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Let me tell you further, upon this account that is so short, and an eternal state follows it, that there is no such unhappy person in the world, as he that is happy here, because of the sudden change that death shall make in him from his present pleasure to everlasting misery. This is that which will double his misery.
As I remember it is an observation of physicians, that there is nothing more destructive to health than the sudden change of the seasons, when we pass from extreme cold to extreme heat. O the sudden change from the pleasures of this world to everlasting torment, will double the misery. Remember when you live in the world, shining in pomp, and flowing in pleasures, and enjoy the greatest prosperity, and have the strongest bodies, and the firmest health, you may be struck with death suddenly; but suppose you do not die suddenly, but have the preface of a sickness before your dissolution ; yet when the physician comes and speaks but a few words of some cold hope, that there is only some possibility of your recovery, it is like the sentence of death to you. But when you are ready to depart, and your soul sits trembling upon your lips, and you are ready to take your flight, you have nothing to pitch upon but heaven or hell. Now since this world is so shadowy and short an enjoyment, shall this take you off from seeking heaven? One would think it impossible that the reasonable creature should be guilty of such folly. Bring this down to yourselves, if this world is that which makes us neglect heaven, let us learn to disparage this world, by comparing it with the eternal world, that so we may seek the things that are above.
This rest should fortify us against all the afflictions of this present life,
whether they be chastisements, or persecutions.
SINCE there is a divine and blessed rest hereafter for the saints of God, it should fortify us against all those afflictions and calamities that befal us in this present world; First, against all those afflictions that befal us as chastisements from God, those which are designed for preparing us for this blessed rest, and these are most usual. And Secondly, those afflictions which we suffer for righteousness sake.
1. Those afflictions that are chastisements of us not for righteoustiess sake, but with respect to sin. There are two considerations which will render them tolerable to us : (1.) Consider they come from the love of God, though that love be displeased. Rev. 1. 17. “ As many as I love I rebuke and chasten.” O it is a dreadful state, when God doth take away his rod from a person, as one that is incorrigible! if God once say, “ why should they be smitten any more, they will revolt more and more ?” It is the most terrible word next to that of, go ye cursed.” But when God doth afflict in order to make us better, when he doth correct us for our good, O this sweetens the cup. When I have this argument, I am part of God's paternal care, and under his gracious providence, that he doth not leave me unchastised in sin. But which is more particularly to my purpose, because these chastisements are in order to an eternal rest, they are to purify us, and to prepare us for that rest. When he is pleased to put his people into the fire, it is to refine them, and burn up their dross; it is to make his image more bright and shining upon them, and that is the principal cause; I speak with reference to God, it is his love, though displeased that afflicts them. So then the issue of all, shall be the eternal enjoyment of God in heaven, how should this make God's people willing to bear his present displeasure, when God's rod is upon his children; it is more powerful to convince them, for thereby he makes them sensible of the evil of sin, which only can bar their entrance into heaven; he takes their hearts off this world, which would turn them from heaven. When you are under the sharpest afflictions, you may comfort yourselves with this, that there is a blessed repose in the bosom of God, when you shall enjoy his favour without eclipse or interruption. I speak this to the people of God that labour to have his chastisements sanctified and effectual upon them. The
very belief of this is able to sweeten all the afflictions that we can meet with here. It is an expression of the apostle; “ rejoicing in hope.” Rom. 15. 13. “ The God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing."
