(Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1845).
(Preached on the Thursday Afternoon, Oct. 30.)
ST. MARK ix. 47, 48
If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out; it is better for thee to enter into the Kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell-fire: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.
AGAIN, my brethren, I have very solemn words to utter; it is a solemn, aweful, passage which I have read; and I cannot but fear, lest, unknown as I am to you, I may sadden some whom I would gladly cheer. Each solemn truth drives home more closely, and reaches our inmost selves. Healthful blessed pain is it, which reaches our deepest sores, touches to the quick some diseased part, that so pouring out before our Lord in penitence every thing which clogs and chokes and stains our memories, we may await His healing touch, and our whole leprosy, in His time, vanish, and our very scars be effaced; yea even that deep loathsome treasure-house of memory, whose defilement so often remains our punishment, even for forgiven sin, be wholly cleansed. For such is God's love, even in this life, that, after deep penitence, He will bestow the privilege of the blessed, when He sees best, so that they can look back even on that dark mass of past sin, unstained by its pollution, with calm deep loving sorrow, like Magdalene at His Sacred Feet. Yet these solemn subjects must often be harrowing; how must it not, when we are sinners and these speak of what, but for Christ's mercy, were a sinner's doom? It often needs a physician's hand, such as our office is under the great Physician, to mitigate the pain, and pour in the oil of God's consolations, and shew how the very pains with which He visits us, are His mercy, how even past sin may be overruled through penitence to the ends of Almighty love. And since it could not but be seen that some, even when about to receive the pledges of their Saviour's love, had sorrow of some sort, they whom He has sent to comfort you with the comfort wherewith, we trust, He has comforted us, could not but long to be able to minister to their distress. I may then again remind you of the direction of our Church, that any who has grief should open it; and surely you must feel that to us there can be no more blessed office, than, under the guidance, we hope, of the Holy Ghost the Comforter, to comfort the mourner, and heal the broken in heart.
Bearing this in mind, we may endure, without overmuch fear and sorrow, to meditate on the alarming words of the text: "If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out; it is better for thee to enter into the Kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell-fire: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched." Aweful words indeed, to come from the God of all mercy and goodness! from Him Who poured out His soul unto death, the just for the unjust; from Him, Who when He knew no sin, was content to be made sin for us. You see how plainly, how positively, He speaks of everlasting death: it ought not then to be esteemed harsh and unkind, or unlike the sound of the mild and merciful Gospel, when His ministers do the same. Nay, it is plainly our duty to do so: we do not give Christ's message truly, except we tell you plainly and often, and suffer you not to forget, that hell torments are prepared for those who obey not the Gospel, and that hell torments will be everlasting. They are not indeed mentioned in the Belief: it finishes, as you know, with life everlasting, saying nothing of eternal misery: but the places of Scripture which affirm the one, do as plainly affirm the other: clearly it was the will of the Most High that the one should be continually set against the other: that His Church should sound in the ears of His people life and death, blessing and cursing, that they might continually choose life. But because the Creed is the baptismal Creed; because at the moment of first professing it we are taken out of the kingdom of darkness and put into a state of salvation; because it is throughout a confession of faith, i. e. of trust and hope as well as belief, we may well understand that it was not so fitting for express mention of everlasting punishment to be made as one of its Articles. It is enough that it is clearly understood and signified by what is said of our Lord's coming to judge the quick and the dead; and in the other Creed, the Creed of St. Athanasius, it is taught in so many words: As they that have done good shall go into life everlasting, so they that have done evil into everlasting fire.
Sore, indeed, it is, brethren, to speak on this very aweful subject, sore it is thus to speak, as it were, into the air, not knowing how deeply the sharp arrows of God's fearful message may pierce some heart already wounded. Yet we dare not withhold it. Yet let it not bring heavy desponding thoughts, (desponding thoughts are of Satan, not of God,) but pray we rather that we may thereby feel more deeply our own aweful being, and that these intense thoughts of Him and His dread Justice may, by His grace and mercy, help us to perfect holiness in His fear.
In that fear, then, let us now together meditate on the dark side of Eternity, the condition of those who shall be lost at the last Day. Our Lord Himself has set us the example of such teaching: where in order to make us very pure, very particular, very cautious of the souls of our brethren first and afterwards of our own, He tells us first that we had better have a millstone tied round our neck and be drowned in the depth of the sea than cause one of these little ones to sin: and afterwards, three times over, that if hand or foot or eye lead us into sin, we had better cut it off or pluck it out, we had better cast from us the dearest thing we have, than consent to that sin: we had better enter into life halt, or maimed, or one-eyed, than having two hands, feet, or eyes, be cast into hell fire, where their worm dieth not, and their fire is not quenched.
