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constraining love, to win the hearts of their children to God, to persuade them to accept of the grace of Christ, and snatch them as brands out of the burning. Let friends and dearest relatives, let masters and rulers of families, lay hold on every just occasion to speak of the things of God to those that are near them.Life is the only time to express our zeal for God, and love to souls, in such a manner as this. When we pray, Thy kingdom come, we should awaken our endeavours to gain some new subjects to Christ.
Come, let us all engage our own consciences in this sacred and compassionate work, while we consider, that to-day is the accepted time, now is the hour of salvation. God may put an end to our own lives, or the lives of our friends to-morrow, and either their death or ours will prevent this sort of work for ever. Then we can speak no more, or they can hear us no more: They will be for ever out of the reach of our compassionate desires to save them. We may send our bitter sighs, and our fruitless groans, after them, when they are gone down to darkness without hope; and we may feel the inward anguish of a sharp and painful repentance, while, through our neglect, and their own folly and wickedness, they are cursing the day of their birth: and crying out, in full despair, under the torture of divine
XI. Another grace which can be exercised only in this life, is holy zeal, and boldness in the profession of christianity, with courage in suffering for Christ. These are virtues that belong only to our mortal state; these are made necessary to the saints, by the opposition that is raised against true religion by the men of this world. Here in this world, they that will live godly in Christ Jesus, must suffer persecution; 2 Tim. iii. 12. Our Saviour himself, in the first publication of his own gospel, endured the contradiction of sinners against himself; he sealed his doctrine with his own blood, and has given his followers a glorious example of a suffering zeal and holy fortitude. Imitate him who endured the cross, and despised the shame; Heb. xii. 2, 3.
This sort of virtues doth not belong to the heavenly state; for there is no opposition made to truth and holiness: There are no such trials of our zeal and courage in heaven; courage to speak boldly for Christ, and zeal to give him publie glory, by maintaining his gospel in the face of terror and death; for there are no infidels, no sinners, no enemies in all the heavenly regions." There are no threatening tyrants, no persecuting powers, no penal laws in the upper world: No prisons, no fires, no gibbets nor axes there for the followers of the Lamb; no cruel mockings nor so much as a reproachful word: but the greater our zeal is PP
for the service of God and our Saviour in the heavenly state, the greater shall be our honour and applause among the inhabitants of that country.
Endure then for a season, ye disciples of Christ, grow bold in the profession of his name, and exult with holy joy, that you are counted worthy to suffer shame for his sake; Acts v. 41. It is here on earth only, that it is in your power to shew, how much you love your Saviour more than your life, and that your love to your Lord is stronger than death with all its terrors. Upon this account shall I exhort you to practise what the apostle James expresses; James i. 2. Count it all joy, my brethren, when ye fall into divers temptations; for the proof or trial of your faith shall appear honourable and glorious when Christ comes; 1 Pet. i. 7. It was a frequent and sacred ambition among the primitive christians to contend for the crown of martyrdom. This world is the only stage for such bloody conflicts, and this life is the only season wherein we can obtain the addition of this ornament to our crown of glory.
XII. May I add in the last place, that a calm and chearful readiness for a removal out of this world, is an honour done to Christ and his gospel here on earth, which belongs not to the heavenly state. Death, in the course of nature, as well as by the hands of violence, hath always something awful and formidable in it. Flesh and blood shrinks and trembles at the appearance of a dissolution, and Christ delights to see the grace that he has wrought in his saints gain the ascendency over flesh and blood, and conquer the terrors of death and the grave. He loves to see his followers maintain a serene soul, and venture upon the invisible world upon the merit of his blood, with holy fortitude and a chearful faith. It is only the living christian that can die, and glorify God his Saviour in that great and important hour. The saints, who are arrived at heaven, dwell in the temple of God, and shall go no more out; Rev. iii. 12. They are for ever possessed of life and immortality. There are no more deaths or dangers for them to encounter, no more terrors to engage their conflict. Death is the last enemy of the saints; and when the christian meets it with sacred courage, he gives that honour to the Captain of his Salvation, which the saints in glory can never give, and which he himself can never repeat. Dying with faith and fortitude is a noble conclusion of a life of zeal and service. It is the very last duty on earth; when that is done, then heaven begins.
Thus I have made it evident, in many instances, that there is a rich variety of virtues and graces to be exercised in this life, which have no place after deatli, and upon this account the living christian may be said to have some advantage beyond the
dead. Here an objection or two will arise that may require an
Objection I.-But is not heaven always represented as a state of perfection? Is not grace and holiness more complete there than ever they have been, or can be in the time of our mortal life? And yet how can it be a state of greater perfection, if so many graces are wanting there?
Answer. These graces which belong to the living saint, and have no place among the happy dead, are but the various exercises of a sanctified mind, arising from some imperfections in our present state. Faith is owing to our want of sight: Hope is owing to our want of enjoyment: Patience, courage, compassion, forbearance, forgiveness, repentance, and such like graces, are owing to the sins, the sorrows, or the temptations that are found in this world only. The follies, the mistakes, the infirmi ties of ourselves, or our fellow-christians, or the wickedness of the world wherein we live, are the only things that give occasion for the exercise of such graces as I have now mentioned; therefore in a perfect state there is no room for them.
