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probability where some temporal good only is to be secured, or some tenrporal evil averted, and build an argument on the same degree of probability for the utter neglect of your soul's salvation? If your case were absolutely hopeless, why then indeed there would be nothing to be done, and there would be no motive to attempt any thing ; but so long as there were even a ray of hope, you would stand convicted of madness in not waking to effort; for the loss on the one hand, and the gain on the other, defy all the powers of human calculation.
There is another thing here to be considered: it is that notwithstanding the chances according to all the rules of legitimate calculation are against any individual sinner being converted, yet we do know that many will be converted, though we cannot designate them; and here is a ground for encouragement. Let it be remembered also that notwithstanding the truth of our doctrine, yet the reason why it is true, is not that men are doomed to perdition by an arbitrary decree that has no respect to their own character; (that were a perversion of the true doctrine of providence ;) but because they choose death, or the course which leads to death, rather than life, when life and death are both set before them. The probability, then, that you will perish, results not from the fact that you cannot be saved, but that you will not be saved ; that you will continue till you die to reject the offers of eternal life.
And now, beloved hearers, if I do not mistake, the subject on which we have been meditating, has, as it respects some of you, raised a conflict between your judgment and conscience on the one hand, and your inclinations on the other. On the one hand, you cannot resist the conviction that these things are so; that the probability is decidedly in favor of your being doomed to an eternal communion with the wailings of the lost ; and reason tells you that this is an appalling consideration. On the other hand, you shrink from the effort necessary to escape this tremendous doom,—and there is the plea of business, and the plea of pleasure, and the plea of carnal apathy, all united in favor of some future more convenient season. In this conflict shall reason or feeling be triumphant? In respect to most of you I have reason to fear that it will be the latter; and to every such case I may appeal for a further confirmation of the truth of what you have heard. Such a course will prove that you can still hold out against warnings and expostulations ; that you can practically determine, even after this subject has been brought distinctly before you, that you will still stifle conscience and insult Jehovah. In short, it will be an inportant item in that evidence which proves that you are probably to suffer for ever. We shall expect to hear of you again, not indeed perhaps plunging into gross excess, but losing yourself in the haunts of thoughtlessness or in the whirl of business, apparently and really unmindful that you are in the least jeopardy. But there are those among us who will look upon you with an eye of compassion ; who will wish we could lay hold of you and save you from perdition; who, when we think of you with respect and kindness, will feel our hearts throb and sink at the reflection that you are probably to have your por
among the lost. I have said, you may refuse to look at this subject now, but the day is coming when it will urge itself upon you, and you will not be able to turn away from it. When sickness shall have taken you out of the ranks of pleasure and business, when death with its clustering horrors shall look you in the face, and show you his mandate, and point you to the door of the pit; and one step farther onward--when the everlasting abyss opens beneath the eye, and the sound of wailing ascends from it, and the storm and the lightning of God's wrath are blazing and raging over it-Oh tell me, how will the subject of this discourse appear
BY WILLIAM B. SPRAGUE, D.D.
THE WICKED SURPRISED BY THEIR OWN DESTRUCTION.
LAMENTATIONS, 1. 9.–She remembereth not her last end : therefore she
came down wonderfully.
The occasion of the writing of this book was the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem by the Chaldean army, and the consequent dissolution of the Jewish state. In this first chapter, the prophet bewails the miseries which had come upon his much-loved city ; contrasting her deplorable condition with her former state of prosperity and magnificence. And in the verse which contains our text, he speaks of the fearfulness of her ruin, and charges it upon her own guilty inconsideration. “She remembereth not her last end ; therefore SHE CAME DOWN WONDERFULLY.”
The tremendous calamities that now came upon the Jewish nation, seem to have been an occasion not only of great distress, but of great surprise. Jerusalem came down wonderfully, inasmuch as she came down at a time when she did not expect it, in a manner which she did not expect, and to a doom which she did not expect. From having been the joy of the whole earth, she became a field of utter desolation.
