Of the punishments which our Lord threateneth unto such as live a sinful life

One of the principal means that our Lord hath used often times to bridle the hearts of men, and to draw them unto the obedience of his commandments, hath been, to set before their eyes the horrible plagues and punishments that are prepared for such persons as be rebels and transgressors of his law. For although the hope of the rewards that are promised unto the good in the life to come, may move us very much hereunto: yet are we commonly more moved with things that be irksome unto us, than with such as be pleasant: even as we see by daily experience, that we are vexed more with an injury done unto us, than delighted with any honor, and we are more troubled with sickness, than comforted with health and so by the discommodity of sickness, we come to understand the commodity of health, as by a thing so much the better perceived, by how much more it is sensibly felt. Now for this cause did our Lord in times past use this means more than any other, as it appeareth most clearly by the writings of the Prophets, which are every where full of dreadful sayings and threatenings, wherewith our Lord pretendeth (desireth) to put a terror into the hearts of men, and so to bridle and subdue them under the obedience of his law. And for this end he commanded the prophet Jeremy, that he should take a white book, and write in the same all the threatenings and calamities which he had revealed unto him, even from the first day he began to talk with him, until that present hour, and that he should read the same in the presence of all the people, to see if peradventure they would be moved therewith unto repentance, and to change their former life, to the end, that he might also change the determination of his wrath, which he had purposed to execute upon them. And the Holy Scripture sayth, that when the prophet had done according as he was commanded by Almighty God, and had read all those threatenings in the presence of the people, and of the rulers; there arose such a fear and terror amongst them, that they were all astonished, and as it were frightened out of their wits, looking one in another's face, for the exceeding great fear which they had conceived of those words. This was one of the principal means which Almighty God used with men in the time of the law written, and so he did also in the time of the law of grace: in which, the holy Apostle sayth, That as there is revealed a justice, whereby God maketh men just, so is there also revealed an indignation and wrath, whereby he punisheth the unjust: for which cause, John the Baptist (the glorious forerunner of our Saviour Christ) was sent, with this commission and embassage to preach unto the world, That the axe was now put to the root of the tree, and that every tree that brought not forth good fruit, should be cut down and cast into the fire. He said moreover, That there was another come into the world, more mighty than he, that carried in his hand a fan, to winnow and cleanse therewith his floor, and that he would put up the corn into his garner, but the chaff he will burn in a fire that should never be quenched. This was the preaching and embassage which the holy forerunner of our Savior Jesus Christ brought into the world. And so great was the thunder of these words, and the terror which entered into men's hearts, so dreadful, that there ran unto him of all estates and conditions of men, even of the very Pharisees and Publicans, yea, and soldiers also (which of all others are wont to be most dissolute, and to have least care of their consciences) and each of them demanded for himself particularly of that holy man, what he should do to attain unto salvation, and to escape those terrible threatenings which he had denounced unto them, so great was the fear they had conceived of them.

And this is that (dear Christian brother) which I do at this present (in the behalf of Almighty God) deliver unto thee, although not with such fervency of spirit, and like holiness of life, yet that which importeth more in this case, with the same truth and certainty; for so much as the faith and Gospel which John the Baptist then preached, is even the same now taught.

