another gives this pious counsel, “Let us earnestly importune the Lord, that this knowledge, whether the fire of hell be material or not, be never manifested to us by experience.” It is infinitely better to endeavor the avoiding hell-fire, than curiously to dispute about it. Look! as there is nothing more grievous than hell—so there is nothing more profitable than the fear of hell.
OBJECTION. But what difference is there between our common fire, and hell-fire?
I answer, a mighty difference, a vast difference. Take it in these seven particulars—
[1.] First, They differ in their heat. No heart can conceive, nor any tongue can express the exquisite heat of infernal fire. Were all the fires on earth contracted into one fire; yes, were all the coals, wood, oil, flax, pitch, tar, brimstone, and all other combustibles in the world contracted into one flame, into one fire—yet one spark of infernal fire would be more hot, violent, dreadful, amazing, astonishing, raging, and tormenting—than all that fire that is supposedly made up of all the combustibles the earth affords! To man’s sense, there is nothing more dreadful and afflictive than fire; and of all fires, there is none so scalding and tormenting as that of brimstone. Now in that lake which burns with fire and brimstone forever and ever, shall the wicked of the earth be cast. [Rev. 14:10, and 21:8.]
Infernal fire far exceeds our earthly fires—in degree of heat and fierceness of burning. Our fire has not that dreadful power to scorch, burn, torment, as the fire of hell has. “Our fire,” as Polycarpus and others say, “compared to hell-fire, is but like painted fire upon the wall.” Now you know a painted fire upon the wall will not hurt you, nor burn, nor affright you, nor torment you; but the fire of hell will, beyond all your conception and expression, hurt, burn, affright, and torment you! The fire of hell, for degrees of heat, and fierceness of burning—must greatly surpass our most furious fires, because it is purposely created by God to torment the creature, whereas our ordinary fire was created by God only for the comfort of the creature. “The greatest and the hottest fires that ever were on earth, are but ice in comparison of the fire of hell.”
[2.] Secondly, There are unexpressible torments in hell, as well as unspeakable joys in heaven. Some that write of purgatory, tell us that the pains thereof are more exquisite, though of shorter continuance, than the united torments that the earth can invent, though of longer duration. If the pope’s kitchen is so warm, how hot is the devil’s furnace? A poetical fiction is but an understatement, when brought to show the nature of these real torments. The lashes of furies are but petty scourgings, when compared to the stripes of a wounded conscience. Tytius’ vulture, though feeding on his liver, is but a flea-biting, compared to that worm which gnaws their hearts and dies not. Ixion’s wheel is a place of rest, if compared with those billows of wrath, and that wheel of justice, which in hell is brought over the ungodly. The task of Danaus’ daughter is but a sport, compared to the tortures of those whose souls are filled with bitterness, and within whom are the arrows of the Almighty—the poison whereof does drink up their spirits.
Hell is called a furnace of fire, which speaks intolerable heat. Hell is also called a place of torment, which speaks a total privation of ease. Hell is also called a prison, which speaks restraint, Mat. 13:42; Luke 16:28; Mat. 5:22-25. Hell is also called Gehenna, from the valley of Hinnom, where the unnatural parents sacrificed the fruit of their bodies for the sin of their souls to their merciless idols. Hell is also called a lake of fire and brimstone; the torment of the fire—what more acute? the smell of the brimstone—what more noisome? But,
[3.] Thirdly, Our fire is made by the hand of man, and must be maintained by continual supplies of fuel. Take away the coals, the wood, the combustible matter—and the fire goes out. But the infernal fire is created, and tempered, and blown by the hand of an angry, sin-revenging God! Isa. 30:33, “Topheth has long been prepared; it has been made ready for the king. Its fire pit has been made deep and wide, with an abundance of fire and wood; the breath of the Lord, like a stream of burning brimstone, sets it ablaze!” and therefore the breath of all the reprobates in hell shall never be able to blow it out. [A river of brimstone is never consumed by burning.] Our fire is blown by an airy breath—but the infernal fire is blown by the angry breath of the great God—which burns far hotter than ten thousand thousand rivers of brimstone! The breath of God’s mouth shall be both bellows and fuel to the infernal fire; and therefore, oh how dreadful and torturing, how fierce and raging will that fire be!
