QUESTION XXVIII. What are the punishments of sin in this world?
ANSWER. 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.
QUESTION XXIX. What are the punishments of sin in the world to come?
ANSWER. 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-fire for ever.
The Punishments of Sin in the Present Life
IN the former of these Answers, we have an account of those punishments to which sin exposes men in this world. These are distinguished as either inward or outward, personal or relative. Those which are styled outward, respect more especially our condition in the world, as we are liable to many adverse dispensations of providence; and are generally reckoned by sinners the greatest, as they are the most sensible, subjecting them to the many evils and miseries which befall them in their bodies, names, estates, relations, and employments, and as they end in death, the most formidable of all evils. In reality, however, the punishments of sin which are styled inward, such as blindness of men, 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 of them, 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.
I. We shall consider, first, the punishments which are called inward. These respect either the understanding, will, conscience, or affections.
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 God, through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.’ Ignorance and error are defects of the understanding, in consequence of which it is not able to find out, or desirous to inquire after, the way of truth and peace. Accordingly the apostle says, ‘The way of peace have they not known.’z By reason of this, 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. This is the consequence of the former. That it is a punishment of sin, is inferred from the apostle’s words. ‘For this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie.’ The meaning is, that God suffers those 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 effectually prevent their delusion. Now, that we may consider what the apostle means by ‘strong delusion,’ we may observe, that every error or mistake in lesser matters of religion, is not intended; for then few or none would be exempted from this judgment. But it includes 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 pretension to revelations, or a turning away from the truth, by giving credit to the amusements of signs and lying wonders. Antichrist is said to come with such signs and lying wonders, ‘after the working of Satan;’ and the consequence is, that his followers ‘believe a lie,’ which they suppose to be confirmed by them.