Now, if thou be desirous to understand in few words, how great the punishment is, that Almighty God hath threatened in his Holy Scriptures to the wicked, that which may most quickly and most to the purpose be spoken in this matter, is this: that like as the reward of the good is an universal good thing, even so the punishment of the wicked is an universal evil, which comprehendeth in it all the evils that are. For the better understanding whereof, it is to be noted, That all the evils of this life are particular evils, and therefore do not torment all our senses generally, but only one, or some of them. As taking an example of the diseases of our body, we see, that one hath a disease in his eyes, another in his ears: one is sick in the heart, another in the stomach, some other in his head. And so diverse men are diseased in diverse parts of the body, howbeit, in such wise, that none of all these diseases be generally throughout all the members of the body, but particular to some one of them. And yet for all this, we see what grief only one of these diseases may put us unto, and how painful a night the sick man hath in any one of these infirmities, yea, although it be nothing else but a little ache in one tooth. Now let us put the case, that there were some one man sick of such an universal disease, that he had no part of his body, neither any one joint or sense free from his proper pain, but that at one time and instant he suffered most exceeding sharp torment in his head, in his eyes, and ears, in his teeth, and stomach, in his liver and heart: and to be short, in all the rest of his members and joints of his body, and that he lay after this sort stretching himself in his bed, being pained with these griefs and torments, every member of his body having his particular torment and grief: He (I say) that should lie thus pained and afflicted, how great torment and grief of mind and body (think ye) should he sustain? Oh, what thing could any man imagine more miserable, and more worthy of compassion? Surely, if thou shouldest see but a dog to be so tormented and grieved in the street, his very pains would move thy heart to take pity upon him. Now this is that (my dear Christian brother, if any comparison may be made between them) which is suffered in that most cursed and horrible place of hell, and not only during for the space of one night, but everlasting, for ever and ever. For like as the wicked men have offended Almighty God with all their members and senses, and have made armour of them all to serve sin, even so will he ordain, that they shall be there tormented every one of them with his proper torment.

There shall the wanton unchast eyes be tormented with the terrible sight of devils: the ears with the confusion of such horrible cries and lamentations which shall there be heard: the nose with the intolerable stink of that ugly, filthy, and loathsome place: the taste, with a most ravenous hunger and thirst: the touching, and all the members of the body with extreme burning fire. The imagination shall be tormented by the conceiving of griefs present: the memory, by calling to mind the pleasures past: the understanding, by considering what benefits are lost, and what endless miseries are to come.

This multitude of punishments the Holy Scripture signifieth unto us, when it sayth, Math. 15. Psalm 10. That in hell there shall be hunger, thirst, weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth, swords double edged, spirits created for revengement, serpents, worms, scorpions, hammers, wormwood, water of gall, the spirit of tempest, and other things of like sort. Whereby are signified unto us (as in a figure) the multitude and dreadful terror of the most horrible torments and pains that be in that cursed place. There shall be likewise darkness inward and outward, both of body and soul, far more obscure than the darkness of Egypt, which was to be felt even with hands, Exo. 10. There shall be fire also, not as this fire here, that tormenteth a little, and shortly endeth, but such a fire as that place requireth, which tormented exceedingly, and shall never make an end of that tormenting. This being true, what greater wonder can there be, than that they which believe and confess this for truth, shall live with such most strange negligence and carelessness as they do? What travel and pains would not a man willingly take to escape even one day only, yea, one hour, the very least of these torments? and wherefore do they not then, to escape the everlastingness of so great pains and horrible torments, endure so little a travel, as to follow the exercise of virtue? Surely, the consideration of this matter were able to make any sinful soul to fear and tremble, in case it were deeply regarded.

