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There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God

Their foot shall slide in due time (Deut. Xxxii. 35).

The observation from the words that I would now insist upon is this. “There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God.” By the mere pleasure of God, I mean his sovereign pleasure, his arbitrary will, restrained by no obligation, hindered by no manner of difficulty, any more than if nothing else but God’s mere will had in the least degree, or in any respect whatsoever, any hand in the preservation of wicked men one moment.

The truth of this observation may appear by the following considerations.

1. There is no want of power in God to cast wicked men into hell at any moment. Men’s hands cannot be strong when God rises up. The strongest have no power to resist him, nor can any deliver out of his hands.—He is not only able to cast wicked men into hell, but he can most easily do it. Sometimes an earthly prince meets with a great deal of difficulty to subdue a rebel, who has found means to fortify himself, and has made himself strong by the numbers of his followers. But it is not so with God. There is no fortress that is any defence from the power of God. Though hand join in hand, and vast multitudes of God’s enemies combine and associate themselves, they are easily broken in pieces. They are as great heaps of light chaff before the whirlwind; or large quantities of dry stubble before devouring flames. We find it easy to tread on and crush a worm that we see crawling on the earth; so it is easy for us to cut or singe a slender thread that any thing hangs by: thus easy is it for God, when he pleases, to cast his enemies down to hell.

Jonathan Edwards- Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God

Duty of Preparing for the Future World: Immortality and Separate State of the Soul: Book Eight- Chapter 1

Book Eighth

CHAPTER I.

IMMORTALITY AND SEPARATE STATE OF THE SOUL.

WHEN THE HUMAN BODY DIES, THE SOUL, WHICH IS IMMORTAL, CONTINUES TO EXIST IN A SEPARATE STATE.[1]

When the body dies, the atoms of which it consisted are not annihilated; but they separate from each other, and continue to exist in a different state, or in new combinations. The mind, which had previously existed in connection with the body, and had, in that connection, exhibited phenomena, superior to matter, and peculiar to mind, now disappears, and no longer manifests itself as formerly. Though it has disappeared, analogy suggests, that it has not been annihilated. The same philosophy that teaches the indestructibility of the atoms which compose the body, gives its sanction to the doctrine, that the soul is immortal. As the soul is not a compound substance, like the body, it is not susceptible of decomposition, and, therefore, if it continues to exist, it must exist entire, with the properties peculiar to it.

Though philosophy gives its sanction to the doctrine of the soul’s immortality, it arrives at the truth through so many perplexing difficulties, that it grasps it finally with but a feeble faith. Plants are bodies of peculiar organization; and are endowed with vitality, either arising from, or connected with, their organization. Brute animals possess organized bodies, endowed with vitality, and, in connection with this vitality, properties are exhibited, which resemble those of the human mind. In surveying the order of beings, from the most imperfect plant, through the rising scale, up to man, the most exalted of animals, philosophy asks, whether man alone is immortal. This question, with which philosophy is embarrassed, natural religion comes in to answer. The moral faculty of man, and its adaptedness to religion, separate him widely from all other animals, and justify the conclusion that he alone, of all the creatures that inhabit the earth, is destined to immortality.

Philosophy and natural religion have, after all, only an obscure view of this important truth. Life and immortality are brought to light by the gospel.[2] Divine revelation was needed, to make the truth clear; and that revelation, in the light of the gospel, has so exhibited the truth, that he who does not see it, is wilfully blind. In the dawn of revelation under the former dispensation, so much light was thrown on this truth, that believers of that age regarded themselves as pilgrims and strangers in the earth, and declared plainly that they sought a continuing city, a place of everlasting abode, in another world. But the gospel of Jesus Christ has poured the light of noonday on this momentous truth. The doctrine of Jesus, and the resurrection of Jesus, have lifted the veil that hid the invisible world from our view, and we are now permitted to look into it, with the full assurance of hope.