If but three drops of brimstone should fall upon any part of the flesh of a man, it would fill him so full of torment, that he would not be able to forbear roaring out for pain and anguish. Oh how dreadful and painful will it be then, for damned sinners to swim up and down in a lake or river of fire and brimstone forever and ever! Oh, what a dreadful, what an amazing, what an astonishing fire must that needs be, which is blown by God’s breath, dissolved into brimstone! God’s wrath and indignation shall be an everlasting supply to hell’s conflagration. Ah sinners, how fearful, how formidable, how inconceivable will this infernal fire prove! Surely there is no misery, no torment, compared to that of lying in a torrent of burning brimstone forever and ever!
Mark, this infernal fire is a fire prepared by God himself, to punish and torment all impenitent people and reprobate rebels, who scorned to submit to the scepter of Christ. “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels,” Mat. 25:41. The wisdom of God has been much exercised in preparing and devising the most tormenting temper for that formidable fire, in which the devil and his angels shall be punished forever and ever. Not as if it were not prepared also for wicked and ungodly men; but it is said to be prepared for the devil and his angels, because it was firstly and chiefly prepared for them. All impenitent sinners shall have the devil and his demons for their constant companions; and therefore they shall be sure to share with them in the extremity and eternity of their torments. But,
[4.] Fourthly, Our fire when it burns it shines, it casts a light. Our fire burns, and in burning shines; light is a natural property of our common fire—but the infernal fire of hell shines not. Yet our ordinary fire, has light as well as heat in it—and that is our comfort. But the fire of hell burns—but it does not shine, it gives no light at all. Infernal fire has no light or brightness attending of it, and therefore Christ calls it “utter darkness,” or outer darkness, that is, darkness beyond a darkness. “Cast the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 25:30
I have read of a young man who was very loose and vain in his life, and was very fearful of being in the dark, who, after falling sick and could not sleep, cried out, “Oh, if this darkness is so dreadful, what is eternal darkness?” Hell would not be so uncomfortable a prison if it were not so dark a prison. [Basil speaking of hell-fire, says, “It retains the property of burning: but it has lost the property of shining.”]
Light is a blessing that shall never shine into that infernal prison. In Jude verse 6, you read of “chains of darkness.” It would be a little ease, a little comfort, to the damned in hell, if they might have but light and liberty to walk up and down the infernal coasts; but this is too high a favor for them to enjoy, and therefore they shall be shackled and fettered down in chains of darkness, and in blackness of darkness, so that they may fully undergo the scorchings and burnings of divine wrath and fury forever and ever.
In verse 13 you thus read, “To whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.” The words are a Hebraism, and signify exceeding great darkness. Hell is a very dark and dismal region, and extreme are the miseries, horrors, and torments which are there. The poets described the darkness of hell by the Cimmerian darkness. There was a territory in Italy, where the Cimmerii live, which was so environed with hills and mountains, that the sun never shines on it. The darkness of Egypt was such a strong and horrid thick darkness, that it was palpable, it might be felt. “Even darkness which may be felt,” Exod. 10:21. [The words are figurative, importing extraordinary black darkness.] The darkness that is here threatened is called “darkness that may be felt,” either by way of a hyperbole, to signify what an exceeding great darkness it would be; or else because the air should be so thickened with gross mists and thick foggy vapors, that it might be felt; or else because this extraordinary darkness should be caused by a withdrawing of the light of the celestial bodies, or by drawing a thick curtain of very black clouds between men’s eyes and them. Yet this horrid darkness was nothing to the darkness of hell. The darkness of Egypt was but as an overcasting for three days. Exod. 10:22-23, “Total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. No one could see anyone else or leave his place for three days.” For three days they were deprived not only of the natural lights and lamps of heaven—but of all artificial light also. It is possible that the vapors might be so thick and moist as to put out their candles, and all other lights that were kindled by them. It is probable that they had neither light from sun, moon, or stars above, nor yet from fire or candle below; so that they were as blind men who could not see at all, and as lame men who could not move from their places; and so they sat still as under the arrest of this darkness, because they could not see what to do, nor where to go. God would teach them the worth of light, by the lack of it.
