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The shining firmament, with all the luminaries that adorn it, are but the frontispiece to the highest heaven. All the lustre of diamonds, the fire of carbuncles and rubies, the brightness of pearls, are dead in comparison of its glory. “It is the throne of the God of glory," wherein his majesty is revealed in the most illustrious manner. For pleasantness it is called Paradise, in allusion to the delightful garden planted by the hands of God himself for Adam, his favorite, whilst innocent. There is the tree of life. There are rivers of pleasure springing from the divine presence. It is called “the inheritance of the saints in light;" to signify the glory and joy of the place : for light has splendor, and conciliates cheerfulness, and is a fit emblem of both. As on the contrary, hell is descibed by “the blackness of darkness forever,” to signify the sadness and despair of the damned ; and because in that centre of misery, a perpetual night and invincible darkness increases the horror of lost souls.
Heaven for stability is called “a city that has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” The present world is like a tent or tabernacle set up for a time, whilst the church is passing through the wilderness : but heaven is the “city of the living God, the place of his happy residence, the seat of his eternal empire. The visible world, with all its perishing idols, shall shortly fall, this beautiful scene shall be abolished : but the supreme heaven is above this sphere of mutability, wherein all bodies compounded of the jarring elements are continually changing and dissolving : it is truly called “ a kingdom that cannot be shaken.” Briefly, the wise maker has framed it correspondently to the end for which it was designed : it is the seat of his majesty, his sacred temple wherein he diffuses the richest beams of his goodness and glory, and his chosen servants see and praise his adorable excellencies forever.
[2.] I will endeavour to shew, that the enjoyment of the divine presence in heaven, is the supreme felicity of the saints.
To make this supernatural blessedness more easy and intelligible to us, the scripture describes it by sensible representations. For while the soul is clothed with flesh, fancy has such a dominion, that we conceive of nothing but by comparisons and images taken from material things. It is therefore set forth by a marriage seast, Rev. 17. 7. to signify the joy and glory of the saints above. But to prevent all gross conceits, we are instructed, that the bodies of the saints shall be spiritual, not capable of hunger or thirst, or consequently of any refreshment that is caused by the satisfaction of those appetites. The objects of the most noble senses, seeing and hearing, the pleasure of which is mixed with reason, and not common to the brutes, are more frequently made use of to reconcile the blessed and heavenly state to the proportion of our minds. Thus sometimes the saints above are represented on thrones, and with crowns on their heads : sometimes clothed in white with palms in their hands :
sometimes singing songs of triumph to him that sits on the throne. But the real felicity of the saints infinitely exceeds all those faint metaphors. The Apostle, to whom the admirable revelation was exhibited of the sufferings of the church, and the victorious issue out of them in the successive ages of the world, tells us, “it does not appear what the saints shall be in heaven. The things that God has prepared for those that love him," are far more above the highest ascent of our thoughts, than the marriage feast of a king exceeds in splendor and magnificence, the imagination of one that has always lived in an obscure village, that never saw any ornaments of state, nor tasted wine in his life. We can think of those things but according to the poverty of our understandings. But so much we know as is able to sweeten all the bitterness, and render insipid all the sweetness of this world.
Whatever is requisite to our complete blessedness, is enjoyed in heaven.
There is an exemption from all evils. Sin and all the penal consequences, are abolished in heaven. The concurrence of al positive excellencies is enjoyed there. The body is revived to a glorious life. The soul lives in communion with God. The excellence of the object, and vigor of the actings upon it, the principal ingredients of happiness.
This will appear by considering, that whatever is requisite to constitute the complete blessedness of man, is fully enjoyed in the divine presence.
(1.) An exemption from all evils is the first condition of perfect blessedness. The sentence of the wise Solon is true,
- Dicique beatus Ante obitum nemo supremaque funera debet. No man can be called happy whilst in this valley of tears. There are so many natural calamities, so many casual, which no human mind can foresec or prevent, that one may be less miserable than another, but none perfectly happy here. But upon the entrance into heaven, all those evils, that by their number, variety or weight, disquiet and oppress us here, are at an end.
Sin, of all evils the worst and most hateful, shall be abolished and all temptations that surround us and endanger our innocence, shall cease.
Here the best men lament the weakness of the flesh, and sometimes the violent assaults of spiritual enemies. St. Paul himself breaks forth into a mournful complaint, “O
wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death !” And when harassed by the buffets of Satan, renews his most earnest addresses to God to be freed from them. Here our purity is not absolute, we must be always cleansing ourselves from the relics of that deep defilement that cleaves to our nature. Here our peace is preserved with the sword in our hand, by a continual warfare against Satan and the world. But in heaven no ignorance darkens the mind, no passions rebel against the sanctified will, no inherent pollution remains.“ The church is without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing :” and all temptations shall then cease. The tempter was cast out of heaven, and none of his poisoned arrows can reach that purified company. Glorious liberty! here ardently desired, but fully enjoyed by the saints above. And as sin, so all the penal consequences of it are quite taken away. The present life is a continual disease, and sometimes attended with that sharp sense, that death is desired as a remedy, and accepted as a benefit. And though the saints have reviving cordials, yet their joys are mixed with sorrows, nay, caused by sorrows. The tears of repentance are their sweetest refreshment. Here the living stones are cut and wounded, and make fit by sufferings for a temple unto God in the New Jerusalem. But as in building of Solomon's temple, the noise of a hammer was not heard, for all the parts were framed before with that exact design and correspondence, that they firmly combined together; they were hewn in another place, and nothing remained but the putting them one upon another, and then as sacred they became inviolable : so God the wise architect, having prepared the saints here by many cutting afflictions, places them in the eternal building, where no voice of sorrow is heard. Of the innumerable assembly above, is there any eye that weeps, any breast that sighs, any tongue that complains, or any appearance of grief? The heavenly state is called life, as only worthy of that title. There is no infirmity of body, no poverty, no disgrace, no treachery of friends, no persecution of enemies. " There is no more death, nor sorrow; nor shall there be any more pain ; for former things are past away. God will wipe away all tears from the eyes of his people." There salvation is complete in all degrees : pure joy is the privilege of heaven, unmixed sorrows the punishment of hell.
