THE SAINTS' EVERLASTING REST
Richard Baxter, 1652
(Chapters 1 through 7)
"There remains therefore a rest unto the people of God." Hebrews 4:9
The Introduction to the Work, with Some Account of the NATURE of the Saints' Rest.
The important design of the apostle in the text, to which the author earnestly bespeaks the attention of the reader. The saints' rest defined, with a general plan of the work that this rest presupposes. The author's humble sense of his inability fully to show what this rest contains. It contains,
1. A ceasing from means of grace;
2. A perfect freedom from all evils;
3. The highest degree of the saints' personal perfection, both in body and soul;
4. The nearest enjoyment of God, the chief good;
5. A sweet and constant action of all the powers of soul and body in this enjoyment of God.
It was not only our interest in God, and actual enjoyment of him, which was lost in Adam's fall — but all spiritual knowledge of him, and true disposition towards such a felicity. When the Son of God comes with recovering grace, and discoveries of a spiritual and eternal happiness and glory — he finds not faith in man to believe it. As the poor man, that would not believe anyone had such a sum as a hundred pounds, it was so far above what he himself possessed, so men will hardly now believe there is such a happiness as once they had, much less as Christ has now procured.
When God would give the Israelites his Sabbaths of rest, in a land of rest, it was harder to make them believe it, than to overcome their enemies, and procure it for them. And when they had it, only as a small intimation and pledge of an incomparably more glorious rest through Christ, they yet believe no more than they possess — but say, with the epicure at the feast, "Surely there is no other Heaven but this!" or, if they expect more by the Messiah, it is only the increase of their earthly felicity. The apostle aims most of this Epistle against this obduracy, and clearly and largely proves that the end of all ceremonies and shadows is to direct them to Jesus Christ, the substance; and that the rest of Sabbaths, and Canaan, should teach them to look for a further rest, which indeed is their happiness. My text is his conclusion after divers arguments; a conclusion which contains . . .
the ground of all the believer's comfort,
the end of all his duty and sufferings,
the life and sum of all gospel promises and Christian privileges.
What more welcome to men under personal afflictions, tiring duties, disappointments, or sufferings — than rest? It is not our comfort only — but our stability. Our liveliness in all duties, our enduring of tribulation, our honoring of God, the vigor of our love, thankfulness, and all our graces; yes, the very being of our religion and Christianity — depend on the believing, serious thoughts of our rest.
And now, reader, whoever you are, young or old, rich or poor, I entreat you, and charge you, in the name of your Lord, who will shortly call you to a reckoning, and judge you to your everlasting, unchangeable state — that you give not these things the reading only, and so dismiss them with a bare approbation; but that you set upon this work, and take God in Christ for your only rest, and fix your heart upon him above all. May the living God, who is the portion and rest of his saints, make these our carnal minds so spiritual, and our earthly hearts so heavenly — that loving him, and delighting in him, may be the work of our lives; and that neither I that write, nor you that read this book, may ever be turned from this path of life; "lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest," we should "come short of it," through our own unbelief or negligence.
The saints' rest is the most happy state of a Christian; or, it is the perfect endless enjoyment of God by the perfected saints, according to the measure of their capacity, to which their souls arrive at death, and both soul and body most fully after the resurrection and final judgment. According to this definition of the saints' rest,
a larger account of its nature will be given in this chapter;
of its preparatives, chapter 2;
its excellencies, chapter 3 and
chapter 4, the persons for whom it is designed.
Further to illustrate the subject, some description will be given, chapter 5, of their misery who lose this rest;
and chapter 6, who also lose the enjoyments of time, and suffer the torments of Hell.
Next will be shown, chapter 7, the necessity of diligently seeking this rest;
chapter 8, how our title to it may he discerned;
chapter 9, that they who discern their title to it should help those that cannot;
and chapter 10, that this rest is not to be expected on earth.
It will then be proper to consider, chapter 11, the importance of a heavenly life upon earth;
chapter 12, how to live a heavenly life upon earth;
chapter 13, the nature of heavenly contemplation, with the time, place and temper most fit for it;
chapter 14, what use heavenly contemplation makes of consideration, affections, soliloquy and prayer: and likewise,
chapter 15, how heavenly contemplation may be assisted by sensible objects, and guarded against a treacherous heart.
Heavenly contemplation will be exemplified, chapter 16, and the whole work concluded.
There are some things necessarily presupposed in the nature of this rest, as:
That mortal men are the people seeking it. For angels and glorified spirits have it already, and the devils and damned are past hope:
That they choose God alone for their end and happiness. He who takes anything else for his happiness is out of the way the first step:
That they are distant from this end. This is the woeful case of all mankind since the fall. When Christ comes with regenerating grace, he finds no man sitting still — but all posting to eternal ruin, and making haste toward Hell; until, by conviction, he first brings them to a standstill, and then, by conversion, turns their hearts and lives sincerely to himself. This end, and its excellency, is supposed to be known, and seriously intended. An unknown good moves not to desire or endeavor. And not only a distance from this rest — but the true knowledge of this distance, is also supposed. They that never yet knew they were without God, and in the way to Hell, never yet knew the way to Heaven. Can a man find he has lost his God and his soul, and not cry, "I am undone!" The reason why so few obtain this rest, is, they will not be convinced that they are, in point of title, distant from it and, in point of practice, contrary to it. Whoever sought for that which he knew not he had lost? "Those who are whole need not a physician — but those who are sick."
The influence of a superior moving Cause is also supposed; else we shall all stand still, and not move toward our rest. If God move us not, we cannot move. It is a most necessary part of our Christian wisdom, to keep our subordination to God, and dependence on him. "We are not sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves — but our sufficiency is of God." "Without me," says Christ, "you can do nothing."
It is next supposed, that those who seek this rest have an inward principle of spiritual life. God does not move men like stones — but he endows them with life, not to enable them to move without him — but in subordination to himself, the first mover.
And further, this rest supposes such an actual tendency of soul toward it as is regular and constant, earnest and laborious. He who hides his talent shall receive the wages of a slothful servant. Christ is the door, the only way to this rest. "But strait is the gate and narrow is the way;" and we must strive, if we will enter; for "many will seek to enter in, and shall not be able; which implies, "that the kingdom of Heaven suffers violence." Nor will it bring us to the end of the saints, if we begin in the spirit — and end in the flesh. He only "that endures to the end shall be saved." And never did a soul obtain rest with God whose desire was not set upon him above all other things in the world. "Where your treasure is, there will your heart he also." The remainder of our old nature will much weaken and interrupt these desires — but never overcome them. And, considering the opposition to our desires, from the contrary principles in our nature, and from the weakness of our graces, together with our continued distance from the end, our tendency to that end must be laborious, and with all our might. All these things are pre-supposed, in order to a Christian's obtaining an interest in heavenly rest.
Now we have ascended these steps into the outward court, may we look within the veil? May we show what this rest contains, as well as what it pre-supposes? Alas! how little know I of that glory! The glimpse which Paul had, contained what could not, or must not, be uttered. Had he spoken the things of Heaven in the language of Heaven, and none understood that language — then what the better? May the Lord reveal to me what I may reveal to you! May the Lord open some light, and show both you and I our inheritance! Not as to Balaam only, whose eyes were opened to see the goodliness of Jacob's tents, and Israel's tabernacles, where he had no portion, and from whence must come his own destruction; not as to Moses, who had only a discovery instead of possession, and saw the land which he never entered — but as the pearl was revealed to the merchant in the Gospel, who rested not until he had sold all he had, and bought it; and as Heaven was opened to blessed Stephen, which he was shortly to enter, and the glory showed him what would be his own possession.
The things contained in heavenly rest are such as these:
a ceasing from means of grace;
a perfect freedom from all evils;
the highest degree of the saints' personal perfection, both of body and soul;
the nearest enjoyment of God, the chief good,
and a sweet and constant action of all the powers of body and soul in this enjoyment of God.
1.One thing contained in heavenly rest, is, the ceasing from means of grace. When we have obtained the haven — we are done sailing. When the workman receives his wages — it is implied he has done his work. When we are at our journey's end — we are done with the way. Whether prophecies, they shall fail; whether tongues, they shall cease; whether knowledge, it also, so far as it had the nature of means, shall vanish away.
There shall be no more prayer, because no more necessity — but the full enjoyment of what we prayed for: neither shall we need to fast, and weep, and watch any more — being out of the reach of sin and temptations. Preaching is done; the ministry of man ceases; ordinances become useless. The laborers are called in, because the harvest is gathered, the tares burned, and the work finished; the unregenerate past hope, and the saints past fear, for ever.
2.There is in heavenly rest a perfect freedom from all evils: from all the evils that accompanied us through our course, and which necessarily follow our absence from the chief good, besides our freedom from those eternal flames and restless miseries which the neglecters of Christ and grace must forever endure — a woeful inheritance, which, both by birth and actual merit, was due to us as well as to them!
In Heaven there is nothing that defiles or is unclean. All that remains outside. And doubtless there is not such a thing as grief and sorrow known there; nor is there such a thing as a pale face, a languid body, feeble joints, helpless infancy, decrepit old age, painful or pining sickness, griping fears, consuming cares, nor whatever deserves the name of evil. We wept and lamented when the world rejoiced — but our sorrow is turned to joy, and our joy shall no man take from us.
3.Another ingredient of this rest is, the highest degree of the saints' personal perfection, both of body and soul. Were the glory ever so great, and themselves not made capable of it by a personal perfection suitable thereto, it would be little to them. "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him!" For the eye of flesh is not capable of seeing them, nor this ear of hearing them, nor this heart of understanding them: but there, the eye, and ear, and heart are made capable; else, how do they enjoy them? The more perfect the sight is — the more delightful the beautiful object. The more perfect the appetite — the sweeter the food. The more musical the ear — the more pleasant the melody. The more perfect the soul — the more joyous those joys, and the more glorious, to us, is that glory.
4.The principal part of this rest is our nearest enjoyment of God, the chief good. And here, reader, wonder not if I be at a loss, and if my apprehensions receive but little of that which is in my expressions. If it did not appear to the beloved disciple what we shall be — but only, in general, "that when Christ shall appear — we shall be like him," no wonder if I know little. When I know so little of God — I cannot much know what it is to enjoy him. If I know so little of spirits, how little of the Father of spirits, or the state of my own soul, when advanced to the enjoyment of him!
I stand and look upon a heap of ants, and see them all at one view: they know not me, my being, nature, or thoughts, though I am their fellow-creature: how little then, must we know of the great Creator, though he, with one view, clearly beholds us all!
A glimpse, the saints behold as in a looking-glass, which makes us capable of some poor, dark apprehensions of what we shall behold in glory. If I should tell a worldling what the holiness and spiritual joys of the saints on earth are — he cannot know; for grace cannot be clearly known without grace; how much less could he conceive it, should I tell him of this glory! But to the saints I may be somewhat more encouraged to speak, for grace gives them a slight knowledge and slight taste of glory.
If men and angels should study to speak the blessedness of that state in one word, what could they say beyond this — that it is the nearest enjoyment of God? O the full joys offered to a believer in that one sentence of Christ, "Father, I will that those who you have given me be with me where I am — that they may behold my glory which you have given me!" Every word is full of life and joy.
If the queen of Sheba had cause to say of Solomon's glory, "Happy are your men, happy are these your servants, who stand continually before you, and hear your wisdom;" then, surely, those who stand continually before God, and see his glory, and the glory of the Lamb, are more than happy. To them will Christ give to eat of the tree of life, and to eat of the hidden manna; yes, he will make them pillars in the temple of God, and they shall go no more out; and he will write upon them the name of his God, and the name of the city of his God, and he will write upon them his new name; yes, more, if more may be, he will grant them to sit with him in his throne! "These are those who came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb; therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple, and he who sits on the throne shall dwell among them. The Lamb, who is in the midst of the throne, shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of water and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."
O blind, deceived world! can you show us such a glory? This is the city of our God, where the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them and be their God. The glory of God shall enlighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. And there shall be no more curse; but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him, and they shall see his face, and his name shall be in their foreheads! These sayings are faithful and true, and the things which must shortly be done.
And now we say, as Mephibosheth — let the world take all, forasmuch as our Lord will come in peace. Rejoice, therefore, in the Lord, O you righteous! and say, with his servant David, "The Lord is the portion of my inheritance: the lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yes, I have a goodly heritage. I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; my flesh also shall rest in hope. You will show me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand there are pleasures for evermore."
What presumption would it have been, once, to have thought or spoken of such a thing, if God had not spoken it before us! I dared not have thought of the saints' preferment in this life, as Scripture sets it forth, had it not been the express truth of God. How unfitting to talk of being sons of God — speaking to him — having fellowship with him — dwelling in him and he in us — if this had not been God's own language! How much less dared we have once thought of shining forth as the sun — of being joint heirs with Christ — of judging the world — of sitting on Christ's throne — of being one in him and the Father — if we had not all this from the mouth, and under the hand of God! But has he said — and shall he not do it? Has he spoken — and shall he not make it good? Yes, as the Lord God is true, thus shall it be done to the man whom Christ delights to honor.
Be of good cheer, Christian; the time is at hand when God and you shall be near, and as near as you can well desire. You shall dwell in his family! Is that enough? It is better to be a door-keeper in the house of God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness. You shall ever stand before him, about his throne, in his presence-chamber. Would you yet be nearer? You shall be his child, and he your Father; you shall be an heir of his kingdom; yes, more, the spouse of his Son. And what more can you desire? You shall be a member of the body of his Son; he shall be your head; you shall be one with him, who is one with the Father, as he himself has desired for you of his Father: "that they all may be one, as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us; and the glory which you gave me, I have given them, that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and you in me, that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that you have sent me, and have loved them as you have loved me."
5.We must add, that this rest contains a sweet and constant action of all the powers of the soul and body in this enjoyment of God. It is not the rest of a stone, which ceases from all motion when it attains the center. This body shall be so changed, that it shall no more be flesh and blood, which cannot inherit the kingdom of God; but a spiritual body. We sow not that body which shall be — but God gives it a body as it has pleased him, and to every seed his own body. If grace makes a Christian differ so much from what he was, as to say, I am not the man I was — then how much more will glory make us differ! As much as a spiritual body, above the sun in glory, exceeds these frail, noisome, diseased bodies of flesh — so far shall our senses exceed those we now possess.