When the soul leaves its mortal tenement, we are taught by the Scriptures that it is not companionless. The departing spirit of Lazarus was borne by angels to Abraham’s bosom.[3] This discourse of our Saviour concerning the rich man and Lazarus, was designed to give us knowledge of the future world. It is not called a parable, but if we regard it as such, it should be remembered, that the parables of Jesus were not like the fables of Æsop, in which beasts and birds spoke and reasoned, but were representations drawn from nature, and conformed to the existing properties of things. In this view, though we are not obliged to regard the account of the rich man and Lazarus, as the actual history of two individuals, it is such a representation as our divine teacher was pleased to employ, to give us some knowledge of the unseen world. In this representation, the angels, who, according to sacred teaching in which is no parable, are ministering spirits,[4] sent forth to minister to them who are heirs of salvation, are hovering around the despised beggar, in his last suffering, and receiving his released spirit, to bear it to its final happy abode. Death, to the departing saint, is not a journey through a solitary way. He is no sooner separated from earthly friends, than he finds himself in a company of celestial spirits, who offer themselves as his attendants and guides, to his eternal and blissful home.

Paul has taught us, that believers, who depart from the dissolving tabernacle, when absent from the body, are present with the Lord.[5] The promise made to the dying thief, is fulfilled to every expiring saint: “To-day, thou shall be with me in paradise.”[6] More than this, he has promised: “I will come again, and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there ye may be also.”[7] As the Lord descended on Mount Sinai, with ten thousands of his angels, so he comes with these attendant spirits, to the chamber in which the Christian dies. As he enters the unseen world, he can joyfully exclaim: “I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.” In company with his blessed Lord, and borne by ministering spirits, the departing saint is conveyed to the mansion which Jesus has prepared for him in the Father’s house. Here, he is brought into Abraham’s bosom, into intimate communion with the Father of the faithful, and with all the holy patriarchs, prophets, and apostles, and with all the spirits of just men made perfect.

The paradise to which the departing spirit goes, is not a place distinct from the heaven in which God makes the most glorious manifestation of himself, and in which the glorified body of Christ has been received until the restitution of all things. The idea, that the disembodied spirit has a separate existence in sheol or hades, shut out from the glorious assembly near the throne, has originated from a misinterpretation of Scripture. Sheol or hades means the unseen world into which the spirit enters, when it leaves the body; but nothing is determined, by the use of the term, respecting the place or condition of the departed. The rich man and Lazarus alike went to the unseen world; but the rich man was “in torment,” and Lazarus “in Abraham’s bosom.”

When separated from the body, the soul does not lose the mental powers which belong to it. The power of perception remains: for the rich man, though the eyes of the body were closed and in the grave, lifted up other “eyes” in hell, and saw Abraham afar off. The power of memory remains: for Abraham said “Son, remember that thou,” &c. The capacity of enjoying and suffering remains: for Lazarus was comforted, and the rich man tormented. It appears, also, from the discourse between Abraham and the rich man, that disembodied spirits not only know each other, but are allowed to hold converse with each other. Doubtless their modes of perceiving, and of communicating with each other, differ widely from ours; and all attempts to understand what is entirely beyond our experience and conception, must necessarily fail. What the Scriptures teach on the subject, is all that we can possibly know; and they explicitly declare that the instruction which they give on the subject, leaves our knowledge imperfect: “We know in part.”[8] “We see through a glass darkly.”[9]

The Scriptures teach us that the departed spirit of the saint is free from suffering. It no longer groans, being burdened.[10] Lazarus is comforted.[11] Together with freedom from suffering, it enjoys freedom from sin. The spirits of just men, when separated from the bodies in which they groaned, are “made perfect.”[12] ‘They are admitted into the high and holy place, where nothing impure can enter.

The souls of the wicked, as well as of the righteous, are immortal, and survive the body. They, too, have their companions; for the devil, by whom they have been led captive, and his angels, with whom they are to suffer everlasting punishment, receive them into their society. Their mental powers and capacities remain, to see heaven and glory at a distance, to remember and bitterly regret their sin against God, and the opportunity of mercy despised, and to endure torments without mitigation, or hope of relief.

