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ON A FUTURE STATE OF REWARDS AND

PUNISHMENTS:

A Sermon

BY THE REV. WILLIAM H. HART,
RECTOR OF ST. ANDREW'S CHURCH, WALDEN, ORANGE COUNTY, NEW YORK.

Matthew xxv. 46.—"And these shall go away into ererlasting punishment, but the righteous

into life eternal.

The doctrine of a future state of rewards and punishments, which is every where set forth in the Gospel, is of most serious importance, and calculated to make the deepest impression upon the mind of every human being. A doctrine which our blessed Savior was at peculiar pains to inculcate, as if determined that none should fall into error of life, through misapprehension of what shall be hereafter. A doctrine set forth in the plainest and most decisive terms, in order that, on a subject of such vast moment; we might be fully and clearly instructed. Indeed, so plain and unequivocal is the language of the Gospel, in relation to this subject, that not one of us will ever be able to plead ignorance in excuse, and if any of us should hereafter meet the condemnation of the wicked, his punishment will be aggravated by the reflection, that he sinned with his eyes open, and violated the righteous laws of a most holy God, with a perfect knowledge of the horrible results. Nothing can be more interesting to the heart of man, or more calculated to exercise a powerful influence over the life and conversation of this present scene, than the subject now proposed, and which ought frequently to be the theme of serious and solemn meditation. Agreeably to the whole tenor of the Gospel, we learn, that when the breath of man shall cease from his nostrils, when his corporeal frame shall undergo that great and mysterious change created by death, his soul, his spiritual and immortal part, shall still survive. Being freed from its tenement of clay, it shall remain in a state of conscious existence, until the time appointed by the Father for the consummation of all things. Then, at the sound of the archangel's trump, the bodies of men, which have long slumbered in the dust, shall be roused to newness of life; freed from their grosser particles, and prepared for the reception of the soul immortal. Then shall they all be summoned before "the judgment seat of Christ," to receive their final sentence, according to the deeds done in the body,--and, according to the sentence which will then be pronounced, the destiny of every human soul will be fixed forever. The wicked shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal. In the chapter from which our text is taken, our Savior gives a circumstantial account of the dread ceremonies of the great day, when the son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations, and he shall separate them one from another as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats; and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. The scene which will then follow, we shall not attempt to describe, convinced that when the awful day shall arrive, all human descriptions will be found to be beggared by the reality. In the simple language of the Redeemer, Then shall the king say unto them on his right hand, come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, depart from me ye cursed into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal. Passing by the truly interesting transactions of that great day, we propose to employ a few moments in directing your attention to the final results, and may God grant, that while we meditate on the blessedness which awaits the righteous in the life to come, and the tremendous consequences of guilt, as shown in the condemnation of the wicked, we may be induced to flee from the one, and obtain the other.

That we may treat the subject in proper order, it may be necessary to remark, that, agreeably to the tenor of Scripture, we are taught to believe, that ere the foundations of the world were laid, there existed an infinite number of created, celestial intelligences, which we denominate angels, dwelling in the presence of God, and blessed beyond compare, in the participation of his glory. That one of these, elevated in dignity above the rest, became possessed with pride and ambition, rebelled against the authority of his Maker, incurred the divine wrath, and, together with an innumerable company of his followers, was cast out from the presence of God, and doomed to dwell for ever in outer darkness. Thus GOD spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment. The angels that kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, God hath reserved in everlasting chains, under darkness, unto the judgment of the great day. We also learn that after the creation of the world, this chief of evil spirits--this prince of darkness, seduced our first parents from their allegiance to the God of Heaven, and involved them, along with himself, in one common and everlasting ruin. That in mercy to our fallen race, GoD devised a way of escape, through the blood of the atonement, by which all who believe in CHRIST shall finally be restored to divine favor, and readmitted to the presence of God in Heaven; while those who reject the offers of reconciliation, shall remain under condemnation, and be doomed to dwell with devils and damned spirits in the place of eternal torment; and these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal. Such, as briefly stated, being the situation in which we stand-such being the inevitable results which await our probationary state on earth, it becomes matter of deepest interest and concern to inquire into the nature, extent and duration of those rewards and punishments, which, on the dissolution of our mortal frame, must thus be awarded to every soul of man, and it should cause every one in this assembly tremblingly and earnestly to inquire of his heart, which of these states and conditions of being is to be my future lot ? 0

O may the question come home to every heart, and induce us to rest not satisfied, till we obtain a satisfactory answer!