Doubtless, as God advances our senses, and enlarges our capacity, so will he advance the happiness of those senses, and fill up, with himself, all that capacity. Certainly the body would not be raised up and continued, if it were not to share in the glory. As it has shared in the obedience and sufferings — so shall it also in the blessedness. As Christ bought the whole man, so shall the whole partake of the everlasting benefits of the purchase. O blessed employment of a glorified body! to stand before the throne of God and the Lamb, and to sound forth forever, "You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory, and honor, and power. Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing; for you have redeemed us to God, by your blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and have made us unto our God kings and priests. Alleluia! Salvation, and glory, and honor, and power, unto the Lord our God. Alleluia, for the Lord God omnipotent reigns!"
O Christians! this is the blessed rest; a rest, as it were, without rest; for "they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come." And if the body shall be thus employed — then O how shall the soul be taken up! As its powers and capacities are greatest, so its actions are strongest, and its enjoyments sweetest. As the bodily senses have their proper actions, whereby they receive and enjoy their objects — so does the soul in its own actions enjoy its own objects, by knowing, remembering, loving, and delightful rejoicing. This is the soul's enjoyment. By these eyes it sees, and by these arms it embraces.
Knowledge, of itself, is very desirable. As far as the rational soul exceeds the sensitive, so far the delights of a philosopher, in discovering the secrets of nature, and knowing the mystery of sciences — exceed the delights of the drunkard, the voluptuary, or the sensualist. So excellent is all truth. What, then, is their delight who know the God of truth! How noble a faculty of the soul is the understanding! It can compass the earth; it can measure the sun, moon, stars, and Heaven; it can foreknow each eclipse to a minute, many years before. But this is the top of all its excellency, that it can know God, who is infinite, who made all these — a little here, and more, much more, hereafter.
O the wisdom and goodness of our blessed Lord! He has created the understanding with a natural bias and inclination to truth, as its object; and to the prime truth, as its prime object. Christian, when, after long gazing heaven-ward, you have got a glimpse of Christ, do you not sometimes seem to have been with Paul in the third Heaven, whether in the body or out, and to have seen what is unutterable? Are you not, with Peter, ready to say, "Master, it is good to be here!" "O that I might dwell in this mount! O that I might ever see what I now see!" Did you never look so long upon the Sun of Righteousness until your eyes were dazzled with his astonishing glory? And did not the splendor of it make all things below seem dark and drear to you? Especially in the day of suffering for Christ, when he usually appears most manifestly to his people — did you never see one walking in the midst of the fiery furnace with you, like the Son of God?
Believe me, Christians, you that have known most of God in Christ here — it is as nothing compared to what you shall know: in comparison of that, it scarcely deserves to be called knowledge. For as these bodies, so that knowledge must cease, that a more perfect may follow. "Knowledge shall vanish away. For we know in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but, when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass darkly — but then face to face; now I know in part — but then shall I know, even as also I am known."
Marvel not, therefore, Christian, how it can be life eternal to know God and Jesus Christ. To enjoy God and Christ is eternal life; and the soul's enjoying is in knowing. Those who savor only of earth, and consult with flesh, think it a poor happiness to know God. "But we know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in wickedness; and we know that the Son of God is come, and has given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true; and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life."
The memory will not be idle, or useless, in this blessed work. From that height, the saint can look behind him and before him. And to compare past with present things must raise in the blessed soul an inconceivable esteem and sense of its condition. To stand on that mount, whence we can see the Wilderness and Canaan both at once; to stand in Heaven and look back on earth, and weigh them together in the balance of a comparing sense and judgment — how must it needs transport the soul, and make it cry out, "Is this the purchase that cost so dear as the blood of Christ? No wonder! O blessed price and thrice blessed love, that invented and condescended! Is this the end of believing? Is this the end of the Spirit's workings? Have the gales of grace blown me into such a harbor? Is it hither that Christ has allured my soul? O blessed way, and thrice blessed end!
Is this the glory which the Scriptures spoke of, and ministers preached of so much? I see the Gospel is indeed good tidings, even tidings of peace and good things, tidings of great joy to all nations! Is my mourning, my fasting, my sad humblings, my heavy walking — come to this! Is my praying, watching, fearing to offend, come to this! Are all my afflictions, Satan's temptations, the world's scorns and jeers — come to this! O vile nature, that resisted so much, and so long, such a blessing! Unworthy soul! is this the place you came to so unwillingly? Was duty wearisome? Was the world too good to lose? Could you not leave all, deny all, and suffer anything — for this? Were you reluctant to die — to come to this? O false heart, you had almost betrayed me to eternal flames, and lost me this glory!
Are you not now ashamed, my soul, that ever you questioned that love which brought you hither? that you were jealous of the faithfulness of your Lord? that you suspect his love, when you should only have suspected yourself? that ever you did quench a motion of his Spirit? and that you should misinterpret those providences, and repine at those ways which have such an end? Now you are sufficiently convinced that your blessed Redeemer was saving you as well when he crossed your desires — as when he granted them; when he broke your heart — as when he bound it up. No thanks to you, unworthy self, for this received crown; but to Jehovah and the Lamb be glory forever!"
But, O! the full, the near, the sweet enjoyment, is that of love. "God is love, and he who dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him." Now the poor soul complains, "O that I could love Christ more!" Then you cannot but love him. Now, you know little of his amiableness — and therefore love little. Then, your eyes will affect your heart, and the continual viewing of that perfect beauty will keep you in continual transports of love.
Christians, does it not now stir up your love, to remember all the experiences of his love? Does not kindness melt you, and the sunshine of Divine goodness warm your frozen hearts? What will it do then, when you shall live in love, and have all in Him, who is all? Surely love is both work and wages. What a high favor, that God will allow us to love him! that he will be embraced by those who have embraced lust and sin before him!
But more than this, he returns love for love; nay, a thousand times more. Christian, you will be then brim-full of love; yet, love as much as you can, you shall be ten thousand times more beloved. Were the arms of the Son of God open upon the cross, and an open passage made to his heart by the spear; and will not his arms and heart be open to you in glory? Did not he begin to love before you loved, and will not he continue now? Did he love you, an enemy? you, a sinner? you, who even loathe yourself? and own you, when you disclaimed yourself? And will he not now immeasurably love you, a son? you, a perfect saint? you, who return some love for love? He who in love wept over the old Jerusalem when near its ruin — with what love will he rejoice over the new Jerusalem in her glory!
Christian, believe this, and think on it! You shall be eternally embraced in the arms of that love which was from everlasting, and, will extend to everlasting; of that love which brought the Son of God's love . . .
from Heaven to earth,
from earth to the cross,
from the cross to the grave,
from the grave to glory!
That love which was weary, hungry, tempted, scorned, scourged, buffeted, spit upon, crucified, pierced; which did fast, pray, teach, heal, weep, sweat, bleed, die — that love will eternally embrace you. When perfect created love and most perfect uncreated love meet together, it will not be like Joseph and his brethren, who lay upon one another's necks weeping; it will be loving and rejoicing — not loving and sorrowing. Yes, it will make Satan's court ring with the news that Joseph's brethren are come, that the saints are arrived safe at the bosom of Christ, out of the reach of Hell forever!
Nor is there any such love as David's and Jonathan's, breathing out its last into sad lamentations for a forced separation. Know this, believer, to your everlasting comfort — if those arms have once embraced you, neither sin nor Hell can get you thence forever! You have not to deal with an inconstant creature — but with Him with whom is no variableness nor shadow of turning. His love to you will not be as yours was on earth to him — seldom, and cold, up and down. He who would not cease nor abate his love, for all your enmity, unkind neglects, and churlish resistances — can he cease to love you, when he has made you perfectly lovely? He who keeps you so constant in your love to him, that you can challenge tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, or sword, to separate your love from Christ — how much more will he himself be constant! Indeed you may be "persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
And now, are we not left in the apostle's admiration: "What shall we say to these things!" Infinite love must needs be a mystery to a finite capacity! No wonder angels desire to look into this mystery. And if it be the study of saints here "to know the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of the love of Christ, which passes knowledge;" the saints' everlasting rest must consist in the enjoyment of God by love.
Nor does joy share least in this fruition. It is this which all we have mentioned leads to, and concludes in; even the inconceivable delight which the blessed feel in seeing, knowing, loving, and being beloved of God. This is "the white stone which no man knows, saving he who receives it." Surely this is the joy with which a stranger does not intermeddle. All Christ's ways of mercy, tend to and end in the saints' joys. He wept, sorrowed, suffered — that they might rejoice; he sends the Spirit to be their comforter; he multiplies promises; he reveals their future happiness — that their joy may be full. He opens to them the fountain of living waters — that they may thirst no more, and that it may spring up in them to everlasting life. He chastens them — that he may give them rest. He makes it their duty to rejoice in him always, and again commands them to rejoice. He never brings them into so low a condition that he does not leave them more cause of joy than sorrow. And has the Lord such a care for our comfort here? O what will that joy be, where the soul being perfectly prepared for joy, and joy prepared by Christ for the soul — it shall be our work, our business, eternally to rejoice!
The saints' joy shall be greater than the damned's torment; for their torment is the torment of creatures, prepared for the devil and his angels; but our joy is the joy of our Lord. The same glory which the Father gave the Son, the Son has given them, to sit with him in his throne, even as he sat down with his Father in his throne. You, poor soul, who pray for joy, wait for joy, complain for lack of joy, who long for joy — you then shall have full joy, as much as you can hold, and more than ever you thought on, or your heart desired!
In the meantime walk carefully, watch constantly, and then let God measure out to you your times and degrees of joy. It may be that he keeps them until you have more need. You had better lose your comfort, than your safety. If you should die full of fears and sorrows, it will be but a moment — and they are all gone and concluded in inconceivable joy! As the joy of the hypocrite — so the fears of the upright are but for a moment. God's "anger endures but a moment; in his favor is life; weeping may endure for a night — but joy comes in the morning." O blessed morning!
Poor, humble, drooping soul, how would it fill you with joy now, if a voice from Heaven should tell you of the love of God, the pardon of your sins, and assure you of your part in these joys! What then will your joy be, when your actual possession shall convince you of your title, and you shall be in Heaven before you are aware!
And it is not your joy only; it is a mutual joy as well as a mutual love. Is there joy in Heaven at your conversion — and will there be none at your glorification? Will not the angels welcome you there, and congratulate your safe arrival? Yes, it is the joy of Jesus Christ; for now he has the end of his undertaking, labor, suffering, dying — when we have our joys; when he is "glorified in his saints, and admired in all them that believe;" when he "sees of the travail of his soul, and is satisfied." This is Christ's harvest, when he shall reap the fruit of his labors; and he will not regret his sufferings — but he will rejoice over his purchased inheritance, and his people will rejoice in him.
Yes, the Father himself puts on joy, too, in our joy. As we grieve his Spirit, and weary him with our iniquities, so he is rejoiced in our good. O how quickly does he now spy a returning prodigal, even afar off! How does he run and meet him! And with what compassion does he fall on his neck and kiss him, and put on him the best robe, and a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet, and kills the fatted calf, to eat and be merry! This is indeed a happy meeting; but nothing compared to the embracing and joy of that last and great meeting.
Yes, more — as God does mutually love and joy, so he makes this his rest, as it is our rest. What an eternal rest, when the work of redemption, sanctification, preservation, glorification, is all finished and perfected forever! "The Lord your God in the midst of you is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over you with joy, he will rest in his love, he will joy over you with singing." Well may we then rejoice in our God with joy, and rest in our love, and joy in him with singing.
Alas! my fearful heart scarcely dares to proceed. Methinks I hear the Almighty's voice saying to me, "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?" But pardon your servant, O Lord. I have not pried into unrevealed things. I bewail that my apprehensions are so dull, my thoughts so mean, my affections so stupid, and my expressions so low and unfitting such a glory. I have only heard by the hearing of the ear — O let your servant see you, and possess these joys! Then shall I have more suitable conceptions, and shall give you fuller glory; I shall abhor my present self, and disclaim and renounce all these imperfections. "I have uttered that I understood not, things too wonderful for me, which I knew not." Yet "I believed, and therefore have I spoken." What, Lord, can you expect from dust — but levity? or from corruption — but defilement? Though the weakness and irreverence is the fruit of my own corruption — yet the fire is from your altar, and the work of your commanding. I looked not into your ark, nor put forth my hand unto it, without you. Wash away these stains also in the blood of the Lamb. Imperfect, or none — must be your service here. O take your Son's excuse, "the spirit is willing — but the flesh is weak."
The Great PREPARATIVES for the Saints' Rest.
There are four things which principally prepare the way to enter into it; particularly:
1. The glorious appearing of Christ;
2. The general resurrection;
3. The last judgment; and,
4. The saints' coronation.
The passage of paradise is not now so blocked up as when the law and curse reigned. Finding a new and living way consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, the flesh of Christ, by which we may with boldness enter into the holiest — I shall draw near with fuller assurance. And, finding the flaming sword removed, I shall look again into the paradise of our God. And because I know that this is no forbidden fruit, and withal that it is good for food, and pleasant to the spiritual eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one truly wise and happy; I shall, through the assistance of the Spirit, take and eat thereof myself, and give to you, according to my power — that you may eat. The porch of this temple is exceeding glorious, and the gate of it is called Beautiful. Here are four things as the four corners of this porch.
1. The most glorious coming and appearing of the Son of Godmay well be reckoned in his people's glory. For their sake he came into the world, suffered, died, rose, ascended; and for their sake it is that he will return. To this end, will Christ come again to receive his people unto himself, that where he is, there they may be also. The bridegroom's departure was not upon divorce. He did not leave us with a purpose to return no more. He has left pledges enough to assure us to the contrary. We have his word, his many promises, his ordinances — which show forth his death until he come; and his Spirit, to direct, sanctify, and comfort until he return. We have frequent tokens of love from him, to show us he forgets not his promise, nor us. We daily behold the forerunners of his coming, foretold by himself. We see the fig-tree puts forth leaves, and therefore know that summer is near.
