« НазадПродовжити »
untold, which it would be as impossible or unlawful to pry into and describe, as those unuttérable words which St. Paul heard when he was caught up into the third heavens.'
However, we conceive and know enough of the happiness to be enjoyed in Christ's kingdom, to make rational and thinking creatures Aling away the toys and trifles of this life, and place their affections on things above. If reason is consulted, surely it will choose the greatest good; surely it will choose an infinite good, rather than an eternal evil. Surely, if we take the measure of our choice from the size of our desires, we shall rather give them objects that can fully satisfy, objects great and endless, like themselves, than meanly stint them to the scanty enjoyments of this life, to the poverty of this world's riches.
Now let no one vainly imagine, that this may be done when he dies; that it will then be time enough for him to remove his affections from things on earth, and place them on things above, when he himself is about to remove. A close pursuit of this world, and the things of it, is utterly inconsistent with the possibility of obtaining the next. If we give up our desires to the possessions or pleasures of our present condition, we shall grow into such a habit of liking and loving them, that, before we go hence, we shall leave ourselves a relish for nothing else; so that we shall miserably hanker after them, and cling to them, even when necessity has laid its iron hand upon us, and is tearing us from them.
And, as for the delights of another life, it is utterly impossible to enjoy them, without training up our affections to an habitual desire of them. If we would enter into this glorious Canaan, we ought to send our affections thither before us, to view its riches, and taste its fruits; to take possession for us, and bring us a sample of its produce. How otherwise shall we know what kind of country it is, or whether it is a more desirable habitation than the wilderness we are in?
An appetite and taste must be acquired, before we can enjoy any thing. There is no enjoyment without love. What we do not love, we do not desire; and what we do not desire, it is impossible we should find any pleasure in. This is not only true, but it is also true, that the enjoyment VOL. II.
of any object is always in an exact proportion to our love of it. Hence a small occasion of pleasure shall afford more satisfaction to some, than a greater; and for this reason, because they love it more.
Were a man who is wedded to this world, and passionately fond of the enjoyments peculiar to it, carried into heaven, he would find nothing there that he could enjoy. He would want affections to taste its pleasures, and senses to perceive its glories. He would find none of his old delights there; no provision for his intemperance; no object for his lewdness, his ambition, his pride, or his avarice. It would be a dull and insipid state to him, a formless void.
How could a wicked man, even if he were in heaven, enjoy the pleasures of contemplation, or entertain himself with the survey and knowledge of nature, who, in the former world, had not observation enough to trace the very being of a God?
How could he relish the pleasures of doing good there, who had spent his former life, and placed his pleasure, in doing evil?
How could he enjoy the fellowship of angels, who had passed a whole life in the company and conversation (if I may be allowed the expression) of worldlings or rakes, and hath now a relish for no other companions ?
How could he frame his soul to divine love, and his voice to hymns and hallelujahs, who, during the greater part of his life, had made a jest of devotion, had derided the house of God, and despised his table?
How could he enjoy the blessed vision of God, or rather how could he bear the presence of him, whom he had so ungratefully and impiously offended through the whole course of his life? How could he endure the dreadful look of those eyes that pierce the soul, and see all its secrets ; 'in whose sight the stars are not pure;' and that cannot look on iniquity ?
It is too manifest to need a farther proof, that heaven itself could afford no enjoyment to a worldly, to a sensual, or a wicked mind. Nay, it is highly probable, that the happy themselves will taste higher or lower degrees of enjoyment, even in heaven, according as they are possessed with greater or lower degrees of divine love. When Christ shall entertain us in his Father's kingdom with fruit from * the tree of life,' and 'the new wine,' we shall probably réceive a measure of delight proportionable to the appetite we bring with us to the celestial banquet. The soul must have the principle of happiness within itself, or else no occasions of joy from without, be they ever so great, will be able to make it happy.