Some persons have supposed that departed spirits become angels, and have cited, in proof of this opinion, the words of the angel to John: “I am thy fellow-servant, and of thy brethren, the prophets.”[13] They understand that the angel declares himself to be the spirit of one of the ancient prophets. But this is an erroneous interpretation of the passage, which may be correctly interpreted thus: “I am the fellow-servant of thee, and the fellow-servant of thy brethren, the prophets.” The angels are spirits, but not human spirits. They were never redeemed by the blood of Christ; and therefore, in their joyful announcement to the shepherds of Bethlehem, they said: “Unto you,” not unto us, “is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour.”[14] Hence the song of redemption, when heard in heaven, is described as a new song,[15] having never been sung by the angelic choirs. Paul has clearly distinguished between the innumerable company of angels,[16] and “the spirits of just men made perfect,” though they are named together, as component parts of the great society into which men are introduced, when they become believers in Christ.

[1] Luke xvi. 22, 23; xxiii. 43; Matt. xxii. 31,32; Luke xx. 37, 38; Rev. xiv. 13; Heb. xii. 23; 2 Cor. v. 6, 8; Phil. i. 23; 1 Thess. v. 10; Eccl. xii. 7.

[2] 2 Tim. i. 10.

[3] Luke xvi. 22.

[4] Heb. i. 14.

[5] 2 Cor. v. 8.

[6] Luke xxiii. 43.

[7] John xiv. 3.

[8] 1 Cor. xiii. 9

[9] 1 Cor. xiii. 12.

[10] 2 Cor. v. 4.

[11] Luke xvi. 25.

[12] Heb. xii. 23.

[13] Rev. xix. 10.

[14] Luke ii. 11.

[15] Rev. v. 9.

[16] Heb. xii. 22,23.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology

That the reason why they are not fallen already, and do not fall now, is only that God’s appointed time is not come

Their foot shall slide in due time (Deut. xxxii. 35).

4. That the reason why they are not fallen already, and do not fall now, is only that God’s appointed time is not come. For it is said, that when that due time, or appointed time comes, their foot shall slide. Then they shall be left to fall, as they are inclined by their own weight. God will not hold them up in these slippery places any longer, but will let them go; and then at that very instant, they shall fall into destruction; as he that stands on such slippery declining ground, on the edge of a pit, he cannot stand alone, when he is let go he immediately falls and is lost.

Jonathan Edwards- Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God

Another thing implied is, that they are liable to fall of themselves

Their foot shall slide in due time (Deut. xxxii. 35).

3. Another thing implied is, that they are liable to fall of themselves, without being thrown down by the hand of another; as he that stands or walks on slippery ground needs nothing but his own weight to throw him down.

Jonathan Edwards- Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God

It implies, that they were always exposed to sudden unexpected destruction

Their foot shall slide in due time (Deut. xxxii. 35).

2. It implies, that they were always exposed to sudden unexpected destruction. As he that walks in slippery places is every moment liable to fall, he cannot foresee one moment whether he shall stand or fall the next; and when he does fall, he falls at once without warning: Which is also expressed in Psalm lxxiii. 18, 19. “Surely thou didst set them in slippery places; thou castedst them down into destruction: How are they brought into desolation as in a moment!”

Jonathan Edwards- Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God

They were always exposed to destruction

Their foot shall slide in due time (Deut. xxxii. 35).

1. That they were always exposed to destruction; as one that stands or walks in slippery places is always exposed to fall. This is implied in the manner of their destruction coming upon them, being represented by their foot sliding. The same is expressed, Psalm lxxiii. 18. “Surely thou didst set them in slippery places; thou castedst them down into destruction.”

Jonathan Edwards- Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God

The vengeance of God on the wicked unbelieving Israelites

Their foot shall slide in due time (Deut. xxxii. 35).

In this verse is threatened the vengeance of God on the wicked unbelieving Israelites, who were God’s visible people, and who lived under the means of grace; but who, notwithstanding all God’s wonderful works towards them, remained (as ver. 28.) void of counsel, having no understanding in them. Under all the cultivations of heaven, they brought forth bitter and poisonous fruit; as in the two verses next preceding the text. The expression I have chosen for my text, Their foot shall slide in due time, seems to imply the following doings, relating to the punishment and destruction to which these wicked Israelites were exposed.

Jonathan Edwards- Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God