Our Saviour says it three times over: a symbol, perhaps, of that Holy Trinity, against Whom all sin is committed, and by Whom it is punished. It must therefore be a matter of the greatest consequence for every child of Adam to attend to. It is the true terror of the Lord, by which He would have us persuade men to regard the things which belong unto their peace. Let us consider with fear and trembling--it must be with fear and trembling if we consider them at all--the chief points taught in the Bible concerning the future lot of the wicked: God grant that it may not be our own; that the warnings of our Redeemer may be no longer lost upon us, as hitherto too often they appear to have been.
Consider, first, those deep and grave words, "What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" He Who said this was the Creator of Soul and Body. We may imagine and believe, but He knew with perfect knowledge, what the soul is, and what is its worth, what it is to lose it, and how intolerable that loss. Our Lord knew all this, and by these few solemn words, "what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" has given us to understand that though we cannot know it, we must believe it, and live by faith in it. Whether we will or no, we have souls; we may wish that we had not any, that we were like the brutes that perish; but it may not be: we have souls, and those souls may miscarry for ever. Our Maker and Judge has Himself assured us of it.
And what is it for a soul to be lost, and miscarry for ever? We cannot know but in part. How should we, seeing that the soul is something breathed into our nostrils by the Almighty Himself, and made especially after His own image: and no thought of ours can come up to the misery and sin of defiling and destroying that which comes to us so immediately from the Almighty. But our Lord has taught us, in the words of the text and elsewhere, to conceive something of what it is: as that it is infinitely worse than the worst evils that can happen in this world, all of them put together. To have a millstone tied round one's neck and be cast into the depth--to lose a hand, a foot, or an eye--are frightful, hopeless, miserable things, things at which nature shudders; but they are nothing, compared to the punishments prepared for those who wilfully tempt others or suffer themselves to be tempted: for that will bring them into hell, "where their worm dieth not, and their fire is not quenched." So our Lord spoke, using words which His Spirit had before spoken by His holy Prophet Isaiah: for the very last words of Isaiah's prophecy speak of "the carcases of them who have transgressed against God, that their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched, and they shall be an abhorring to all flesh." When the Jews read or heard those words, they would naturally think of a certain valley near Jerusalem, called Tophet, or the valley of the Son of Hinnom, in which, as is reported, the bodies of great criminals were cast out unburied, and where the idolaters of old time used to burn their children alive to their false gods. By the horrors of that place our Lord instructs us to form some notion of the condition of lost souls and bodies: only that the worms in Tophet died after a time, and the fire that was lit for sacrifice to Moloch went out: but this worm never dies, and this fire never shall be quenched.
Further, we are told that everlasting death will mainly consist in this: that the wicked will be separated for ever from the Presence of Him Who is the Life of our life, even Christ the Son of God. For this will be His word to those who shall be set on the left hand: "Depart from Me, ye cursed:" and again, to hypocrites, "I know you not whence ye are: depart from Me, ye that work iniquity:" and St. Paul says, He will appear "in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them who know not God, and who obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power." For as the light of God's countenance, which can only be seen in the Face of Jesus Christ, is the only joy and comfort and glory of His redeemed, so the final and entire withdrawing of that Light, the turning away of Christ's Face for ever, will be the very death of the soul.
And yet those miserable ones will not be so separated from the Presence of their Judge, but that they will feel His heavy Hand on them--will be tormented with the feeling that their condition is without remedy, because it comes from Him, in Whom, if mercy could be at all, it would surely be found. They will perceive that the wrath under which they are suffering is the wrath of the Lamb, of Him Who loved them so well, that He took on Him their flesh, and was made Man to redeem them: and if even from Him they have nothing to expect, but a never-dying worm and an unquenched fire, what hope remains? There is none. God can no more cease from punishing them, than He can cease to be good and just.