Some think that by that dreadful judgment of thick darkness, they were filled with that terror and horror, that they dared not so much as move from the places where they sat down. But after these three days of darkness were over, the Egyptians enjoyed the glorious light of the sun again. Oh—but sinners, when they are in hell, when they are in chains of darkness, when they are in blackness of darkness, they shall never more see light! Hell is a house without light. Though our fire has light as well as heat—yet the infernal fire has only heat to burn sinners; it has no light to refresh sinners; and this will be no small addition to their torment. A philosopher being asked, whether it were not a pleasant thing to behold the sun? answered, that that was a blind man’s question. Surely life without light is but a lifeless life. But,
[5.] Fifthly, Our fire burns and consumes only the body, it can neither reach nor torment, the precious and immortal soul. But infernal fire burns and torments both body and soul. Now the soul of pain—is the pain of the soul. Mat. 10:28, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” If the glutton in the historical parable, who had but one half of himself in hell, namely, his soul, Luke 16:24, cried out that he was horribly tormented in that flame; what tongue can express or heart conceive—how great the damned’s torments shall be in hell, when their bodies and souls in the great day shall be reunited for torture?
Beloved, it is a just and righteous thing with God, that such bodies and souls which have sinned impenitently together should be tormented everlastingly together. To this purpose, the Hebrew doctors have a very pretty parable, namely— That a man planted an orchard, and, going from home, was careful to leave such watchmen as might both keep it from strangers and not deceive him themselves; therefore he appointed one blind—but strong of his limbs, and the other seeing—but a cripple. These two in their master’s absence conspired together, and the blind took the lame on his shoulders, and so gathered the fruit; their master returning and finding out this subtlety, punished them both together. Now so shall it be with those two sinful companions—the soul and the body, in the great day of our Lord, 2 Cor. 5:10; 2 Thes. 1:7-10. With Simeon and Levi they have been brethren in iniquity, and so shall be in eternal misery. As body and soul have been one in sinning, so they shall be one in suffering; only remember this—that as the soul has been chief in sin, so it shall be chief in suffering. But, O sirs! if a consumable body is not able to endure burning flames for a day, how will an unconsumable soul and body be able to endure the scorching flames of hell forever? But,
[6.] Sixthly, Our earthly fire destroys and consumes whatever is cast into it. It turns flesh into ashes, it turns all combustibles into ashes. But the fire of hell is not of that nature. The fire of hell consumes nothing which is cast into it. It rages—but it does not consume or destroy either bodies or souls. Look! as the salamander is said to live in the fire, so shall the wicked live in the fire of hell forever. “They shall seek for death—but they shall not find it,” Rev. 9:6. They shall desire to die, and death shall fly from them. They shall cry to the mountains to fall upon them and to crush them to nothing, Rev. 6:16-17. They shall desire that the fire which burns them—would consume them to nothing! They shall desire that the worm which feeds on them would gnaw them to nothing! They shall desire that the devils which torment them would tear them to nothing! Mark 9:44, 46, 48. They shall cry to God, who first made them out of nothing, Gen. 1:26, to reduce them to that first nothing from whence they came; but “their Maker has no compassion on them, and their Creator shows them no favor.” Isaiah 27:11. They shall always be burned—but never consumed.
Ah, how well would it be with the damned, if in the fire of hell, they might be consumed to ashes! But this is their misery—they shall be ever dying, and yet never die; their bodies shall be always a-burning—but never a-consuming! It is dreadful to be perpetual fuel to the flames of hell! What misery can compare to this—for infernal fire to be still a-preying upon damned sinners, and yet never making an end of them! The two hundred and fifty men who usurped the priest’s office were consumed by the fire which came out armed from the Lord against them, Num. 16:35. And the fire that Elijah, by an extraordinary spirit of prayer, brought down from heaven upon the two captains and their fifties, consumed them, 2 Kings 1:10, 12. The fierce and furious flames of hell shall burn—but never annihilate, the bodies of the damned. In hell there is no cessation of fire burning, nor of matter burned. [Hell torments punish, but not finish the bodies of men.—Prosper.] Neither flames nor smoke shall consume or choke the impenitent; both the infernal fire, and the burning of the bodies of reprobates in that fire, shall be preserved by the miraculous power and providence of God. The soul through pain and corruption will lose its happy being; but it will not lose its essential life or being. But,
[7.] Seventhly and lastly, Our earthly fires may be quenched and extinguished. The hottest flames, the greatest conflagrations have been quenched and extinguished by water. Fires on our hearths and in our chimneys often die and go out by themselves. Our fire is maintained with wood, and put out with water; but the fire of hell never goes out, it can never be quenched. It is an everlasting fire, an eternal fire, an unquenchable fire. In Mark 9 from verse 43 to verse 49, this fire is five times said to be unquenchable, as if the Lord could never speak enough of it. Beloved, the Holy Spirit is never guilty of idle repetitions; but by these frequent repetitions the Holy Spirit would awaken men, and teach them to look upon hell as a real thing, and as a serious thing, and not sport with unquenchable flames, nor go to hell in a dream! Certainly the fire into which the damned shall be cast shall be without all intermission of time or punishment. No tears, nor blood, nor time—can extinguish the fire of hell. Could every damned sinner weep a whole ocean—yet all those oceans of tears together, would never extinguish one spark of infernal fire! The damned are in everlasting chains of darkness; they are under the “vengeance of eternal fire,” Jude 7; they are “in blackness of darkness forever.” “The smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever, and they shall have no rest day nor night,” Rev. 14:11. “They will be tormented day and night forever and ever!” Revelation 20:10.
