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It is fit some bounds should be set to my perverse sinners. striving and waiting on such as abuse the day of my patience; and that merciful means and gracious calls should not be continued, without limits, to them that trample all means and mercies under foot, and turn a deaf ear to all calls and invitations, and treat them with constant contempt. Therefore I will fix a certain limit; I will set their bounds to one hundred and twenty years; when, if they repent not, I will put an end to all their lives, and with their lives shall be an end of my striving and waiting. This, which in Genesis is called God's spirit striving, is by the apostle Peter expressed by the waiting of the long-suffering of God; 1 Pet. iii. 20. But, according to the doctrine we are opposing, instead of God's striving and using means to bring those wicked men to repentance, and waiting in the use of striving and endeavours one hundred and twenty years, or to the end of their lives, and no longer; he has gone on still since that, for above four thousand years, striving with them in the use of more powerful means to bring them to repentance, and waiting on them, and will continue to do so for so long a time afterward, that the time is often called everlasting, and represented as enduring for ever and ever.
$9. Those words of Christ, "I must work the works of him that sent me while it is day, the night cometh wherein no man can work," (John ix. 4.) prove that there is no other day of trial after this life. Christ having undertaken for us, and taken on him our nature, and appearing in the form of a servant, and standing as our surety and representative, had a great work appointed him of God to do in this life for eternity. He could not obtain eternal life and happiness for himself any other way, than by doing that work in this life, which was the time of his probation for eternity, as well as ours. And therefore his words imply as much as if he had said, I must do that work which God has appointed me to do for eternity, that great service which must be done, as I would be eternally happy, now while the day of life lasts, which is the only day appointed for the trial of man's faithfulness in the service of God, in order to his being accepted to eternal rewards. Death is coming, which will be the setting of the sun, and the end of this day; after which no work will remain, nothing to be done that will be of any significance in order to the obtaining of the recompense of eternal felicity.
§ 10. And doubtless to the same purpose is that in Eccles. ix. 10." Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might: For there is no work, (or no man can work,) nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest." As much as to say, after this life, nothing can be done, nothing invented or devised in order to your happiness; no wisdom or art will serve you to any such purpose, if you neglect the time
of the present life. It is unreasonable to suppose the wise man means only that we should in this life do all that we can in temporal concerns, and to promote our temporal interest, and that nothing can be done towards this after this life; not only as this would be an observation of very little importance, it being as flat and impertinent as if he had said, Whatever your hand finds to do this year, do it with your might; for nothing that you do or devise the next year, will signify any thing to promote your interest and happiness this year; but also because the wise man himself, in the conclusion of this book, informs us that his drift through the whole book is, to induce us to do a spiritual work; to fear God and keep his commandments, in order, not to happiness in this life, (which he tells us throughout the book is never to be expected,) but in order to a future happiness and retribution in consequence of a judgment to come; chap. xii. 13, 14. "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter. Fear God, and keep his commandments. For this is the whole duty (i. e. the whole business, the whole concern) of man. For God will bring every work into judgment, whether it be good, or whether it be evil."
§ 11. If the wicked in hell are in a state of trial, under severe chastisement, as means in order to their repentance and obtaining the benefit of God's favour in eternal rewards, then they are in a state of such freedom as makes them moral agents and the proper subjects of judgment and retribution. Then those terrible chastisements are made use of as the most powerful means of all, more efficacious than all the means used in this life which prove ineffectual, and which proving insufficient to overcome sinners' obstinacy, and prevail with their hard hearts, God is compelled to relinquish them all, and have recourse to those torments as the last means, the most effectual and powerful. If the torments of hell are to last ages of ages, then it must be because sinners in hell all this while are obstinate; and though they are free agents as to this matter, yet they wilfully and perversely refuse, even under such great means, to repent, forsake their sins, and turn to God. It must be farther supposed, that all this while they have the offers of immediate mercy and deliverance made to them, if they will comply. Now, if this be the case, and they shall go on in such wickedness, and continue in such extreme obstinacy and pertinaciousness, for so many ages, (as is supposed, by its being thought their torments shall be so long continued,) how desperately will their guilt be increased? How many thousand times more guilty at the end of the term, than at the beginning? And therefore they will be much the more proper objects of divine severity, deserving God's wrath, and still a thousand times more severe or longer continued chastisements than the past; and therefore it is not reasonable to sup
pose, that all the damned should be delivered from misery, and received to God's favour, and made the subjects of eternal salvation and glory at that time, when they are many thousand times more unworthy of it, more deserving of continuance in misery, than when they first were cast into hell. It is not likely that the infinitely wise God should so order the matter. And if their misery should be augmented, and still lengthened out much longer, to atone for their new contracted guilt; they must be supposed to continue impenitent, till that second additional time of torment is ended; at the end of which their guilt will still be risen higher, and vastly increased beyond what it was before. And, at this rate, where can there be any place for an end of their misery?
§ 12. It further appears from what was observed above, that the sinner continuing obstinate in wickedness under such powerful means to reclaim him, for so long a time, will be so far from being more and more purged, or brought nearer to repentance, that he will be further from it. Wickedness in his heart will be vastly established and increased. For it may be laid down as an axiom, that the longer men continue wilfully in wickedness, the more is the habit of sin established, and the more and more will the heart be hardened in it. Again, it may be laid down as another axiom, that the greater and more powerful the means are, that are used to bring men to reform and repent, which they resist, and are obstinate under, the more desperately are men hardened in sin, and the more the principle of it in the heart is confirmed. It may be laid down as a third axiom, that long continuance in perverse and obstinate rebellion against any particular kind of means, tends to render those particular means vain, ineffectual, and hopeless.