Though the riotous world say, My Lord delays his coming; yet let the saints lift up their heads, for their redemption draws near! Alas! fellow-Christians, what would we do if our Lord should not return? What a case are we here left in! What! leave us in the midst of wolves, and among lions, a generation of vipers — and here forget us! Did he buy us so dear, and then leave us sinning, suffering, groaning, dying daily; and will he come no more to us? It cannot be! This is like our unkind dealing with Christ, who, when we feel ourselves warm in the world, care not for coming to him; but this is not like Christ's dealing with us.
He who would come to suffer, will surely come to triumph. He who would come to purchase, will surely come to possess. Where else would all our hopes be? What would become of our faith, our prayers, our tears and our waiting? What would all the patience of the saints be worth to them? Would we not be of all men, the most miserable? Christians, has Christ made us forsake all the world, and to be forsaken of all the world? to hate all, and be hated of all? and all this for him — that we might have him instead of all? And will he, do you think, after all this, forget us and forsake us himself? Far be such a thought from our hearts!
But why did he not stay with his people while he was here? Why? Was not the work on earth done? Must he not take possession of glory in our behalf? Must he not intercede with the Father, plead his sufferings, be filled with the Spirit to send forth, receive authority, and subdue his enemies? Our abode here is short. If he had stayed on earth, what would it have been to enjoy him for a few days, and then die? He has more in Heaven to dwell among; even the souls of many generations. He will have us live by faith, and not by sight.
O fellow-Christians, what a day will that be, when we, who have been kept prisoners by sin, by sinners, by the grave — shall be brought out by the Lord himself! It will not be such a coming as his first was, in poverty and contempt — to be spit upon, and buffeted, and crucified again. He will not come, O careless world! to be slighted and neglected by you any more. Yet that coming lacked not its glory. If the heavenly host, for the celebration of his nativity, must praise God; with what shoutings will angels and saints at that day proclaim glory to God, peace and good-will toward men! If a star must lead men from remote parts, to come to worship the child in the manger; then how will the glory of his next appearing constrain all the world to acknowledge his sovereignty! If, riding on an donkey, he enter Jerusalem with hosannas; with what peace and glory will he come toward the New Jerusalem! If, when he was in the form of a servant, they cry out, "What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?" — then what will they say when they shall see him coming in his glory, and the heavens and the earth obey him?
To think and speak of that day with horror does well become the impenitent sinner — but ill the believing saint. Shall the wicked behold him, and cry, "Yonder is he whose blood we neglected, whose grace we resisted, whose counsel we refused, whose government we cast off!" And shall not the saints, with inconceivable gladness, cry, "Yonder is he whose blood redeemed us, whose Spirit cleansed us, whose law governed us; in whom we trusted, and he has not deceived our trust; for whom we long waited, and now we see that we have not waited in vain!
O cursed corruption! Which would have had us turn to the world and present things, and say — Why should we wait for the Lord any longer? Now we see, "Blessed are all those who wait for him." And now, Christians, should we not put up that petition heartily, "May Your kingdom come! The Spirit and the bride say, Come! and let him that hears," and reads, "say, Come!" Our Lord himself says, "Surely I come quickly! Amen! Even so, come! Lord Jesus."
2.Another thing that leads to paradise is that great work of Jesus Christ, in raising the body from the dust and uniting it again unto the soul. A wonderful effect of infinite power and love! "Yes wonderful indeed," says unbelief, "if it is true. What, shall all these scattered bones and dust, become a man?" Let me with reverence plead for God, for that power whereby I hope to arise. What sustains the massive body of the earth? What limits the vast ocean of the waters? Whence is that constant ebbing and flowing of the tides? How many times larger than all the earth is the sun, that glorious body of light? Is it not as easy to raise the dead — as to make Heaven and earth, and all of nothing? Look not on the dead bones, and dust, and difficulty — but at the promise. Contentedly commit these bodies to a prison that shall not long contain them. Let us lie down in peace and take our rest; it will not be an everlasting night, nor endless sleep. If unclothing be the thing you fear — it is only that you may have better clothing. If to be turned out of doors be the thing you fear, remember that, when "the earthly house of this tabernacle is dissolved, you have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens."
Lay down cheerfully this lump of corruption; you shall undoubtedly receive it again in incorruption. Lay down freely this earthly, this natural body; you shall receive it again a celestial, a spiritual body. Though you lay it down with great dishonor — you shall receive it in glory! Though you are separated from it through weakness — it shall be raised again in mighty power; "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed!" "The dead in Christ shall rise first. Then those who are alive and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air."
Triumph now, O Christian, in these promises; you shall shortly triumph in their performance. This is the day which the Lord will make; we shall rejoice and be glad in it. The grave that could not keep our Lord — cannot keep us. He arose for us — and by the same power will cause us to arise. "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, those also who sleep in Jesus, will God bring with him." Let us never look at the grave — but let us see the resurrection beyond it! Yes, let us be "steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as we know our labor is not in vain in the Lord."
3.Part of this prologue to the saints' rest is the public and solemn process at their judgment, where they shall first themselves be acquitted and justified, and then with Christ judge the world. Young and old, of all estates and nations, who ever existed from the creation to that day, must here come and receive their doom. O terrible! O joyful day! Terrible to those that have forgotten the coming of their Lord! Joyful to the saints, whose waiting and hope was to see this day! Then shall the world behold the goodness and severity of God; on them who perish, severity; but to his chosen, goodness.
Every one must give an account of his stewardship. Every talent of time, health, abilities, mercies, afflictions, means, warnings — must be reckoned for. The sins of youth, those which they had forgotten, and their secret sins — shall all be laid open before angels and men. They shall see the Lord Jesus, whom they neglected, whose word they disobeyed, whose ministers they abused, whose servants they hated, now sitting to judge them. Their own consciences shall cry out against them, and call to their remembrance all their misdoings. Which way will the wretched sinner look? Who can conceive the dreadful thoughts of his heart?
Now the world cannot help him; his old companions cannot; the saints neither can nor will. Only the Lord Jesus can; but there is the misery — he will not! Time was, sinner, when Christ would — and you would not; now, gladly would you — and he will not. All in vain is it to "cry to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sits upon the throne!" for you have the Lord of mountains and rocks for your enemy, whose voice they will obey, and not yours. I charge you, therefore, before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the living and the dead at his appearing, and his kingdom — that you set yourself seriously to ponder these things.
But why tremble, O humble, gracious soul? He who would not lose one Noah in a common deluge, nor overlook one Lot in Sodom; nay, that could do nothing until he went forth — will he forget you at that day? "The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment, to be punished." He knows how to make the same day — the greatest terror to his foes, and yet the greatest joy to his people. "There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh — but after the Spirit."
"Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?" Shall the law? "The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made them free from the law of sin and death." Or shall conscience? "The Spirit himself bears witness with their spirit, that they are the children of God. It is God who justifies, who is he who condemns?" If our Judge condemns us not — then who shall? He who said to the adulterous woman, Has no man condemned you? neither do I — will say to us, more faithfully than Peter to him, Though all men deny you, or condemn you — I will not. Having confessed me before men, you "will I also confess before my Father in Heaven."
What inexpressible joy, that our dear Lord, who loves our souls and whom our souls love — shall be our Judge! Will a man fear to be judged by his dearest friend? or a wife by her own husband? Christian, did Christ come down and suffer, and weep, and bleed, and die for you — and will he now condemn you? Was he judged, condemned, and executed in your stead — and now will he himself condemn you? Has he done most of the work already, in redeeming, regenerating, sanctifying and preserving you — and will he now undo it all?
Well then, let the terror of that day be never so great, surely our Lord can mean no ill to us in it all. Let it make the devils tremble, and the wicked tremble — but it shall make us leap for joy.
It must affect us deeply with the sense of our mercy and happiness — to see the most of the world tremble with terror — while we triumph with joy; to hear them doomed to everlasting flames — when we are proclaimed heirs of the kingdom; to see our neighbors, who lived in the same town, came to the same congregation, dwelt in the same houses, and were esteemed more honorable in the world than ourselves — now, by the Searcher of hearts, eternally separated. This, with the great magnificence and dreadfulness of the day, the apostle pathetically expresses: "It is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to those who trouble you; and to you who are troubled, rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from Heaven, with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all those who believe, in that day."
Yet more — we shall be so far from the dread of that judgment, that we ourselves shall become the judges! Christ will take his people, as it were, into commission with himself, and they shall sit and approve his righteous judgment. "Do you not know that the saints shall judge the world?" Nay, "know you not that we shall judge angels?" Were it not for the word of Christ who speaks it — this advancement would seem incredible, and the language arrogant. Even Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied this, saying, "Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them, of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodlily committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him."
Thus shall the saints be honored, and "the upright shall have dominion in the morning." O that the careless world "were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!" that they would be now of the same mind as they will be when they shall see the heavens pass away with a great noise, and the elements melt with fervent heat, and the earth also, and the works that are therein, burnt up! when all shall be on fire about them, and all earthly glory consumed. "For the heavens and the earth which are now, are reserved unto fire against the day of judgment, and perdition of ungodly men. Seeing, then, that all these things shall be dissolved, what kind of people ought you to be in all holiness and godliness, looking for and hastening unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens, being on fire, shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?"
4.The last preparative for the saints' rest is their solemn coronation and receiving the kingdom. For as Christ, their head, is anointed both King and Priest — so under him are his people made unto God both kings and priests, to reign, and to offer praises forever. The crown of righteousness, which was laid up for them, shall by the Lord, the righteous Judge, be given them at that day. They have been faithful unto death, and therefore he will give them a crown of life. And according to the improvement of their talents here — so shall their rule and dignity be enlarged.
They are not dignified with empty titles — but real dominion. Christ will grant them to sit with him on his throne, and will give them power over the nations, even as he received of his Father; and he "will give them the morning star." The Lord himself will give them possession, with these applauding expressions: "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things; enter into the joy of your Lord!"
And with this solemn and blessed proclamation, shall he enthrone them: "Come, you who are blessed by my Father — inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." Every word is full of life and joy.
"Come" — this is the holding forth of the golden scepter, to warrant our approach unto this glory. Come now as near as you will; fear not the Bethshemites' judgment; for the enmity is utterly abolished. This is not such a "Come" as we were accustomed to hear, "Come, take up your cross and follow me." Though that was sweet — yet this is much more.
"You who are blessed" — blessed indeed, when that mouth so pronounces us! For though the world has accounted us accursed, and we have been ready to account ourselves so; yet, certainly, those whom he blesses, are blessed; and those only whom he curses, are cursed; and his blessing cannot be reversed.
"By my Father" — blessed in the Father's love, as well as the Son's; for they are one. The Father has testified his love in their election, donation to Christ, and in the sending of Christ, and accepting his ransom, as the Son has also testified his.
"Inherit" — no longer slaves, nor servants only, nor children under age, who differ not in possession — but only in title, from servants; but now we are heirs of the kingdom, and joint-heirs with Christ.
"The kingdom" — no less than the kingdom! Indeed, to be King of kings and Lord of lords is our Lord's own proper title; but to be kings, and reign with him, is ours. The enjoyment of this kingdom is as the light of the sun; each has the whole — and the rest none the less.
"Prepared for you" — God is the Alpha as well as the Omega of our blessedness. Eternal love has laid the foundation. He prepared the kingdom for us — and then prepared us for the kingdom. This is the preparation of his counsel and decree, for the execution whereof Christ was yet to make a further preparation.
"For you" — not for believers only in general, who, without individuality, are nobody; but for you personally.
"From the foundation of the world" — not only from the promise after Adam's fall — but from all eternity.
Thus we have seen the Christian safely landed in paradise, and conveyed honorably to his rest. Now let us a little further, in the next chapter, view those mansions, consider their privileges, and see whether there is any glory like unto this glory.
The EXCELLENCIES of the Saints' Rest
1. It is the purchased possession;
2. It is a free gift;
3. It is peculiar to saints;
4. It is an association with saints and angels;
5. It derives its joys immediately from God himself;
6. It will be seasonable;
7. It will be suitable;
8. It will be perfect, without sin and suffering;
9. It will be everlasting.
Let us draw a little nearer, and see what further excellencies this rest affords. The Lord hide us in the clefts of the rock, and cover us with the hands of indulgent grace — while we approach to take this view.
1.It is a most singular honor of the saints' rest, to be called the purchased possession; that is, the fruit of the blood of the Son of God; yes, the chief fruit, the end and perfection of all the fruits and efficacy of that blood. Greater love than this, there is not — to lay down the life of the lover. And to have this our Redeemer ever before our eyes, and the liveliest sense and freshest remembrance of that dying, bleeding love, still upon our souls! How will it fill our souls with perpetual joy, to think that in the streams of this blood — we have swum through the violence of the world, the snares of Satan, the seductions of flesh, the curse of the law, the wrath of an offended God, the accusations of a guilty conscience, and the vexing doubts and fears of an unbelieving heart — and are arrived safely at the presence of God!
Now he cries to us, "Is it nothing to you, all you that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow!" And we scarcely regard the mournful voice — scarcely turn aside to view the wounds. But then our perfected souls will feel, and flame in love — for his dying love. With what astonishing apprehensions will redeemed saints everlastingly behold their blessed Redeemer — the purchaser, and the price, together with the possession! Neither will the view of his wounds of love renew our wounds of sorrow. He, whose first words after his resurrection were to a great sinner, "Woman, why do you weep?" knows how to raise love and joy, without any cloud of sorrow or storm of tears.
