Of Punishment

For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil. ~ Ecclesiastes 12:14

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.
~ 2 Corinthians 5:10

A Body of Divinity, Wherein the Doctrines of the Christian Religion are Explained and Defended Being the Substance of Several Lecturers on the Assembly’s Larger Catechism, by Thomas Ridgeley.

Of The Punishment of Sin.

Quest. XXVIII. What are the punishments of sin in this world?

Answ. The punishments of sin in this world, are either inward as blindness of mind, a reprobate sense, strong delusions, hardness of heart, horror of conscience, and vile affections or outward, as the curse of God upon the creatures for our sakes, and all other evils that befall us in our bodies, names, estates, relations, and employments, together with death itself.

Quest. XXIX. What are the punishments of sin in the world to come?

Answ. The punishments of sin in the world to come, are everlasting separation from the comfortable presence of God, and most grievous torments in soul and body, without intermission, in hell-lire for ever.

I. In the former of these answers, we have an account of those punishments which sin exposes men to in this world. These are distinguished as being either inward or outward, personal or relative; of which, those that are styled outward which more especially respect our condition in the world, as we are liable to many adverse dispensations of providence therein, and are generally reckoned, by sinners, the greatest, as they are most sensible while they groan under the many evils and miseries which befall them, in their bodies, names, estates, revelations, and employments, and they end in death, the most formidable of all evils; though, in reality, the punishments of sin, which are styled inward such as blindness of mind, hardness of heart, &c. how little soever they are regarded by those who fall under them, by reason of that stupidity, which is the natural consequence thereof: yet they are, by far, the greatest and most dreaded by all, who truly fear God, and see things in a just light being duly affected with that which would render them most miserable in the end.

Here we shall consider,

First, those punishments that are called inward, which respect either the understanding, will, conscience, or affections. Accordingly,

1. We are said to be exposed to blindness of mind: This the apostle describes in a most moving way, when he speaks of the Gentiles as walking in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of Godly through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart, Eph. iv. 17, 18. Ignorance and error are defects of the understanding, whereby it is not able to find out, nor desirous to enquire after the way of truth and peace; and accordingly the apostle says. The way of peach they have not known.

Rom, iii. 17, and by reason hereof, we are naturally inclined to deny those doctrines, which are of the greatest importance namely, such as more immediately concern the glory of God, and our own salvation. This ignorance is certainly most dangerous, and cannot be exempted from the charge of sin, much more when we are judicially left to it, as a punishment for other sins committed by us.

2. Another punishment of sin, mentioned in this answer, is strong delusion, which is the consequence of the former. This is taken from the apostle’s words, For this cause God shall send them strong’ delusion that they should believe a lie, 2 Thess. ii:11, the meaning of which is nothing else but this, that God suffers them, who receive not the love of the truth, but take pleasure in unrighteousness, to be deluded, by denying them that spiritual and saving illumination, which would have effectually prevented it. Now, that we may consider what the apostle means by these strong delusions, we may observe, that every error, or mistake in lesser matters of religion, is not intended hereby; for then few or none, would be exempted from this judgment; but it includes in it a person’s entertaining the most abominable absurdities in matters of religion, which are contrary to the divine perfections, and the whole tenor of scripture, and subversive of those truths, which are of the greatest importance; or, when persons pretend to revelations, or are turned away from the truth by giving credit to the amusements of signs, and lying wonders, with which Antichrist is said to come, after the working of Satan; and the consequence hereof is, that they believe a lie which they suppose to be confirmed hereby. Errors, in matter of religion, are sometimes invincible and unavoidable, for want of objective light, or scripture-revelation, as in the Heathen, Mahometans, and others, who through the disadvantages and prejudices of education, are estranged from the truth: but even this in some respects, may be said to be judicial; for, though such do not sin against the gospel-light, yet they are guilty of other sins, which justly provoke God to leave them in this state of darkness and ignorance. But the punishment of sin, when God gives men up to this judgment, is more visible in those, who have had the advantages of education, above others, and have had early instructions in the doctrines of the gospel; yet, by degrees, they are turned aside from, and have denied them, and so forsaken the guide of their youth, Prov. ii. 17. These sometimes call those sentiments about religious matters, which once they received, implicit faith, and please themselves with their new schemes of doctrine, looking, as they call it, with pity, or, I might rather say, disdain, on others, who are not disentangled from their fetters, or have not shook off the prejudices of education, nor arrived, to so free and generous a way of thinking, as they pretend to have done. But how much soever they may glory in it, it is a sad instance of God’s giving them up, in a judicial way, to the vanity and delusion of their minds; and accordingly they believe that to be a truth, which others can prove to be a lie, and which they themselves once thought so. Now this appears to be a punishment of sin, in that the gospel, which once they professed to believe, had not that effect, or tendency, as it ought, to subdue their lusts and corruptions; but they rebelled against the light, and were under the power of presumptuous sins their understanding, and talents of reasoning, have been enlarged, and, at the same time, the pride and vanity of their minds hath not been subdued, and mortified, by the grace of God; whereupon, they have been given up first to question, then to deny, and afterwards to oppose, and, in the most profane and insidious manner, to ridicule those sacred and important truths, which they once received. This is a sad instance of the punishment of sin; and the use that I would make of it may be in the following inferences.