In examining the Scriptures, in relation to the subject now before us, we perceive that the punishments of the wicked in a future state, are set forth in terms suited to the capacities and apprehensions of men. As we can form no idea of invisible things, except by comparison with those that are visible, it became neces

upon earth.

sary for the inspired writers, in their revelations concerning the eternal world, to represent the torments of the damned, under the similitude of objects with which we are conversant and familiar

Yet the very comparisons introduced the very terms made use of, serve to impress the mind with the solemn and startling conviction, that no object on earth-no power of language, can fully represent, or describe the intensity of suffering which the wicked will undergo. They carry us to the full extent of human imagination, and there leave us, convinced that after all that has been said, no eye of man hath seen, nor ear heard, nor heart hath conceived, the height, and depth, and length, and breadth. In order to appreciate the descriptions which we find in the sacred writings, so far as our feeble understandings can appreciate them, we must bear in mind that they relate to the awful realities of a spiritual and immaterial world, and therefore are to be taken in a figurative and not in a literal sense. It would be absurd to suppose, for a moment, that in the world of spirits there are actually furnaces of fire, and chains of iron, and lakes of fire and brimstone; but we are to understand, that by the pains and torments which these material substances are capable of inflicting upon our mortal bodies, are faintly represented the horrors of a condemning conscience-the tortures of a soul that is banished forever from the presence of its God. Neither are we to understand that there is any particular place, any specified location in nature, that is destined to receive the condemned soul, as the place of its torment; for this would be inconsistent with the language of Scripture in other respects. But we are taught to believe, that an accusing and condemning conscience, the remembrance of despised mercies, the abiding sense of divine wrath, and the utter hopelessness of ever obtaining the beatitudes of heaven, will constitute the torments of the wicked—and were such a soul to gain admittance even into the centre of heaven, so to speak, it would carry its hell along with it, and would remain equally and forever miserable. The more deeply and intently we reflect on this subject, the more we perceive, that there must be something in the condition and mode of existence of a disembodied spirit, of which we can now form no adequate conception; and while we keep this in mind, we

shall be better able to avoid superstition and absurdity, and to entertain some idea of the spirituality, both of the rewards and punishments that will be allotted to us in a future state.

Such, my brethren, is the nature of those punishments which will overwhelm the guilty soul, in the great day of retribution, and with this view of the subject, we will proceed to consider the extent and duration of those punishments, as they are set forth in the sacred writings.

And first, as to their extent. As the Scriptures declare it to be impossible for the mind of man to conceive the extent of happiness which awaits the righteous, so we may consider it equally impossible to conceive the extent of misery which awaits the wicked. To be cast out and banished from the presence of God. To be deprived of the glorious light of Heaven. To be compelled to associate with devils, and all evil spirits, in that outer darkness through which no ray of light can ever penetrate-to be continually subject to the accusations of a condemning conscience to be abandoned to the uncontrolled dominion of every evil passion—to witness afar off the blessedness of the saints in light, and to know that that blessedness is lost for ever,—these will create a horror and despair which it is not in the power of man to describe or imagine. The only idea which we can form of the sufferings which the sinner will be doomed to undergo, must be drawn from sensible objects, and these, as represented in Scripture, serve rather to show that no power of human language, or thought, can reach the reality. The torments of the damned are represented, in the first place, under the similitude of a devouring fire. As we can hardly imagine a more exquisite torture than that which is inflicted upon the body by the action of fire, so this is used to express the torment which the just judgment of God will inflict upon the soul of the sinner. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom, all things which ojend, and them which do iniquity, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire, there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Depart from me ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. It is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet, to be cast

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