« PreviousContinue »
able to contain so many great souls. But when he draws nearer to us, and observes the course and carriage of our lives, when he sees us walk as other men, and considers the strange disagreement of our daily conversation to our so great, avowed hopes, and how little sense of joy and pleasure we discover ourselves to conceive in them; would he not be ready to say, “Sure some or other (willing only to amuse the world with the noise of strange things) have composed a religion for these men, which they themselves understand nothing of. If they do adopt and own it for theirs, they understand not their own pretences; they are taught to speak some big words, or to give a faint or seeming assent to such as speak them in their names, but it is impossible they should be in good earnest, or believe themselves in what they say and profess.” And what reply then should we be able to make? For who can think that any who acknowledge a God, and understand at all what that name imports, should value at so low a rate, as we visibly do, the eternal fruition of his glory, and a present sonship to him, the pledge of so great a hope. He that is born heir to great honors and possessions, though he be upon great uncertainties as to the enjoyment of them, (for how many interveniences may prevent bim?) yet when he comes to understand his possibilites and expectancies, how big doth he look and speak? what grandeur doth he put on ? His hopes form his spirit and deportment. But is it proportionably so with us? Do our hopes fill our hearts with joy, our mouths with praise, and clothe our faces with a cheerful aspect, and make a holy alacrity appear in all our conversations?
But let not the design of this discourse be mistaken. It is not a presumptuous confidence I would encourage, nor
a vain ostentation, nor a disdainful over-looking of others whom we fancy ourselves to excel. . Such things hold no proportion with a Christian spirit. His is a modest, humble exultation ; a serious, severe joy ; suitable to his solid, stable hope. His spirit is not puffed up and swollen with air, it is not big by an inflation, or a light and windy tumor, but it is really filled with effectual
preapprehensions of a weighty glory. His joy accordingly exerts itself with a steady, lively vigor, equally removed from vain lightness and stupidity, from conceitedness, and insensibleness of his blessed state. He forgets not that he is less than the least of God's mercies, but disowns not his title to the greatest of them. He abases himself to the dust, in the sense of his own vileness; but in the admiration of divine grace, he rises as high as heaven. In his humiliation, he affects to equal himself with worms, in his joy and praise, with angels. He is never unwilling to diminish himself, but afraid of detracting any thing from the love of God, or the issues of that love. But most of all he magnifies (as he hath cause) this its last and most perfect issue.
upon, while they decline and waive this blessedness? Methinks thy very shame should compel thee to quit the name of a saint or a man: to forbear numbering thyself with any that pretend to immortality, and go seek pasture among the beasts of the field, with them that live that low, animal life that thou dost, and expect no other.
And when thou so fallest in with the world, how highly dost thou gratify the pretending and usurping god of it? The great fomenter of the sensual, worldly genius : the spirit itself that works in the children of disobedience, (Eph. 2. 2. 3.) and makes them follow the course of the world, holds them fast bound in worldly lusts, and leads them captive at his will; causes them (after his own serpentine manner) to creep and crawl in the dust of the earth. He is most intimate to this apostate world; informs it (as it were) and actuates it in every part; is even one great soul to it. The whole world lies in that wicked one, (1 John. 5. 19.) as the body, by the best philosophers, is said to be in the soul. The world is said to be convicted when be is judged. John 16. 8–12. He having fallen from a state of blessedness in God, hath involved the world with himself in the same apostacy and condemnation ; and labors to keep them fast in the bands of death. The great Redeemer of souls makes this his business, to loose and dissolve the work of the devil. 1 John 3. 8. With that wicked one thou compliest against thy own soul and the Redeemer of it, while thou neglectest to desire and pursue this blessedness. This is thy debasement, and his triumph; thy vile succumbency gives him the day and his will upon
thee. He desires no more than that he may suppress in thee all heavenly desires, and keep thee thus a slave and a prisoner (confined in thy spirit to this low, dark dungeon) by thy own consent. While thou remainest without desire after heaven, he is secure of thee, as knowing then thou wilt take no other way, but what will bring thee unto the same eternal state with himself in the end. He is jealous over thee, that thou direct not a desire, nor glance an eye heaven-ward. While thou dost not so, thou art entirely subject, and givest as full obedience to him, as thy God requires to himself in order to thy blessedness. But is it a thing tolerable to thy thoughts, that thou shouldst yield that heart-obedience to the devil against God? And this being the state of thy case, what more significant expression canst thou make of the contempt of divine goodness? O the love that thou neglectest, while the most glorious issue and product of it is with thee an undesired thing! Yea, this the thing itself speaks, were there no such competition. What, that when eternal love hath conceived, and is travailing to bring forth such a birth; that when it invites thee to an expectation of such glory shortly to be revealed, the result of so deep counsels and wonderful works, this should be the return
from thee, I desire it not! Is this thy gratitude to the Father of glory, the requital of the kindness, yea, and of the blood of thy Redeemer? If this blessedness were not desirable for itself, methinks the offerer's hand should be a sufficient endearment. But thou canst not so divide or abstract, it consists in beholding and bearing his glorious likeness who invites thee to it; and therefore in the neglect of it thou most highly affrontest him.
