The Eternal Duration of Hell's Torments
Matthew Mead, 1629-1699
"It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God!" Hebrews 10:31
How can it be consistent with the justice and righteousness of God . . .
to punish temporal sinning, with everlasting suffering,
to inflict eternal vengeance, for momentary offences,
to throw a sinner into unending misery, for committing a few sins here which quickly have an end?
This has made some conclude against the eternal duration of Hell's torments—as if God were so merciful that He would not let them lie under His wrath forever. But I answer this with the Apostle, "Is God unjust in bringing His wrath on us? Certainly not!" (Romans 3:5-6). God is holy, just, and righteous—even when He punishes momentary offences with everlasting torments. And this will appear, by considering the following:
1.It is necessary for the governing of the world, that the penalty should be so stated. It is necessary for the preserving the authority of God's law in its full force and vigor, and to render it more solemn and dreadful. The design of God is to have the punishment so great as to check all the temptations to sin which a man can have. There is in man since the fall, such a propensity to sensual things, that, without this fear of Hell, nothing is able to keep it down. Fleshly lusts are so pleasing to corrupt nature, that they need to be checked with the severest threatenings. Therefore, God has told us beforehand, "Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient!" Ephesians 5:6
God wisely balances the sinner's delights with the fear of punishment, that by setting eternal pains against momentary pleasures, we may the better escape temptation. The pleasures of sin, which are but for a season--entail on us torments which are eternal!
God has wisely left to our own choice whether we will have the passing pleasures of sin here on earth—or those eternal pleasures which come hereafter, as a reward of grace. Things at hand will far more prevail than things to come, if those things to come are not considerably greater. Here on earth the pain is short, and so is the pleasure—but in the eternal world both the pain and the pleasure are eternal. In the wisdom of God, those who work out their salvation with fear and trembling here, should have pleasures at the right hand of God for evermore—and those who will have their sinful pleasures here, should have everlasting misery in the eternal world.
2.There are no human laws which prescribe that the continuance of the punishment, should be no longer than the continuance of the offence. Punishments inflicted by human laws are of a far longer continuance, than the doing of the crime. Shame, banishment, imprisonment—all these may be inflicted for life, for an act done in one hour. It is ordained by the wisest countries, that many crimes which may be done in a few minutes, shall be punished with the death of the offender. And is it not most just then that, offences done against God should be punished with everlasting death?
3.Common reason allows that there ought to be a proportion between the nature of the offence, and the quality of the punishment. Now sin against God is such an immense thing that nothing less than an everlasting punishment can be equivalent to it. This will be plain, if you consider the following:
(1). The greatness of the majesty against which sin is committed. Every sin is a base derogating of God, and this is enough to make the guilt of it infinite—because it is done against an infinite God, and therefore it deserves an infinite punishment. Now a finite creature cannot bear an infinite punishment—therefore God makes the punishment infinite in regard of continuance. The creature cannot pay the whole debt at once—therefore he must be paying it forever!
(2). There is an eternity in sin, not only as being committed against an eternal God, and as deserving eternal punishment. There is a further eternity in sin--with respect to the disposition and will of the sinner, which is so tied in sin, that if the sinner should live forever—then he would sin forever. He is never weary of sin. He desires to live here always, that he may always enjoy his lusts. Though he lives ever so long—yet he never thinks it is time to be judged by God.
To what a great age the men of the old world lived--eight or nine hundred years, and yet they made no other use of it than to indulge their lusts! Every sinner would certainly go on in sin to the world's end, if death did not hinder him. His desire and will is to sin everlastingly--and he would do so if he could!
As in the case of duty, so in the case of sin—God looks more at the will than the deed. What hinders a sinner from being a sinner still, who does not leave sin, until sin leaves him? He who would sin forever if he could—he continues to sin in willing to sin.
Is it not just, that those who if they had lived forever, would never have left sinning—should never cease suffering? And is it not just that their eternal obstinacy should be punished with an everlasting punishment?