If anything we enjoy was purchased with the life of our dearest friend — how highly would we value it! If a dying friend delivers us but a token of his love — how carefully do we preserve it, and still remember him when we behold it, as if his own name were written on it! And will not, then, the death and blood of our Lord everlastingly sweeten our possessed glory? As we write down the price which our goods cost us; so, on our righteousness and glory write down the price: The precious blood of Christ! His sufferings were to satisfy the justice that required blood, and to bear what was due to sinners, and so to restore them to the life they lost, and the happiness from which they fell. The work of Christ's redemption so well pleased the Father, that he gave him power to advance his chosen people, and give them the glory which was given to himself; and all this "according to his good pleasure and the counsel of his own will."
2.Another pearl in the saints' diadem is, that it is a free gift. These two, purchased and free, are the chains of gold which make up the wreaths for the tops of the pillars in the temple of God. It was dear to Christ — but free to us. When Christ was to buy, silver and gold were worth nothing; prayers and tears could not suffice, nor anything below his blood; but our buying is receiving; we have it freely, without money and without price. A thankful acceptance of a free acquittance is no paying of the debt. Here is all free; if the Father freely gives the Son, and the Son freely pays the debt; and if God freely accepts that way of payment, when he might have required it of the principal; and if both Father and Son freely offer us the purchased life on our cordial acceptance; and if they freely send the Spirit to enable us to accept; what is here, then, which is not free?
O the everlasting admiration that must surprise the saints to think of this freeness! "What did the Lord see in me, that he should judge me fit for such a state? That I, who was but a poor, diseased, despised wretch — should be clad in the brightness of this glory! That I, a creeping worm — should be advanced to this high dignity! That I, who was but lately groaning, weeping, dying — should now be as full of joy as my heart can hold! Yes, should be taken from the grave where I was decaying, and from the dust and darkness where I seemed forgotten — and be here set before his throne! That I should be taken, with Mordecai, from captivity, and be set next unto the king; and with Daniel from the den, to be made ruler of princes and provinces! Who can fathom unmeasurable love?"
If worthiness were our condition for admittance — we might sit down and weep, with John, because no man was found worthy. But "the Lion of the tribe of Judah" is worthy, and has prevailed; and by that title we must hold the inheritance. We shall offer there the offering that David refused — even praise for that which cost us nothing. Christ has dearly bought — yet freely gives.
If it were only for nothing, and without our merit — the wonder would be great; but it is moreover against our merit, and against our long endeavoring our own ruin. What an astonishing thought it will be, to think of the immeasurable difference between our deservings — and receivings! between the state we should have been in — and the state we are in! to look down upon Hell, and see the vast difference from that to which we are adopted! What pangs of love will it cause within us to think, "Yonder was the place that sin would have brought me to — but this is it that Christ has brought me to! Yonder death was the wages of my sin — but this eternal life is the gift of God, through Jesus Christ my Lord. Who made me to differ? Would I not have now been in those flames — if I had had my own way, and been left alone to my own will? Would I not have lingered in Sodom until the flames had seized on me — if God had not in mercy brought me out?"
Doubtless this will be our everlasting admiration — that so rich a crown should fit the head of so vile a sinner; that such high advancement, and such long unfruitfulness and unkindness — can be the state of the same person; and that such vile rebellions can conclude in such most precious joys! But no thanks to us, nor to any of our duties and labors, much less to our neglects and laziness! We know to whom the praise is due, and must be given forever.
Indeed, to this very end, it was that infinite wisdom cast the whole design of man's salvation into this mold of purchases and freeness — that the love and joy of man might be perfected, and the honor of grace most highly advanced; that the thought of merit might neither cloud the one nor obstruct the other; and that on these two hinges the gate of Heaven might turn. So then let DESERVED be written on the door of Hell; but on the door of Heaven, THE FREE GIFT!
3.This rest is peculiar to saints: it belongs to them alone — and not to others. If all Egypt had been light, the Israelites would not have had the less; but to enjoy that light alone, while their neighbors lived in thick darkness — must make them more sensible of their privilege. Distinguishing mercy affects more than any mercy. If Pharaoh had passed as safely as Israel, the Red Sea would have been less remembered. If the rest of the world had not been drowned, and the rest of Sodom and Gomorrah not burned — the saving of Noah would have been no wonder, nor Lot's deliverance so much talked of. When one is enlightened — and another left in darkness; one reformed — and another enslaved by his lust; it makes the saints cry out, "Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself unto us — and not unto the world?"
When the prophet is sent to one widow only, out of all that were in Israel, and to cleanse one Naaman out of all the lepers — the mercy is more observable. That will surely be a day of immense feeling on both sides, when there shall be two in one bed, and two in the field — the one taken and the other left. The saints shall look down upon the burning lake, and in the sense of their own happiness, and in the approbation of God's just proceedings — they shall rejoice and sing, "You are righteous, O Lord, because you have judged thus!"
4.But though this rest be peculiar to the saints — yet it is common to ALL the saints; for it is an association of blessed spirits, both saints and angels: a corporation of perfected saints, whereof Christ is the head: the communion of saints completed. As we have been together in the labor, duty, danger and distress — so shall we be in the great recompense and deliverance! As we have been scorned and despised together — so shall we be owned and honored together. We who have gone through the day of sadness together — shall enjoy together that day of gladness together. Those who have been with us in persecution and in prison — shall be with us also in that place of consolation.
How oft have our groans made, as it were, one sound! our tears one stream! and our desires one prayer! But now all our praises shall make up one melody; all our churches — one church; and all ourselves — one body; for we shall be all one in Christ, even as he and the Father are one. It is true, we must be careful not to look for that in the saints, which is alone in Christ. But if the forethought of sitting down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of Heaven, may be our lawful joy; how much more the real sight and actual possession! It cannot but be comfortable to think of that day, when we shall join with Moses in his song, with David in his psalms of praise, and with all the redeemed in the song of the Lamb forever; when we shall see . . .
Enoch walking with God;
Noah enjoying the end of his singularity;
Joseph of his integrity;
Job of his patience;
Hezekiah of his uprightness and
all the saints the end of their faith.
Not only our old acquaintances — but all the saints of all ages, whose faces we never saw — we shall there both know and comfortably enjoy. Yes, angels as well as saints will be our blessed acquaintance. Those who now are willingly our ministering spirits — will willingly then be our companions in joy. They who had such joy in Heaven for our conversion — will gladly rejoice with us in our glorification. Then we shall truly say, as David: I am a companion of all those who fear you; when "we are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels; to the general assembly and church of the first-born, who are written in Heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant!" It is a singular excellence of heavenly rest, that we are "fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God."
5.As another property of our rest, we shall derive its joys immediately from God. Now we have nothing at all immediately from God — but at the second or third hand; or how many, who knows? From the earth, from man, from sun and moon, from the ministration of angels, and from the Spirit, and Christ. Though, in the hand of angels, the stream savors not of the imperfection of sinners — yet it does of the imperfection of creatures. And as it comes from man, it savors of both. How quick and piercing is the word in itself! yet many times it never enters, being managed by a feeble arm. What weight and worth is there in every passage of the blessed Gospel! enough, one would think, to enter and pierce the dullest soul, and wholly possess its thoughts and affections; and yet how often does it fall as water upon a stone! The things of God which we handle, are divine; but our manner of handling is human. There is little we touch — but we leave the print of our fingers behind.
If God speaks the word himself — it will be a piercing, melting word indeed. The Christian now knows, by experience, that his most immediate joys are his sweetest joys; which have least of man, and are most directly from the Spirit. Christians who are much in secret prayer and contemplation, are men of greatest life and joy; because they have all more immediately from God himself. Not that we should cast off hearing, reading, and conference, or neglect any ordinance of God; but to live above them while we use them, is the way of a Christian.
There is joy in these remote receivings; but the fullness of joy is in God's immediate presence. We shall then have light without a candle, and perpetual day without the sun for "the city has no need of the sun, neither of the moon to shine in it; for the glory of God enlightens it, and the Lamb is the light thereof; there shall be no night there, and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; and they shall reign forever and ever."
We shall then have enlightened understandings without Scripture, and be governed without a written law; for the Lord will perfect his law in our hearts — and we shall be all perfectly taught of God. We shall have joy, which we drew not from the promises, nor fetched home by faith or hope. We shall have communion with God without ordinances, without this fruit of the vine, when Christ shall drink it new with us in his Father's kingdom, and refresh us with the comforting wine of immediate enjoyment.
To have necessities, but no supply — is the state of those in Hell.
To have necessity supplied by means of creatures — is the state of us on earth.
To have necessity supplied immediately from God — is the state of the saints in Heaven.
To have no necessity at all — is the prerogative of God himself.
6.A further excellence of this rest is, that it will be seasonable. He who expects the fruit of his vineyard at the season, and makes his people "like a tree planted by the rivers of water, which brings forth his fruit in his season," will also give them the crown in season. He who will have a word of joy spoken in season to him that is weary — will surely cause the time of joy to appear in the fittest season. Those who are not weary in well-doing, shall, if they faint not — reap in due season. If God gives rain even to his enemies, both the former and the latter in its season, and reserves the appointed weeks of harvest, and covenants that there shall be day and night in their season; then surely the glorious harvest of the saints shall not miss its season.
Doubtless, he who would not stay a day longer than his promise — but brought Israel out of Egypt on the self-same day when the four hundred and thirty years expired — neither will he fail of one day or hour of the fittest season for his people's glory. When we have had in this world a long night of darkness — will not the day breaking and the rising of the Sun of Righteousness be then seasonable? When we have passed a long and tedious journey through great dangers — is not home then seasonable? When we have had a long and perilous war, and received many a wound — would not a peace, with victory, be seasonable?
Men live in a continual weariness; especially the saints, who are most weary of that which the world cannot feel:
some weary of a blind mind;
some of a hard heart;
some of their daily doubts and fears;
some of the lack of spiritual joys; and
some of the sense of God's wrath.
And when a poor Christian has desired, and prayed, and waited for deliverance many years — is it not then seasonable? We lament that we do not find a Canaan in the wilderness, or the songs of Zion in a strange land; that we have not a harbor in the main ocean, nor our rest in the heat of the day, nor Heaven before we leave the earth — and would not all this be very unseasonable?
7.As this rest will be seasonable, so it will be suitable. The new nature of the saints, suits their spirits to this rest. Indeed, their holiness is nothing else but a spark taken from this element, and by the Spirit of Christ kindled in their hearts: the flame whereof, mindful of its own divine original, ever tends to the place from whence it comes.
Temporal crowns and kingdoms could not make a rest for saints. As they were not redeemed with so low a price, neither are they endued with so low a nature. As God will have from them a spiritual worship, suited to his own spiritual being — he will provide them a spiritual rest, suitable to their spiritual nature. The knowledge of God and his Christ, a delightful satisfaction in that mutual love, an everlasting rejoicing in the enjoyment of our God, with a perpetual singing of his high praises — this is Heaven for a saint.
Then we shall live in our own element. We are now as the fish in a vessel of water, only so much as will keep them alive; but what is that, compared to the ocean? We have a little air let in to us, to afford us breathing; but what is that, compared to the sweet and fresh gales upon mount Zion? We have a beam of the sun to enlighten our darkness, and a warm ray to keep us from freezing; but then we shall live in its light, and be revived by its heat forever.
As are the natures of the saints, such are their desires; and it is the desires of our renewed nature to which this rest is suited. While our desires remain corrupted and misguided, it is a far greater mercy to deny them, yes, to destroy them — than to satisfy them. But those desires which are spiritual — are of his own planting, and he will surely water them, and give the increase. He quickened our hunger and thirst for righteousness, that he might make us happy in a full satisfaction.
Christian, this is a rest after your own heart! It contains all that your heart can wish; that which you long, pray, labor for — there you shall find it all. You had rather have God in Christ, than all the world; there you shall have him! What would you not give for assurance of his love? There you shall have assurance without suspicion. Desire what you can, and ask what you will, as a Christian — and it shall be given you, not only to half of the kingdom — but to the enjoyment both of kingdom and King! This present life is a life of desire and prayer — but Heaven is a life of satisfaction and enjoyment.
This rest is very suitable to the saints' necessities also, as well as to their natures and desires. It contains whatever they truly need; not supplying them with coarse, created comforts — which, like Saul's armor on David, are more burden than benefit. It was Christ and perfect holiness which they most needed — and with these shall they be supplied.
8.Still more, this rest will be absolutely perfect. We shall then have joy without sorrow, and rest without weariness. There is no mixture of corruption with our graces, nor of suffering with our comfort. There are none of those waves in that harbor, which now so toss us up and down. Today we are well — tomorrow sick; today in esteem — tomorrow in disgrace; today we have friends — tomorrow none; nay, we have wine and vinegar in the same cup! If revelations raise us to the third Heaven — the messenger of Satan must presently buffet us, and the thorn in the flesh fetch us down. But there is none of this inconstancy in Heaven. If perfect love casts out fear, then perfect joy must cast out sorrow, and perfect happiness exclude all the relics of misery. We shall there rest from all the evil of sin and of suffering.
Heaven excludes nothing more directly than sin, whether of nature or of act. "There shall never enter anything that defiles, neither whatever works abomination, or makes a lie." What need Christ at all to have died — if Heaven could have contained imperfect souls? "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil." His blood and Spirit have not done all this — only to leave us, after all, defiled. "What communion has light with darkness? and what concord has Christ with Belial?"
Christian, if you are once in Heaven — you shall sin no more. Is not this glad news to you, who have prayed and watched against it so long? I know, if it were offered to your choice, you would rather choose to be freed from sin, than have all the world. You shall have your desire! That hard heart, those vile thoughts which accompanied you to every duty — shall be left behind forever. Your understanding shall never more be troubled with darkness. All dark Scriptures shall be made plain; all seeming contradictions reconciled. The poorest Christian is there a more perfect theologian than any here. O that happy day, when error shall vanish forever! when our understanding shall be filled with God himself, whose light will leave no darkness in us! His face shall be the Scripture where we shall read the truth.
Many a godly man here, in his mistaken zeal, has been the means of deceiving and perverting his brethren, and, when he sees his own error, cannot tell how to undeceive them. But there we shall join in one truth, as being one in Him who is the truth.