Said a poor despairing creature on his deathbed, “Oh, that word ‘forever’—breaks my heart!” The damned in hell would gladly die—but they cannot. They shall be always a-dying—yet never dead; they shall be always a-consuming—yet never consumed. “The smoke of their torment rises forever and ever!” Revelation 14:11. “They shall be everlastingly punished,” says Mollerus on Psalm 9:17. And Musculus on the same text says, “The souls of the ungodly shall be punished in hell with deserved torments.” “Myriads of years shall not determine or put a period to their sufferings,” says Augustine. Plato could say that “the profane shall go into hell to be tormented for their wickedness with the greatest, the most bitter, and dreadful punishments forever in that prison of hell.” And Trismegistus could say, that “souls going out of the body defiled, were tossed to and fro with eternal punishments.” Yes, the very Turks, speaking of the house of perdition, do affirm, that “those who have turned God’s grace into wantonness, shall abide eternally in the fire of hell, and there be eternally tormented.”
A certain religious man going to visit Olympius, who lived cloistered up in a monastery near Jordan, and finding him cloistered up in a dark cell, which he thought uninhabitable by reason of the heat and swarms of gnats and flies, and asking him how he could endure to live in such a place, he answered, “All this is but a light matter, that I may escape eternal torments! I can endure the stinging of gnats, that I might not endure the stinging of conscience and the gnawing of that worm which never dies! You think this heat is grievous—but I can easily endure it, when I think of the eternal fire of hell. My sufferings are but short—but the sufferings of hell are eternal!”
Certainly infernal fire is neither tolerable nor terminable. The extremity and eternity of hellish torments is set forth by the worm which never dies. Christ at the close of his sermon makes a threefold repetition of this worm in Mark 9:44, “Where their worm does not die—and the fire is not quenched!” and again, verse 46, “Where their worm does not die—and the fire is not quenched!” and again, verse 48, “Where their worm does not die—and the fire is not quenched!” Certainly those punishments are beyond all conception and expression, which our Lord Jesus does so often inculcate within so small a space.
“In hell there ‘s nothing heard but yells and cries;
In hell the fire never slacks, nor worm ever dies.
But where this hell is placed, my muse, stop there.
Lord, show me what it is—but never where!”
If after so many millions of years as there are drops in the ocean, there might be a deliverance out of hell, this would yield a little ease, a little comfort to the damned. Oh but this word, “Eternity! Eternity! Eternity!” This word, “Everlasting! Everlasting! Everlasting!” will break the hearts of the damned in ten thousand pieces!
There is scarcely any pain or torment here on earth—but there is ever some hope of ease, mitigation, or intermission, there is some hope of relief or delivery. But in hell, the torments there are all easeless, remediless, and endless! Here on earth, if one falls into the fire, he may like a brand be pulled out of it and be saved; but out of that fiery lake of hell-fire, there is no redemption. That majesty of God, which the sinner has offended and provoked—is an infinite majesty. Now, there must be some proportion between the sinner’s sin—and his punishment and torment. Now the sinner being a finite creature, he is not capable of bearing the weight of that punishment or torment which is intensively infinite, because it would be his abolishing or annihilating; and therefore he must bear the weight of that punishment or torment, which is extensively infinite—that is, infinite in the continuance and endurance. What is lacking in torment, must be made up in time.