And if amongst so great number of pains, there were any manner hope of end or release, it would be some kind of comfort: but alas it is not so for there the gates are fast shut up from all expectation of any manner of ease or hope. In all kind of pains and calamities that be in this world, there is always some gap lying open, whereby the patient may receive some kind of comfort: sometimes reason, sometimes the weather, sometimes his friends, sometimes the hearing that others are troubled with the very same disease, and sometimes (at the least) the hope of an end may cheer him somewhat: only in these most horrible pains and miseries that be in hell, all the ways are shut up in such sort, and all the heavens of comfort so embarred, that the miserable sinner cannot hope for remedy on any side, neither of heaven, not of earth, neither of the time past, or present, or of the time to come, or of any other means. The damned souls think, that all men are shooting darts at them, and that all creatures have conspired against them, and that even they themselves are cruel against themselves. This is that distress whereof the sinners do lament by the Prophet, saying: The sorrows of hell have compassed me round about, and the snares of death hath besieged me: For on which side soever they look or turn their eyes, they do continually behold occasions of sorrow and grief, and none at all of any ease or comfort. The wise virgins (sayth the evangelist) that stood ready prepared at the gate of the bridegroom, entered in, and the gate was forthwith locked fast. O looking everlasting, o enclosure immortal, o gate of all goodness, which shall never any more be opened again. As if he had said more plainly, the gate of pardon, of mercy, of comfort, of grace, of intercession, of hope, and of all other goodness, is shut up for ever and ever. six days and no more was manna to be gathered, but the seventh day, which was the Sabbath day, was there none to be found: and therefore shall he fast forever, that hath not in due time made his provision on aforehand. The sluggard (sayth the wise man) will not till his ground for fear of cold, and therefore shall he beg his bread in summer, and no man shall give him to eat. And in another place he sayth: He that gathereth in summer, is a wise son, but he that giveth himself to sleeping at that season, is the son of confusion. For what confusion can there be greater than that which that miserable covetous rich man suffereth, who came to such an extreme necessity that he begged (yea, and shall forever beg in vain) only one drop of water, and shall never obtain it. Who is not moved with that request of that unfortunate damned person, who cried, O father Abraham have compassion on me, and send down Lazarus unto me, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and touch my tongue, for these horrible flames do torment me exceedingly. What smaller request could there be desired than this? He dust not request so much as one cup of water, neither, that Lazarus should put his whole hand into the water, nor yet (which is more to be wondered at) did he request so much as the whole finger, but only the tip of it, that it might but touch his tongue; and yet even this alone would not be granted unto him. Whereby thou mayest perceive, how fast the gate of all consolation is shut up, and how universal that interdict and excommunication is, that is there laid upon the damned, that this rich glutton could not obtain so much as this small request. So that wheresoever the damned persons do turn their eyes, and on which side soever they stretch their hands, they shall not find any manner of comfort, be it never so small. And so he that is in the sea choaked, and almost drowned under the water, not finding any stray whereupon to set his foot, stretcheth forth his hands oftentimes on every side in vain (because all that he graspeth after, is thin and liquid water, which deceives him) even so shall it fare with the damned persons, when they shall be drowned in that deep sea of so many miseries, where they shall strive and struggle always with death, without finding any succour or place of stay, whereupon they may rest themselves. Now this is one of the greatest pains wherewith they be tormented in that cursed place: for if these torments should have their continuance limited but for a certain time, though it were for a thousand, yea, a hundred thousand millions of years, yet even this would be some little comfort unto them, for nothing is perfectly great, in case it have an end: but alas, they have not so much as this poor and miserable comfort: but contrary wise, their pains are equal in continuance with the eternity of Almighty God, and the lasting of their misery with the eternity of God's glory. As long as Almighty God shall live, so long shall they die: and when Almighty God shall cease to be God, then shall they also cease to be as they are. O deadly live, O immortal death! I know not whether I may truly term thee, either life or death: for if thou be life, why dost thou kill? And if thou be death, why doest thou endure? Wherefore I will call thee neither the one, nor the other, for so much as in both of them there is contained something that is good: as in life there is rest and in death there is an end (which is a great comfort to the afflicted) but thou hast neither rest nor end. What art thou then? Thou art the worst of life, and the worst of death; so of death thou hast the torment, without any end, and of life thou hast the continuance without any rest. O bitter composition, O unfavored purgation of our Lord's cup! of the which, all the sinners of the earth shall drink their part.