This seems to be part of the meaning in those many parts of the prophetic Scriptures, in which the wicked are threatened with having "the cup of the Lord," the unmixed unassuaged cup of His indignation to drink; taking it out of His own Hand. Thus in the Psalms, "In the Hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is full mixed," that is, mixed, not with any thing to allay, but with that which shall make it more fiery and parching and intolerable; not with good and evil, but with different sorts of plagues and torments; " and He poureth out of the same. As for the dregs thereof, all the ungodly of the earth shall drink them and suck them out." And in Isaiah, when Jerusalem was most sorely punished, we read that she had "taken from the Lord's Hand the cup of His fury:" she had "drunken the dregs of the cup of trembling, and wrung them out." But these judgments upon guilty nations are as nothing, compared with the sentence pronounced in the Book of Revelations, on those who shall finally be found not on Christ's side but on Antichrist's. They are images, earnests, forerunners of it; faint gleams of the hidden fire of the horrible pit; shadows of it, as all things in the world, joy or suffering, are but the very faintest tokens of the unutterable joy or woe. As eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor heart of man conceived, the good things which God hath prepared for them that love Him; so neither of the misery of those who shall be found to have hated Him does this world afford any sufficient measure. "The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God which is poured out without measure into the cup of His indignation, and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the Holy Angels and in the presence of the Lamb." The drinking of the wine of God's wrath unmixed seems to mean that they will have an eternal, unmitigated sense that God is angry with them, that they have never any thing to expect from His mercy. And this is enhanced by the circumstance with which the verse ends. Their torments will be endured "in the presence of the Holy Angels, and in the Presence of the Lamb." The passage seems, in a certain way, to answer to the merciful assurance in St. Luke's Gospel, about the pardon of penitent sinners. "The Son of Man came to seek and to save them," and "there is joy in Heaven over them:" the direct contrary to which is the threat just mentioned, against those who are finally impenitent: the blessed spirits, nay the Son of God Himself, will look on and be consenting to their misery: there will be no thought in Heaven of relieving them. And this again the Prophet Isaiah had particularly mentioned. Those who come up to worship at Jerusalem, that is, as appears, the glorified members of the Church, "shall go forth and look on the carcases of them who have transgressed against me." This is a great mystery, that good and charitable spirits should look without pain, and without seeking to change it, on the eternal misery of any one: but it must not be doubted, for it is the plain word of God; and so far we may conceive, that the nearer any glorified spirit is brought to the Father of all spirits, the more exactly will he learn to look at things with the same sort of eye that God does Himself, and so may look calmly and with satisfaction, on things which are now too fearful to think of, although the faith of Christ even force us to believe them.
As the punishments of the world to come are thus without hope, because they are in the presence of the Holy Angels and of the Lamb: so are they without intermission, without rest or stay. "The smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever, and they have no rest day nor night." As the blessed "rest not day nor night" in Heaven, praising God and saying, "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty:" so neither do the accursed in Hell find any rest: the smoke of that furnace goeth up, like the smoke of Sodom or Babylon, or of the land of Edom when visited by God's wrath; and since it is kindled, as Isaiah writes, by "the breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone," it seems that it can no more go out, than that Breath can cease: it will go up therefore for ever, since for ever and ever God is just, to punish those who reject or abuse His mercy. There is no rest, no intermission, I no sleeping and waking again, no relief through very weariness and inability to suffer more, such as occasionally comes in to assuage in some measure the most violent pains of this life, whether of soul or of body.
And worst of all, there is no end. The most grievous sufferings of this life must at least cease when death comes: but no such death as that comes after the grave, but to those whose sins have separated them from Jesus Christ, it will be a worse death, a living death for ever: the pains of death, without the unconsciousness that follows.
Now, this of all doctrines is the most startling to weak human nature, and of course most astounding and unpalatable to wilful sinners. Yet we cannot doubt it; we know it by Christ's own word: He Himself says plainly, of those who shall be set on the left hand, "These shall go away into everlasting punishment;" even as of those on the right hand He adds, "But the righteous into life eternal." If the punishment of the one be not properly everlasting, then neither will the reward of the other: either both alike will endure death, or both alike will be kept in being for ever.