Yea further, is it not a monstrous unnaturalness towards thyself, as well as impiety towards God, not to desire that perfect, final blessedness? Doth not every thing naturally tend to its ultimate perfection and proper end? What creature would not witness against thee, if thou neglect, in thine own capacity and kind, to aim at thine ? Surely thou canst not allow thyself to think any thing beneath this, worthy to be owned by thee, under that notion, of thy highest good and thy last end. But that thy spirit should labor under an aversion towards thy highest good, towards thy blessedness itself, is not that a dismal token upon thee? If thou didst disaffect and nauseate the things in which thy present life is bound up, and without which thou canst not live, wouldst thou not think thy case deplorable ? What dost thou think will become of thy soul, whose everlasting life is bound up in that very good which thou desirest not; which cannot live that life without that good, nor with it, if thou hast no desire to it? O the eternal resentments thy soul will have of this cruelty ! to be withheld from that wherein its lise lies ! Wouldst thou not judge him unnatural that should kill his brother, assassinate his father, starve his child? What shall be said of him that destroys himself ? How may that soul lament that ever it was thine; and say, O that I had rather been of any such lower kind, to have animated a fly, to have inspirited a vile worm, rather than to have served a reasonable beast, that by me knew the good it would never follow, and did not desire! But if thou hast any such desires, in a low degree, after this blessedness, as thou thinkest may entitle thee to the name thou bearest, of a saint, a christian ; is it not still very unnatural to pursue a good, approved by thy stated judgment as best in itself, and for thee, with so unproportionable, so slothful desires ? For the same reason thou dost desire it at all, thou shouldst desire it much; yea, and still more and more, till thou attain it, and be swallowed up into it. Thy best and last good thou canst never desire too much. And let it be considered by thee, that the temper thou thinkest thyself innocent of, an habitual prevalent disaffection to the true blessedness of saints, may for ought thou knowest be upon thee ; while it appears thou art so very near the borders of it; and it appears not with such certainty that thou partakest not in it.
It is not so easy a matter, critically to distinguish and conclude of the lowest degree (in hypothesi, or with application to thy own case) of that de
sire which is necessary to qualify thee for the enjoyment of this blessedness. And is it not a matter both of shame and terror, that thou shouldst desire thy blessedness so faintly, as not to know whether thou truly desire it at all? It is true, that a certainty, amongst such as may be sincere, is very little common; but whenee proceeds it, but from their too common, indulged sloth; out of which all this is designed to awaken thee. And the commonness whereof doth as little detract from the reproach and sinfulness, as from the danger of it. It is but a poor defence, for what is intrinsically evil in itself, that it is common.