(3)Again there is an actual eternity in man's sin, for though death puts an end to their lives, it does not put an end to their sins--for Hell is as full of sin as of suffering. They sin even in Hell, even when under the wrath of God. Their sin-nature remains forever--and they continue sinning forever. Therefore it is just with God that there should be an everlasting continuance of the punishment.
Here is the greatest misery of the damned—that is without redemption, or hope, or aid, forever!
(4).It is just with God that the sinner should be punished with everlasting misery—because he chooses it, by refusing everlasting felicity. The purchase our Lord made by his death, is an everlasting blessedness, and God by his infallible promise assures us that all who sincerely believe and obey him, shall be rewarded with Heaven forever. For all the wages of God in the last day, whether of love to the saints, or punishment to the wicked--are everlasting and run into eternity.
Now if God's tender and promises of everlasting glory are despised--then there is nothing left to be the sinner's portion, but everlasting misery. It is the fruit of his own choice, for it is certain that God will give to every man in the next world, that which he chooses in this. "I have set before you everlasting life, therefore choose life, that you may live!" He who chooses life shall have it. He who does not choose life, but willingly cleaves to his lusts—he in the outcome chooses death and Hell, and he shall have it.
He who chooses sin, chooses it with all its attendants, misery and wrath, for they cannot be separated from it. Therefore, if he chooses sin for himself—it is just that he should have the consequence his own choice.
He who chooses God for his portion, shall forever enjoy him. Is it not then just, that he who chooses misery—should forever lie under it?
Many say to God here, "Depart from us. We do not desire the knowledge of your ways!" It is just that God should say to such then, "Depart from Me into everlasting fire!"
There can be no complaint in Hell against God, where the punishment, however so great it is, is nothing else but the fruit of a man's own choice. For he who chooses sin as his way, does by consequence choose sin's end—which is eternal Hell and misery. If he falls into the hands of the living God—then he can blame none but himself. It is the fruit of his own choice.
Here we see the folly of lost sinners. What greater folly can any be guilty of, than to indulge sin, and gratify lust, and neglect God and Christ, and all the means of grace? Is it not folly for a man to make himself eternally wretched and miserable by his own choice? This shall be the woe of the damned, that they chose it!
But you will say, did any man ever choose to be miserable? Yes, thousands, and tens of thousands—every man who knows there is a God, and that he has an immortal soul, and must give a final account to God for all that he does in this world. He knows that sin will end in eternal damnation—and yet indulges in sin and lust! Therefore he chooses to perish and to be miserable forever. He loves Hell and death. (Proverbs 8:36). "All those who hate Me, love death." They love their sins and lusts and pleasures, that God has entailed death on, and therefore are said to love death.
Is it not folly to do that in respect to your souls, which your discretion abhors with respect to your bodies? You will not drink poison, though ever so sweet and pleasant, because there is death in it. Yet how does the sweetness of sin draw us to commit it, though there is Hell and damnation wrapped up in it? Is it not folly to run the hazard of Hell, for the satisfaction of your lusts? Is it not the greatest folly for any man to run the hazard of eternal torments—out of a fond desire for present sinful satisfaction?
As he who parted with a crown, for a draught of water in his distress cried out, "For what a short pleasure, have I lost a kingdom!" So this will be the cry of the sinner, "For what a short pleasure in sin—have I lost eternal happiness!"
Therefore, to cure the folly of these mischiefs, it is good to counterbalance our sinful desires with frequent thoughts of eternal realities.
I am not to live always. I may be in another world, before another Lord's Day comes. I must appear before the eternal God, to give an account of all that I have done in the flesh. Can I dwell with everlasting burnings? Can I endure the endless wrath of incensed justice? Think of this, when you are about to please the flesh and gratify your lusts: Can I bear the wrath of God forever?
We are apt to think that a Sabbath and a sermon long, and wish they were ended. But how long will the miseries and torments of Hell be! When once they begin, they shall never end—for there, conscience shall be a worm that never dies, and the wrath of God shall be a fire that never goes out. O! then, that you would endeavor to cure your present prevailing lusts, with the frequent forethoughts of the heat of the everlasting wrath of God! "For it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." Matthew 25:46