Now I think as the joys of heaven stand not only in speculation or in beholding of glory, but in a sensible enjoyment and unspeakable pleasure which these glories will yield to the soul; so the torments of hell will not stand in the present lashes and strokes which by the flames of eternal fire God will scourge the ungodly with; but the torments of hell stand much, if not in the greatest part of them, in those deep thoughts and apprehensions which souls in the next world will have of the nature and occasion of sin, of God, and of separation from him -- of the eternity of those miseries, and of the utter impossibility of their help, ease, or deliverance for ever. Oh, damned souls will have thoughts that will clash with glory, clash with justice, clash with law, clash with themselves, clash with hell, and with the everlastingness of misery.
Miseries as well as mercies sharpen and make quick the apprehensions of the soul. Behold Spira in his book, Cain in his guilt, and Saul with the witch of Endor, and you shall see men ripened, men enlarged and greatened in their fancies, imaginations, and apprehensions, though not about God and heaven and glory, yet about their loss, their misery, their woe, and their hell.
A man may endure to touch the fire with a short touch, and away; but to dwell with everlasting burnings, that is fearful. Oh then, what is dwelling with them and in them for ever and ever? We use to say, "Light burdens carried far are heavy:" what then will it be to bear that burden, that guilt, that the law and the justice and the wrath of God will lay upon the lost soul for ever? Now tell the stars, now tell the drops of the sea, and now tell the blades of grass that are spread upon the face of all the earth, if thou canst; and yet sooner mayest thou do this than count the thousands of millions of thousands of years that a damned soul shall lie in hell! Suppose every star that is now in the firmament was to burn by himself one by one, a thousand years apiece, would it not be a long while before the last of them was burnt out? and yet sooner might that be done than the damned soul be at the end of punishment.
He that has lost his soul has lost himself. He is, as I may say, now out of his own hands; he has lost himself, his soul self, his own self, his whole self, by sin and wrath; and hell hath found him. He is now no more at his own dispose, but at the dispose of justice, of wrath and hell. He is committed to prison, to hell prison, there to abide, not at pleasure, not as long and as little time as he will, but the term appointed by his Judge; nor may he there choose his own affliction, neither for manner, measure, or continuance. It is God that will spread the fire and brimstone under him, and it is God himself that will blow the fire. Isa.30:33.
There will be no such grace as patience in hell with him who has lost himself: here will also be wanting a bottom for patience, to wit, the providence of God; for a providence of God, though never so dismal, is a bottom for patience to the afflicted; but men go not to hell by providence, but by sin.
"Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." This curse is the chief and highest of all kinds of curses. It lieth in a deprivation of all good, and in a being swallowed up of all the most fearful miseries, that a holy and just and eternal God can righteously inflict, or lay upon the soul of a sinful man.
Now let reason here come in and exercise itself in the most exquisite manner, yea, let it now count up all and all manner of curses and torments that a reasonable and immortal soul is or can be made capable of, and able to suffer under; and when it has done, it shall come infinitely short of this great anathema, this master-curse, which God has reserved amongst his treasures, and intends to bring out in that day of battle and war which he purposeth to make upon damned souls in that day.
"The sting of death is sin." Sin in the general of it is the sting of hell, for there would be no such thing as torment even there, were it not that sin is there with sinners; for the fire of hell, the indignation and wrath of God can fasten and kindle upon nothing but for or because of sin. Sin then, as sin, is the sting and the hell of hells, of the lowest and upmost hells -- sin, I say, in the nature of it, simply as it is concluded both by God and the damned to be a breach of his holy law, so it is the sting of the second death, which is the worm of hell.