(1.) That we ought not to be content with a bare speculative knowledge of divine truths, but should endeavour to improve them, to promote practical godliness, as they have a tendency to do in all those, who, as the apostle saith, if so learned Christ as that they have been taught by him as the truth is in Jesus, Eph. iv. 21.

(2.) We ought not to content ourselves with an implicit faith, or believe the doctrines of the gospel, merely because they have been received by wise and good men, in former or later ages but should be able to render a reason of the faith and hope that is in us, as built upon clear scripture evidence; so, on the other hand, we must take heed that we do not despise the many testimonies which God’s people have given to the truth, or forsake the footsteps of the flock, as though God had left his servants to delusions, or groundless doctrines, and there were no light in the world, or the church, till those, who have studiously endeavoured to overthrow the faith delivered to, and maintained by the saints, brought in that which they, with vain-boasting, call new light, into it,

(3.) Let us strive against the pride of our understandings which oftentimes tempts us to disbelieve any doctrine which we cannot fully account for, by our shallow methods of reasoning, as though we were the only, men that knew anything; and, as Job says, wisdom must die with us, Job xii. 2.

(4) If we are in doubt concerning any important truth, let us apply ourselves, by faith and prayer, to Christ, the great prophet of his church who he’s promised his Spirit to lead his people into all necessary truth, to establish them in, and to keep them from being turned aside from it, by every wind of doctrine, through the management and sophistry of those who lie in wait to deceive. And to this we may add, that we ought to bless God for, and to make a right use of the labours of others, who have not only been led into the knowledge of the gospel themselves, but have taken a great deal of pains, and that with good success, to establish the faith of others therein.

(5.) If we have attained to a settled knowledge of the truths and, more especially, if we have been blessed with a spiritual and practical discerning thereof, let us bless God for it, and endeavour to improve it to the best purposes, which will be a preservative against this sore judgment of being given up to the blindness of our minds, or strong delusions, and thereby to forsake our first faith.