Now in this continuance in this eternity, I would wish that thou (my dear Christian brother) wouldst fix the eyes of thy consideration a little while: and that as the clean beast cheweth the cud, even so thou wouldest weigh this point within thyself with great deliberation. And to the intent thou mayest do it the better, consider a little the pains that a sick man abideth in one evil night, especially if he be vexed with any vehement grief, or sharp disease. Mark how oft he tumbleth and tosseth in his bed, what disquietness he hath, how long and tedious one night seemeth unto him, how duly he counteth all the hours of the clock, and how long he deemeth each hour of them to be, how he passeth the time in wishing for the dawning of the day; which notwithstanding, is like to help him little towards the curing of his disease. If this then be accounted so great a torment, what torment shall that be (think you) in that everlasting night in hell, which hath no morning, nor so much as any hope of any dawning of the day? O darkness most obscure! O night everlasting! O night accursed even by the mouth of Almighty God and all his Saints! That one shall wish for light, and shall never see it, neither shall the brightness of the morning arise any more. Consider then what a kind of torment shall that be, to live everlastingly in such a night as this is, lying not in a soft bed (as the sick man doth) but in a hot burning furnace, foaming out such terrible raging flames. What shoulders shall be able to abide those horrible heats? If it seem to us as a thing intolerable to have only some part of our feet standing upon a pan of burning coals, for the space of repeating the Lord's prayer, what shall it be (think you) to stand body and soul burning in the midst of those everlasting hot raging fires in hell, in comparison of which, the fires of this world are but painted fires? Is there any wit or judgement in this world? Have men their right senses? Do they understand what these words import? or are they peradventure persuaded, that these are only the fables of poets? or do they think, that this appertaineth not to them, or else that it was only meant for others? None of all this can they say, for so much as our faith assureth us most certainly herein. And our Savior Christ himself, who is everlasting truth, crieth out in his Gospel, saying, Heaven and earth shall fail, but my word shall not fail.

