Prisoned Souls

Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.
~ Romans 5:14-15

Yet many years didst thou forbear them, and testifiedst against them by thy spirit in thy prophets: yet would they not give ear: therefore gavest thou them into the hand of the people of the lands.
~ Nehemiah 9:30

Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into. And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.
~ 1 Peter 1:11-12, Revelation 19:10

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house. That thou mayest say to the prisoners, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Shew yourselves. They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places.
~ Isaiah 61:1, Isaiah 42:7, Isaiah 49:9

The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up; his sin is hid.
~ Hosea 13:12

Or else how can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house.
~ Matthew 12:29

A Sermon on 1 Peter 3:19, by John Flavel. The following is an excerpt from his work, “Pneumatologia: A Treatise of the Soul of Man”.

By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
~ 1 Peter 3:19

Infer. 5. How amazingly sad and deplorable is the security and stillness of the consciences of sinners, under all their own guilt, and the immediate danger of God’s everlasting wrath!

It is wonderful to consider what shifts men make to keep their consciences in that stillness and quiet they do, under such loads of guilt, and threatenings of wrath, ready to be executed upon them. It must be strong opium that so stupefies and benumbs their consciences; and upon inquiry into the matter we shall find it to be the effect of, 1. A strong delusion of Satan 2. A spiritual judicial stroke of God. 1. This stillness of conscience, upon the brink of damnation, proceeds from the strong delusions of Satan, blinding their eyes, and feeding their false hopes: He removes the evil day at many years imaginary distance from them, and interposes many a fair day between them and it, and in that interposed season, time enough to prepare for it; without such an artifice as this, his house would be in an uproar, but this keeps all in peace, Luke xi. 21. “By presuming he feeds their hopes, and by their hopes destroys their souls.” Some he diverts from all serious thoughts of this day, by the pleasures, and others by the cares of this life; and so that day comes upon them unawares, Luke xxi. 34. 2. This stillness of conscience, in so miserable and dangerous state, is the effect of a spiritual, judicial stroke of God upon the children of wrath. That is a dreadful word, Isa. vi. 10. “Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes.” The eye and ear are the two principal doors or inlets to the heart; when these are shut, the heart must needs be insensible, as the fat of the body is. There is a spirit of a deep sleep poured out judicially upon some men, Isa. xxix. 10, such as that upon Adam when God took a rib front his side, and he felt it not: But this is upon the soul, and is the same as to give up a man to a reprobate sense.

Infer. 6. The case of distressed consciences upon earth is exceeding sad, and calls upon all for the tenderest pity, and utmost help from men.