But then, as sin is such a sting in itself, so it is heightened, sharpened, made more keen and sharp, by those circumstances that attend it in every act; for there is not a sin at any time committed by man, but there is some circumstance or other attends it that makes it, when charged home by God's law, bigger and sharper and more venomous and poisonous to the soul, than if it could be committed without them; and this is the sting of the hornet, the great sting. I sinned without a cause, to please a base lust, to gratify the devil: here is the sting. Again, I preferred sin before holiness, death before life, hell before heaven, the devil before God, and damnation before a Saviour: here is the sting. Again, I preferred moments before everlastings, temporals before eternals, to be racked and always slaying before the life that is blessed and endless: here is the sting. Also, this I did against light, against convictions, against conscience, against persuasions of friends and ministers, and the godly lives which I beheld in others: here is the sting. Also, this I did against warnings; yea, though I saw others fall before my face by the mighty hand of God for committing the same: here is the sting.
Sinners, would I could persuade you to hear me out: a man cannot commit a sin, but by the commission of it he doth by some circumstance or other sharpen the sting of hell, and that to pierce himself through and through and through with many sorrows.
Also, the sting of hell to some will be, that the damnation of others stands upon their score; for that by imitating them, by being deluded by them, persuaded by them, drawn in by them, others perish in hell for ever.
Ah, this will be the sting of those that are principal, chief, and as I may call them, the captain and ringleading sinners. Vipers will come out of other men's fire and flames, and settle upon, seize upon, and for ever abide upon their consciences; and this will be the sting of hell, the great sting of hell to them.
I will yet add to this, how will the fairness of some for heaven, even the thoughts of that, sting them when they come to hell. It will not be so much their fall into the pit, as from whence they fell into it, that will be to them the buzzing noise and sharpened sting of the great and terrible hornet. "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer!" -- there is the sting. Thou that art exalted up to heaven, shalt be thrust down to hell; though thou hast made thy nest among the stars, from thence will I fetch thee down: there is a sting. To be pulled, for and through love to some vain lust, from the everlasting gates of glory, and caused to be swallowed up for it in the belly of hell, and made to lodge for ever in the darksome chambers of death: there is the piercing sting.
But again, as there is the sting of hell, so there is the strength of that sting; for a sting, though never so sharp or venomous, yet if it wanteth strength to force it to the designed execution, it doth but little hurt. But this sting hath strength to cause it to pierce into the soul: "The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law." I Cor.15:56; Rom.7:8; 4:15.
Here then is the strength of the sting of hell: it is the law in the perfect penalty of it; for without the law, sin is dead; yea, where no law is, there is no transgression. The law then followeth, in the executive part of it, the soul into hell; and there strengthened sin, that sting in hell, to pierce the soul for ever and ever by its unutterable charging of sin on the conscience. Nor can the soul justly murmur or repine at God or his law; for that then the sharply apprehensive soul will well discern the justness, righteousness, reasonableness, and goodness of the law, and that nothing is done by the law unto it, but that which is just and equal.
This, therefore, will put great strength and force into sin to sting the soul, and to strike it with the lashes of a scorpion.
And besides these, the abiding life of God, the Judge and God of this law, will never die. When princes die, the law may be altered by which at present transgressors are bound in chains; but Oh, here is also that which will make this sting so sharp and keen: the God that executes it will never die. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Heb.10: 30, 31.
"This shall they have of my hand, they shall lie down in sorrow;" they shall lie down in it, they shall make their bed there, there they shall lie. And this is the bitter pill that they must swallow down at last; for after all their tears, their sorrows, their repentings, their wishings and wouldings, and all their inventings and desires to change their state for a better, they must lie down in sorrow.
The poor condemned man that is upon the ladder or scaffold, has, if one knew them, many a long wish and long desire that he might come down again alive, or that his condition was as one of the spectators, that are not condemned and brought thither to be executed as he. How carefully also does he look with his failing eyes, to see if some one comes not from the king with a pardon for him, all the while endeavoring to fumble away, as well as he can, and to prolong the minute of his execution. But at last, when he has looked, when he has wished, when he has desired and done whatever he can, the blow with the axe, or the turn with the ladder, is his lot: so he goes off the scaffold; so he goes from among men.
And thus will it be with those we have under consideration: when all comes to all, and they have said and wished and done what they could, the judgment must not be reversed; they must lie down in sorrow.