But further, as the case is, this is so reproachsul a thing, even in common estimate,—not to desire heaven and eternal glory, or to desire it with very cold and careless desires—that there are few will profess it, or own it to be their temper; much few. er that will undertake to excuse or justify it. It is so evilly thought of, that among merely sober and rational men, it can never find an advocate, or any that will afford it patronage. The generality pretend a desire of going to heaven and being with God. If any be so observant of themselves as to know, and so ingenuous as to confess it otherwise with them, they complain of it as their fault, and say, they would fain have it redressed but are far from assuming that confidence, to defend or plead for it. Consider then, wilt thou persist in such a temper and disposition of mind as all men condemn; and be guilty of so odious a thing, as shall be censured and blamed by the common concurrent vote and judgment of mankind; Thou wouldst be ashamed to stand forth and profess openly to men, that thou desirest an earthly felicity more than a blessedness in heaven'; or at least, that thou art so indifferent, and the scales hang so even with thee, that thou canst hardly tell which way they incline most. And art thou not ashamed that this should be thy usual temper; how much soever thou conceal it from the notice and observation of the world? Moreover, how can it escape thy serious reflection, that if thou pretend it otherwise with thee, it is but to add one sin to another, and cover thy carnality with hypocrisy and dissimulation ? Yea, while thou continuest in that temper of spirit, not to desire this blessedness as thy su. preme end, the whole of thy religion is but an empty shew, an artificial disguise : it carries an appearance and pretence, as if thou wast aiming at God and glory, while thy heart is set another way, and the bent of thy soul secretly carries thee a coun. ter-course. Hath not religion an aspect towards blessedness ? What mean thy praying, thy hearing, thy sacramental commu. nion, if thou have not a design for eternal glory? What makest thou in this way, if thou have not thy heart set towards this end?
Nor is it more dishonest and unjust, than it is foolish and absurd, that the disposition and tendency of thy soul should be di
rectly contrary to the only design of the religion thou professest and 'dost externally practice. Thy profession and desires are nothing but self-contradiction. Thou art continually running counter to thyself; outwardly pursuing what thou inwardly declinest. Thy real end (which can be no other than what thou really desirest and settest thy heart upon) and thy visible way are quite contrary : so that while thou continuest the course of religion, in which thou art engaged, having taken down from before thine eyes the end which thou shouldst be aiming at, and which alone religion can aptly subserve, thy religion hath no design or end at all, none at least which thou wouldst not be ashamed to prosess and own. Indeed this temper of heart I am now pleading against, an undesirousness or indifferency of spirit towards the eternal glory, renders religion the vainest thing in the world. For whereas all the other actions of our lives have their stated, proper ends, religion hath in this case none at all; none to which it hath any designation in this nature, or any aptness to subserve. This monstrous absurdity it infers, and how strange it is, that it should not be reflected on? That whereas if you ask any man of common understanding, what he doth this or that action for, especially if they be stated actions, done by him in an ordinary course, he can readily tell you, for such and such an end: but ask him why he continues any practice of religion, he cannot say (in this case) for what. For can any man imagine what other end religion naturally serves for, but to bring men to blessedness? Which being no other thing than what hath been here described; such as are found not to desire it really and supremely, as their end, can have no real attainable end of their being religious at all. To drive on a continued course and series of actions in a visible pursuit of that which they desire not, and have no mind to, is such a piece of folly, so fond and vain a trifling, that as I remember, Cicero reports Cato to have said concerning the sooth-sayers of his time, he did wonder they could look in one another's faces and not laugh, (being conscious to each other's impostures, and the vanity of their profession;) so one would as justly wonder, that the generality of carnal men, (who may shrewdly guess at the temper of one another's minds) do not laugh at each other, that they are jointly engaged in such exercise of religion, to the design whereof the common and agreed temper of their spirits do so little correspond. As if all were in very good earnest for heaven, when each one knows for himself, and may (possibly with more truth than charity ) suppose of the rest, that if they might always continue in their earthly station, they had rather never come there; and therefore that they desire it not supremely, and so not as their end at all. Consider it then, that thy no-desire of this blessed state quite dispirits thy religion, utterly ravishes away its soul, leaves it a dead, foolish, vain thing, renders it an idle