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SERMON XII.

The Scale of Blessedness: Or, Blessed Saints, Blessed Saviour,

and Blessed Trinity.

Psalu lxv. 4.--Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach

unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts.

THE SECOND PART.

By the entrance of sin into the world, man was first separated from God and happiness : God in righteous anger withdrew from his creature man; and man, obeying the dictates of his own impious folly, runs farther away from his Maker God; He is born like a wild ass's colt, unknowing and thoughtless : and like a colt he runs wild in the forest of this world, roving amongst a thousand vanities in quest of happiness, but afar off from God still. He seeks substantial and pleasant food, but he meets with broad barren sands in the wilderness, or with brakes, and briars, and bitter weeds. He follows every foolish fire of fancy, till he is led into many a pit and precipice; He rises again, and changes the chase: He flies perpetually from object to object, but finds everlasting disappointment: Shadows, and painted hopes, flatter and tire, and delude him, till he lies down and despairs in death.

This is the case of mankind by nature; they live ignorant of God, and wilfully blind to their own felicity. Fatal blindness and wretched mankind! But blessed be God, that he has not renounced and abandoned all our race for ever, and fixed us in a state of eternal separation from him! Blessed be God, who has chosen, and already called many of the wanderers to himself again! He has built dwellings for himself on earth; he has appointed means for our return, and invites all to approach him. Good David had a full and lively sense hereof when he wrote the words of this song; Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts: Whence I derived this doctrine in the foregoing sermon.

Doctrine. Nearness to God is the foundation of a creature's happiness.

This doctrine appeared in full evidence, while we considered the three chief ingredients of true felicity, viz. the contemplation of the noblest object, to satisfy all the powers of the understanding, the love of the supreme good, to answer the utmost propensities of the will; and the sweet and everlasting sensation and assurance of the love of an almighty friend, who will free us from all the evils which our nature can fear, and confer upon us all the good which a wise and innocent creature can desire. Thus all the capacities of man are employed in their bighest and sweetest exercises and enjoyments. Now it is God alone, the great and ever-blessed God, who can furnish us with all these materials of blessedness, who can refine our natures, and who can thus engage and entertain all the powers and appetites of our natures refined.

Having finished what I designed in the explication and proof of this doctrine, I proceeded to make various reflections for our information and practice. But the meditation which I proposed, and reserved for this discourse, was the sacred scale of blessedness, or the several degrees of felicity, that creatures are possessed of, according to their advancing approaches toward God; and we shall find blessedness, in its highest perfection, to belong only to God himself.

First degree of blessedness.-I. Happy are they who, though they are sinners by nature, yet are brought so near to God, as to be within the sound and call of his grace.

In this sense the whole nation of the Jews was a people near unto God, for he shewed his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel ; and upon this account they were happy, in ancient ages, above all kingdoms of the earth ; Ps. cxlvii. and cxlviii.

Happy those countries where the apostles of Christ planted the gospel, and brought grace and salvation near them, though they were before at a dreadful distance from God! Tlappy Britons in our age! Though we are involved, with the rest of mankind, in the common ruins of our first defection from God, yet we are not left in the darkness of heathenism, on the very confines of hell : But God has exalted us near to heaven and him. self, in the ministrations of his word, and led us in a way to his everlasting enjoyment. He has built his sanctuaries amongst us, and established his churches in the midst of us. We are invited to behold the beauty of the Lord, to return to our obedience and his love, and thus be made happy for ever.

This is a matter of divine choice and peculiar favour. Blessed England, whom “ He hath chosen, and caused to approach” thus far towards himself! And why was not the polite nation of China chosen too ; And why not the poor Savages of Africa, and the barbarous millions of the American world? Why are they left in a dismal estrangement from God,“ Even so, Father, because it pleased thee," whose counsels" are unsearchable, and whose ways of judgment and mercy are past finding out."

“ Blessed are the people who hear and know the joyful sound;" Ps. lxxxix. 15. But there are degrees of this blessedness, even in the lands which enjoy the gospel. Blessed are they above others, who dwell near to the places of public worship, who sit under an enlightening, a powerful and persuasive ministry, who have opportunity to hear the word of God often, and who have skill to read it. Blessed are they who are born of religious parents, and trained up in the early forms of piety; these are still brought near unto God; they are nursed up, as it were, in his churches, and dwell in his courts. And blessed are those who are devoted to the service of the sanctuary, like the priests and levites of old, who were brought nearest to God, among all Israel; for their civil employment, as well as their religious duty, led them continually toward God, heaven and happiness. But all these glorious privileges are not sufficient to ensure eternal felicity, unless we come one step farther in approaching to God.

Second degree of blessedness -II. Happy are those souls who have been taught to improve their outward advantages of nearness to God, so as to obtain reconciliation, with him by the blood of Christ. This is the great end of all the privileges before-mentioned, which either Jew or Gentile were partakers of: This was the design of all the approaches that God made towards them. Peace and salvation, were preached to those which were afar off, and to them that were nigh, and Christ died to reconcilé both unto God; and that through him both might have an access by one Spirit unto the Father: Eph. ii. 16, 17, 18. Why are all the alluring glories of the Lord displayed before us, in his gospel, but that we might be drawn to love him? Why are these wondrous manifestations of his grace made to us, but that we might become the objects of his love, and taste of his special good

pess.