Everlasting fire and everlasting punishment in the New Testament is directly correlated to eternal life—to that blessed state of the righteous which will never have an end; and therefore, according to the rules and maxims of right reason, does necessarily import a punishment of the same duration that the reward is. Now the reward of the saints in that eternal world is granted on all hands to be everlasting, to be eternal; and therefore the punishment of the damned cannot be but everlasting and eternal too. The rewards of the elect shall never be ended; therefore the punishment of the damned shall never be ended—because as the mercy of God is infinite towards the elect, so the justice of God is infinite towards the reprobate in hell. The reprobate shall have punishment without pity, misery without mercy, sorrow without support, crying without compassion, mischief without measure, and torment without end, [Drexelius.]
All men in misery comfort themselves with the hope of an ending to their misery. The prisoner comforts himself with hope of a jail-delivery. The mariner comforts himself with the hope of his arrival in a safe harbor. The soldier comforts himself with hope of victory. The slave comforts himself with hope of liberty. But the impenitent sinner has no hope in hell! He shall have death without death, night without day, mourning without mirth, sorrow without solace, and bondage without liberty. The damned shall live as long in hell as God himself shall live in heaven! [“There is not a Christian which does not believe the fire of hell to be everlasting.” Jackson on the Creed.]
Their imprisonment in that land of darkness, in that bottomless pit, is not a temporary imprisonment—but an imprisonment during the everlasting displeasure of the King of kings!
Suppose, say some, that the whole world were turned to a mountain of sand, and that a little bird should come every thousandth year and carry away one grain of sand from that heap; what an infinite number of years, not to be numbered by all finite beings, would be spent and expired before this supposed mountain would be fetched away! Now if a man should lie in everlasting burnings so long a time as this—and then have an end of his woe—it would administer some ease, refreshment, and comfort to him. But when that immortal bird shall have carried away this supposed mountain a thousand times over and over; alas! alas! man shall be as far from the end of his anguish and torment as ever he was! He shall be no nearer coming out of hell than he was the very first moment that he entered into hell.
If the fire of hell were terminable, it might then be tolerable; but being endless, it must needs be easeless and remediless! We may well say of it, as one does, “Oh killing life! oh immortal death!”
Suppose, say others, that a man were to endure the torments of hell as many years, and no more, as there are sands on the sea-shore, drops of water in the sea, stars in heaven, leaves on the trees, blades of grass on the ground, hairs on his head, yes, upon the heads of all the sons of Adam who ever were, or are, or shall be in the world, from the beginning of it to the end of it; yet he would comfort himself with this poor thought, “Well, there will come a day when my misery and torment shall certainly have an end!” But woe and alas! this word “Forever! Forever! Forever!” will fill the hearts of the damned with the greatest horror and terror, wrath and rage, dread and astonishment!
Suppose, say others, that the torments of hell were to end after a little bird should have emptied the sea, and only carry out in her bill, but one drop once in a thousand years—and so continue until the whole ocean was taken away.
Suppose, say others, that the whole world, from the lowest earth to the highest heavens, were filled with grains of sand, and once in a thousand years an angel should come and fetch away one grain of sand—and so continue until the whole heap were taken away.
Suppose, say others, if one of the damned in hell should weep after this manner—namely, that he should only weep one tear in a hundred years, and these should be kept together until such time as they should equal the drops of water in the sea. How many millions of ages would pass, before they could make up one river, much more a whole sea! And when that were done, should he weep again after the same manner until he had filled a second sea, a third sea, a fourth sea—if then there should be an end of their miseries, there would be some hope, some comfort that they would end at last! But hell shall never, never, never end! The eternity of hell—is that which sinks them under the most tormenting terrors and horrors!
Drexelius makes this observation from the words of our Savior, John 15:6, “If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned,” where he observes that the words do not run in the future tense—he shall be cast forth, and shall be cast into the fire, and burned; but all in the present tense—he is thrown away, is withered; are thrown into the fire, and they are burned. This, says he, is the state and condition of the damned; they are burned—that is, they are always burning. When a thousand years are past, as it was at first, so it is still—they are burned; after a thousand thousand years more, as it was before, so it is still—they are burned. If after millions of years, the question was asked concerning those is hell, “What is now their state and condition? What are they doing? What are they suffering? How does it fare with them?” There can be no other answer returned but they are burned, continually and eternally burning!