You see the labouring of conscience, under the sense of guilt and wrath, is a special part of the torments of hell, of which there is not a livelier emblem or picture, than the distresses of conscience in this world. It must be thankfully confessed there are two great differences between the terrors of conscience here, and there: One, in the degrees of anguish, the other, in the reliefs of that anguish. The ordinary distresses of conscience here, compared with those of the damned, are as the flame of a candle to a fiery oven, a mild and gentle fire; or as the sparks that fly out of the top of a chimney, to the dreadful eruption of Vesuvius, or mount Etna. Besides, these are capable of relief, but those are unrelievable. Their hearts die, because their hope is perished from the Lord. But yet of all the miseries and distresses incident to men in this world, none like those of distressed consciences; the terrors of God set themselves in array, or are drawn up in battalia against the soul, Job vi. 4. “While I suffer thy terrors (says Heman) I am distracted,” Psal. lxxxviii. 15. Yea, they not only distract, but cut off the spirit, as he adds, ver. 16. They lick up the very spirit of a man, and none can bear them, Prov. xviii. 14. For now a man has to do immediately with God; yea, with the wrath of the great and dreadful God. And this wrath, which is the most acute and sharp of all torments, falls upon the most tender and sensible part, the spirit and mind which now lies open and naked before him to be wounded by it. No creature can administer the least relief, by the application of any temporal comfort or refreshment to it. Gold and silver, wife and children, meat and melody, signify no more than the drawing on of a silk stocking to cure the paroxysms of the gout. All that can be done for their relief, is by seasonable, judicious, and tender applications of spiritual remedies. And what can be done, ought to be done for them. What heart can hear a voice like that of Job, “Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, O ye my friends; for the hand of God has touched me; and not melt into compassion over them? Is there a word of wisdom in your heart, let your tongue apply it to the relief of your distressed brother. While his heart meditates terror, let your meditate his succour. It is not impossible but you, who lend a friendly hand to another, may, ere long, need one yourself; and he that has ever felt the terrors of the Almighty upon his soul, has motive enough to draw forth the bowels of his pity to another in the like case. Alas for poor distressed souls, who have either none about them that understand, and are able and willing to speak a word in season to their weary souls, or too many about them to exasperate their sorrows, and persecute them whom God has smitten. You that have both ability and opportunity for it, are under the strongest engagements in the world to endeavour their relief with all faithfulness, seriousness, compassion, and constancy. Did Christ shed his blood for the saving of souls, and wilt not you spend your breath for them? Shall any man that has found mercy from God, show none to his brother? God forbid. A soul in hell is out of your reach; but these that are in the suburbs of hell are not. The candle of intense sorrow is put to the thread of their miserable life; and should they be suffered to drop into hell, while you stand by as unconcerned spectators of such a tragedy, you will have little peace. Your unmercifulness to their souls will be a wound to your own. Inf. 7. Be hence informed of the evil that is in sin; be convinced of the evil that is in it, by the eternal misery that follows it. If hell be out of measure dreadful, then sin must be out of measure sinful: the torments of hell do not exceed the demerit of sin, though they exceed the understandings of men to conceive them. God will lay upon no man more than is right. Sin is the founder of hell; all the miseries and torments there, are but the treasures of wrath which sinners, in all ages, have been treasuring up; and how dreadful soever it be, it is the ‘oywnia, the recompense which is meet, Rom. vi. 23. “The wages of sin is death.” We have slight thoughts of sin. Fools make a mock of sin. But if the Lord by the convictions of men’s consciences did but lead them through the chambers of death, and give them a sight of the wrath to come; could we but see the piles that are made in hell (as the prophet calls them, Isa. xxx. 33) to maintain the flames of vengeance to eternity; could we but understand in what dialect the damned speak of sin, who see the treasures of wrath broken up to avenge it, surely it would alter our apprehensions of sin, and strike cold to the very hearts of sinners Cannot the extremity and eternity of hell torments exceed the evil that is in sin? What words then can express the evil of it? Hell flames have the nature of a punishment, but not of an atonement. O think on this, you that look upon sin as the veriest trifle, that will sin for the value of a penny,that look upon all the humiliations, broken-hearted confessions, and bitter moans of the saints under sin, as frenzy, or melancholy, slighting them as a company of half-witted hypochondriac persons! You that never had one sick night, or sad day in all your life upon the account of sin, let me tell you that breast of you must be the seat of sorrow; that frothy, airy spirit of you must be acquainted with emphatical sobs and groans. God grant it may be on this side hell, by effectual repentance; else it must be there, in the extremity and eternity of sorrows. Inf. 8. What enemies are they to the souls of men, who are Satan’s instruments, to draw them into sin, or who suffer sin to lie upon them! When there were but two persons in the world, one drew the other into sin; and among the millions of men and women now in the world, where are there two to be found that have in no case been snares to draw some into sin? Some tempt designedly, taking the devil’s work out of his hands; others virtually and consequentially, by examples, which have a compelling power to draw others with them into sin. The first sort are among the worst of sinners, Prov. i. 10, the latter are among the lest of saints; see Gal. ii. 14, whose conversation is so much in heaven, that nothing falls out in the course thereof, which may not further some or other in their way to hell.

Among wicked men, there are five sorts eminently accessory to the guilt and ruin of other men’s souls. (1.) Loose professors, whose lives give their lips the lie; whose conversations make their professions blush. (2.) Scandalous apostates, whose fall is more prejudicial than their profession was ever beneficial to others. (3.) Cruel persecutors, who make the lives, liberties, and estates of men the occasion of the ruin of their consciences. (4.) Ignorant and unfaithful ministers, who strengthen the hands of the wicked, that they should not return from their wickedness. (5.) Wicked relations, who quench and damp every hopeful beginning of conviction and affection in their friends. Of all which I shall distinctly speak in the next discourse, to which, therefore, I remit it at present. And many there are who suffer sin to lie upon others, without a wise and seasonable reproof to recover them. O what cruelty to souls is here! The day is coming when they will curse the time that ever they knew you. It is possible you may repent, but then, it may be, those, whose souls you have helped to ruin, are gone, and quite out of your reach. The Lord make you sensible what you have done in season, lest your repentance come too late for yourselves and them also. Inf. 9. How poor a comfort is it to him that carries all his sins out of this world with him, to leave much earthly treasure (especially if gotten by sin) behind him? It is a poor consolation to be praised where you are not, and tormented where you are; to purchase a life of pleasure to others on earth, at the price of your own everlasting misery in hell. All the consolation, sensual, voluptuous, and oppressing worldlings have, is but this, that they were coached to hell in pomp and state, and have left the same chariot to bring their graceless children after them, in the same equipage, to the place of torments. There be five considerations provoking pity to them that are thus cast into a miserable eternity, and caution to all that are following after, in the same path. First, That fatal mistake in the practical understanding and judgement of men deserves a compassionate lamentation, as the cause and reason of their eternal miscarriage and ruin. They looked upon trifles as things of greatest necessity, and the most necessary things as mere trifles; putting the greatest weight and value upon that which little concerned them, and none at all upon their greatest concernment in the whole world, Luke xii. 21. Secondly, The perpetual diversions that the trifles of this world gave them from the main use and end of their time. O what a hurry and thick succession of earthly business and encumbrances filled up their days! So that they could find no time to go alone, and think of the awful and weighty concernments of the world to come, James v. 5. Thirdly, The total waste and expense of the only season of salvation, about these vanishing, impertinent trifles, which is never more to be recovered, Eccles. ix. 10.