After the damned in hell have stood it out with such prodigious perverseness and stoutness, for ages of ages, in their rebellion and enmity against God, refusing to bow to his will under such constant, severe, mighty chastisements, attended all the while with offers of mercy, what a desperate degree of hardness of heart and fixed strength of habitual wickedness will they have contracted at last, and inconceivably further will they be from a penitent, humble, and pure heart, than when first cast into hell! And if the torments should be lengthened out still longer, and also their impenitence, (as by the supposition one will not end before the other does:) still the further will the heart be from being purified. And so, at this rate, the torments will never at all answer their end, and must be lengthened out to all eternity.
§ 13. Matt. v. 25, 26. Agree with thine adversary quickly, while thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee
to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily, I say unto thee, thou shalt not come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing." These words imply, that sinners are in the way with their adversary, having opportunity to be reconciled to him but for a short season, inasmuch as it is intimated, that they must agree with him quickly, or they shall cease to be in the way with him, or to have opportunity to obtain his favour any more. But, if they shall be continued in a state of probation after death to the end of the world, and after that for ages, how far, how very far, are these words of Christ from representing the matter as it is?
§ 14. That some even in this world are utterly forsaken of God, and given up to their own hearts' lusts, proves that these men never will be purified from their sins. That God should, in the future world, use great means to purify them, and fit them for eternal happiness and glory, in the enjoyment of himself, is not consistent with the supposition, that after the use of great means and endeavours with them in this world, he gives them up to sin, because of their incorrigibleness and perverse obstinate continuance in rebellion, under the use of those great means, and so leaves them to be desperately hardened in sin, and to go on and increase their guilt, and multiply transgressions to their utter ruin; which is agreeable to manifold representations of scripture. This is not agreeable to the scheme of such as suppose, that God is all the while, before and after death, prosecuting the design of purifying and preparing them for eternal glory. Consider Psal. xcii. 7. "When
the wicked spring as grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish, it is that they shall be destroyed for ever." These places show, God has no merciful design with those whom he gives up to sin.
§ 15. The apostle, in Heb. iv. 4-6, says, "It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, &c. if they fall away, to renew them again unto repentance, seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame," &c. The apostle speaks of their renovation to repentance, as never likely to happen; for this reason, that they have proved irreclaimable under such great means to bring them to repentance, and have thereby so desperately hardened their hearts, and contracted such great guilt by sinning against such great light, and trampling on such great privileges. But if so, how much more unlikely still will it be, that they should ever be renewed to repentance, after they have gone on still more and more to harden their hearts by an obstinate, wilful continuance in sin, many thousand years longer, under much greater means; and have therefore done immensely more to establish the habit of sin, and increase the hardness of their
hearts; and after their guilt is so vastly increased, instead of being diminished? If it be impossible to bring them to repentance, after they have rebelled against such light and knowledge of Christ, and the things of another world, as they had in this life; how much more impossible is it, when, added to this, they have had that infinitely greater and clearer knowledge and view of those things to be manifested at the day of judgment? Then they shall see Christ in the glory of his Father, with all his holy angels; shall see his great majesty, and know the truth of his promises and threatenings, by sight and experience; and shall see all those ineffable manifestations of the glory of Christ, of his power, omniscience, strict inflexible justice, infinite holiness and purity, truth and faithfulness, and his infinite mercy to penitents. They shall then see the dreadful consequences of rebellion and wickedness, and the infinitely happy and glorious consequences of the contrary; and, even at this time, (on the supposition) have the offers of mercy and deliverance from that dreadful misery, and the enjoyment of the favour of their great Judge, and participation of all the happiness and glory of the righteous which they shall see at his right hand, if then they will throw down the weapons of their rebellion, and repent, and comply with his will. But if they still, from the greatness of their enmity and perverseness, obstinately and wilfully refuse, yea, and continue still thus refusing, even after they have actually felt the terrible wrath of God, and are cast into the lake of fire; yea, after they have continued there many ages, all the while under offers of mercy on repentance: I say, if it be impossible to renew them to repentance, after their rebelling against, and trampling on the light and knowledge, and means used with them in this world, so that it is not to be expected, because of the degree of hardness and guilt contracted by it; how much less is it to be expected at the day of judg ment, after all this obstinacy manifested, and guilt contracted! If guilt be contracted by despising such means and advantages as the apostle has respect to in this life, that it may be compared to guilt that would be contracted by crucifying Christ afresh; how much more, when, added to this, they shall so openly have despised Christ, when appearing to them in all the terrors, and glories, and love, that shall be manifested at the day of judg ment, in their immediate and most clear view, and all is offered to them, if they will but yield subjection to him; and their enmity shall have appeared so desperate, as rather to choose that dreadful lake of fire, and shall have continued in their choice even after they have felt the severity of that torment without rest day or night for many ages?
§ 16. That all shall not be finally purified and saved, is manifest from Matt. xii. 31, 32. "Wherefore I say unto you, all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: