« AnteriorContinuar »
of glory;" that men should pursue fleeting shadows, and neglect the most excellent realities, as if they could be happy here, and continue here for ever, and hereafter there were neither happiness nor eternity. But this releases the wonder, that “all men have not faith,” Eternal things are not of conspicuous moment in the carnal balance. Some are infidels in profession, openly declaring themselves to be without religion, without God, and have the same credit of the heaven and hell discovered in the gospel, as of the Elisian fields, and Stygian lake, the fables of the poets. These live as if they should never die, and die as if they should never live in the other world; as if death caused so deep a sleep, that the voice of the Son of God could not awaken them at the last day, Their unbelief is not from reason, but vicious opposite affections ; for the truth of the eternal state is so clearly revealed, and strongly established in the gospel, that the sincere mind must readily assent to it. But the wicked cannot delight in the discovery of that for which they are unprepared, and therefore try all ways to elude the force of the most satisfying arguments. Their infidelity is obstinate and incurable. An instance whereof we have in the pharisees, who rejected our Saviour. Though all the characters of the Messiah were conspicuous in his person, though his doctrines were confirmed by miracles, yet they would not yield up themselves to that omnipotent conviction; so strong were their carnal prejudices against his humble state, and holy doctrines. That reproach is more justly due to infidels under the gospel, than to Israel in the prophet: “Who is blind as my servant ?". The heathens who are blind from their birth, and have only some glimmering apprehension that eternity succeeds time, are less culpable than those who have infinitely more reason to believe it, and yet believe it less. The plea for them will be a terrible accusation against such unbelievers. If a blind person falls, it moves compassion ; but if one voluntarily shuts his eyes against the sun, and refuses the direction of the light, and falls from a precipice, his ruin is the just consequence of his folly. Simple ignorance excuses as to the degrees of the fault, but affected wilful ignorance, now reason and revelation with united beams give so clear a prospect into the eternal world, aggravates the guilt and sentence of such unbelievers.
Besides, the most who are believers in title, are infidels in heart. Our Saviour tells the Jews, who pretended the highest veneration of the writings of Moses, “ That if they had believed Moses, they would have believed him, for Moses wrote of him." If men did seriously believe such an excellent reward as the gospel propounds, would it be a cold unpersuasive motive to them? The depravation of the will argues a correspondent defect in the mind; though not absolute total infidelity, yet such a weakness, and wavering in the assent, that when temptations are present and urgent, and it comes to actual choice, sense prevails over faith. This will be clear by universal experience in temporal things. The probable hope of gain will make those who are greedy of gold, prodigal of their lives, and venture through tempestuous seas to accomplish their desires. And if the belief were equal, would not men do or suffer as much for obtaining what is infinitely more valuable? A firm assent would produce adherence, and faith in the promises, fidelity in obeying the commands of Christ. Tertullian propounds it as a powerful incen tive to the martyrs, Quis ergo non libentissime tantum pro vero habeat erogare, quantum alii pro falso ? Who would not joyfully sacrifice life and all its endearments, to obtain true blessedness, which others do for the vain appearance of it? Men may be as truly subjects without subjection, as believers without a heavenly conversation, which is inseparable from the reality of faith. Many in the bosom of the church are as truly, though not so notoriously, infidels, as Turks and heathens. Indeed even in true believers, the apprehension of eternal things has such great allays, that temporal things are overvalued and over-feared. A strong faith in the truth and power of God, would make the glorious world so sure and near in our thoughts, that with indifferent affections we should receive good or evil things here; “ Rejoice as if we rejoiced not, and mourn as if we mourned not.” Our lives would be so regular and pure, as if the Judge were to come the next hour, as if the sun did now begin to be darkened, and the trumpet of the archangel were sounding, and the noise of the dissolving world were universally heard. Infidelity deads the impression, and suppresses the reigning power of eternal things in our hearts. In short men are heavenly or earthly in their choice and conversation, as they are directed by the sincere light of faith, or misled by the false beams of sense.
Secondly. The second thing requisite in order to a wise choice, is consideration. For as by faith the virtue of the reward is diffused through all the faculties, and the powers of the world to come are felt in the soul; so by consideration faith is exercised, and becomes effectual. This unites and reinforces the beams of eternal truth, and inflames the affections. As the psalmist expresses himself, “ My heart was hot within me; while I was musing, the fire burned.” Heaven is a felicity so glorious and attractive, that if duly considered, no man can possibly refuse it : and hell is a misery so extreme and fearful, that if seriously laid to heart, none can possibly choose it. The last end is to be conceived under the notion of an infinite good, without the least mixture of evil, to which the human will swayed by the invincible impression of nature has a tendency. The liberty of indifference is with respect to some particular good things, which may be variously represented, so as to cause inclination or aversion. That men who believe eternal life is the reward of holiness, yet with a careless inadvertency neglect their duty; and that eternal death is the wages of sin, yet securely continue in it, is more wonderful than to see martyrs sing in the flames; and the great cause of it is the neglect of consideration. This is assigned to be the cause of that unnatural and astonishing rebellion of Israel against God their Father and sovereign : “ Hear, O heavens, and give ear, 0 earth : for the Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. The ox knows his owner, and the ass his master's, crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider." Isa. 1. 2, 3.
