Future misery will greatly consist in reflection. Abraham said to the rich man, “Son, remember!” If the memory could be obliterated, there is reason to think hell would be extinguished; but it must remain.
There are four things in particular pertaining to sin which will continue to be the objects of reflection, and which therefore must prove the seeds of future misery.
1. The character of the Being against whom it has been committed. If God has been wanting in justice or goodness; if his law had been, what some have profanely said of it,—a taskmaster, requiring brick without straw; if compliance with his will had been inconsistent with real happiness; if his invitations had been insincere; or if his promises had in any instance been broken; if his threatenings had borne no proportion to the evil of the offence; or if in condemning the sinner he had availed himself of being stronger than he; his wrath might possibly have been endured. We can bear an unjust punishment better than a just one. The displeasure of a malignant being, however it may injure us, does not bereave us of inward peace; it is the frown of goodness that is intolerable. To have incurred the displeasure of a God whose nature is love, must furnish reflections which cannot be endured.
2. The folly of it. There are few things in the present state which sting the mind with keener sensations than the recollection that we have ruined ourselves with our own foolishness.
If we see a man eager in pursuing trifles, while he neglects things of the greatest importance; anxious to shun imaginary evils, and heedlessly plunging himself into real ones; all attention to present indulgences, but regardless of his future interests; averse from what is his duty, and busying himself in things for which he is utterly incompetent, and which, therefore, he should commit to another; in fine studying to displease his best friend, and to gratify his worst enemy; we should without hesitation pronounce him a foolish man, and foretell his ruin. Yet all this is the constant practice of every unconverted sinner: and if he persist in his folly, the recollection of it in a future state must overwhelm him with “shame and everlasting contempt.”
3. The aggravating circumstances which attend it. The same actions committed in different circumstances possess very different degrees of guilt. The heathens in pursuing their immoralities are without excuse; but those who are guilty of the same things amidst the blaze of gospel light are much more so. The profligate conduct of those young people whose parents have set them the example is heinous; but what is it in comparison of that which is against example, and in spite of all the tears, prayers, and remonstrances of their godly relations? And what is that rejection of the gospel in the most ignorant part of the community, in comparison of that which is accompanied with much hearing, reading, and reflection?
O my hearers! a large proportion of the sin committed among us is of this description; it is against light, and against love. Wisdom crieth in our streets, and understanding putteth forth her voice. The melting invitations and solemn warnings of God are frequently sounded in our ears. If we should perish, therefore, ours will not be the lot of common sinners; our reflections will be similar to those of Chorazin and Bethsaida, whose inhabitants are represented as more guilty than those of Sodom and Gomorrah. To reject the gospel, whether it be by a preference of gross indulgences, a fondness for refined speculations, or an attachment to our own righteousness, is to incur “the wrath of the Lamb,” which is held up to us as the most dreadful of all wrath—as that from which unbelievers would be glad to be hid, though it were by being crushed beneath falling rocks, or buried in oblivion at the bottom of the mountains.
4. That in sin which will furnish matter for still further reflection will be its effects on others connected with us. It is a very affecting consideration, that we are so linked together in society that we almost necessarily communicate our dispositions one to another. We draw, and are drawn, in both good and evil. If we go to heaven, we are commonly instrumental in drawing some others along with us; and it is the same if we go to hell. If a sinner, when he has destroyed his own soul, could say, I have injured myself only, his reflections would be very different from what they will be.
The influence of an evil word or action, in a way of example, may surpass all calculation. It may occupy the attention of the sinner only for the moment; but being communicated to another, it may take root in him and bring forth fruit a hundredfold. He also may communicate it to his connexions, and they to theirs; and thus it may go on to increase from generation to generation. In this world no competent idea can be formed of these effects; but they will be manifest in the next, and must needs prove a source of bitter reflection.
What sensations must arise in the minds of those whose lives have been spent in practising the abominable arts of seduction; whose words, looks, and gestures, like a pestilence that walketh in darkness, conveyed the poison of their hearts, and spread wide-wasting ruin among the unguarded youth. There they will be “cast into a bed, and those who have committed adultery with them!”
See there too the ungodly parent, compassed about and loaded with execrations by his ungodly offspring, whom he has led on by his foul example, till both are fallen into perdition!
Nor is this all: there also will be seen the “blind leader of the blind, both fallen into the ditch;” the deluded preacher with his deluded hearers; each of whom, during life, were employed in deceiving the other. The mask is now stripped off. Now it appears to what issue all his soothing flatteries led; and what was his real character at the time, notwithstanding the decency of his outward demeanour. Now it is manifest that he who led not the sheep of Christ into the true pasture “entered not in by the door himself.” Ah! now the blood of souls crieth for vengeance! Methinks I see the profligate part of his auditory, who died before him, surprised at his approach. That we, say they, who have lived in pleasure, and in wantonness, should come to this place, is no wonder; but.… “art thou also become like one of us?”
Fuller, A. G. (1988). “The Christian Doctrine of Rewards,” Sermon VI in Sermons and Sketches. The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.; Vol. 1, pp. 176–177). Sprinkle Publications.