3. Another punishment of sin, which more especially respects the will, is hardness of heart, and a reprobate sense, when men are given up to the perverseness and obstinacy of their natures, so that they are fixedly resolved to continue in sin, whatever be the consequence thereof, when they cannot bear reproof for, and refuse to be reclaimed from it; whatever methods are used in order thereunto. Thus the prophet speaks, concerning a people, which had had forewarnings by sore judgements, and were, at that time, under sad rebukes of providence; yet God says, concerning them. They will not hearken unto me; for all the house of Israel are impudent and hard-hearted, Ezek. iii. 7, and the apostle speaks of some, who have their consciences seared with a hot iron, 1 Tim. iv. 2. and others, who are described, as sinning wilfully, Heb. v. 26, that is, resolutely, being head-strong, and determined to persist therein; and are as the man described in Job, Who stretcheth out his hand against God, and strengtheneth himself against the Almighty; he runneth upon him, even upon his neck, upon the thick bosses of his bucklers, Job xv. 25. Thus corrupt nature expresses its enmity and opposition to God; and, as sinners are suffered to go on in this way, it may well be reckoned a punishment of sin, or an instance of God’s judicial hand against them for it. This hardness of heart is sometimes compared to a stone, Ezek. xxxvi. 26, or a rock, Jer. xxiii. 19, or an adamant, which is hardly broken with a hammer, Zech. vii. 12, or an iron sinew, and their brow is said to be as brass, Isa. xlviii, 4. and sometimes they are compared to a swift dromedary, traversing her ways or the wild ass, used to the wilderness, that snuffeth up the wind at her pleasure, Jer. ii. 23, 24, and the bullock unaccustomed to the yoke, Jer. xxxi. 18. or to the deaf adder, that stoppeth her ears; that will not hearken to the voice of the charmers charming never so wisely Psal. Iviii 4 , 5c, This stupidity of the heart of man is so great, that it inclines him to go on in a com-se of rebellion against God, and, at the same time, to conclude all things to be well; whereas, this is the most dangerous symptom, and a visible instance of God’s judicial hand, as a punishment of sin in this life. There are several instances, in which this hardness of heart discovers itself; as,

(1.) When men are not afraid of God’s judgments threatened, nor regard the warnings given thereof before-hand, or when they refuse to humble themselves under them, as God says to Pharaoh, How long wilt thou refuse to humble thyself before me? Exod. x. 3.

(2.) When they stifle, and do not regard those convictions of conscience, which they sometimes have; and, though they know that what they do is sinful, and displeasing to God. yet they break through all those fences, which should have prevented their committing it, as the apostle speaks of some, Who knowing the judgment of God, that they that commit such things, are worthy of death; not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them, Rom. i. 32.

(3.) Men may be said to be hardened in sin, when they do not mourn for, or repent of it, after they have committed it but, on the other hand, endeavour to conceal, extenuate, and plead for it, rather than to forsake it. And here we may take occasion to enquire,

[1.] What are those sins which more especially lead to this Judgment of hardness of heart. These are,

1st., A neglect of ordinances, such as the word preached, as though we counted it an indifferent matter, whether we wait at wisdom’s gate, or no, or make a visible profession of subjection to Christ, and desire of communion with him herein; and particularly when we live in the constant neglect of secret prayer thus the hardened sinner is described, when it is said. Yea, thou castest off fear, and restrainest prayer before God, Job xv. 4.

2dly., Another sin leading to it, is, a person’s delighting in, or associating himself with such companions, as are empty and vain, express an enmity to the power of godliness, and frequently make things sacred, the subject of their wit and ridicule, choosing such for his bosom-friends, who cannot bear to converse about divine things, but rather depreciate, or cast contempt upon them; such an one is called, a companion of fools, and is opposed to those that walk with wise men, who shall be wise, Prov. xiii. 20. and there is no method which will have a:more direct tendency to harden the heart, or root out any of the remains of serious religion, than this.

3rdly, A shunning faithful reproof, or concluding those our enemies, who are, in this respect, our best friends. He that cannot bear to be told of his crimes, by others, will, in a little while, cease to be a reprover to himself, and hereby will be exposed to this judgment of hardness of heart.

Fourthly, Our venturing on the occasions of sin, or committing it presumptuously, without considering the heinous aggravations thereof, or the danger that will ensue to us thereby; these things will certainly bring on us a very great degree of hardness of heart.

