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We see, then, that destruction awaits unbeliev. ing, contemptuous sinners.
Our text teaches us, Secondly, That this destruction, when it comes, will be wonderful. “Behold, ye despisers, and wonder and perish.”
1. The phrase may intend, that such sinners will perish unexpectedly, will meet with unlooked for destruction; with a punishment which they little thought of, and which therefore will fill them with wonder and astonishment. It is said of Jerusalem, “ Because she remembered not her last end, therefore she came down wonderfully.”
The scripture represents the destruction of sinners, in general, as coming upon them by surprise. This will especially be the fate of those who despise the gospel. Their contempt of, and inattention to their salvation must arise either from unfeeling stupidity, or blind self flattery. They either think not at all, or, when they hear the warnings of God, they cry, “ Peace and safety." Therefore sudden destruction comes upon them. If they had any sensible convictions of their own guilt and realising apprehensions of the destruction which awaits them, they would prize the gospel beyond all the treasures of the universe. Its gracious invitations and urgent calls would be more welcome to them, than cold water to the thirsty, liberty to 'captives, or pardon to condemned malefactors. They would listen to them with avidity, and embrace them with ardour and joy.
The greater part of sinners find some way or other to delude themselves into a persuasion, that they shall escape the judgment of God. If they do not expressly deny the truth, yet they studiously evade the force of the divine threatenings. They either banish them from their minds, or view them as respecting times afar off and leaving room for future repentance ; or they flatter themselves, that God
will never execute them, or will not execute them so fully as the language of scripture seems to import: Or they indulge a vain, unfounded opinion of their own goodness ; or, hardened through the deceitfulness of sin, they resist the impression of every warning, however pertinent and solemn. Destruction, when it falls on such sinners, will take them by terrible surprise.
How will the atheist, the infidel, the haughty unbeliever be amazed, when he finds the awful reality of those eternal scenes of woe, which now he derides, as the sickly dreams of weak and credulous religionists !-How will the stupid sons of pleasure be astonished, when in hell they lift up their eyes, being in torments, and perceive themselves deeply sunk in that gulf of misery, in which there is no consolation and from which there is no redemption !- What severe disappointment will mortify the proud heart of the hypocrite, when, full of the hopes of heaven, he drops into destruction, and beholds, in the kingdom of God, thousands whom he had uncharitably reprobated !-What dreadful surprise will overwhelm the presumptuous sinner, who, while he is putting far off the evil day, and relying on the purpose of a future repentance, is arrested in all his guilt and driven away in his wickedness !—How will profane and impious wretches be confounded, who, while they mock at sin, scoff at the judgment to come, and sport with eternal damnation, are seized in the midst of their impiety, and consigned to everlasting burnings !
“ Consider this, ye who forget God, lest he tear you in pieces; and there be none to deliver.”
2. The destruction of despisers will be wonderful, as it will exceed ali present conception. “ There is a strange punishment for the workers of iniquity.”
Some temporal judgments are so great, that they
are called strange and marvellous works. Thus speaks the Almighty, by the mouth of his prophet, “For as much as this people have removed their heart far from me, and seek to hide their work in the dark, and say, Who seeth us? therefore will I proceed to do a marvellous work among them, even a marvellous work, and a wonder—Howl ye, for the day of the Lord is at hand ; it shall be as destruction from the Almighty : Therefore shall all hands be faint, and every heart shall melt, and they shall be afraid : Pangs and sorrows shall take hold of them ; they shall be amazed one at another.” How much more strange and marvellous will be the future punishment of despisers ?—“God will
perform a work which they would not believe, though a man should declare it. to them.” " Who knows the power of God's anger ? As his fear is, so is his wrath:” There is no passion in the human heart, more boundless than fear. This is prone to exag. gerate evil. It often far exceeds the magnitude of its object. But, in this case, it is incapable of excess; it falls far short of that, which the wrath of God can do, and which, the scripture tells us, it will do.
We cannot conceive the misery which must attend a total deprivation of every enjoyment. Many have known the pains of poverty, sickness, captivity and slavery. Their pains, however, by a kindly intermixture of blessings, have been greatly mitigated and softened. The want of every com . fort they never have experienced. But this is what contemptuous sinners will, one day feel. They have their portion of good things only in this life. Hereafter they will be tormented, and will have no rest day nor night. The rich man, tormented in flames, was denied the small request, that the beg. gar might be sent to cool his tongue, by touching it only with his finger dipped in water.
We cannot conceive the greatest anguish of a self condemning conscience.
Some indeed, have known this to a painful de. gree. Cain under the horrors of guilt, anticipated a punishment greater than he could bear. Judas, tor. mented with the stings of remorse, chose 'strangling and death rather than life. If the terrors of conscience may, even in this world, be soʻintolera. ble, What will they be in those regions of darkness, those gloomy and dismal shades, where peace and hope can never enter? There sinners will meet with nothing to divert their pensive minds. There all the past scenes of their lives, their contempt of offered mercy, and abuse of divine grace, all their ungodly deeds, and hard and impious speeches, will come full and fresh to their remembrance and
perpetually haunt their guilty souls. Can it be imagined, what keen reflections will piercethem through and through?—What anguish will wring their hearts under the corrosions of the worm which never dies?
Sinners cannot, at present, have a full idea of that positive punishment, which awaits them.
Many have known severe pains from diseases, wounds and broken limbs. But these will give na adequate conception of that torment, which the scripture expresses by the fire which shall never be quenched.
The distress of total despair is beyond all imagination.
Under our greatest worldly aflictions, hope stands by to console and sustain us. Without this, sonie of our troubles would be insupportable. The apprehension of future misery has driven some to the Þorders of distraction ; 'and yet, in their gloomiest hours hope has shed some sparks of light around them. But in the world of misery, despair will be perfect. "Every gleam of hope will be excluded.
There will be “ utter darkness,” and this rendered more hideous by universal wailing and gnashing of teeth.
We can form no full and clear conception of eternity. This is an object too big for our comprehension. We can add, years to years, and ages to ages, until we lose ourselves in numbers ; but our calculation, after all, stops infinitely short of eterni. ty. Yet this is the duration of the future punishment of the ungodly. Amazing thought! Who can dwell with devouring fire? Who can dwell with everlasting burnings ?
Behold, ye despisers, and wonder and perish!
3. This expression teaches us, that the punishment of those who despise the gospel, will be won. derful, compared with that of other sinners. They will be distinguished in the world of misery..
Moses having enumerated the singular privileges, which God had vouchsafed to his favoured people, says to them, “ If ye will not observe to do all the words of this law, the Lord will make your plagues wonderful.”
The gospel abounds in warnings of this kind, “ If the word spoken by angels was stedfast,” says the Apostle to the Hebrews, “ and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward-How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation ?”_"He who despised Moses's law, died without mercy : Of how much sorer punishment shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the son of God ?"-" If we sin wil. fully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth a fearful looking for of judgment.”—“ If they escaped not, who refused him that spake on earth ; much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven.” The Apostle Peter, to guard christians against apostasy, holds up the same warning-—“ It