Happy persons, who are weary of their old estrangement from God, who have heard and have received the offers of his mercy, who have made their solemn approaches to God by Jesus the Mediator, and are joined to the Lord in a sweet and everlasting covenant! Happy creatures, who behold tire beauties of their Maker's face withi double pleasure, who love him with all their souls, and begin to taste the love of his heart too! This is a matter of special privilege. Blessed are the men who are thus chosen by divine grace, and whom he has caused to approach to himself by the converting power of his own Spirit! Let them come, let them come, and give up their names to his churches ; let them take up their places, and dwell in his courts on earth, and thus make a nearer approach to his court of heaven.

O that sinners would once be convinced that there are divine pleasures in religion, and joys which the stranger intermeddles not with! O that they would be once brought to believe, that happi

ness consists in approaching to God! That they would but give credit to the report of wise and holy men, who have lived in humble converse with God many years ! What a sacred and superior pleasure it is, above all the joys of sense, to love the great and blessed God, and to know that he loves me! To walk all the day in the light of his countenance! To have him near me as a counsellor, whose advice I may ask in every difficulty of life! To be ever near him as my guard, and to fly from every danger to the wing of his protection! To have such an almighty Friend with me in sickness and sorrow, in anguish and mortal agonies, and ready to receive my departing spirit into the arms of his love.

O that the formal and nominal christian, who attends divine worship, would but once be persuaded, that if he come one step nearer to God, his happiness will receive almost an infinite advance! Let the shadows lead him to the substance ; let the image in the glass allure him to converse with the original beauty, and the ordinances of grace bring him near to the God of grace! Let him no longer content himself with pictures of happiness, but give himself up entirely to the Lord, and be made possessor of solid and substantial felicity. Blessed is the man who has renounced sin and the world, and his heart is over-powered by divine goodness, and brought near to God in his holy covenant.

Yet there are degrees of blessedness among the saints on earth. Blessed is every soul whose state and nature are changed, who is not a stranger, but a son : but more blessed are those sons who are most like their heavenly Father, and keep closest to him in all their ways! Blessed are they above others in the holy family, who seldom wander from their God, whose hearts are always in a heavenly frame, and whose graces and virtues brighten and improve daily, and make a continual and joyful advance toward the state of glory!

Third degree of blessedness.-III. Now let us raise our thoughts, and wonder at the blessedness of the saints and angels in the upper world : and blessed are those spirits, whether they belong to bodies or not, whom the Lord has chosen, and caused to approach so near him, as to dwell and abide in his higher courts! They are fully satisfied with the goodness of his house, even of his holy temple. The saints are established as pillars in this temple of God, and shall go no more out. They approach him in their sublime methods of worship, without the medium of types and ordinances : They see God face to face; 1 Cor. xiii. 12. Though ordinances in the church on carth are means of drawing near, yet in that very thing they are also tokens of some degree of estrangement. The saints above are constantly before the throne, or night and day serving the Lord, as it is expressed

metaphorically; Rev. vii. 15. though in truth there is no night there; for they who dwell with God, dwell in light everlasting: They'approach to their Maker in most pleasurable acts of worship, without any interposing cloud to hide his face from them, without clogs and fetters to hold them at a distance, without wanderings, without sins, and without temptations.

O blessed state! O glorious felicity! They behold the beauty of the Lord, transported in divine contemplation, infinitely various and immortal. They feed upon his goodness with all the raptures of refined love, and are held in long ecstacy under the permanent sensations of the love of God.

Yet in this state of perfect glory, there are doubtless some different degrees of nearness to God, and consequently there are different ranks and orders of blessed spirits. This is evident amongst the angels beyond all contradiction : for though all of them behold the face of God continually; Mat. xviii. 10. yet Gabriel seems to be a favourite angel, standing in the presence of God, and employed in the noblest errands to men; Lukei. 19. And we read of seraphs and cherubs, angels and archangels, thrones, dominions, and principalities; which plainly exhibits to us a celestial hierarchy, or superior and subordinate ranks of glory and power.

And why may it not be so amongst the saints on high, those sons of Adam who are made like to angels! They are so many stars that shine with various degrees of splendour, as they are placed nearer to the Sun of Righteousness, and receive and reflect more of his beams. I might multiply arguments on this head, but I shall at present ask only these two or three convincing questions.

Can we ever imagine that Moses the meek, the friend of God, who was, as it were, his confidant on earth, his faithful prophet to institute a new religion, and establish a new church in the world; who, for God's sake, endured forty years of banishment, and had forty years fatigue in a wilderness; who saw God on earth face to face, and the shine was left upon his countenance ? Can we suppose that this man has taken his seat no nearer to God in paradise, than Samson and Jepthah, those rash champions, those rude and bloody ministers* of providence? Or can we think that St. Paul, the greatest of the apostles, who laboured more than than they all, and was in sufferings more abundant than the

* These expressions may be sufficiently justified, if we consider Jepthab's rash vow of sacrifice, which fell upon bis only child; and Samson's rude or unbecoming conduct in his amours with the Philistine woman at Timnah, the harlot at Gaza, and bis Delilah al Sorek, big bloody quarrels, and his manner of life.. The learoed and pious Dr. Owen, as I have orten been informed by his intimate friend Sir John Hartopp, called him a rude believer. He might have a strong faith of miracles ; Heb. xi. 22. but a small share of that faith which puribes the beart.

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