Fourthly, That these deluding shadows, the pleasures of a moment are all they had in exchange for their souls, a goodly price it was valued at, Mat. xvi. 26. Fifthly, That by such a life they have not only ruined their own souls, but put their posterity, by their education of them in the same course of life, into the same path of destruction, in which they went to hell before them. Psal. xlix. 18. “Their posterity approve their saying.” Inf. 10. How rational and commendable is the courage and resolution of those Christians who choose to bear all the sufferings in this world from the hands of men, rather than to defile and wound their consciences with sin, and thereby expose their souls to the wrath of God for ever! That which men now call pride, humour, fancy, and stubbornness, will, one day, appear to be their great wisdom, and the excellency of their spirits. It is the tenderness of their consciences, not the pride and stoutness of their stomachs, which makes them inflexible to sin; they know the terrors of a wounded conscience, and had rather endure any other trouble from the hands of men, than fall by known sin into the hands of an angry God. Try them in other matters wherein the glory of God, and the peace or purity of their consciences are not concerned, and see if you can charge them with stubbornness and singularity, it was the excellency of the spirits of the primitive Christians, that they durst tell the emperor to his face, when he threatened them with torments; “Pardon us, O emperor, you threaten us with a prison, but God with hell.” Do we call that ingenuity and good nature which makes the mind soft and tractable to temptations, and will rather venture upon guilt than be esteemed singular? Salvian tells us of some in his time, who were compelled to “be evil, lest they should not be accounted vile”. And was that their excellence? May I not fitly apply the words of Salvian here: “O in what honour and repute is Christ among Christians, when religion shall make them base and ignoble!” He that understands what the punishment of sin will be in hell, should endure all things rather than yield to sin on earth. Indeed, if you that threaten and tempt others to violate their consciences, could bear the wrath of God for them in hell, it were somewhat; but we know there is no suffering by a proxy here; they tremble at the word of God, and have felt the burden of guilt, and dare not yield to sin, though they yield their estates and bodies to prevent it. Inf. 11. How patiently should we endure the afflictions of this life, by which sin is prevented and purged? The discipline of our spirits belong to God the Father of spirits. He corrects us here that we may not be punished hereafter, 1 Cor. 12:32, “We are chastened of the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.” It is better for us to groan under afflictions on earth, than to roar under revenging wrath in hell. Parents who are wise, as well as tender, had rather hear their children sob and cry under the rod, than stand with halters upon their necks on the ladder, bewailing the destructive indulgence of their parents.