There are certain great principles in the divine administration, the operation of which gives a degree of uniformity to the divine proceedings. For instance, it is the manner of our God to visit with signal destruction those who have proudly set at naught his authority in a course of prosperous wickedness. Such was his treatment of Jerusalem. From the haughty clevation to which she had risen, she was suddenly brought down into the dust : her pomp, and her glory, and the noise of her viols, all departed. So it has been with individuals. Witness the case of Nebuchadnezzar, and of Herod, and a mukitude of others. Destruction came upon them, not only in a terrible form, but at an hour when they did not expect it; and it was the more awful because it came as a surprise. And let me say, the same thing will hold true, in a greater or less degree, of all sinners, as it respects their final doom; while it will be especially true of those who have sinned against great light, and with a high hand.
The precise point, then, which I propose to illustrate in this discourse is, that THE DESTRUCTION WHICH WILL OVERTAKE SINNERS AT LAST, WILL BE TO THEM A MATTER OF AWFUL SURPRISE. It will be at once unexpectedly dreadful, and dreadfully unexpected.
1. This will appear, in the first place, from the fact that God's wrath against the wicked is constantly accumulating. If God's word be true, one sin exposes the soul to eternal perdition. We shall not stop here to vindicate God's justice in this constitution of things, for that were unnecessary, inasmuch as he himself hath said, “ the soul that sinneth”—not that sinneth a thousand times—not that sinneth through a whole life, but “ that sinneth, shall die;" and it is enough for us to know that such a declaration never could have gone out of the mouth of the Lord, unless it had been just. If, then, a single violation of God's law exposes the sinner to an eternal punishment, tell me what must be the effect of a state of impenitence continued during a whole life? If the first sin you ever committed provoked God, do you think that the second provoked him less; and that as he saw you become accustomed to sin, he came to think as little of it as yourself, and has not even charged your sins against you ? Do you not remember that the Bible speaks of the sinner treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath? And can you reflect a moment without perceiving that reason and conscience both decide that it must be so? To suppose that it were otherwise, would be to annihilate God's moral government, and to trample the Divine character in the dust.
Now, sinner, take God's law for your standard, and enter into your secret chamber and commune with yourself; and see to what conclusion you come in respect to the number and the aggravation of your sins. Perhaps you are appalled at the undertaking, and are ready to shrink from it on the ground that most of your sins, especially your sins of heart, have escaped your remembrance. Take then a single week ; or if you please, bring it down even to a single day, and see how many sins of omission and of commission, of heart and of life, rise up before you. Where has been your love to God? Where your faith in Christ? Where your gratitude for mercies received ? Where your penitence for past offences? Where your earnest and importunate prayers! Where
your faithful efforts to advance the spiritual interests of your fellowmen? On the other hand, have you not excluded God from your thoughts? Have you not refused to listen to the calls which he has sent you in his word and in his providence to attend to the things of your peace? Have you not even resisted the strivings of his Spirit, and driven away serious impressions by rushing into the cares of the world, or into scenes of gaiety, when, if you had cherished them as you ought, you might have been brought into the kingdom? I do not pretend to say that it is possible that you can, by any effort of mind, recall all your transgressions—that I know were impossible; but of this you may be certain,—that the more you think of your sins, the more sins you will find to think of; it will be a field on which you will never lack for something new ; for all the conduct of your life and all the operations of your heart will bring up to your view something omitted which you ought to have done, and something done which you ought to have omitted.
Bear in mind now that the progress of God's wrath has exactly corresponded with the progress of your guilt.
He has been no idle spectator of any thing that you have been doing or leaving undone. If, then, the first sin which you committed was enough to ensure to you eternal perdition, to what an aggravated perdition must you be doomed for a whole life of transgression; transgression, too, persevered in amidst even the tender expostulations of dying love? If God's wrath against the sinner has been accumulating during all this time, Oh, who can estimate its fearful amount ?
