But mark, God was before a moth and a worm, but now he is become a lion. I will be a moth unto Ephraim, and a worm unto Judah; for so you may translate it. And now, “I will be unto Ephraim as a lion, and as a young lion to the house of Judah.” Why a lion? that is, he will appear in the fierceness of his wrath against Ephraim.
Such degrees there are in his anger. You had need look to it when the hand of God is stretched out even but a little against you; though it be but as a moth and as a worm, yet, if you disregard it, it may increase: for as great a difference as exists between a moth and a fierce lion, such a difference may there be between present wrath and that which awaits you. Thus the Lord often deals with men’s spirits; causes secretly the worm of conscience to gnaw them, and some disquiet and trouble ensue; but, notwithstanding, they go on still in their sins, and at length God comes upon them as a lion, tearing their souls. Did you never see a sinner lying on his death-bed in anguish of mind, God’s wrath, like the paws of a lion, preying on the very caul of his heart, whilst he lies roaring out he is damned, he is damned! and now he sees, yea feels, the heat of the wrath of God against him. Thus God comes as a lion to prey upon those that will not regard the gnawings of the worm: when the worm was but little and small, they slighted it, and that caused God to bring the greater judgment. source
With respect to the time when the wicked shall be thus surprised with fear:
(1) ’Tis often so on a death bed. There are many things that pass in their lifetime that one would think might well strike terror into their souls. As when they see others die: persons as young as they, and of like condition and circumstances with themselves, whereby they may see how uncertain their lives are and how unsafe their souls.
It might well surprise many sinners to consider how old they are grown and are yet in a Christless state; how much of their opportunity to get an interest in Christ is irrecoverably gone, and how little remains; and how much greater their disadvantages now are than they have been. But these things don’t terrify them; as age increases, so does the hardness and stupidity of their hearts grow upon them.
But when death comes, then they are oftentimes filled with astonishment. It may be, when they are first taken sick, they have great hope that they shall recover, as men are ready to flatter themselves with hopes that things will be as they feign would have them. But when the distemper causes to prevail much upon them, and they see that they are going into eternity—they see that all medicines of physicians are in vain, and that all the care and endeavor of friends [are] in vain; nothing seems to help’em; their strength is gone; they see that their friends weep over ’em, and look on their case [as] desperate; they see by the countenance and behavior of the physician that he looks upon his case past hope; and perhaps overhears a whispering in the room, wherein they signify one to another that they look upon it, that they are struck with death, and tell one another how that their extreme parts grow cold, their countenance and manner of breathing, and their pulse, shows death, and they begin to be in a cold death sweat; and it may be by and by some one thinks himself bound in duty and faithfulness to let him know the worst, and comes and asks him whether or no he is sensible that he is a-dying—O then how does fearfulness surprise the sinner in Zion! How does his heart melt with fear! This is the thing that he feared ever since he was taken sick, but till now he had hope that he should recover. The physician did not speak as if he despaired; he spake of such and such medicines as being very proper, and he hoped that they would be effectual. And when those failed, the doctor changed his medicines and applied something new, and then he hoped that that would be effectual. And so, though he kept growing worse and worse, yet still he kept hoping.
And then he cried to God to spare him, and made promises how he would live if God would spare his life, and he hoped that God would hear him. And he observed friends and, it may be, the minister seemed to pray earnestly for him, and he could not but hope prayers would be answered and he should be rescued. But now, how does his heart sink and die within him. How does he look about with a frighted countenance, how quick is the motion of his eye with inward fear, and how quick and sudden are all his motions. What a frightful hurry does he seem to be in.
O how does everything look about him, when he sees pale grim death staring him in the face, and a great and vast eternity within a few hours of him! It may be still he as [it] were scrabbles for a little hope. He is loath to believe what is told him. He tells those that tell him he is a-dying, that he hopes not: he hopes they are more frighted than there is need of; he hopes that those symptoms arise from some other cause. And like a poor drowning man, he catches at rotten twigs, and clinches his hands about whatever he has within reach.
And as death creeps more and more on him, he sees his twigs break, and all his hopes of life fail. He has nothing but death before him. He sees he must die. O there is nothing else for him but death! He has been hoping, but his hopes are all dashed. He sees this world, and all that belongs to it, is gone. And now come the thoughts of hell into his mind with amazement. O how shall he go out of the world? He knows he has no interest in Christ; his sins stare him in the face. O that dreadful gulf of eternity! He had been crying to God, it may be, since he was taken sick, to convert him; he had some hope, if it was his last sickness, that yet God would pity him and give him converting grace before he died. He begged and pleaded, and he hoped that God would have pity on his poor soul. He asked others to pray for him, and he had been looking day after day for some light to shine into his soul. But, alas, now he is a-dying, and his friends ask him how death looks to him, whether any light appears, whether God has not appeared for him: and he answers, “No,” with a poor, faltering, trembling voice, if he be able to speak at all; or, if his friends ask a signal of hope, he can give none.
And death comes more and more and more upon him, and he is just on the brink of eternity: and who can express the fear, the misgivings, the hangings back and the horrible fright and amazement that soul of a Christless sinner sometimes is in in such a case? Some that have been able to speak have been known in such circumstances to cry out, “O eternity, eternity!” and some, “O a thousand worlds for an inch of time!” O if they might but live a little while longer! But it must not be—go they must.
They feel the frame of nature dissolving, and thus perceive the soul is just a-going, for sometimes the exercise of reason seems to hold to the last.
And what, in such a case, is felt in the soul in those last moments, when the soul as it were just breaking its bonds with the body, and is on the very edge of eternity, going to fetch its leap, and is on the very brink of hell without any Savior or the least testimony of divine mercy: I say, what is felt sometimes by Christless souls in these moments, none can tell; no, it is without the compass of our conception.