But, since there are some who are afraid of falling under this judgment, and are ready to complain, that the hardness, which they find in their own hearts, is of a judicial nature; this leads us to enquire,

[2.] What is the difference between that hardness of hearty which believers often complain of, and judicial hardness, which is considered, in this answer, as a punishment of sin. There is nothing that a believer more complains of, than the hardness and impenitency of his heart, its lukewarmness and stupidity under the ordinances; and there is nothing that he more de- sires, than to have this redressed, and is sometimes not without a degree of fear, lest he should be given up to judicial hardness; and therefore, to prevent discouragements of this nature, let it be considered,

(1.) That judicial hardness is very seldom perceived, and never lamented; a broken and a contrite heart is the least thing; that such desire: But it is otherwise with believers; for, as it is said of Hezekiah, that he was humbled for the pride of his hearty 2 Chron. xxxii. 26, so all they, who have the truth of grace, and none but such, are exceedingly grieved for the hardness of their heart, which is an argument that it is not judicial, how much soever it be, in common with every sin, the result of the corruption of nature, and the imperfection of this present state.

(2.) Judicial hardness is perpetual; or, if ever there be any remorse, or relenting, or the soul is distressed, by reason of its guilt, or the prevalancy of sin, it is only at such times when he is under some outward afflictions, or filled with a dread of the wrath of God; and, as this wears off, or abates, his stupidity returns as much, or more, than ever: Thus it was with Pharaoh, when he was affrighted with the mighty thundering and hail, with which he was plagued, he sent for Moses and Aaron, and said unto them, I have sinned; the Lord is righteous, and I and my people are wicked, Exod. ix. 27, but, when the plague was removed, it is said, that he. sinned yet more and hardened his heart. But it is otherwise with a believer; for sometimes, when no adverse dispensations, with respect to his outward circumstances in the world, trouble him, yet he is full of complaints, and greatly afflicted, that his heart is no more affected in holy duties, or inflamed with love to God, or zeal for his glory, or that he cannot delight in him as he would, or obtain a complete victory over indwelling sin, which is his constant burden; and, whenever he has a degree of tenderness, or brokenness of heart. Under a sense of sin, it is not barely the fear that he has of the Wrath of God, as a sin-revenging judge, or the dreadful consequences of sin committed, that occasion it, but a due sense of that ingratitude and dis-ingenuity, which there is in every act of rebellion against him, who has laid them under such inexpressible obligations to obedience.

(3.) Judicial hardness is attended with a total neglect of all holy duties, more especially those that are secret; but that hardness of heart which a believer complains of, though it occasions his going on very uncomfortably in duty, yet it rather puts him upon, than drives him from it.

(4.) When a person is judicially hardened, he makes use of indirect and unwarrantable methods to maintain that false peace, which he thinks himself happy in the enjoyment of; that, which he betakes himself to, deserves no better character than a refuge of lies; and the peace he rejoices in, deserves no better a name than stupidity: but a believer, when complaining of the hardness of his heart, cannot take up with any thing short of Christ, and his righteousness; and it is his presence that gives him peace; and heal ways desires that faith may accompany his repentance, that so, whenever he mourns for sin, the comfortable sense of his interest in him, may afford him a solid and lasting peace, which is vastly different from that stupidity and hardness of heart, which is a punishment of sin.

There is another expression in this answer, which denotes little rnore than a greater degree of judicial hardness, when it is styled, A reprobate sense, or, as the apostle calls it, A reprobate mind, Rom. i. 28, which God is said to have given them up to, who did not like to retain /mn in their knowledge; the meaning of which is, that persons, by a course of sin, render their hearts so hard, their wills so obstinate and depraved, as well as their understandings so dark and defiled, that they hardly retain those notices of good and evil, which are enstamped on the nature of man, and, at some times, have a tendency to check for, and restrain from sin, till they are entirely lost, and extinguished by the prevalancy of corrupt nature, and a continued course of presumptuous sins; and, as the result hereof, they extenuate and excuse the greatest abominations: Thus Ephraim is represented, as saying. In all my labours they shall find none iniquity in me that were sin, Hos. xii. 8, whereas God says in a following verse, that they provoked him to anger most bitterly, ver. 14, and, after this, they entertain favourable thoughts of the vilest actions, as some are represented doing, Who call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for lights and light for darkness that put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter, Isa. v. 20.