This duty, as it is of admirable advantage, so it is universally necessary; for all are equally concerned, and it is within the power of all to perform. Though men cannot convert themselves, yet they may consider what is preparatory to conversion. For the will may turn the thoughts of the mind to any sort of objects.
I will briefly show the nature of this duty, and how to manage it for spiritual profit, and those objects from whence our thoughts derive vigour for the swaying of the will, and the conduct of the life.
1. The nature of consideration is discovered by its end, which is this; that the mind being satisfied in the just reasons upon which the choice of heaven is to be made, the will and affections may be engaged in an earnest, joyful and constant pursuit of it. And in this respect it differs from simple knowledge, and naked
speculation, that informs the mind, without influence and efficacy upon the heart : like a garland of flowers that adorns the head, without any benefit and refreshing to him that wears it. And practical meditation differs from the study of divine things in order to the instructing of others. That is like a merchant's buying of wine for sale, this like providing it for our own use.
2. That the consideration of eternal things may be effectual, it must be,
(1.) Serious and deliberate. For the affair is great in reality above all possible conception or comparison. All other things, how considerable soever in themselves, yet respectively and in parallel with this, are of no account. Our Saviour told Martha, “ One thing is necessary: Mary hath chosen the better part, that shall not be taken from her.” What instance can be of equal moment with that of entertaining the Son of God? Yet a serious attention to the words of eternal life dropping from his lips, was more necessary than making provision for him. The greatest and most weighty affairs in the world are but a vain employment, but irregularity and impertinence; in compare with eternal salvation. And the greatast solennity of thoughts is requisite to undeceive the mind, and engage the will for heaven. It is very observable that errors in judgment and choice spring from the same causes, the not sincere and due weighing of things. In the deeisions of questions, truth is discovered by comparing, with an eqnal'staid attention, the reasons of the one and the other párt.' But when some vicious affection contradicts the truth, it fills the mind with prejudices, that it cannot impartially search into things, and is deceived with specious fallacies, with the image of truth. For according to the present application of the mind it is determined, and passion strongly applies it to consider that which is for the carnal interest, and consequently inclination, not reason, is the principle of the persuasion. And this is more evident in men's foolish choice: ''as the eye cannot see but what is visible, nor the understanding conceive what is not intelligible, the will cannot love and choose what is not amiable, at least in show. If the devil did appear without a disguise, he would have no power to persuade, but in all his temptations there is the mixture of a lie to make it pleasant. He presents a false perspective, to make what is but superficial, appear solid and substantial. And the carnal heart turns the
thoughts to what is grateful, without seriously considering what is infinitely better, and accordingly chooses by the eye of sense, the happiness of this world. Therefore till eternal things are opened in the view of conscience, and the mind calmly considers by the light of faith their reality and greatness, no right valuation, nor wise choice can be made.
Besides, the most clear and rational enforcements by the actings of the thoughts, are necessary to make a strong impression on the affections, and rescue them from the captivity of the fiesh. In other things as soon as the mind is enlightened, the will resolves, and the inferior faculties obey; but such is the resistance of the carnal heart, that although it is evident from infallible principles there is an everlasting glory, infinitely to be preferred above the little appearances of beauty and pleasure here, yet the most piercing reasons enter heavily without earnest inculcation. Slight or sudden thoughts may produce vanishing affections of complacence, or distaste, and fickle resolutions, that like sick feathers drop away, and leave the soul naked to the next temptation ; but solemn and fixed thoughts are powerful on the heart, in making a thorough and lasting change. When the clouds dissolve in a gentle shower, the earth drinks in all, and is made fruitful; but a few sprinkling drops, or a short storm of rain, that wets only the surface, without sinking to the root, is little beneficial. In short, there may be some excitations to good, and retractions from evil ; some imperfect faint essays toward heaven, from an impulse on the mind: but solid conversion is produced by deliberate discourse, by the due consideration and estimation of things, it is rational and perpetual.
(2.). Consideration must be frequent, to keep eternal objects present, and powerful upon us. Such are the natural levity and inconstancy, sloth and carnality of the mind, that the notions of heavenly things quickly pass through, but of earthly abide there. If a stone be thrown upwards, it remains no longer in the air, than the impression of the force by which it was thrown continues ; but if it falls on the earth, it rests there by nature. When the soul is raised in contemplation to heaven, how apt is it to fall from that height, and lose the esteem, the lively remembrance and affections of eternal things ? But when the thoughts are excited by the presence of what is pleasing to sense, the withdrawing the object does not deface the idea of it in the memory,