Now when all this comes to strike upon the sinner, may it not be justly said that he has "come down wonderfully ?" It is most likely that his thoughts concerning it have hitherto been few; but even if he has dwelt upon it frequently, and has exerted his imagination to the utmost to conceive what the final condition of the lost must be, his strongest conceptions have fallen infinitely short of what he finds to be the reality. His sins have been accumulating faster than he had ever conceived, and by means upon which he had never spent a thought. And God's wrath has been accumulating just as fast. Oh, must he not sink under it, when the whole catalogue of his sins are spread before him, and the whole amount of wrath comes down upon him?
2. The destruction which will come upon sinners will be to them a matter of fearful surprise, inasmuch as in the present life God's wrath, for the most part, seems to slumber ; at least, they receive no direct expressions of it. It is true, indeed, that God is giving them warnings enough both in his word and providence; and if they did not close their ears against them, they could not fail to be alarmed; and they will never be able in the day of their calamity to charge God with having concealed from them their danger. Nevertheless, he treats them here as probationers for eternity ; he sets life and death before them; but he does not unsheath his sword, and point it visibly at the sinner's heart. The sinner reads perhaps of the awful terrors of God's wrath, but he does not now experience them. He does not find that the elements are armed for his destruction. The thundercloud rises, and rolls, and looks terrific, as if it were borne along by an avenging hand; but the lightning that blazes from it passes him by unhurt. Pestilence comes; and if he sees it cut down the sinner, he sees it cut down the saint also; or perhaps the saint dies, and the sinner lives. He sleeps quietly upon his bed: no invisible being whispers in his ear any thing in respect to the wrath to come; and he dreams perhaps of beauty, and
of pleasure, and of mirth, without the intrusion of a solitary image of gloom. In short, not one of the vials of God's wrath can be said to be open upon him. There is nothing which he interprets as an indication of anything dreadful in the future.
Now must not all this be a preparation for a fearful surprise at last? If God had taken the sinner directly in hand at the commencement of his career, and had made him a visible object of his indignation, and had all along given him a dreadful foretaste of the future in the present, why then the destruction that awaits him might be substantially what he had disciplined himself to expect; but after having had no premonitions of it, or rather nothing which he has regarded as premonitory, it cannot but produce awful consternation. If you see a cloud rising, and approaching, and growing thicker and darker, you are not surprised if there comes a peal of thunder that shakes the earth ; but if when the sun was shining in his strength, and there was no cloud visible, and the atmosphere was serene and fresh, and the sky all over beautiful—if at such a moment, the voice of God's thunder should suddenly be heard in the heavens, and the world should seem to move from its foundations, you would be horror-struck at the unusual phenomenon. The same thing substantially will be true of sinners at the last. Destruction will burst upon them like a wild tempest in a serene and cloudless morning.
3. Not only have the wicked during the present life, received no signal expressions of divine vengeance, but they have been constantly receiving expressions of the divine goodness: and this is another circumstance which will serve to increase the surprise that will be occasioned by their destruction. You cannot look around you—you cannot recur to your own experience, without finding abundant evidence that God is continually showering favors upon the evil and the unthankful. How many blessings do sinners enjoy growing out of the constitution which God has given them in connexion with the circumstances of their external condition! They have food, and raiment, and houses, and friends : they have the means of intellectual improvement of regaling the taste and imagination among the beauties of nature : they have the comforts of social intercourse; and the endearment connected with domestic relations; and, little as they profit by them, they have the means of gracethe Bible, the Sabbath, a preached gospel, and even the influences of God's Spirit-every thing that is necessary to fit them for heaven. They have as many temporal blessings, and sometimes more than the real children of God; and from the dispensations of God's providence towards them, it would be impossible to infer that there was to be any thing dreadful in their destiny hereafter.
Now these numberless expressions of divine goodness which the wicked are continually receiving, have a tendency to lull them into a yet deeper security, and to prepare them for a more fearful surprise when the day of calamity and wrath finally comes. The mere absence of any signal manifestation of God's displeasure, as we have seen, actually has this effect; much more will it be