4. The next spiritual judgment mentioned in this answer, as a punishment for sin, is a person’s being given up to vile affections. This God is said to have done, to those whom the apostle describes, as giving themselves over to the committing of those sins which are contrary to nature, Rom. i. 26, such as all men generally abhor, who do not abandon themselves to the most notorious crimes: This is a contracting that guilt, which is repugnant to those natural ideas of virtue and vice, which even an unregenerate man, who has not arrived to this degree of impiety, cannot but abhor. These are such as are not to be named among Christians, or thought of, without the utmost regret, and an afflictive sense of the degeneracy of human nature.

5. The last thing mentioned in this answer, in which the inward punishment of sin, in this life, consists, is. Horror of conscience under the foregoing instances of spiritual judgments, conscience seemed to be asleep, but now it is awakened, and that by the immediate hand of God, and this is attended with a dread of his wrath falling upon it: horror and despair are the result hereof; The arrows of the Almighty are within him the poison whereof drinketh up his spirit; the terrors of God do set themselves in array against him, Job vi. 4, and terrors take hold on him as waters; a tempest stealeth him away in the night, 1 he east wind carrieth him away and he departeth; and as a storm hurleth him out of his place. For God shall cast upon him and not spare; he would fain flee out of his hand, chap, xxvii. 20—22.

This differs from those doubts and fears, which are common to believers, inasmuch as it is attended with despair, and a dreadful view of God, as a God to whom vengeance belongeth and is attended, as the apostle says, with a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries, Heb. x. 27. Before this, he took a great deal of pains to stifle convictions of conscience, but now he would fain do it, but cannot; which is a sad instance of the wrath of God pouring forth gall and wormwood into it, when he says, to use the prophet’s words. Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee, Jer. ii. 19.

But, now we are speaking concerning horror of conscience, we must take heed, lest we give occasion to doubting believers, who are under great distress of soul, through a sense of sin, to apply what has been said, to themselves, for their farther discouragement, and conclude, that this is a judicial act of God and a certain evidence, that they have not the truth of grace: Therefore we may observe, that there is a difference between this horror of conscience, which we have been describing, and that distress of soul, which believers are often liable to, in three respects.

(1.) The former, under horror of conscience, flee from God, as from an enemy, and desire only to be delivered from his wrath, and not from sin, the occasion of it; whereas the believer desires nothing so much, as that his iniquity, which is the occasion of it, may be subdued and forgiven, and that he may have that communion with God which he is destitute of; and, in order thereunto, he constantly desires to draw nigh to him in ordinances, and, if he cannot enjoy him he mourns after him: Thus the Psalmist complaineth, as one in the utmost degree of distress. Thy wrath lieth hard upon me, and thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves, Psal. Ixxxviii. 7, yet he says. Unto thee have I cried, Lord, and in the morning shall my prayer prevent thee, ver. 13.

(2.) The one reproaches God, and entertains unworthy thoughts of him, as though he were severe, cruel, and unjust to him; whereas the other, with an humble and penitent frame of spirit, complains only of himself, acknowledges that there is no unrighteousness with God, and lays all the blame to his own iniquity.

(3.) Horror of conscience, when it is judicial, seldom continues any longer, than while a person is under some outward afflictive dispensation of providence, under which sin is increased, and the removal thereof leaves him as stupid as he was before: whereas it is otherwise with a believer; for the removal of God’s afflicting hand, as to outward troubles, will not afford him any remedy against his fears, unless sin be mortified, and God is pleased to lift up the light of his countenance upon him, and give him joy and peace in believing.