Of this misery there followeth another as great as it, which is, that the pains are always continuing in one like degree, without any manner of intermission, or decreasing. All manner of things that are under the scope of heaven, do move and turn round about with the same heaven, and do never stand still at one state or being, but are continually either ascending or descending. The sea and the rivers have their ebbing and flowing, the times, the ages, and the mutable fortune of men, and of kingdoms are evermore in continual motion. There is no fever so fervent, that doth not decline, neither grief so sharp, but that after it is much augmented, it doth forthwith decrease. To be short, all the tribulations and miseries are by little and little worn away with time, and as the common saying is, Nothing is sooner dried up than tears. Only that pain in hell is always green, only that fever never decreaseth, only that extremity of heat knoweth not what is either evening or morning. In the time of Noah's flood, Almighty God rained forty days and forty nights, continually without ceasing upon the earth, and this sufficed to drown the whole world. But in that place of torment in hell, there shall rain everlasting vengeance, and darts of fury upon that cursed land, without ever ceasing so much as only one minute or moment. Now what torment can be greater, and more to be abhorred, than continually to suffer after one like manner, without any kind of alteration or change? Though a meat be never so delicate, yet in case we feed continually thereupon, it will in very short time be very loathsome unto us for no meat can be more precious and delicate than that manna was, which Almighty God sent down unto the children of Israel in the desert, and yet because they did eat continually thereof, it made them to loath it, yea, and provoked them to vomit it up again. The way that is all plain (they say) weareth more than any other, because always the variety (yea even in punishment) is a kind of comfort. Tell me then, if things that be pleasant and savoury, when they be always after one manner, are an occasion of loathsomeness and pain: what kind of loathsomeness will that be which shall be caused by those most horrible pains and torments in hell, which do continue everlastingly after one like sort? What will the damned and cursed creatures think, when they shall there see themselves so utterly abhorred and forsaken of Almighty God, that he will not so much as with the remission of any one sin, mitigate somewhat their torments? And so great shall the fury and rage be which they shall there conceive against him, that they shall never cease continually to curse and blaspheme his holy name. Unto all these pains, there is also added the pain of that everlasting consumer, to wit, the worm of conscience, whereof the Holy Scripture maketh so often times mention, saying, Their worm shall never die, and their fire shall never be quenched. This worm is a serious raging despite and bitter repentance, without any fruit, which the wicked shall always have in hell, by calling to their remembrance the opportunity and time they had whiles they were in this world, to escape those most grievous and horrible torments, and how they would not use the benefit thereof. And therefore when the miserable sinner seeth himself thus to be tormented and vexed on every side, and doth call to mind how many days and years he hath spent idlely in vanities, past times, and pleasures; and how oftentimes he was advertised of this peril, and how little regard he took thereof: What shall he think? What anguish and sorrow shall there be in his heart? Hast thou not read in the Gospel, that there shall be weeping and wailing, and gnashing of teeth? The famine of Egypt endured only seven years, but that in hell shall endure everlastingly. In Egypt they found a remedy, though with great difficulty and charge, but for this, there shall never any remedy be found. Theirs was redeemed with money and cattle, but this can never be redeemed with any manner of exchange. This punishment cannot be pardoned, this pain cannot be exchanged, this sentence cannot be revoked. Oh, if thou knewest and wouldest consider, how every one condemned to hell, shall there remain tormenting and renting himself, weeping, and wailing, and saying: O miserable and unfortunate wretch that I am, what times and opportunities have I suffered to pass in vain? Wherefore did I not look before me? How was I blinded with things present? How did I let pass the fruitful years of abundance, and did not enrich myself (spiritually)? If I had been brought up amongst infidels and pagans, and had believed that there had been nothing else but only to be born, and to die, then might I have had some kind of excuse, and might have said, I knew not what was commanded or prohibited me: but for so much as I have lived amongst Christians, and was myself one of them professed, and held it for an article of my belief, that the hour should come when I should give up an account after what order I had spent my life: forsomuch also as it was daily cried out unto me by the continual preaching and teaching of God's ambassadors, forsomuch I say as I made light of all these examples, and persuaded myself very fondly, that heaven was prepared for me, though I took no pains for it at all: what deserve I that have thus led my life? O ye infernal furies, come and rent me in pieces, and devour these my bowels, for so have I justly deserved, I have deserved eternal famishment, seeing I would not provide for my self while I had time. I deserve not to reap, because I have not sown: I am worthy to be destitute, because I have not laid up in store; I deserve that my request should now be denied me, since when the poor made request unto me, I refused to relieve them: I have deserved to sigh and lament so long as God shall be God; I have deserved, that this worm of conscience shall gnaw mine entrails forever and ever, by representing unto me the little pleasure that I have enjoyed, and the great felicity which I have lost, and how far greater that was which I might have gained, by forgoing that little which I would not forgo. This is that immortal worm that shall never die, but shall lie there everlastingly gnawing at the entrails of the wicked, which is one of the most terrible pains that can possibly be imagined.

Peradventure thou art now persuaded that there can be added no more unto this, than hath been said. But surely the mighty arm of God wanteth not force to chastise his enemies more and more: for all these pains that are hitherto rehearsed, are so as do appertain generally to all the damned: but besides these general pains, there are also other particular pains, which each one of the damned shall there suffer in diverse sort, according to the quality of his sin. And so according to this proportion, the haughty and proud shall there be abased and brought low to their great confusion. The covetous shall be driven to great necessity: the glutton shall rage with continual hunger and thirst. The lecherous shall burn in the very same flames which they themselves have enkindled. And those that have all their life time hunted after their pleasures and pastimes, shall live there in continual lamentation and sorrow.

But because examples are of very great force to move our hearts, I will bring only one for this purpose, whereby somewhat of this matter may the better be perceived. It is written of a certain holy man, that he saw the pains (in spirit) of a licentious and worldly man in this sort. First he saw how the devils that were present at the hour of his death, when he yielded up his ghost, snatched away his soul with great rejoicing, and made a present thereof to the prince of darkness, who was then sitting in a chair of fire, expecting the coming of this present. Immediately after that it was presented before him, he arose up out of his seat, and said unto the damned soul that he would give him the preeminence of that honorable seat, because he had been a man of honor, and was always very much affected to the same. In contingently after that he was placed therein, crying and lamenting in that honorable torment, there appeared before him two other most ugly devils, and offered him a cup full of most bitter and stinking liquor, and made him to drink and carouse it up all, perforce; saying, It is meet, since thou hast been a lover of precious wines and blankets, that thou shouldest likewise prove of this our wine, thereof all we do use to drink in these parts.