Socinians say there will come a time when the fallen angels and the wickedest men shall be freed from infernal torments; and Origen held and taught that not only impenitent people—and even devils, after the term of a thousand years, would be released out of hell, and become as bright angels in heaven as they were before. But these dangerous fancies and ungrounded opinions fall flat before the clear evidence of those sad and serious truths that I have now offered to your consideration. And thus I have showed you the difference between our fire and hell-fire.
Now, O you citizens of London who truly fear the Lord, and who are united to Christ by faith, know for your everlasting comfort and support—that Christ has secured you from infernal fire, from everlasting fire, from unquenchable fire, from eternal fire, and from the worm which never dies, as you may see clearly and fully by comparing these scriptures together. [John 3:17-18, 36; Luke 1:68-71, 74; Romans 6:23, and 8:1, 31-35, 37; 1 Cor. 3:21-23, and 15:54-58; 1 Thes. 1:10; Rev. 20:5-6.]
Christ by his blood has quenched the violence of infernal flames—so that they shall never scorch you nor burn you, hurt you nor harm you!
Some say that Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace was a type of hell. Now look! As the three Hebrew children, or rather champions, had not one hair of their heads singed in that fiery furnace—just so, hell-fire shall never singe one hair of your heads! Your interest in Christ is a noble and sufficient security to you against the flames of hell. O sirs, Christ’s blood has so quenched the flames of hell—that they shall never be able to scorch or burn those souls who are saved by him. The effusion of Christ’s blood is so rich and available, says my author, that if the whole multitude of captive sinners would believe in their Redeemer, not one should be detained in the tyrant’s chains.
All those sins and spots which a Christian finds in his own heart, shall first or last be washed out in the Lamb! 1 John 1:7, “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all our sins.” Now such as are washed and cleansed from their sins in the blood of Jesus, such shall never experimentally know what everlasting burnings or a devouring fire means. Such as are washed in Christ’s blood–need no purifying by hell’s flames!
Pliny says of polium, that it is a preservative against serpents. However that may be, I am sure of this—that the blood of Christ is an effectual preservative against all infernal serpents and infernal torments! [The fable says a salamander cannot burn. Nero had a shirt made of a salamander’s skin, so that if he walked through the fire in it—it would keep him from burning. O sirs! Christ is the true salamander’s skin—which will certainly keep every gracious soul from burning in everlasting flames.]
You believing citizens, who have set up God as the object of your fear, and whose hearts are inflamed with love to Christ, know, for your everlasting refreshment, that Christ has freed you, and secured you from everlasting fire, from unquenchable fire, from eternal fire; and therefore bear up sweetly, bear up cheerfully under that fiery dispensation which has passed upon you. What is the burning of your houses and substance, compared to the burning of bodies and souls in hell? What was the fire of London, compared to infernal fire? What is a fire of four or five days’ continuance, compared to that everlasting fire, to that unquenchable fire, to that eternal fire that you have deserved, and that free grace has preserved you from? A frequent and serious consideration of hell-fire, as I have opened it unto you, and of your happy deliverance from it—may very well bear and cheer up your hearts under all your greatest sufferings by that dreadful fire, that has turned beloved London into a ruinous heap!
Sir, you have been a-discoursing about hellish torments; but, for the further clearing up of the truth, we desire your serious answer to this sad question—namely,
OBJECTION. How will it stand with the unspotted holiness, justice, and righteousness of God, to punish a temporary offence with eternal punishments? for the measure of the punishment should be but commensurate to the evil of sin. Now what proportion is there between our finite sins—and infinite punishment? Why should the sinner lie in hellish torments forever and ever—for sinning but a short time, a few years in this world?