Your chastisements, when sanctified, are preventive of all the misery opened before. It is therefore as unreasonable to murmur against God, because you smart under his rod, as it would be to accuse your dearest friend of cruelty, because he strained your arm to snatch you from the fall of a house or wall, which he saw ready to crush and overwhelm you in its ruins. If we had less affliction, we should have more guilt. We see how apt we are to break over the hedge, and to go astray from God, with all the clogs of affliction designed for our restraint; what should we do if we had no clog at all? It is better for you to be whipped to heaven with all the rods of affliction, than coached to hell with all the pleasures of the world. Christian, your God sees, if you do not, that all these troubles are few enough to save you from sin and hell. Your corruptions require all these, and all little enough. “If need be, you are in heaviness”, 1 Pet. 1:6. If there be need for it, your dearest comforts on earth shall die, that your soul may live; but if your mortification to them render your removal needless, you and they shall live together. It is better to be preserved in brine, than to rot in honey. Sanctified afflictions working under the efficacy of the blood of Christ, are the safest way to our souls. Inf. 12. How doleful a charge does the death of wicked men make upon them! From palaces on earth to the prison of hell. No sooner has the soul of a wicked man steeped out of his own door at death, but the sergeants of hell are immediately upon it, serving the dreadful summons on the law-condemned wretch. This arrest terrifies it more than the handwriting upon the plaster of the wall did him, Dan. v. 5. How are all a man’s apprehensions changed in a moment! Out of what a deep sleep are most, and out of what a pleasant dream of heaven are some awaked and startled at death, by the dreadful arrest and summons of God to condemnation. How quickly would all a sinner’s mirth be damped, and turned into howlings in this world, if conscience were but thoroughly awakened! It is but for God to change our apprehensions now and it would be done in a moment: but the eyes of most men’s souls are not opened till death has shut their bodily eyes; and then how sudden, and how sad a change is made in one day! O think what it is to pass from all the pleasures and delights of this world into the torments and miseries of that world; from a pleasant habitation into an infernal prison; from the depth of security to the extremity of desperation; from the arms and bosoms of dearest friends and relations, to the society of damned spirits! Lord, what a change is here; had a gracious change been made upon their hearts by grace, no such doleful change could have been made upon their state by death: little do their surviving friends think what they feel, or what is their estate in the other world while they are honouring their bodies with splendid and pompous funerals. None on earth have so much reason to fear death, to make much of life, and use all means to continue it, as those who will and must be so great losers by the exchange. Inf. 13. See here the certainly, and inevitableness of the judgement of the great day.

This prison which is continually filling with the spirits of wicked men is an undeniable evidence of it: for why is hell called: prison, and why are the spirits of men confined and chained there but with respect to the judgement of the great day? As there is a necessary connection between sin and punishment, so between punishing and trying the offender; there are millions of souls in custody, a world of spirits in prison; these must be brought forth to their trial, for God will lay upon no man more than is right; the legality of their mittimus to hell will be evidenced in their solemn day of trial. God has therefore “appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness, by that man whom he has ordained,” Acts xvii. 81. Here sinners run in arrears, and contract vast debts; in hell they are seized and committed, at judgment tried and cast for the same. This will be a dreadful day, those that have spent so prodigally upon the patience of God, must now come to a severe account for all; they have past their particular judgment immediately after death, Eccl. xii. 7. Heb. ix. 27. By this they know how they shall speed in the general judgment, and how it shall he with them for ever, but though this private judgment secures their damnation sufficiently, yet it clears not the justice of God before angels and men sufficiently, and therefore they must appear once more before his bar; 2 Cor. v. 10. In the fearful expectation of this day, those trembling spirits now lie in prison, and that fearful expectation is a principal part of their present misery and torment. You that refuse to come to the throne of grace, see if you can refuse to make your appearance at the bar of justice; you that braved and browbeat your ministers that warned you of it, see if you can outbrave your Judge too as you did them. Nothing more sure or awful than such a day as this. Inf. 14. How much are ministers, parents, and all to whom the charge of souls is committed, bound to do all that in them lies to prevent their everlasting misery in the world to come! The great apostle of the Gentiles found the consideration of the terror of the Lord as a spur urging and enforcing him to a ministerial faithfulness and diligence; 2 Cor. v. 11. “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” And the same he presses upon Timothy, 2 Tim. iv. 1, 2. “I charge you therefore, before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing, and his kingdom; preach the word; be instant in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and doctrine.” O that those to whom so great a trust as the souls of men is committed, would labour to acquit themselves with all faithfulness therein, as Paul did, warning everyone night and day with tears, that if we cannot prevent their ruin, which is most desirable; yet at least we may be able to take God to witness, as he did, that we are pure from the blood of all men. Oh! consider, my brethren, if your faithful plainness and unwearied diligence to save men’s souls produce no other fruit but the hatred of you now; yet it is much easier for you to bear that, than that they and you too should bear the wrath of God for ever. We have all of us personal guilt enough upon us, let us not add other men’s guilt to our account: to be guilty of the blood of the meanest man upon earth, is a sin which will cry in your consciences; but to be guilty of the blood of souls, Lord, who can bear it! Christ thought them worthy his heart-blood, and are they not worth the expense of our breath? Did he sweat blood to save them, and will not we move our lips to save them? It is certainly a sore judgment to the souls of men, when such ministers are set over them as never understood the value of their people’s souls, or were never heartily concerned about the salvation of their own souls.