(2.) A concurrence of all positive excellencies is requisite to blessedness. And these are to be considered with respect to the entire man.
1. The body shall be awaked out of its dead sleep, and quickened into a glorious immortal life. The soul and body are the essential parts of man ; and though the inequality be great in their holy operations, yet their concourse is necessary. Good actions are designed by the counsel and resolution of ihe spirit, but performed by the ministry of the flesh. Every grace ex
presses itself in visible actions by the body. In the sorrows of repentance it supplies tears; in religious fasts, its appetites are restrained ; in thanksgivings the tongue breaks forth into the joyful praises of God. All our victories over sensible pleasure and pain are obtained by the soul in conjunction with the body. Now it is most becoming the divine goodness, not to deal so differently, that the soul should be everlastingly happy, and the body lost in forgetfulness; the one glorified in heaven, the other remain in the dust. From their first setting out in the world to the grave, they ran the same race, and shall enjoy the same reward. Here the body is the consort of the soul in obedience and sufferings, hereafter in fruition. When the crown of purity, or palm of martyrdom shall be given by the great judge in the view of all, they shall both partake in the honor. The Apostle assures us, the bodies of the saints shall be revived and refined to a spiritual and glorious perfection. “Flesh and blood,” the body with its terrene qualities, is mutable and mortal, and “ cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven;" it cannot breathe in so pure an air. God tells Moses, “No man can see my face and live :” the sight of the divine glory is not consistent with such tempered frail tabernacles of flesh. Nay, the body must be freed from the infirmities that were inseparable from Adam in Paradise : for "he was made a living soul,” i. e. the soul united to the body was the fountain of the natural sensitive life, which was in a perpetual Aux, the vital heat wasting the radical moisture, from whence there was a necessity of food and sleep to repair the substance and spirits, and preserve his life in vigor : but in the divine world, the body shall be spiritual in its qualities and the principle of its life; it shall be supported by the supernatural power of the spirit, without the supplies of outward nourishment, and exempted from all the low operations of nature : therefore our Saviour tells us, " the children of the resurrection shall be equal to the angels,” prepared for the employment and enjoyments of those blessed spirits.
And a substantial unfading glory will shine in them infinitely above the perishing pride of this world, and the glory of the flesh," that is but an appearance, like the false colors painted on the feathers of a dove, by the reflection of the light, which presently vanishes, when the posture is changed, or the light withdrawn. Of this we have a sure pledge in the glorified body of Christ, who is the first fruits of them that sleep: he shall change our vile bodies, that they may be fashioned like to his glorious body, according to the working of his power, whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself.” What can be more glorious, than to be conformed to the humanity of the Son of God ? This conformity shall be the work of his own hands: and when omnipotence interposes, nothing is difficult. The raising the body to an immortal state of glory, is as easy to the divine
power, as the forming it first in the womb. As the sun labors no more in the mines, in the forming gold and silver, and the most precious and durable metals, than in the production of a short-lived flower.
2. The supreme happiness of man is in the soul's communion ! with God. This will appear by considering the principal ingredients of happiness: they are the excellence of the object, and vigor of the actings upon it. The life and blessedness of God is to know and love himself according to his infinite perfections. And it is the highest happiness of the reasonable creature, to know and love God : for he is a spiritual, infinite, unchangeable good, and can fully communicate all that is requisite to entire blessedness, supply all the wants, and satisfy all the wishes of the immortal soul. The understanding and will are our most comprehensive faculties, the principles our most eminent operations. To know and to love, are essential to the reasonable soul; and in directing those acts upon God, the rectitude, the perfection and felicity of man consists. As the intellectual creature by setting its mind and heart upon earthly things, is degraded into a lower order, the thoughts and desires that are spiritual with respect to the principle from whence they proceed, are sensual and perishing with respect to their objects : so when our noble faculties are exercised in their most lively and vigorous perceptions upon the supreme good, man is advanced to an equality of joy and perfection with the angels. Now in heaven, God by his most evident and essential presence, excites and draws forth all the active powers of the soul in their highest degrees; and, such is the immensity of his perfections, fills their utmost capacity, from whence a divine pleasure, a perpetual satisfaction springs, a joy that is as unspeakable as it is eternal.