We shall also rest from all the sin of our will, affections, and acts. We shall no more retain this rebelling principle, which is still drawing us from God acts. We shall no more be oppressed with the power of our corruptions, nor vexed with their presence: no pride, passion, slothfulness, insensibility, shall enter with us; no strangeness to God, and the things of God; no coldness of affections, nor imperfection in our love; no inconstant walking, nor grieving of the Spirit; no scandalous action, nor unholy conversation. We shall rest from all these forever! Then shall our will correspond to the divine will, as face answers face in a looking-glass, and from which, as our law and rule, we shall never swerve. "For he who is entered into his rest, he also has ceased from his own works, as God did from his."
Our sufferings were but the consequences of our sinning — and in Heaven they both shall cease together!
We shall rest from all our doubts of God's love. It shall no more be said that "doubts are like the thistle, a bad weed — but growing in good ground." They shall now be fully weeded out, and trouble the gracious soul no more. We shall hear that kind of language no more: "What shall I do to know my state? How shall I know that God is my Father? that my heart is upright? that my conversion is true? that faith is sincere? I am afraid my sins are unpardoned; that all I do is hypocrisy; that God will reject me; that he does not hear my prayers." All this is there turned into praise.
We shall rest from all sense of God's displeasure. Hell shall not be mixed with Heaven. At times the gracious soul remembered God — and was troubled; complained — and was overwhelmed, and refused to be comforted; divine wrath lay hard upon him, and God afflicted him with all his waves. But that blessed day shall convince us, that though God hid his face from us for a moment — yet with everlasting kindness will he have mercy on us.
We shall rest from all the temptations of Satan. What a grief is it to a Christian, though he yields not to the temptation — yet to be solicited to deny his Lord! What a torment to have such horrid suggestions made to his soul! such blasphemous ideas presented to his imagination! sometimes . . .
cruel thoughts of God,
undervaluing thoughts of Christ,
unbelieving thoughts of Scripture,
or injurious thoughts of Providence!
To be tempted sometimes . . .
to turn to present things,
to play with the baits of sin, and
venture on the delights of flesh,
and sometimes on atheism itself!
Especially when we know the treachery of our own hearts — as ready as tinder to take fire as soon as one of those sparks shall fall upon them!
Satan has power here to tempt us in the wilderness — but he enters not the holy city; he may set us on a pinnacle of the temple in the earthly Jerusalem — but the New Jerusalem he may not approach; he may take us up into an exceeding high mountain — but the mount Zion he cannot ascend; and if he could, all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, would be a despised bait to the soul possessed of the kingdom of our Lord! No, it is in vain for Satan to offer one temptation more.
All our temptations from the world and the flesh shall also cease. Oh the hourly dangers that we here walk in! Every sense and member is a snare; every creature, every mercy, and every duty is a snare to us. We can scarcely open our eyes, but we are in danger . . .
of envying those above us,
or despising those below us;
of coveting the honors and riches of some,
or beholding the rags and beggary of others with pride and unmercifulness!
If we see beauty — it is a bait to lust;
if deformity — it is a bait to loathing and disdain.
How soon do slanderous reports, vain jests, wanton speeches — creep into the heart! How constant and strong a watch does our appetite require!
Have we loveliness and beauty? What fuel for pride!
Are we deformed? What an occasion of repining!
Have we strength of reason and gifts of learning? O how prone to be puffed up, hunt after applause, and despise our brethren!
Are we unlearned? How apt then to despise what we have not!
Are we in places of authority? How strong is the temptation to abuse our trust, make our will our law, and mold all the enjoyments of others by the rules and model of our own interest and policy!
Are we inferiors? How prone to envy others' pre-eminence, and bring their actions to the bar of our judgment!
Are we rich — and not too much exalted?
Are we poor — and not discontented?
Are we not lazy in our duties, or make a Christ of them?
Not that God has made these things our snares; but through our own corruption, they become so to us. Our own selves are the greatest snares to ourselves! But this is our comfort: our rest will free us from all of these! As Satan has no entrance there, so he has nothing to serve his malice; but all things there shall join with us in the high praises of our great Deliverer.
As we rest from the temptations — so shall we rest from the abuses and persecutions of the world. The prayers of the souls under the altar will then be answered, and God will avenge their blood on those who dwell on the earth. This is the time for crowning with thorns; that, for crowning with glory. Now, "all who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution;" then, those who suffered with him — shall be glorified with him. Now, we must be hated by all men for Christ's sake; then, Christ will be admired in his saints, who were thus hated.
We are here made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men! As the filth of the world, and the offscouring of all things — men separate us from their company, and reproach us, and cast out our names as evil; but we shall then be as much gazed at for our glory, and they will be shut out of the church of the saints, and separated from us, whether they will or not. We can now scarce pray in our families, or sing praises to God — but our voice is a vexation to them: how must it torment them, then, to see us praising and rejoicing — while they are howling and lamenting!
You, brethren, who can now attempt no work of God without losing the love of the world, consider, you shall have none in Heaven, but those who will further your work, and join heart and voice with you in your everlasting joy and praise. Until then, possess you your souls in patience. Bind all reproaches as a crown to your heads. Esteem them greater riches than the world's treasures. "It is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to those who trouble you; and to you who are troubled — rest with Christ."
We shall then rest from all our sad divisions and unChristian quarrels with one another. How lovingly do thousands live together in Heaven — who lived at variance upon earth! There is no contention, because there is none of this pride, ignorance, or other corruption. There is no plotting to strengthen our party, nor deep designing against our brethren. If there be sorrow or shame in Heaven — we shall then be both sorry and ashamed to remember all this ugly conduct on earth; as Joseph's brethren were ashamed when they remembered their former unkind usage of him. Is it not enough that all the world is against us — but we must also be against one another? O happy days of persecution — which drove us together in love, whom the sunshine of liberty and prosperity crumbles into dust by our contentions! O happy day of the saints' rest in glory — when, as there is one God, one Christ, one Spirit — so we shall have one heart, one church, one employment forever!
We shall then rest from viewing our loved ones sufferings. The church on earth is a mere hospital!
Some groaning under a dark understanding,
some under an insensible heart,
some anguishing under unfruitful weakness,
some bleeding for miscarriages and wilfulness;
some crying out of their poverty,
some groaning under pains and infirmities, and
some bewailing a whole catalogue of calamities.
But a far greater grief it is, to see our dearest and most intimate friends turned aside from the truth of Christ, continuing their neglect of Christ and their souls, and nothing will awaken them out of their security: to look on an ungodly father or mother, brother or sister, wife or husband, child or friend — and think how certainly they shall be in Hell forever, if they die in their present unregenerated state; to think of the Gospel departing, poor souls left willingly dark and destitute, and blowing out the light that should guide them to salvation! Our day of rest, will free us from all this, and the days of mourning shall be ended. Then your people, O Lord, shall be all righteous; they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of your planting, the work of your hands; that you may be glorified.
Then we shall rest from all our own personal sufferings. This may seem a small thing to those who live in ease and prosperity; but to the daily afflicted soul — it makes the thoughts of Heaven delightful. O the dying life we now live! as full of sufferings as of days and hours! Our Redeemer leaves this measure of misery upon us, to make us know for what we are indebted, to remind us of what we would else forget, to be serviceable to his wise and gracious designs, and advantageous to our full and final recovery.
Grief enters at every sense, seizes every part and power of flesh and spirit. What noble part is there which suffers its pain or ruin alone? But sin and flesh, dust and pain — will all be left behind together. O the blessed tranquility of that region, where there is nothing but sweet continued peace! O healthful place — where none are sick! O fortunate land — where all are kings! O holy assembly — where all are priests! How free a state — where none are servants, but to their supreme Monarch! The poor man shall no more be tired with his labors. No more hunger or thirst, cold or nakedness — no pinching frosts or scorching heats. Our faces shall no more be pale or sad. No more breaches in friendship, nor parting of friends asunder; no more trouble accompanying our relations, nor voice of lamentation heard in our dwellings. God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes. O my soul, bear with the infirmities of your earthly tabernacle; it will be thus but only a little longer; the sound of your Redeemer's feet is even at the door.
We shall also rest from all the toils of duties. The conscientious magistrate, parent and minister cries out, "O the burden that lies upon me!" Every relation, state, age has variety of duties; so that every conscientious Christian cries out, "O the burden! O my weakness, that makes it burdensome!" But our remaining rest will ease us of the burdens.
Once more, we shall rest from all these troublesome afflictions which necessarily accompany our absence from God. The trouble that is mixed in our desires and hopes, our longings and waitings — shall then cease. We shall no more look into our cabinet — and miss our treasure; into our hearts — and miss our Christ! We shall no more seek him from ordinance to ordinance; but all be concluded in a most blessed and full enjoyment.
9.The last jewel of our crown is, that it will be an everlasting rest. Without this, all would be comparatively nothing. The very thought of leaving it, would embitter all our joys. It would be a Hell in Heaven — to even think of eventually losing Heaven; as it would be a kind of Heaven to the damned — had they but hope of eventually escaping.
Mortality is a great hindrance of all sublunary delights. How it spoils our pleasure — to see it dying in our hands! But, O blessed eternity! where our lives are perplexed with no such thoughts, nor our joys interrupted with any such fears! where "we shall be pillars in the temple of God, and go no more out." While we were servants, we held by lease, and that but for the term of a transitory life; "but the son abides in the house forever."
O my soul, let go your dreams of present pleasure, and loose your hold of earth and flesh. Study frequently, study thoroughly, this one word — eternity. What! live — and never die! rejoice — and ever rejoice!
O happy souls in Hell — should you but escape after millions of ages! O miserable saints in Heaven — should you be dispossessed after the age of a million of worlds! This word, everlasting, contains the perfection of their torment and our glory. O that the sinner would study this word; methinks it would startle him out of his dead sleep! O that the gracious soul would study it; methinks it would revive him in his deepest agony!
"And must I, Lord, thus live forever. Then will I also love forever. Must my joys be immortal — and shall not my thanks be also immortal? Surely, if I shall never lose my glory — so I will never cease your praises. If you will both perfect and perpetuate me and my glory, as I shall be yours, and not my own — so shall my glory be your glory. And as your glory was your ultimate end in my glory, so shall it also be my end — when you have crowned me with that glory which has no end. Unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory, for ever and ever!"
Thus I have endeavored to show you a glimpse of approaching glory. But how short are my expressions of its excellency!
Reader, if you be an humble, sincere believer, and wait with longing and laboring for this rest — you will shortly see and feel the truth of all this. You will then have so high an impression of this blessed state, as will make you pity the ignorance and distance of mortals, and will tell you all that is here said, falls short of the whole truth a thousandfold.
In the mean time, let this much kindle your desires, and quicken your endeavors. Up and be doing — run, and strive, and fight, and hold on: for you have a certain glorious prize before you. God will not mock you; do not mock yourself, nor betray your soul by delaying — and all is your own. What kind of men, do you think, would Christians be in their lives and duties — if they had still this glory fresh in their thoughts? what frame would their spirits be in, if their thoughts of Heaven were lively and believing? Would their hearts be so heavy; their countenances so sad? Or would they have need to take up their comforts from below? Would they be so reluctant to suffer — or so afraid to die? or would they not think every day a year, until they enjoy it? May the Lord heal our carnal hearts, lest we "enter not into this rest because of unbelief."
The CHARACTER of the People for Whom this Rest Is Designed
The people of God who shall enjoy this rest are:
1. Chosen from eternity;
2. Given to Christ;
3. Born again;
4. Deeply convinced of . . .
the evil of sin,
their misery by sin,
the vanity of the creature,
and the all-sufficiency of Christ.
5. Their will is proportionably changed.
6. They engage in covenant with Christ.
7. They persevere in their engagements.
The reader invited to examine himself by these characteristics of God's people. Further testimony from Scripture, that this rest shall be enjoyed by the people of God: also that none but they shall enjoy it; and that it remains for them, and is not to be enjoyed until they come to another world. The chapter concludes with showing, that their souls shall enjoy this rest, while separated from their bodies.
While I was in the mount, describing the excellencies of the saints' rest, I felt it was good being there, and therefore tarried the longer; and were there not an extreme disproportion between my conceptions and the subject — much longer would I have been. Can a prospect of that happy land be tedious?
Having read of such high and unspeakable glory, a stranger would wonder for what rare creatures this mighty preparation should be made, and expect some illustrious sun should break forth: but, behold! only a shellful of dust, animated with an invisible rational soul, and that rectified with as unseen a restoring power of grace — and this is the creature that must possess such glory! You would think it must needs be some deserving piece, or one that brings a valuable price: but, behold! one that has nothing and can deserve nothing; yes, that deserves the contrary, and would, if he might, proceed in that deserving. But, being apprehended by love, he is brought to him who is all; and most affectionately receiving him, and resting on him, he does, in and through him, receive all this!
More particularly, the people for whom this rest is designed are . . .
chosen of God from eternity;
given to Christ as their Redeemer;
deeply convinced of the evil and misery of a sinful state, the vanity of the creature, and the all-sufficiency of Christ;
their will is renewed;
they engage themselves to Christ in covenant;
and they persevere in their engagements to the end.
1.The people for whom this rest is designed, whom the text calls "the people of God," are "chosen by God before the foundation of the world, that they should be holy and without blame before him in love." That they are but a part of mankind, is apparent in Scripture and experience. They are the little flock, to whom "it is their Father's good pleasure to give the kingdom." Fewer they are than the world imagines; yet not so few as some drooping spirits think, who are suspicious that God is unwilling to be their God, when they know themselves willing to be his people.
2.These people are given by God to his Son, to be by him redeemed from their lost state, and advanced to this glory. God has given all things to his Son — but not as he has given his chosen people to him. "God has given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as the Father has given him." The difference is clearly expressed by the apostle; "he has put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church."
3.One great qualification of these people is that they are born again. To be the people of God without regeneration, is as impossible as to be the children of men without generation. Seeing we are born God's enemies, we must be new-born his sons, or else remain enemies still. The greatest reformation of life that can be attained, without this new life wrought in the soul — may procure our further delusion — but never our salvation.