ANSWER. I judge it very necessary to say something to this important question, before I come to discourse of those duties which are incumbent upon those citizens whose houses are turned into a ruinous heap; and therefore follow me thus—
[1.] First—God’s will is the rule of righteousness, and therefore what he does, or shall do, must needs be righteous. He is Lord of all; he has a sovereign right and an absolute supremacy over the creature. He is the only Potentate, King of kings, and Lord of lords; he is the Judge of the whole world; “And shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” 1 Tim. 1:15; Gen. 18:25. But,
[2.] Secondly, I answer—There is a principle in man to sin eternally; and therefore it is but just with God if he punishes him eternally. The duration of torment respects the disposition of the delinquent. If the sinner should live forever—he would dishonor God forever, and crucify the Lord of glory forever, and grieve the Spirit of grace forever, and transgress a righteous law forever; and therefore it is just with God to punish such sinners forever. If the sinner might live eternally—he would sin eternally; if he might live still, he would sin still. Though the sinner loses his life—yet he does not lose his will to sin. Sinners sin as much as they can, and as long as they can, and did not the grave put a stop to their lusts, their hearts would never put a stop to their lusts. The sinner sins in his eternity—and God punishes in his eternity. The sinner never loses his will to sin. His will to sin is everlasting; and therefore it is but just with God that his punishment should be everlasting. A will to sin, is sin—in God’s account. God looks more at the will than at the deed; and therefore the will to sin being lasting, the punishment must be so. The mind and intention of the sinner is to sin everlastingly, eternally. If the sinner should live always, he would sin always; and therefore as Gregory says, “Because the mind of man in this life would never be without sin, it is just that it should never be without punishment in the life to come.”
Many of the men of the old world lived eight or nine hundred years, and yet faith and repentance was hidden from their eyes: that patience, forbearance, long-suffering, gentleness, and goodness of God—which should have led them to a speedy repentance, 1 Pet. 3:20, to a serious repentance, to a thorough repentance, to that repentance that was never to be repented of—was only made use of to patronize their lewdness and wickedness. [“The sinner always sinned in his eternity, therefore he shall always be punished in God’s eternity.” Augustine.]
This is certain—wicked men left to themselves will never be weary of their sins, nor ever repent of their sins; and therefore God will never be weary of plaguing them, nor ever repent of punishing them. The sinner never leaves his sin until sin first leaves him. Did not death put a stop to his sin—he would never cease from sin.
This may be illustrated by a similitude thus—A company of gamesters resolve to play all night, and accordingly they sit down to chess, cards, or some other game; their candle accidentally or unexpectedly goes out, or is put out, or burnt out; their candle being out, they are forced to give up their game, and go to bed in the dark; but had the candle lasted all night they would have played all night. This is every sinner’s case in regard of sin: did not death put out the candle of life the sinner would sin still. Should the sinner live for ever, he would sin forever; and therefore it is a righteous thing with God to punish him forever in hellish torments. Every impenitent sinner would sin to the days of eternity, if he might but live to the days of eternity: Psalm 74:10, “O God, how long shall the adversary reproach? shall the enemy blaspheme your name forever?” Forever and evermore; or forever and yet—for so the Hebrew language loves to exaggerate: as if the sinner, the blasphemer, would set a term of duration longer than eternity to sin in. The psalmist implicitly says, “Lord, if you do but let them alone for ever, they will certainly blaspheme your name forever and ever.” I have read of the crocodile, that he he is always growing bigger and bigger, and never comes to a certain pitch of monstrosity so long as he lives. Every habituated sinner would, if he were let alone, be such a monster, perpetually growing worser and worser! But,
[3.] Thirdly, I answer—That God against whom they have sinned is an infinite and eternal good. Now a finite creature cannot bear an infinite punishment intensively, and therefore he must bear it extensively. They have sinned impenitently against an infinite majesty, and accordingly their punishment must be infinite. [Sin is against an infinite majesty.] Now because it cannot be infinite, in regard of the degree, men being but finite creatures, and so not capable of infinite torments at one time; therefore their punishment must be infinite in the length and continuance of it. What is lacking in torment, must be made up in time.
