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sinners: Christ died for sinners; and God hath sworn by himself, As I live, saith the Lord, I would not the death of a sinner; but rather that he turn from his wickedness, and live.”
He replied, with his usual earnestness, “ I will grant as much difference between me and those in hell, as between a common devil and a devil incarnate: if these are irrecoverably lost, without opportunity of reprieve or hopes of pardon, and I am yet alive, what then? what is the consequence? Not that the promises belong in common to me with other sinners, nor to any sinners, but such as believe and repent. If Christ died for sinners, it was such as repent and believe; but though I would, I can do neither: I have outstood my day of grace, am hardened and reprobate. If God delight not in the death of sinners, it is of such sinners as repent and turn to him; but his justice will vindicate itself on such obstinate sinners as me, who have denied his power and providence both in my words and actions. Now he has met with me for it; and O! it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. If God was not against me, I should not care though all the power and malice of men were joined against me; though all the legions of hell continued to torture me with the most consuming pains: but when an irreconcileable God looks down upon his creature in wrath, and consigns him over to eternal vengeance, this is intolerable, inexpressible! ah, who can dwell with eternal burnings? Oh, ye that have any hope, that have not yet passed the day of grace, cry mightily to God day and night: think no labour too much to secure you from the wrath of God. 0! who can stand before him when he is angry? What stubble can resist that consuming fire?” This, and more to the same purpose, he spoke with so deep a concern, the tears all the while trickling down his face, that no one in the room could forbear weeping. Which he perceiving, said, “ If ye weep at the image and bare relation of the effects of God's wrath, what then do I suffer, who actually lie under the very weight of his fury? Refrain your tears, for it is in vain; pity is no debt to me; nothing is so proper for me as some curse to complete my misery, and free me from the torment of expectation." Here he paused a while; then looking towards the fire, he said, “Oh, that I was to lie and broil upon that fire a thousand years, to purchase the favour of God, and be reconciled to him again! but it is a fruitless wish; millions of millions of years will bring me no nearer the end of my torments than one poor hour. Oh, eternity, eternity ; who can discover the abyss of eternity? Who can paraphrase upon these words, forever and ever.!” Vol. II.
It began to grow late; so I took my leave of him for that night, promising to come again the next day; when I found his mind in the same condition still, but his body much weakened: there were with him three or four divines, who had been at prayer; which, they told me, had the same uneasy effect upon him as before.
One of them reminded him that Peter denied his Master with oaths and curses, and was yet received again into his favour.
He replied, “ It is true, Peter did deny his Master, as I have done, but what then? His Master prayed for him, that his faith should not fail; accordingly he looked lim into repentance, and assisted him by his Spirit to perfect it. Now, if he would assist me to repent, I should do so too; but he has justly withdrawn his intercession from me: I have grieved his Holy Spirit so often, that he has taken him from me, and in the room thereof has left me the spirit of impenitence and reprobation; and given me a certain earnest of a fearful inheritance in another life." He spoke little more that day; much company pressing towards night, orders were given to prevent it: at six of the clock, we all looked upon one another to know what course to take, no text being offered in his favour, but which he turned another way.
While we were thus musing, he cried out with the utmost vehemence, “ How long, O Lord, shall thy wrath burn forever against me? Shall thy eternal justice exact upon a poor despicable worm? What is my value or worth, that thou shouldst pour out full vials of wrath upon me? Oh, that thou wouldst let go thy hand forever, forget, and let me fall into my first nothing ! As my righteousness could have profited thee nothing, so my impieties can have done thee no hurt; therefore annihilate me, and let me perish. Be not angry that I thus expostulate with thee; it will be but a little while before thy wrath shall force the dreadfulest blasphemies from me. Oh, that thou wouldest take away my being or misery: neither can increase or diminish thy happiness; and therefore, let them both cease, and let my name be known no more. But, if I must be, and be immortal, and thou wilt punish me because I have despised thee: let a privation of thought suffice, and let me pass my eternity in a dream, without ever being awakened by the pangs of torment, or by the gnawing of the worm that never dies. But, oh, fruitless desires! I am expostulating with a God that forever hath shut out my prayers; and only protracts my breath a little longer, to make me an example to others. O! ye rocks and mountains, that ye would cover and hide me from the wrath of an incensed God: but I cannot
fee from his presence: what he hath begun, he will finish. He will extend his wrath against me forever and ever.”