4.This new life in the people of God reveals itself by conviction, or a deep sense of divine things.
They are convinced of the evil of sin. The sinner is made to know and feel that the sin which was his delight — is a more loathsome thing than a toad or serpent, and a greater evil than plague or famine; being a breach of the righteous law of the most high God, dishonorable to him, and destructive to the sinner. Now the sinner no more hears the reproofs of sin as words of course; but the mention of his sin speaks to his very heart — and yet he is willing you should show him the worst. He was accustomed to marvel what made men keep up such a stir against sin; what harm it was for a man to take little forbidden pleasures; he saw no such heinousness in it — that Christ must needs die for it, and a christless world be eternally tormented in Hell. Now the case is altered; God has opened his eyes to see the inexpressible vileness of sin!
They are convinced of their own misery by reason of sin. They who before read the threats of God's law as men do the story of foreign wars — now find it their own story, and perceive they read their own doom, as if they found their own names written in the curse, or heard the law say, as Nathan, "You are the man!" The wrath of God seemed to him before, but a storm to a man in a dry house, or as the pains of the sick to the healthful bystander; but now he finds the disease is his own, and feels himself a condemned man: that he is dead and damned in point of law, and that nothing is lacking but mere execution, to make him absolutely and irrecoverably miserable.
This is a work of the Spirit wrought in some measure, in all the regenerate. How should he come to Christ for pardon — who did not first find himself guilty and condemned? or for life — who never found himself spiritually dead? "The whole need not a physician — but those who are sick." The discovery of the remedy as soon as the misery, must needs prevent a great part of the trouble. And perhaps the joyful apprehensions of mercy, may make the sense of misery sooner forgotten.
They are also convinced of the creature's vanity and insufficiency. Every man is naturally an idolater. Our hearts turned from God in our first fall; and, ever since, the creature has been our god. This is the grand sin of our nature. Every unregenerate man ascribes to the creature, divine prerogatives, and allows it the highest room in his soul; or, if he is convinced of misery, he flies to it as his savior.
Indeed, God and His Christ shall be called Lord and Savior; but the real expectation is from the creature, and the work of God is laid upon it. Pleasure, profit and honor, are the natural man's trinity — and his carnal self is these in unity! It was our first sin to aspire to be as gods, and it is the greatest sin that is propagated in our nature from generation to generation. When God should guide us — we guide ourselves; when he should be our Sovereign — we rule ourselves. The laws which he gives us — we find fault with, and would correct and, if we had the making of them — we would have made them otherwise. When he should take care of us, (and must, or we perish,) we will take care for ourselves. When we should depend on him in daily receiving — we had rather have our portion in our own hands. When we should submit to his providence — we usually quarrel with it, and think we could make a better disposal than God has made. When we should study and love, trust and honor God — we study and love, trust and honor our carnal selves. Instead of God, we would have all men's eyes and dependence on us, and all men's thanks returned to us, and would gladly be the only men on earth extolled and admired by all.
Thus, we are naturally our own idols! But down falls this Dagon when God once renews the soul. It is the chief design of that great work, to bring the heart back to God himself. He convinces the sinner that the creature can neither be his God — to make him happy; nor his Christ — to recover him from his misery and restore him to God, who is his happiness. God does this not only by his word — but also by his providence. This is the reason why affliction so frequently concurs in the work of conversion. Arguments which speak to the quick — will force a hearing when the most powerful words are slighted.
If a sinner made his credit his god, and God cast him into the lowest disgrace; or bring him, who idolized his riches, into a condition wherein they cannot help him, or cause them to take wing and fly away — what a help is here to this work of conviction! If a man made pleasure his god, whatever a roving eye, a curious ear, a greedy appetite, or a lustful heart could desire — and God takes these from him, or turns them into gall and wormwood — what a help is here to conviction!
When God casts a man into languishing sickness, and inflicts wounds on his heart, and stirs up against him his own conscience, and then, as it were, says to him, "Try if your credit, riches, or pleasures can help you. Can they heal your wounded conscience? Can they now support your tottering tabernacle? Can they keep your departing soul in your body? or save you from my everlasting wrath? or redeem your soul from eternal flames? Cry aloud to them, and see now whether these will be to you instead of God and Christ." O how this works now with the sinner! Sense acknowledges the truth, and even the flesh is convinced of the creature's vanity — and our very deceiver is undeceived.
The people of God are likewise convinced of the absolute necessity, the full sufficiency, and perfect excellency of Jesus Christ — as a man in famine is convinced of the necessity of food; or a man that has heard or read his sentence of condemnation — of the absolute necessity of pardon; or a man that lies in prison for debt — of his need of a surety to discharge it. Now the sinner feels an insupportable burden upon him, and sees there is none but Christ who can take it off. He perceives the law proclaims him to be a rebel, and none but Christ can make his peace. He is as a man pursued by a lion, that must perish if he finds not a present sanctuary. He is now brought to this dilemma; either he must have Christ to justify him — or be eternally condemned. He must have Christ to save him — or burn in Hell forever. He must have Christ to bring him to God — or be shut out of his presence everlastingly! And no wonder if he cries as the martyr, "None but Christ! none but Christ!" Not gold — but bread, will satisfy the hungry; nor will anything but pardon comfort the condemned.
All things are counted but rubbish now — that he may win Christ; and what was gain — he counts loss for Christ. As the sinner sees his misery, and the inability of himself and all things to relieve him, so he perceives there is no saving mercy outside of Christ. He sees that though the creature cannot, and he himself cannot — yet Christ can help him. Though the fig leaves of our own unrighteous righteousness, are too short to cover our nakedness — yet the righteousness of Christ is large enough. Our righteousness is disproportionate to the justice of the law — but Christ's righteousness extends to every tittle. If he intercedes — there is no denial; such is the dignity of his person and the value of his merits — that the Father grants all he desires. Before, the sinner knew Christ's excellency as a blind man knows the light of the sun; but now, as one that beholds its glory.
5.After this deep conviction, the will manifests also its change. As, for instance, the sin which the understanding pronounces evil — the will turns from with abhorrence. Not that the sensitive appetite is changed, or any way made to abhor its object; but when it would prevail against reason, and carry us to sin against God, instead of Scripture being the rule, and reason the master, and sense the servant — this disorder and evil, the will abhors.
The misery also, which sin has procured, is not only discerned — but bewailed. It is impossible that the soul should now look either on its trespass against God, or yet on its own self-procured calamity — without some contrition. He who truly discerns that he has killed Christ, and killed himself — will surely in some measure be pricked to the heart. If he cannot weep, he can heartily groan and his heart feels what his understanding sees.
The creature is renounced as vanity, and turned out of the heart with disdain: not that it is undervalued, or the use of it condemned; but its idolatrous abuse, and its unjust usurpation. Can Christ be the way — where the creature is the end? Can we seek Christ to reconcile us to God — while in our hearts we prefer the creature before him? In the soul of every unregenerate man — the creature is both God and Christ. As turning from the creature to God, and not by Christ, is no true turning; so believing in Christ, while the creature has our hearts, is no true believing.
Our aversion from sin, renouncing our idols, and our right receiving Christ — is all but one work, which God ever perfects where he begins. At the same time, the will cleaves to God the Father, and to Christ. Having been convinced that nothing else can be his happiness — the sinner now finds it is in God. Convinced also that Christ alone is able and willing to make peace for him — he most affectionately accepts of Christ as his Savior and Lord. Paul's preaching was "repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." And life eternal consists, first in "knowing the only true God;" and then "Jesus Christ, whom he has sent." To take the Lord for our God is the natural part of the covenant; the supernatural part is, to take Christ for our Redeemer. The former is first necessary, and implied in the latter. To accept Christ without affection and love — is not justifying faith: nor does love follow as a fruit — but immediately concurs; for faith is the receiving of Christ with the whole soul. "He who loves father or mother more than Christ, is not worthy of him," nor is justified by him. Faith accepts him as Savior and Lord — for in both relations will he be received, or not at all. Faith not only acknowledges his sufferings, and accepts of pardon and glory — but acknowledges his sovereignty, and submits to his government and way of salvation.
6.As an essential part of the character of God's people, they now enter into a cordial covenant with Christ. The sinner was never strictly, nor comfortably, in covenant with Christ until now. He is sure, by the free offers, that Christ consents and now he cordially consents himself; and so the agreement is fully made. With this covenant Christ delivers up himself in all comfortable relations to the sinner; and the sinner delivers up himself to be saved and ruled by Christ. Now the soul resolutely concludes, "I have been blindly led by flesh and lust, by the world and the devil, too long — almost to my utter destruction; I will now be wholly at the disposal of my Lord, who has bought me with his blood, and will bring me to his glory."
7.I add, that the people of God persevere in this covenant to the end. Though the believer may be tempted — yet he never disclaims his Lord, renounces his allegiance, nor repents of his covenant; nor can he properly be said to break that covenant, while that faith continues which is the condition of it. Indeed, those who have verbally covenanted, and not cordially, may tread under foot the blood of the covenant, as an unholy thing, by separation from those without the church; but the elect cannot be so deceived. Though this perseverance is certain to true believers — yet it is made a condition of their salvation; yes, of their continued life and fruitfulness, and of the continuance of their justification, though not of their first justification itself. But eternally blessed be that hand of love which has drawn the free promise, and subscribed and sealed to that which ascertains us both of the grace which is the condition, and the kingdom which on that condition is offered!
Such are the essentials of this people of God — not a full portraiture of them in all their excellencies, nor all the marks whereby they may be discerned. I beseech you, reader, as you have the hope of a Christian, or the reason of a man — judge yourself as one that must shortly be judged by a righteous God, and faithfully answer these questions. I will not inquire whether you remember the time or the order of these workings of the Spirit — there may be much uncertainty and mistake in that. If you are sure they are wrought in you — it is not so great a matter that you should know when or how you came by them. But carefully examine and inquire: Have you been thoroughly convinced of a prevailing depravation through your whole soul? and a prevailing wickedness through your whole life? and how vile sin is? and that by the covenant you have transgressed, the least sin deserves eternal death? Do you consent to the law, that it is true and righteous, and perceive yourself sentenced to this death by it? Have you seen the utter insufficiency of every creature, either to be itself your happiness, or the means of removing this your misery? Have you been convinced that your happiness is only in God, as the end — and in Christ, as the way to him and that you must be brought to God through Christ, or perish eternally? Have you seen an absolute necessity of your enjoying Christ, and the full sufficiency in him to do for you whatever your case requires? Have you discovered the excellency of this pearl to be worth your "selling all to buy it?" Have your convictions been like those of a man who thirsts — and not merely a change in opinion, produced by reading or education?
Have both your sin and misery been the abhorrence and burden of your soul? If you could not weep — yet could you heartily groan under the insupportable weight of both? Have you renounced all your own righteousness? Have you turned your idols out of your heart, so that the creature has no more the sovereignty — but is now a servant to God and Christ? Do you accept of Christ as your only Savior, and expect your justification, recovery and glory from him alone? Are his laws the most powerful commanders of your life and soul? Do they ordinarily prevail against the commands of the flesh, and against the greatest interest of your credit, profit, pleasure or life? Has Christ the highest room in your heart and affections, so that, though you cannot love him as you would — yet nothing else is loved so much?
Have you, to this end, made a hearty covenant with him, and delivered up yourself to him? Is it your uttermost care and watchful endeavor that you may be found faithful in this covenant; and though you fall into sin — yet would not renounce your bargain, nor change your Lord, nor give up yourself to any other government, for all the world?
If this be truly your case — then you are one of "the people of God" in my text and as sure as the promise of God is true, this blessed rest remains for you. Only see that you "abide in Christ," and "endure to the end;" for "if any man draws back — God shall have no pleasure in him."
But if no such work be found within you, whatever your deceived heart may think, or however strong your false hopes may be, you will find to your cost, except thorough conversion prevent it — that the rest of the saints belongs not to you. "O that you were wise, that you would understand this, that you would consider your latter end!" that yet, while your soul is in your body, and "a price is in your hand," and opportunity and hope before you — your ears may be open, and your heart yield to the persuasions of God, so that you may rest among his people, and enjoy "the inheritance of the saints in light!"
That this rest shall be enjoyed by the people of God, is a truth which the Scripture, if its testimony be further needed, clearly asserts in a variety of ways; as, for instance, that they are "foreordained to it, and it for them. God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city." They are styled "vessels of mercy, prepared unto glory." "In Christ they have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things after the counsel of his own will." And "whom he did predestine — them he also glorified." Who can deprive his people of that rest which is designed for them by God's eternal purpose?
Scripture tells us, they are redeemed to this rest. "By the blood of Jesus, we have boldness to enter into the holiest;" whether that entrance means by faith and prayer here, or by full possession hereafter. Therefore the saints in Heaven sing a new song unto Him who has "redeemed them to God by his blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation, and made them kings and priests unto God." Either Christ, then, must lose his blood and sufferings, and never "see of the travail of his soul" — or else "there remains a rest for the people of God."
In Scripture this rest is promised to them. As the firmament with stars, so are the sacred pages bespangled with these divine engagements. Christ says, "Fear not, little flock — for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." "I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father has appointed unto me — that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom."
All the means of grace, the operations of the Spirit upon the soul, and gracious actings of the saints, every command to repent and believe, to fast and pray, to knock and seek, to strive and labor, to run and fight — prove that there remains a rest for the people of God. The Spirit would never kindle in us such strong desires after Heaven, such love to Jesus Christ — if we should not receive what we desire and love. He who "guides our feet into the way of peace," will undoubtedly bring us to the end of peace. How nearly are the means and end conjoined! "The kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force." Those who "follow Christ in the regeneration, shall sit upon thrones of glory." Scripture assures us, that the saints have the "beginnings, foretastes, pledges, and seals" of this rest here. "Though they have not seen Christ — yet loving him, and believing in him, they rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory; receiving the end of their faith, even the salvation of their souls." They "rejoice in hope of the glory of God."