Again, see the token which God has given, in His many fearful judgments on guilty nations and persons here, that He will surely visit, when and as He has said He will. "He is not a man that He should lie, nor the son of man, that He should repent," out of favour or pity. " Hath He said, and shall He not do it? or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?" The smoke and ashes of the land about Sodom is even now a witness to this. He said He would destroy Sodom and Gomorrha, and the neighbour cities thereof, and He did destroy them, although for the intercession of Abraham, He would have spared Sodom, had only ten righteous been found there. The signs and tokens of the Flood, wherever they are found, are another witness of the same truth. God said beforehand, He would bring on a flood of waters, and would destroy the earth which He had made. The wicked would not believe this, because for a time they saw all things going on as they had gone on before. But in its time it really came to pass. "They did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded: until the day came that Noe entered into the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all." Again, the very Angels in Heaven, "who kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation," whenever and however that happened:--did God relent towards them? He did not relent; great and glorious as they had been, and among the chief of the works of God's hands, they are now
reserved in everlasting chains under darkness until the judgment of the great day." They are, among spirits, appointed for the same kind of pattern of God's severe unchangeable justice, as Sodom and Gomorrha and the cities about them are here: who "giving themselves over to fornication and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire." To them might be added the many instances of mighty cities, such as Tyre, Nineveh, Babylon, and above all, God's own highly favoured city Jerusalem, prophesied against and overthrown accordingly.
These, and all the rest of God's sore judgments in the world, are so many reasons why we must believe that the most aweful Prophecy of eternal misery will also find its accomplishment. He waits long, but it must not be counted slackness; it is not that He has forgotten, or that the Church has mistaken Him: but He is "long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." God forbid that any of us should turn His great mercy into an occasion of falling, by doubting whether He will strike at last, because He stays so long. Let us rather humbly endeavour, in His true faith and fear, to treasure up in our minds some of those serious warnings which may best help us to avoid these dreadful things: for He only knows how near to them we may have been, how near we may be at this very moment.
Observe then, first, that it is not only positive sin, on which this intolerable sentence will fall, but also wilful neglect of duty; leaving undone those things which we knew in our hearts ought to have been done. "The cowardly, and the unbelieving and abominable, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in that lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death;" this is fearful enough, and it is sad to think how many of those whom Christ has called to Himself are included in this dreadful list. Some of us have perhaps in childhood been ourselves startled and roused out of a sinful state, on seeing how what is thought and spoken of so lightly, as a lie, what with many comes first to the very lips, if we be not on our guard, which often, as men think, does no harm to any, is, by our loving Lord Himself, placed among the most dreadful sins which shall condemn to the second death. So a we fully strange does it seem, that people have gone about to invent some other meaning for it, as if it could not be, that what seems to have so little effect here, could bring down such fearful hopeless ruin hereafter. And yet He Who would by His own Blood redeem us from death says, "All liars shall have their portion in the lake of fire," which is the second Death. What again, alas! so common as religious cowardice? How many of us, in childhood, or youth, or to this very hour, have shrunk from avowing the truth, when perhaps we should have been jeered at! The fear of the world has destroyed, it may be, as many as its love. How many religious practices have been given up, how much sin consented to, how much, if not committed, even feigned, out of cowardly fear of the sinful world's dispraise! "I was ashamed amongst my equals," says a penitent of old, "of a less shamelessness." And yet it is our Redeeming Lord, Who counts the "cowardly" with "the abominable and murderers." He has said, "Whosoever shall be ashamed of Me and of My words, of him shall the Son of Man be ashamed, when He shall come in His own glory and in His Father's and of the holy Angels."
But it becomes still more alarming, when we call to mind our Lord's express declaration, that He will say to "lose who have but neglected to wait on Him, "Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire." And if this seem hard and unaccountable to some of us, as no doubt it does to many men, (for even at that day, our Lord tells us, those who are condemned will not at first be able to comprehend their own guilt:) let us say to ourselves, Who are we that we should reply against God? He has told us plainly what He will do: let us take His gracious warning, however different it may sound from the judgments of men, and from our own too partial and corrupt imaginations. Surely the remembrance of our own childhood ought to teach us, what poor judges we are of the guilt of our own doings, or the measure of punishment we may be bringing on ourselves. How often did we find, as children, that what we made light of was in the eyes of our parents and elders a very great and inexcusable offence, and that we really had to suffer for it, when we perhaps had believed they had been only trying to frighten us! and so, depend upon it, it will prove in regard of God's threatenings.
Again, think of the direct punishments of sin, which sin of itself brings, even apart from the Lord's chastening Hand. What bitter fruits has one sin had, how has it pursued the sinner through his whole life, what moral decay has it wrought! Mostly, perhaps, they who have been entangled in a course of sin, knew not the nature of that their first sin, knew of it only as something wrong, not how sinful. And long after, when they have sickened at the foul hideous stream, which issued from it, they have seen that it was all contained in that one sin. The whole misery of life which has haunted the sinner, has often followed on one childish sin, of which at the time he made little account. One sin, scarcely known to be sin, has multiplied into years of deadly, grievous, corroding, daily sin.