Here some one knocked at the door, and it proved to be the postman, with a letter for him, which being told him, “ How,” said he, u a letter for me! A little longer, and I expect another sort of message: I am very shortly to give an account of every secret action I have done; and I have a mind to make an experiment to see how I can bear it. Pray sir,"added he to me, “do me the favourto read me this letter. The contents I know not, but I suspect it comes from some of my old acquaintance.” I desired to be excused, alleging there might be something in it improper to be divulged. “ Nothing,” replied he, “ can affect me now; I have no honour, no reputation, and, what is yet worse, no heaven to lose by this or any other act." Upon this I broke it open. The letter received was as follows:
“ DEAREST SIR, “ Understanding you are dangerously ill, and that it has had a melancholy effect upon you, I could not (considering our strict friendship) but endeavour to remove those evils your mind may be under; which perhaps is an office no less grateful, than making the body sound. Sickness and death are the common lot of mankind; and to repine and grieve at this lot, is to combat the laws of nature, and fight against impossibilities. What wise man repines at the heat in summer, or the cold in winter? A common evil ceases to be an evil. But perhaps your melancholy suggests to you, that it is a dismal thing to launch into an unknown abyss. I answer: Sometimes I dream of dreadful things, but when I awake, all vanishes. Thus if we examine death and its consequences by our reason, those formidable monsters grow tame and familiar to us. I would demand of him who asks me what estate I shall be in after death, what estate he was in before life? Pain and pleasure will leave their impressions upon a human spirit. If I was either happy or miserable before I was born, I must still retain the impression; but I do not know, therefore I shall not hereafter; I came out of nothing, and shall return into it. As the flame of an extinguished candle dissolves and loses itself in the circumambient air, even so the taper of life vanishes into ether, and is no more, when once the laws of the vital union are broken. Death itself is nothing, and after death is nothing; take courage, man: either die like yourself, master of your own fate and happiness, so long as it is to be kept; or else recover, and live worthy the character of a person who knows now either to live or die, So wishes,” &c,
This letter was but fuel to the tormenting flame, before in the breast of the sick gentleman ; who immediately dictated the fol. lowing answer:
“SIR, “ Being not able to use my own, I have borrowed another hand, to answer yours. You say well, it is a more grateful office to endeavour to remove the disorders of the mind than of the body. What you urge of the common lot of mankind, as death and sickness, I could wish were my case; but my affliction is, that despair and hell are the common lot of atheists. Now your argument cannot reach my case, unless you first prove that atheism is as inevitable as death and sickness, and that therefore the effects of it are to be borne patiently, unless a man will combat necessity, and fight against the laws of fate. I have formerly used this way of arguing myself, but wonder now how I could ever think it conclusive. You say, that if we examine death and its supposed consequences by our reason, those formidable monsters grow tame and familiar: if, by our reason, you mean either that peculiar to atheists, or the common reason of human nature, I am sure these monsters will grow less tame and familiar, the more we think of them: since no reason shows what an unexperienced death is, or what the change consequent upon it, how can we judge of things we do not know? Reason on such things as long as you please, and you will be at last as far from the truth as when you began. Your argument is extremely weak about a pre-existent and a future state: I retain no impression of past happiness or misery, therefore there is none to come; how that is a consequence, I do not see. Next you would have me bclieve, upon your bare word, that deati is nothing, and after death is nothing: pray, how do you know, having not yet tried? There are a great many that say the contrary. I have only concerned myself with the rationality of your letter that you may believe I am not distracted; which I would desire you to believe that what I am going to say may not have less weight with you. It is true, and whether you believe it or not, you will find it so at last; if I could force you to believe it I would: all I can do is, to deal with you as a reasonable creature, by opening my breast to you, and then leaving you at your liberty to act as you please. While we are in health and business, we may act contrary to our intentions, and plead for the thing we believe not; but when we come to die, the vizard is taken off, and the man appears as he is. This is my condition, and therefore I can have no motive to impose upon my friends. Religion is no imposter, heaven and hell
are real, and the immortality of the soul as certain as the existence of the body: for a time we have officiously deluded and cheat.. ed ourselves out of religion and happiness; and God, who will not always be despised by his creatures, has chosen me as an example to you all, and a warning to the lazy and indifferent christian. But who, alas! can write his own tragedy without tears, or copy out the seal of his own damnation without horror! That there is a God, I know, because I continually feel the effects of his wrath : that there is a hell, I am equally certain, having received an earnest of my inheritance there already in my breast: that there is a natural conscience, I now feel with horror and amazement, being continually upbraided by it with my impieties, and with all my sins brought to my remembrance. Why God has marked me out for an example of his vengeance, rather than you or any other of our acquaintance, I presume, is, because I have been more religiously educated, and have done greater despite to the Spirit of Grace. What egregious folly is it for dust and ashes to contend with its Creator, to question his justice, his power, yea, his very being; when at the same time, without this God, every such wretch would immediately fall into nothing, being without him not able to exist one moment? What vile ingratitude is it scurrilously to reflect on his religion, who died to reconcile such reAecters to himself? Do not mistake yourself; it is not a light matter to contend with the God of nature, to abuse religion, and deny its Author, and (what is worst of all) to apostatize from it, as I have done. God has met with me for it, after a long forbearance of my inveterate impieties and profaneness. Let me en
treat you to leave off your sins; who knows but God may yet re· ceive you? I speak not this out of any love to virtue, or hatred of
vice (for I am hardened and impenitently reprobate); but, like Dives, I am unwilling my brethren should come into this place of torment. Make what use of this you please; only remember, that if it does not reclaim it will enhance your guilt, possibly to be overtaken in this world, as I am by the just judgment of God; if not, be sure you will be met with hereafter, which is all, from, &c.”
As soon as the letter was read and sent, the night being far worn, we all took our leave of him, wishing him good rest, and a happier condition the next day. To which he replied, “ Gentlemen, I thank you, but my happiness is at an end; and as for my rest to night, thus I spend the little remainder of my miserable moments. All the ease I expect will be wishing for the day, as in the day time I wish for the night, and in a fearful expectation of my dissolution, and the account I must make upon it. But, gentle.