And does God "seal them with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the pledge of their inheritance," and will he deny the full possession? The Scripture also mentions, by name, those who have entered into this rest; as Enoch, Abraham, Lazarus, and the thief that was crucified with Christ. And if there is a rest for these, surely there is a rest for all believers. But it is in vain to bring together Scripture proofs, seeing it is the very end of Scripture, to be a guide to lead us to this blessed state, and to be the charter and grant by which we hold all our title to it.
Scripture not only proves that this rest remains for the people of God — but also that it remains for none but them; so that the remainder of the world shall have no part in it. "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord. Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. He who believes not the Son, shall not see life — but the wrath of God abides on him. No whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. The wicked shall be turned into Hell, and all the nations that forget God. They all shall be damned, who believe not the truth — but have pleasure in unrighteousness. The Lord Jesus shall come in flaming fire, taking vengeance on those who know not God, and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power."
Had the ungodly returned before their life was expired, and been heartily willing to accept of Christ for their Savior and their King, and to be saved by him in his way, and upon his most reasonable terms — they might have been saved. God freely offered them life — and they would not accept it. The pleasures of the flesh seemed more desirable to them — than the glory of the saints. Satan offered them the one, and God offered them the other; and they had free liberty to choose which they would, and they chose "the pleasures of sin for a season," before the everlasting rest with Christ.
And is it not a righteous thing, that they should be denied that which they would not accept? When God pressed them so earnestly, and persuaded them so importunately, to come in, and yet they would not — then where should they be, but among the dogs outside? Though man is so wicked that he will not yield until the mighty power of grace prevails with him — yet still we may truly say that he may be saved, if he will, on God's terms. His inability being moral, and lying in willful wickedness, is no more excuse to him than it is to an adulterer that he cannot love his own wife, or to a malicious person that he cannot but hate his own brother — is he not so much the worse, and deserving of so much the sorer punishment?
Sinners shall lay all the blame on their own wills in Hell forever. Hell is a rational torment by conscience, according to the nature of the rational subject. If sinners could but then say: It was God's fault, and not ours — it would quiet their consciences and ease their torments, and make Hell, to them, to be no Hell. But to remember their wilfulness, will feed the fire, and cause the worm of conscience "never to die."
It is the will of God that this rest should yet remain for his people — and not be enjoyed until they come to another world. Who should dispose of the creatures — but he who made them? You may as well ask why have we not spring and harvest without winter? or, why is the earth below and the heavens above? as why we have not our rest while still on earth? All things must come to their perfection by degrees. The strongest man must first be a child. The greatest scholar must first begin with the alphabet. The tallest oak was once an acorn. This life is our infancy; and would we be perfect in the womb, or born at full stature? If our rest was here, most of God's providences must be useless. Should God lose the glory of his church's miraculous deliverances, and of the fall of his enemies — that men may have their happiness here? If we were all happy, innocent, and perfect — what use was there for the glorious work of our sanctification, justification, and future salvation?
If we lacked nothing — we would not depend on God so closely, nor call upon him so earnestly. How little would he hear from us, if we had what we would have! God would never have had such songs of praise from Moses at the Red Sea and in the wilderness, from Deborah and Hannah, from David and Hezekiah — if they had been the choosers of their own condition. Have not your own highest praises to God, reader, been occasioned by your dangers or miseries? The greatest glory and praise God has through the world, is for redemption, reconciliation, and salvation by Christ; and was not man's misery the occasion of that? And where God loses the opportunity of exercising his mercies — man must lose the happiness of enjoying them. Where God loses his praise — man will certainly lose his comforts.
O the sweet comforts the saints have had in return for their prayers! How would we know what a tender-hearted Father we have — if we had not, as the prodigal, been denied the husks of earthly pleasure and profit? We would never have felt Christ's tender heart — if we had not felt ourselves "weary and heavy laden, hungry and thirsty, poor and contrite." It is a delight to a soldier or traveler, to look back on his escapes when they are over; and for a saint in Heaven to look back on his sins and sorrows upon earth; his fears and tears, his enemies and dangers — his needs and calamities must make his joy more joyful. Therefore the blessed, in praising the Lamb, mention his "redeeming them out of every nation, and kindred, and tongue;" and so out of their misery, and needs, and sins, "and making them kings and priests to God." But if they had had nothing but contentment and rest on earth — then what room would there have been for these rejoicings hereafter?
Besides, we are not capable of rest upon earth. Can a soul that is so weak in grace, so prone to sin, so nearly joined to such a neighbor as this flesh — have full contentment and rest in such a case? What is soul-rest — but our freedom from sin, and imperfections, and enemies? And can the soul have rest, which is molested with all these, and that continually? Why do Christians so often cry out, in the language of Paul, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me?" What makes them "press toward the mark, and run that they may obtain, and strive to enter in," if they are capable of rest in their present condition?
And our bodies are incapable, as well as our souls. They are not now those sun-like bodies which they shall be, when this "corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality." They are our prisons and our burdens — so full of infirmities and defects, that we spend most of our time in repairing them and supplying their continual needs. Is it possible that an immortal soul should have rest in such a disordered habitation? Surely these sickly, weary, loathsome bodies — must be refined before they can be capable of enjoying rest.
The objects which we here enjoy are insufficient to afford us rest. Alas! what is there in all the world to give us rest? Those who have most of it, have the greatest burden. Those who get most of it, and rejoice most in it — do all cry out at last of its vanity and vexation. Men promise themselves a Heaven upon earth; but when they come to enjoy it — it flies from them! He who has any regard to the works of the Lord, may easily see that the very end of them is . . .
to take down our idols,
to make us weary of the world,
and seek our rest in him.
Where does he cross us most — but where we promise ourselves most contentment? If you have a child you dote upon — it becomes your sorrow. If you have a friend you trust in, and judge unchangeable — he becomes your scourge. Is this a place, or state of rest? And as the objects we here enjoy are insufficient for our rest — so God, who is sufficient, is here little enjoyed. It is not here, that he had prepared the presence-chamber of his glory. He has drawn the curtain between us and him. We are far from him as creatures, and farther as frail mortals, and farthest as sinners. We hear now and then a word of comfort from him, and receive his love-tokens to keep up our hearts and hopes; but this is not our full enjoyment. And can any soul that has made God his portion, as every one has that shall be saved by him — find rest in so vast a distance from him, and so seldom and small enjoyment of him?
Nor are we capable of rest — as there is a worthiness which must go before it? Christ will give the crown to none but the worthy. Are we fit for the crown, before we have overcome? or for the prize, before we have run the race? or to receive our reward, before we have wrought in the vineyard? or to be rulers of ten cities, before we have improved our ten talents? or to enter into the joy of our Lord, before we have done well as good and faithful servants? God will not alter the course of justice, to give you rest before you have labored — nor the crown of glory until you have overcome. There is reason enough why our rest should remain until the life to come.
Take heed, then, Christian reader, how you dare to contrive and care for a rest on earth; or to murmur at God for your trouble, and toil, and needs in the flesh. Does your poverty weary you? your sickness, your bitter enemies and unkind friends? It should be so here. Do the abominations of the times, the sins of professors, the hardening of the wicked, all weary you? It must be so while you are absent from your rest. Do your sins and your naughty, distempered heart weary you? Be thus wearied more and more! But, under all this weariness, are you willing to go to God, your rest; and to have your warfare accomplished, and your race and labor ended? If not, complain more of your own heart, and get it more weary — until rest seems more desirable.
I have but one thing more to add, for the close of this chapter — that the souls of believers enjoy inconceivable blessedness and glory — while they remain separated from their bodies. What can be more plain than these words of Paul: "We are always confident, knowing that while we are at home," or rather sojourning, "in the body, we are absent from the Lord; for we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord." Or these: "I am in a strait between two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better." If Paul had not expected to enjoy Christ until the resurrection — why should he be in a strait, or desire to depart? Nay, should he not have been reluctant to depart upon the very same grounds? for while he was in the flesh he enjoyed something of Christ.
Plain enough are the words of Christ to the thief, "Today shall you be with me in paradise." In the parable of Dives and Lazarus, it seems unlikely Christ would so evidently intimate and suppose the soul's happiness or misery presently after death, if there were no such thing. Our Lord's argument for the resurrection supposes, that, "God being not the God of the dead — but of the living," therefore Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were then living in the soul. If the "blessedness of the dead who die in the Lord" were only in resting in the grave — then a beast or a stone were as blessed; nay, it were evidently a curse, and not a blessing. For was not life a great mercy? Was it not a greater mercy to serve God and to do good; to enjoy all the comforts of life, the fellowship of saints, the comfort of ordinances, and much of Christ in all — than to lie rotting in the grave?
Therefore some further blessedness is there promised. How else is it said, "We are come to the spirits of just men made perfect?" Surely, at the resurrection, the body will be made perfect as well as the spirit. The Scriptures tell us, that Enoch and Elijah are taken up already. And shall we think they possess that glory alone? Did not Peter, James, and John see Moses also with Christ on the mount? yet the Scripture says, Moses died. And is it likely that Christ deluded their senses in showing them Moses, if he should not partake of that glory until the resurrection?
And is not that of Stephen as plain as we can desire? "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Surely, if the Lord receive it, it is neither asleep, nor dead, nor annihilated; but it is where he is, and beholds his glory. That of the wise man is of the same import: "The spirit shall return unto God who gave it." Why are we said to "have eternal life;" and that to "know God is life eternal;" and that a believer "on the Son has everlasting life?" Or how is "the kingdom of God within us?" If there is as great an interruption of our life as until the resurrection — this is no eternal life, nor "everlasting kingdom."
"The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah" are spoken of as "suffering the vengeance of eternal fire!" And if the wicked already suffer eternal fire, then no doubt but the godly enjoy eternal blessedness. When John saw his glorious relations, he is said to be "in the Spirit," and to be "carried away in the Spirit." And when Paul was "caught up to the third Heaven," he knew not "whether in the body or out of the body." This implies that spirits are capable of these glorious things without the help of their bodies. The same is implied when John says, "I saw under the altar the souls of those who were slain for the word of God." When Christ says, "Fear not them who kill the body — but are not able to kill the soul," does it not plainly imply, that when wicked men have killed our bodies, that is, have separated the souls from them — yet the souls are still alive?
The soul of Christ was alive when his body was dead, and therefore so shall be ours too. This appears by his words to the thief, "Today shall you be with me in paradise;" and also by his voice on the cross, "Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit." If the spirits of those that "were disobedient in the days of Noah were in prison," that is, in a living and suffering state; then, certainly, the separate spirits of the just are in an opposite condition of happiness. Therefore, faithful souls will no sooner leave their prisons of flesh, but angels shall be their convoy; Christ, and all the perfected spirits of the just, will be their companions; Heaven will be their residence, and God their happiness. When such die, they may boldly and believingly say, as Stephen, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit;" and commend it, as Christ did, into a Father's hands.
The Great Misery of Those Who Lose the Saints' Rest
I. The loss of Heaven includes:
1. The personal perfection of the saints;
2. God himself;
3. All delightful affections towards God;
4. The blessed society of angels and glorified spirits.
II. The aggravations of the loss of Heaven:
1. The understanding of the ungodly will then be cleared;
2. Also enlarged.
3. Their consciences will make a true and close application.
4. Their affections will be more lively.
5. Their memories will be large and strong.
If you, reader, are a stranger to Christ, and to the holy nature and life of his people, who have been described, and shall live and die in this condition — let me tell you, you shall never partake of the joys of Heaven, nor have the least taste of the saints' eternal rest! I may say, as Ehud to Eglon, "I have a message to you from God;" that, as the word of God is true, you shall never see the face of God in peace! This sentence I am commanded to pass upon you; take it as you will, and escape it if you can.
I know your humble and hearty subjection to Christ would procure your escape; he would then acknowledge you for one of his people, and give you a portion in the inheritance of his chosen. If this might be the happy success of my message, I should be so far from repining, like Jonah, that the threatenings of God are not executed upon you — that I would bless the day that ever God made me so happy a messenger. But if you end your days in your unregenerate state, as sure as the heavens are over your head, and the earth under your feet — you shall be shut out of the rest of the saints, and receive your portion in everlasting fire!
I expect you will turn upon me and say, When did God show you the book of life, or tell you who they are that shall be saved, and who shut out? I answer, I do not name you, nor any other; I only conclude it of the unregenerate in general, and of you, if you be such a one. Nor do I go about to determine who shall repent, and who shall not; much less, that you shall never repent. I had rather show you what hopes you have before you, if you will not sit still and lose them. I would far rather persuade you to hearken in time, before the door is shut against you, than tell you there is no hope of your repenting and returning.
But, if the foregoing description of the people of God does not agree with the state of your soul, is it then a hard question whether you shall ever be saved? Need I ascend up into Heaven to know that "without holiness no man shall see the Lord;" or, that only "the pure in heart shall see God;" or, that "except a man be born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God?" Need I go up to Heaven to inquire that of Christ which he came down to earth to tell us, and sent his Spirit in his apostles to tell us, and which he and they have left upon record to all the world? And though I know not the secrets of your heart, and therefore cannot tell you by name whether it is your state or not; yet, if you are but willing and diligent, you may know yourself whether you are an heir of Heaven or not.
It is the main thing I desire, that, if you are yet miserable — you may discern and escape it. But how can you escape, if you neglect Christ and salvation? It is as impossible as for the devils themselves to be saved; nay, God has more plainly and frequently spoken it in Scripture of such sinners as you are, than he has of the devils. Methinks a sight of your case would strike you with amazement and horror. When Belshazzar "saw the fingers of a man's hand that wrote upon the wall — his countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another." What trembling, then, should seize on you, who have the hand of God himself against you, not in a sentence or two — but in the very scope of the Scriptures, threatening the loss of an everlasting kingdom! Because I would gladly have you lay it to heart, I will show you, first,
I. The NATURE of your loss of Heaven; secondly, its aggravations.
1. The glorious personal perfection which the saints enjoy in Heaven, is the great loss of the ungodly.They lose that shining luster of the body, surpassing the brightness of the sun at noon-day. Though the bodies of the wicked will be raised more spiritual than they were upon earth — yet that will only make them capable of the more exquisite torments! They would be glad then if every member were a dead member, that it might not feel the punishment inflicted on it; and if the whole body were a rotten carcass, or might lie down again in the dust.