Every sin is of an infinite nature, because of the infinite dignity of the person against whom it is committed; and therefore it deserves an infinite punishment. Because the punishment cannot be infinite in the greatness of it, it remains that it should be infinite in respect of its duration and continuance. Mark, all punishments ought to be levied, according to the dignity of him against whom the offence is committed. Words against common people bear but common actions; words against noblemen are great scandals; but words against princes are treason. Just so, the dignity of the person against whom sin is committed, does exceedingly aggravate the sin. To strike an inferior man is matter of arrest—but to strike a king is matter of death. Now what an infinite distance and disproportion is there between the Lord Almighty—and such poor crawling worms as we are! God is holiness—and we sinfulness! God is fullness—and we emptiness! God is omnipotency—and we impotency! God is majesty—and we vanity! God is all in all—and we nothing at all. Now to sin against such an infinite glorious majesty, deserves infinite punishment! But,
[4.] Fourthly, I answer—Though the act of sin is transient—yet it leaves such a stain upon the soul as is permanent, and continues in it evermore, and evermore it disposes the sinner unto sin, if it is not pardoned and purged out by mercy and grace; and therefore it is but just that this perpetual purpose of sinning should be punished with perpetuity of pain. [As long as the guilt of sin remains, punishments and torments will remain.] The guilt and stain of sin, of its own nature and unpardoned, endures eternally upon the soul; and therefore what can follow but eternal torments? The lasting continuance of sin is remarkably described by the prophet Jeremiah, chapter 17:1, “The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond: it is engraved upon the table of their hearts:” not only written—but engraved, that no hand can deface it. Slight not the commission of any sin; it perishes not with the acting. The least vanity has a perpetuity, nay, an eternity of guilt upon it. Sin leaving an eternal blot in the soul, brings the matter of hell-fire, is eternally punished, because there is still matter for that everlasting fire to work upon. But,
[5.] Fifthly, I answer—Though death put an end to men’s lives—yet not to sins. Hell is as full of sin, as it is of punishment or torment. Those in hell continue to sin; and are under obligation to the precepts of the law still. Though a man be bound only to the curse of the law, as he is a sinner—yet he is bound to the precept of the law, as he is a creature. The nature of sin remains; as they continue sinning, so it is just with God there should be a continuation of the punishment already inflicted. But,
[6.] Sixthly, I answer—It is no injustice in God to punish temporal offences with perpetual torments. God measures the punishment by the greatness of the offence, and not by the time wherein the sin was acted. Murder, adultery, sacrilege, treason, and the like capital crimes—are doomed in the judicatories of men to death without mercy, and sometimes to perpetual imprisonment, or to perpetual banishment; and yet these high offences were committed and done in a short time. Now this bears a proportion with eternal torments. O sirs, if the offences committed against God are infinitely heinous, why may not the punishment be infinitely lasting? “Sinners’ offences,” as Austin well observes, “are not to be measured by the length of time wherein they were done—but by the foulness of the crime.” And if so, then God is just in binding the sinner in everlasting chains.
We must remember that God is a great and a glorious God, and that he is an omniscient and an omnipotent God, and that he is a mighty, yes, an almighty God, and that he is a holy and a just God, and that he is an incomprehensible, transcendent, and very awesome God, and that he is an infinite, eternal, and independent God, Heb. 12:29-30. And we must remember that man is a shadow, a bubble, a vapor, a dream; a base, vile, sinful, worthless worm. Now these things being considered, must we not confess that eternity itself is too short a space for God to revenge himself on sinners in? But,
[7.] Seventhly and lastly, I answer—Sinners only receive that punishment, which they have chosen for themselves. While they lived under the means of grace, the God of grace set before them heaven and hell, glory and misery, eternal life and eternal death; so that if they eternally miscarry, they have none to blame but themselves, for choosing hell rather than heaven, misery rather than glory, and eternal death rather than eternal life. [Deut. 11:26-27, and 30:15; Heb. 2:2-3, and 10:28-29; John 3:14-17, 36, and 1:11.] Ah, how freely, how fully, how frequently, how graciously, how gloriously, has Christ been offered in the gospel to poor sinners—and yet they would not choose him, they would not close with him, they would not embrace him, nor accept of him, nor enter into a marriage covenant with him, nor resign themselves up to him, nor part with their lusts to enjoy him!
They would not come to Christ that they might have life; they slighted infinite mercy, and despised the riches of grace, and trod under foot the blood of the everlasting covenant, and scorned the offers of eternal salvation! Therefore it is but just that they should lie down in everlasting sorrows! John 5:40; Mat. 22:2-5; 2 Cor. 4:3-4. How can that sinner be saved, who continues to refuse salvation? How can mercy save him, who will not be saved by mercy? Yes—how can Christ save such a man, who will not be saved by him? All the world cannot save that man from going to hell, who is peremptorily resolved that he will not go to heaven! Sinners have boldly and daily refused eternal life, eternal mercy, eternal glory—and therefore it is but just that they should endure eternal misery. And let thus much suffice for answer to the objection.