From hence we may learn the absolute necessity of practising devotion and virtue, and of bending our hearts towards God and heaven, before we leave this world. Let us therefore, with a just contempt for the trifles of this life, the vanity of which we see and know, turn ourselves to the treasures, the delights and glories, of heaven, that are too great to be seen or conceived at present. Let us open our understandings to the great objects of faith, and give them allthe warmth and force of our affections. Let us either forsake the too eager pursuit of this world, and then heaven will of course enter and possess our thoughts; or let us consider seriously what heaven is, and how it is to be obtained ; and it will drive out the love of this world, and set us at liberty, Let us fix our eyes, and our whole attention, on the great things that wait for us in the future life; and then we shall neither be immoderately pleased, nor intolerably grieved at whatsoever may happen to us here. The noble elevation of our thoughts will lift us above the power of fortune, above the temptations of sensual pleasures, and the assaults of temporal evils; will bring us, even while alive, near to the boundaries of God's glorious kingdom, and give us some foretaste of our happiness to come.
We deceive ourselves extremely, if we imagine, that eternal happiness, which is proposed to us in such high terms, is to be obtained by slight or feeble endeavours. It is neither a lukewarm devotion, nor a languid zeal; it is neither a cold, nor a forced, attendance on the house or table of God; it is not a life laid out on this world, and ended in a mixture of prayer and terror; it is not a divided service, paid half to God, and half to the devil; it is not a pursuit, in short, too faint and careless to obtain the smallest worldly possession, that will procure for us an eternal crown. No; our endeavours must bear some proportion to that we aim at. The labours by which eternal happiness is obtained are represented to us in Scripture by climbing 'a steep and narrow path;' by a state of war, in which we are to watch, to contend, and fight; by a race, which, that we may run with the greater strength and swiftness, we must ‘lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us.' In order to these mighty labours, and this eager and active pursuit, we must, as much as possible, rid ourselves of worldly amusements and hinderances.
What a shame would it be, how bitterly should we for ever curse our desperate folly, should death surprise us pursuing and contending for baubles, and collecting toys, with a crown of infinite glory in view! Let us rather rouse, and betake ourselves to better thoughts, and a sounder mind. Let us shake off all encumbrances. Let us strip ourselves for our course, and with all the activity that our own resolutions, and all the vigour that the grace of God, can give us, let us, ' forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,' press with all our might 'towards the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus;' to whom, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, let us, in imitation of all good men, render the grateful incense of a good life and conversation here, that we may hereafter join with the happy choir of saints and angels, to sing his glorious praises, for ever.
THE PUNISHMENT ANNEXED TO THE CHRISTIAN
2 Cor. v. 10, 11. We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether
it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men. Men cannot subsist out of society, nor can society subsist without laws and government; nor can the laws and government of men be of any force or use, if they are not founded on, and supported by, the law of God; nor would even the law of God itself be of any service to this temporal, or to other higher ends, were it not enforced by rewards and punishments.
As, therefore, all goodness, all happiness, here and hereafter, depend absolutely on the hope of a reward, or the fear of a punishment from God, we must conclude, that such rewards and punishments will actually be distributed to all men with infinite justice; and that, as the great Ruler of the world is infinitely wise, these rewards will be so glorious, and these punishments so severe, as to give sufficient weight to a law of such high importance.
Thus speaks reason ; and, when the word of God is consulted, it is found to speak in the same strain. The reward of the righteous is described there in terms that express an infinite degree of joy, and everlasting glory; and the punishment of the wicked in such, as may terrify them with the horrible prospect of intolerable misery, and endless disgrace.
Experience forbids us, however, to hope or fear any such happiness or misery in this life; and therefore reason and Scripture bid us expect them in another. As to Scripture, it assures us, that God hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness;' and that we shall appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we,' who are appointed to preach his word, must, by representing that terror in all the dreadful colours divine truth hath given it, endeavour to persuade men ;' to persuade them, if we can, to place the terror of God's judgments before their eyes, that they may fear and tremble before God continually,' and labour to escape those judgments, by attending to that terror; than which nothing, as the world goes, is more likely to reform their lives.
If you will hear me with attention, and bear the subject with patience, I shall endeavour, with the assistance of God's word, to set forth the certainty, the severity, and the eternity, of those punishments God hath threatened unrepented sin with, in such a manner as may prevent your thinking the
time ill-spent, or your fears unnecessarily awakened. · As to the certainty, that God will hereafter “punish all wickedness and ungodliness of men,'I need not dwell long