2. Especially those sufferings that are endured for righteousness sake, are not only made tolerable, but easy and amiable to
I shall tell you that which at first you may think a paradox, but is an eternal truth; he is the happiest man in the world that suffers most for God, and receives least of his reward here: because of the degrees of glory that are reserved for such a one hereafter, which shall infinitely recompense all that he suffereth here. There are two scriptures that I shall set before you for this purpose. Rom. 8. 18. “ For I reckon that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory which shall be revealed in us.” “ For I reckon," as if he had said, I have made a strict search into it, I have thoroughly examined the matter, I have, upon a just computation of the future glory, found that it is incomparably above our present sufferings. Who is it that saith this? It is the most afflicted person in the world, and one that had such a sight of heaven while he was here, that he did, as it were walk by sight. As the Israelites sent spies into the land of Canaan, to give them an account of the fruitfulness of that good land; so Paul was as it were, sent from earth to heaven to discover it, and give us an account of it. “ For I reckon that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us." All the sufferings of this life are moderated and allayed by the sense of God's favour to his people, and they are all but for a time. Therefore you find Paul instancing in this very case, 2 Cor. 4. 17. “ for our light affliction which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." Where you see the opposition is made both in the degree and duration of those things. All the afflictions of this world they are but light and momentary; but it is an eternal weight of glory. And will not infinite and eternal glory support us under short and light afflictions? I know many times they are very heavy to sense, and very afflictive. But then faith and hope represent to the soul, and give assurance of this eternal rest, which is a great support to the soul. The more tempestuous the sea is, the more sweet will heaven be. Therefore comfort yourselves under all your afflictions that you suffer for Christ's sake.
This rest affords strong consolation to the saints in their conflict with deatle.
Death considered as it either affects nature, or is an inlet to heaven. The saints must undergo it, that the relics of sin may be extinguished ; as a means to bring them to glory; because they must run the race before they have the prize; that there may be a distinction between the present and future state; that divine power may be glorified in their resurrection. A threefold temper of spirit with which a saint should die; with submis. sion to the will of God, with joy from a consciousness of his own sincerity, and a prospect of heaven. It is very disbonourable for a saint to be unwilling to die; it argues a great defect in his faith and love, and too great a value for this world,
If there be a blessed rest remaining for the saints in the next world, this will afford strong consolation in their conflict with death, that universal enemy of mankind. For this is now by a merciful providence of God appointed to be a means of conveying them to the possession of this rest. Therefore the saints should meet death, not only without those terrors and fears which naturally we are liable to upon that account, but with joyful affections, as the psalmist said, “I was glad when they said, let us go up to the house of the Lord.” So when the compassionate call of God by death shall sound in the ears of a christian, that he should come up to this rest, he should receive that call with joy.
It is otherwise with wicked men; to them death is (and ought to be) the king of terrors. And in truth it is the saddest sight in the world, when one who hath lived a careless life, neglecting God and his soul : when such a one dies with the same indifference as if he was going to sleep, without any solicitousness or concernment about his future state. It is often thus, that an affected security in this life is punished with an inflicted security at death. It is often so that the sinner goes from an inward darkness to outer darkness.
On the other side it is sad to see an awakened and terrified sinner die; when one that hath lived in a course of sin, and God by the cold hands of death attacks, and seizes upon him to bring him to judgment; and conscience begins to take courage, and speak to the sinner, and tell him what his state is; and his fear presently turns into despair. This is a most dreadful sight, to see a man that hath lived as if he should never die, to die without any hope of living in another world.
But to see one that hath been a sincere servant of God, one that hath lived a life of holiness, to see this person joyful upon a death bed : when the fainting flesh sinks under the weight of a disease, to see the soul supported and raised with the blessed hopes of heaven, it is certainly the most comfortable sight in the world. Nothing is so honourable to religion ; nothing so encouraging and consolatory to those that are round about such a person; nothing so much discovers the power of godliness as to see a servant of God not only die in peace, but to die in triumph. As I remember Bernard tells us of his brother, I was called (saith he) to see a miracle, to see a man triumphing in death, and over death. O this is that which makes religion to he so valuable. This is that which is the way to convert sinners indeed.
To improve this part of the application, I will, First, show how we are to consider death; Secondly, upon what account this dispensation is continued to the saints, that they cannot obtain heaven but by dying; Thirdly, with what frame and temper of mind it becomes them to receive death; Fourthly, how dis