Immediately after this there came other two, with two fiery trumpets, and setting them at his ears, began to blow into them flames of fire, saying, this melody have we reserved for thee, understanding that in the world thou wast very much delighted with minstrelsy and wanton songs: and suddenly he espied other devils, loaden with vipers and serpents, the which they threw upon the breast and belly of that miserable sinner, saying unto him, that forsomuch as he had been greatly delighted with the wanton embracings and leacherous lusts of women, he should now solace himself with these refreshings, instead of those licentious delights and pleasures, which he had enjoyed in the world. After this sort (as the Prophet Isaiah sayth in the 47th chapter) when the sinner is punished, there is given measure for measure, to the end, that in such a great variety and proportion of punishments, the order and wisdom of God's justice, might the more manifestly appear.

This vision hath Almighty God showed in spirit to this holy man for advertisement and instruction, not that in hell these things are altogether so materially done, but that by them we might understand in some manner the variety and multitude of the pains which be there appointed for the damned. Whereof, I know not how some of the pagans have had a certain knowledge: for a poet speaking of this multitude of pains, affirmed, that although he had a hundred mouths and as many tongues, with a voice as strong as iron, yet were they not able only to express the names of them. A poet he was that spake this, but truly therein he spake more like a Prophet or an Evangelist than a poet. Now then, if all this evil shall most assuredly come to pass, what man is he, that seeing all this so certainly with the eyes of his faith, will not turn over the leaf, and begin to provide for himself against that time? Where is the judgement of men now become? Where be their wits? yea, where is at the least their self-love, which seeketh evermore for his own profit, and is much afraid of any loss? May it be thought that men are become beasts, that provide only for the time present? Or have they peradventure so dimmed their eye sight, that they cannot look before them? Hearken (sayth Isaiah) O ye deaf and ye blind, open your eyes that you may see, who is blind but my servant? And who is deaf but ye, unto whom I have sent my messengers? And who is blind, but he that suffereth himself to be sold for a slave? Thou that seest so many things, wilt thou not suffer thy self to see this? Thou that hast thine ears open, wilt thou not give ear hereunto? If thou believe not this, how art thou then a Christian? If thou believe it, and doest not provide for it, how canst thou be thought a reasonable man?

Aristotle sayth, that this is the difference between opinion and imagination, that an imagination alone is not sufficient to cause a fear, but an opinion is: for if I do imagine that a house may fall upon me, it is not enough to make me afraid, unless I believe or have an opinion it will be so indeed: for then it is sufficient to make me afraid. And hereof cometh the fear that murderers always have, by reason of the suspicion they conceive, that their enemies do lie in wait for them. If then the opinion and only suspicion of danger is able to cause the greatest courage to fear, how is it that the certainty and belief of so many and so great terrible miseries (which are far more sure than any opinion) doth not make thee to fear. If thou perceivest, that for these many years past thou hast led a licentious and sinful life, and that at the last, according to present justice, thou art condemned to these horrible torments in hell: if also there appear by probable conjecture, that there is no more likelihood of thy amendment for ensuing years to come, than there was in those already past, how happened it, that running headlong into so manifest a danger, thou art not at all afraid; especially, considering the sinful state wherein thou livest, and the horrible pains and torments which do attend for thee, and the time which thou hast lost and the endless repentance which thou shalt have therefore in the most horrible torments of hell? Assuredly, it goeth beyond the compass of all common sense and conceit of human reason, to consider, that there should be such negligent, wilful, gross, and careless blindness, able to enter and take such deep rooting in the soul of man.

First Published in 1601. Author Unknown