How often again do those who break the law of the land, reckon on being let off easily, and find too late that the law was quite in earnest: that they must lie in prison, or leave their country, sometimes perhaps even lose their lives, for what seemed to them a very pardonable offence.
By all such things, as they happen, God is silently teaching us to expect at the last day something very different from what our corrupt hearts would fain promise us. We shall then find too late, if we have not considered it before, that neglect of prayer, neglect of the Church, neglect of Sacraments, not preparing ourselves according to God's will, is in fact preparing ourselves to be servants and companions of the Devil.
Again, we shall find what some are most unwilling to believe, that want of faith, not submitting ourselves to the Gospel and the Church, will forfeit God's blessing as well as what we call Immorality. This St. Paul especially warns us of, when he says that Christ "shall be revealed in flaming fire, taking vengeance of them who know not God, and obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." It will not be safe therefore for any one to say, "he does his duty to his neighbour, he is an honest sober man, and what could he be more if he was ever so regular in Church services?" Nay, but God, Who is the Giver of salvation, tells you that it cannot be had on these terms only. You must turn to Him with your whole heart; you must learn to delight in His presence, and in the place where His honour dwelleth: more especially you must seek Communion with Him through the Body and Blood of His Blessed Son. Without the love of God, as shewn by fruits such as these, in vain do we reckon upon the love we seem to bear our neighbour.
Let me prevail on you to consider this also, that true Faith and Obedience are so necessary, that no strength of temptation can excuse us from it. What temptation could be stronger than the saving of a right hand or a right eye? Yet we see this is not enough to acquit a person before the Judge for any wilful breach of His Law. He tells us this, Who died for us; and if we will not take Him at His word, how can we expect to be saved by His Blood?
And if this be true of all, more especially does it concern us, who have so many talents and advantages for coming near our Lord and Saviour, who are born within reach of the full benefit of His Church, His Word, His Sacraments. For there is one word more to be spoken, and that perhaps the most aweful of all. There are degrees in punishment, as well as in glory everlasting. "Unto whom much is given, of him shall much be required." "And that servant which knew his Lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to His will, shall be beaten with many stripes."
Surely we do well now and then to pause and think seriously of these aweful things. In our eager pursuit of worldly objects, we are very liable to be carried away, and to forget entirely the great peril we are in, of losing ourselves, both soul and body, for ever. Like young persons in the heat and spirit of some chase, or some interesting game, who rush by the most dangerous places without once thinking of their danger. But as it is better and safer for them to be warned, so should we count it very considerate in Christ and His Church, to speak so plainly as they do to us concerning the place of everlasting torment. When we hear of God's threatenings, the Enemy would tempt us to disregard what is said, under the notion that He is very merciful, and all will come right at last. And truly He is unspeakably merciful, else who could abide His Presence? yet He will have us know and remember, that there is a place where He is, but where His Mercy will never come: there are persons whom He keeps in being, bad Angels and reprobate souls departed, who will know Him for ever and ever by His wrath alone. And this place is not so very far from us: we might at any moment cast ourselves into it; we know not how near to it our wilful backslidings may before now have brought us. And though we know not, among our acquaintance on earth, who will come to that dismal end, yet some among them, we must needs fear, will be of the number: we are sure it will be so with all who care not to avoid it.
Meditate then, I beseech you, sometimes, upon that fearful place: terrible as the thought is, yet turn not your mind away from it. Think what it must be in the last day, to have that Face which is the Light of the World turned for you into darkness and horror: and try to have the two last words, "Come, ye blessed of My Father," and "Depart from Me, ye cursed," for ever ringing in your ears, that walking in humble fear and love, you may make sure of the one, and for ever be safe from the other.
In the midst of life we are in death: of whom may we seek for succour, but of Thee, O Lord, Who for our sins art justly displeased? Yet, O Lord God most holy, O Lord most mighty, O holy and most merciful Saviour, deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death. Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts; shut not Thy merciful ears to our prayer; but spare us, Lord most holy, O God most mighty, O holy and most merciful Saviour, Thou most worthy Judge eternal, suffer us not, at our last hour, for any pains of death, to fall from Thee.