Yet every saint in heaven has a sanctified nature, which is the root and spring of all these graces, and they would appear in glorious exercise again, if there were any objects, or occasions, or seasons proper to excite them. Therefore the saints above are not defective in any virtue or grace, though they have no actual exercise of several of them in heaven. So God himself would not be in himself less merciful if he appeared in any province of his dominion where there was no creature in misery, and consequently no proper object for mercy. He is a God of infinite compassion and forgiveness still, though he has no immediate new exercises of them in heaven, in a world where no sinners are: for sin and misery are the only proper occasions of forgiveness and mercy. Thus the saints in heaven are perfect in grace and holiness, even though there are no proper objects or occasions, for this holiness or this grace to manifest itself in such peculiar instances as I have been describing in this discourse.
II. How can it be said, that a living christian has any advantage above the dead? Is not heaven better than earth? And upon that account, is not death often represented to us under most pleasing colours in the gospel, as it is an escape from the sins and sorrows of this present state, and as it conveys us into the world of blessed spirits, where there are infinite advantages above any thing to be enjoyed in this life!
Answer. Though the living saint has some advantages which the dead cannot partake of, yet it is very true, that the
honours, the pleasures, the joys, the perfections, and the advantages of heaven, when summed up together, are far more and greater, and are infinitely preferable to those on earth; but they are not at all of the same kind. When we compare the state of grace and the state of glory together, we may boldly say, the state of glory has vastly the preference; and St. Paul himself thought so, Phil. i. 21, 23. To be dissolved, and to be with Christ, is far better than to dwell in this sinful world. He asserts it, that death would be his own gain; yet still he allows there are some advantages of this life, which death would deprive him of; for, says he, for me to live in the flesh, will be for the honour of Christ in his churches; and I shall have this fruit of my life, even the furtherance of your faith and joy; verses 22, 25.
When we are encouraging christians to live above the fear of death, we represent to them all the glories and felicities of the future world, which are infinitely superior to all things we can enjoy in this life. But while we continue here on earth, under the difficulties and hardships of the present state, we have need of patience, that when we have done the will of God, we may receive the promises; Heb. x. 36. And we have need of all those peculiar advantages to be set before us, which can belong to our stations here on earth, on purpose to support our patience, to bear us up under present burdens, and make us active in present duties: Although it must be still confessed, that all those advantages of this life, joined with our present sins and sorrows, are much inferior to the actual taste and fruition of the joys of hea ven, where sin and sorrow are known no more.
This thought very naturally leads me to the improvement and conclusion of my discourse, which I shall wind up briefly in these four practical inferences:
Infererence I.-Since there are many virtues and duties which belong only to this present life, "let us lose no opportunity for the practice of them, for the next day, or the next hour, may put it for ever out of our power to practise them." Eternity is a long duration indeed, but it will never afford us one season for visiting the sick, for feeding the hungry, or for charity and meekness towards those who injure us: Eternity itself will never give us one opportunity for the pious labours of love toward the conversion of sinful acquaintance and relatives. O let us not suffer this precious lamp of life to burn in vain, or weeks, and days, and hours to slide away unemployed and useless. Let us remember, that while we are here, we work for a long hereafter; that we think, and speak, and act with regard to an eternal state, and that in time we live for eternity. Let us call up all, our powers to action and diligence, that not a day of our short
lives may pass away, but what may turn to our account in the years of eternity. While God is pleased to delay our heaven, let our continuance on earth be filled up with the various exercise of such graces as are suited to our present stations. Let this be a new spring and motive to our zeal, that we are doing such honours to God and our Saviour here on earth, of which none of the saints above are capable, and for which this life is the only season: And let it appear in the day of retribution that the length of our life here on earth, has been a great, and real, and everlasting advantage to us, by preparing us for a higher station after death, and a fairer inheritance in that world which is everlasting.
II. "Though your hopes of heaven be never so well grounded, yet be not too impatient of dwelling longer on the earth: And though your burdens and sorrows may be very great in life, yet be not too hasty and importunate in your desires of death." Support yourself under all the fatigues, trials and difficulties of the present state, with this consideration, that you are now employed in such service for God, and paying such a tribute of honour to him in your suffering circumstances, as all the saints in heaven cannot do. Some of the children of God in this world have been too impatient of life, and too eager in their importunities for death and the grave. Job and Elijah were great favourites of heaven, but they failed a little in this point: And God, in the course of his providence, afterward made it appear what eminent service he had for them both to do before they left this world. Elijah was designed to reform the whole nation of Israel from idolatry, and Job to be parent of a new large family, and give the world an example of God's rewarding providence. If life be yours, O christians, and be numbered among your possessions, be not too hasty to part with it, nor to throw away that talent which may yet in days to come be employed to the signal honour of thy God and Saviour.
III. "If life be almost spent, and you have done little for God, see that in your last, your dying hours, if possible, you speak and act for his glory. Let not the whole season of life quite pass away, and be turned over like a blank leaf which has none of the praises of God* written upon it. A word of warning from a death-bed may make a deep and happy impression on those that hear it, and through divine grace may save a soul; and if so, thou shalt hear of it again with honour
It was a custom in former days for merchants in their books of accounts to have "Laus Deo, or Praise to God," written in the beginning of every leaf, and it stood on the head of the page in large and fair letters, to put them always in mind, that in their human affairs they should carry on a divine design for the glory of God.