Much more do they lack that moral perfection which the blessed partake of; those holy dispositions of mind; that cheerful readiness to do the will of God; that perfect rectitude of all their actions. Instead of these, they have that perverseness of will, that loathing of good, that love to evil, that violence of passion, which they had on earth. It is true, their understandings will be much cleared by the ceasing of former temptations, and experiencing the falsehood of former delusions — but they have the same dispositions still, and gladly would commit the same sins, if they could — they lack but opportunity.
There will be a greater difference between these wretches and the glorified Christian, than there is between a toad and the sun in the firmament. The rich man's purple and fine linen, and sumptuous fare, did not so exalt him above Lazarus while at his gate, full of sores.
2. They shall have no comfortable relation to God, nor communion with him."As they did not like to retain God in their knowledge," but said unto him, "Depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of your ways;" so God will abhor to retain them in his household. He will never admit them to the inheritance of his saints, nor endure them to stand in his presence; but "will profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from me, you that work iniquity!" They are ready now to lay as confident claim to Christ and Heaven as if they were sincere, believing saints. The swearer, the drunkard, the whoremonger, the worldling can say: Is not God our Father as well as yours? But when Christ separates his followers from his foes, and his faithful friends from his deceived flatterers — where, then, will be their presumptuous claim? Then they shall find that God is not their Father, because they would not be his people.
As they would not consent that God, by his Spirit, should dwell in them — so the tabernacle of wickedness shall have no fellowship with him, nor the wicked inhabit the city of God. Only those who walked with God here — shall live and be happy with him in Heaven. Little does the world know what is the loss of that soul who loses God! What a dungeon would the earth be, if it had lost the sun! What a loathsome carrion the body, if it had lost the soul! Yet all these are nothing, compared to the loss of God.
As the enjoyment of God is the Heaven of the saints — so the loss of God is the Hell of the ungodly. And as the enjoying of God is the enjoying of all — so the loss of God is the loss of all.
3. They also lose all delightful affections toward God: that transporting knowledge; those delightful views of his glorious face; the inconceivable pleasure of loving him; the apprehensions of his infinite love to us; the constant joys of his saints, and the rivers of consolation with which he satisfies them. Is it nothing to lose all this? The employment of a king in ruling a kingdom, does not so far exceed that of the vilest slave — as this heavenly employment exceeds that of an earthly king.
God suits men's employment to their natures. Your hearts, sinners, were never set upon God in your lives, never warmed with his love, never longed after the enjoyment of him; you had no delight in speaking or hearing of him; you had rather have continued on earth, if you had known how — than to be interested in the glorious praises of God. Is it fit, then, that you should be members of the celestial choir?
4. They shall be deprived of the blessed society of angels and glorified saints.Instead of being companions of those happy spirits, and numbered with those triumphant kings — they must be driven down to Hell, where they shall have companions of a far different nature and quality! Scorning and abusing the saints, hating them, and rejoicing at their calamities, was not the way to obtain their blessedness. Now you are shut out of that company, from which you first shut out yourselves; and are separated from them, with whom you would not be joined. You could not endure them in your houses, or towns, or scarcely in the kingdom. You took them, as Ahab did Elijah, for the "troublers of the land;" and, as the apostles were taken, for "men that turned the world upside down." If anything fell out amiss, you thought all was owing to them. When they were dead or banished — you were glad they were gone, and thought the country well rid of them.
They troubled you by faithfully reproving your sins. Their holy lives troubled your consciences, to see them so far excel you. It was a vexation to you to hear them pray or sing praises in their families. And is it any wonder if you are separated from them hereafter? The day is near when they will trouble you no more. Between them and you, will be a great gulf fixed. Even in this life, while the saints were "mocked, destitute, afflicted, tormented," and while they had their personal imperfections — yet, in the judgment of the Holy Spirit, they were men "of whom the world was not worthy." Much more unworthy will the world be of their fellowship in glory.
II.I know many will be ready to think they could spare these things in this world well enough, and why may they not be without them in the world to come? Therefore, to show them that this loss of Heaven will then be most tormenting, let them now consider,
1. The UNDERSTANDING of the ungodly will then be cleared to know the worth of that which they have lost.Now they lament not their loss of God, because they never knew his excellence; nor the loss of that holy employment and society, for they were never sensible what they were worth. A man that has lost a jewel, and took it but for a common stone, is never troubled at his loss; but when he comes to know what he lost; then he laments it. Though the understandings of the damned will not be sanctified — yet they will be cleared from a multitude of errors. They now think that their honors, estates, pleasures, health, and life are better worth their labor, than the things of another world; but when these things have left them in misery, when they experience the things of which they before but read and heard — they will be of an other mind.
They would not believe that water would drown, until they were in the sea; nor the fire burn, until they were cast into it: but when they feel — they will easily believe. All that error of mind which made them set light by God, and abhor his worship, and vilify his people — will then be confuted and removed by experience. Their knowledge shall be increased, that their sorrows may be increased. Poor souls! they would be comparatively happy, if their understandings were wholly taken from them, if they had no more knowledge than idiots or brutes; or, if they knew no more in Hell than they did upon earth, their loss would less trouble them. How happy would they then think themselves, if they did not know there is such a place as Heaven! Now, when their knowledge would help to prevent their misery — they will not know, or will not read or study that they may know; therefore, when their knowledge will but feed their consuming fire — they shall know, whether they will or not. They are now in a dead sleep, and dream that they are the happiest men in the world; but when death awakes them, how will their judgments be changed in a moment! and they that would not see — shall then see, and be ashamed.
2. As their understanding will be cleared — so it will be more enlarged, and made more capacious to conceive the worth of that glory which they have lost.The strength of their apprehensions, as well as the truth of them, will then be increased. What deep apprehensions of the wrath of God, the madness of sinning, the misery of sinners — have those souls who now endure this misery — in comparison with those on earth that do but hear of it! What sensibility of the worth of life has the condemned man who is going to be executed — compared with what he was accustomed to have in the time of his prosperity! Much more will the actual loss of eternal blessedness make the damned exceedingly apprehensive of the greatness of their loss. As a large vessel will hold more water than a shell — so will their more enlarged understandings contain more matter to feed their torment, than their shallow capacity can now do.
3. Their CONSCIENCES also will make a truer and closer application of this doctrine to themselves, which will exceedingly tend to increase their torment.It will then be no hard matter to them to say, "This is my loss! and this is my everlasting remediless misery!" The lack of this self-application is the main cause why they are so little troubled now. They are hardly brought to believe that there is such a state of misery; but more hardly to believe that it is likely to be their own. This makes so many sermons lost to them, and all threatenings and warnings in vain. Let a minister of Christ show them their misery ever so plainly and faithfully — they will not be persuaded they are so miserable. Let him tell them of the glory they must lose, and the sufferings they must feel — and they think he means not them — but some notorious sinners.
It is one of the hardest things in the world to bring a wicked man to know that he is wicked, or to make him see himself in a state of wrath and condemnation! Though they may easily find, by their strangeness to the new birth, and their enmity to holiness — that they never were partakers of them; yet they as truly expect to see God and be saved, as if they were the most sanctified people in the world! How seldom do men cry out, after the plainest discovery of their state: I am the man! Or acknowledge, that, if they die in their present condition, they are undone forever! But when they suddenly find themselves in the land of darkness, feel themselves in scorching flames, and see they are shut out of the presence of God forever — then the application of God's anger to themselves will be the easiest matter in the world! They will then roar out these forced confessions, "O my misery! O my folly! O my inconceivable, irrecoverable loss!"
4. Then will their AFFECTIONS likewise be more lively, and no longer stupified.A hard heart now makes Heaven and Hell seem but trifles! We have showed them everlasting glory and misery — and they are as men asleep! Our words are as stones cast against a wall — which fly back in our faces! We talk of dreadful things — but it is to dead men! We search the wounds — but they never feel it! We speak to rocks, rather than to men; the earth will as soon tremble, as they!
But when these dead souls are revived — what passionate sensibility, what pangs of horror, what depths of sorrow — will there then be! How violently will they denounce and reproach themselves! How will they rage against their former madness! The lamentations of the most affectionate wife for the loss of her husband, or of the tenderest mother for the loss of her children — will be nothing compared to theirs, for the loss of Heaven.
O the self-accusing and self-tormenting fury of those forlorn creatures! How will they even tear their own hearts, and be God's executioners upon themselves! As themselves were the only meritorious cause of their sufferings — so themselves will be the chief executioners. Even Satan, as he was not so great a cause of their sinning as themselves, will not be so great an instrument of their torment. How happy would they think themselves then — if they were turned into rocks, or anything that had neither passion nor sense! How happy, if they could then feel as lightly as they were accustomed to hear! if they could sleep out the time of execution, as they did the time of the sermons which warned them of it! But their stupidity is gone — it will not be.
5. Their MEMORIES will moreover be as large and strong as their understanding and affections.Could they but lose the use of their memory, their loss of Heaven, being forgot, would little trouble them. Though they would account annihilation a great mercy, they cannot lay aside any part of their being. Understanding, conscience, affections, memory — must all live to torment them, which should have helped to their happiness. As by these they should have fed upon the love of God, and drawn forth perpetually the joys of his presence — so by these must they feed upon his wrath, and draw forth continually the pains of his absence.
Now they have no leisure to consider, nor any room in their memories for the things of another life; but then they shall have nothing else to do; their memories shall have no other employment. God would have had the doctrine of their eternal state "written on the posts of their doors, on their hands and hearts;" he would have them mind it, "and mention it when they lay down and rose up, when they sat in their houses, and when they walked by the way," and seeing they rejected this counsel of the Lord, therefore it shall be written always before them in the place of their thraldom, that, whichever way they look — they may still behold it.
It will torment them to think of the greatness of the glory they have lost. If it had been what they could have spared, or a loss to be repaired with anything else — it had been a smaller matter. If it had been health, or wealth, or friends, or life — it had been nothing. But, O! to lose that exceeding and eternal weight of glory!
It will also torment them to think of the possibility they once had of obtaining it! Then they will remember, "Time was, when I was as fair for the kingdom as others. I was set upon the stage of the world; if I had believed in Christ, I might now have had possession of the inheritance. I who am now tormented with these damned fiends — might have been among yonder blessed saints. The Lord did set before me life and death; and having chosen death, I deserve to suffer it. The prize was held out before me if I had run well, I might have obtained it — if I had striven; I might have had the victory — if I had fought valiantly, I would have been crowned."
It will yet more torment them to remember that their obtaining the crown was not only possible — but very probable. It will wound them to think, "I had once the gales of the Spirit ready to have assisted me. I was proposing to be another man, to have cleaved to Christ, and forsake the world. I was almost resolved to have been wholly for God. I was once even turning from my base seducing lusts. I had cast off my old companions, and was associating with the godly. Yet I turned back, lost my hold, and broke my promises. I was almost persuaded to be a real Christian — yet I overcame those persuasions. What workings were in my heart when a faithful minister pressed home the truth! O how fair was I once for Heaven! I almost had it — and yet I have lost it! Had I followed on to seek the Lord, I would now have been blessed among the saints."
It will exceedingly torment them to remember their lost opportunities. "How many weeks, and months, and years did I lose, which if I had improved — I would now have been happy! Wretch that I was! could I find no time to study the work for which I had all my time? no time, among all my labors, to labor for eternity? Had I time to eat, and drink, and sleep — and none to save my soul? Had I time for mirth and vain discourse — and none for prayer? Could I take time to secure the world — and none to try my title to Heaven? O precious time! I had once enough — and now I must have no more. I had once so much I knew not what to do with it; and now it is gone, and cannot be recalled. O that I had but one of those years to live over again! how speedily would I repent! How earnestly would I pray! how diligently would I hear! how closely would I examine my state! how strictly would I live! But it is now too late, alas! too late!"
It will add to their calamity to remember how often they were persuaded to return. "Gladly would the minister have had me escape these torments. With what love and compassion did he beseech me — and yet I did but make a jest of it! How oft did he convince me — and yet I stifled all these convictions! How did he open to me my very heart — and yet I was reluctant to know the worst of myself! O how glad would he have been if he could have seen me cordially turn to Christ! My godly friends admonished me; they told me what would become of my wilfulness and negligence at last; but I neither believed nor regarded them. How long did God himself condescend to entreat me! How did the Spirit strive with my heart, as if he was reluctant to take a denial! How did Christ stand knocking, one Sunday after another, and crying to me: "Open, sinner, open your heart to your Savior, and I will come in and sup with you, and you with me! Why do you delay? How long shall your vain thoughts lodge within you? Will you not be pardoned and sanctified, and made happy?"
O how the recollection of such divine pleadings will passionately transport the damned with self-indignation! "Must I tire out the patience of Christ? Must I make the God of Heaven follow me in vain, until I have wearied him with crying to me, Repent! return! O how justly is that patience now turned into fury which falls upon me with irresistible violence! When the Lord cried to me, "Will you not be made clean? When shall it once be?" — my heart, or at least my practice answered, "Never!" And now, when I cry, How long shall it be until I am freed from this torment? — How justly do I receive the same answer, "Never, never!'"
It will also be most cutting to remember on what easy terms they might have escaped their misery. Their work was not to remove mountains, nor conquer kingdoms, nor fulfill the law to the smallest tittle, nor satisfy justice for all their transgressions. "The yoke was easy, and the burden light" which Christ would have laid upon them. It was but to repent and cordially accept him for their Savior; to renounce all other happiness, and take the Lord for their supreme good; to renounce the world and the flesh, and submit to his meek and gracious government, and to forsake the ways of their own devising, and walk in his holy, delightful way.
"Ah," thinks the poor tormented wretch, "how justly do I suffer all this — who would not be at so small pains to avoid it! Where was my understanding when I neglected that gracious offer; when I called the Lord a hard master, and thought his pleasant service a bondage, and the service of the devil and the flesh the only freedom? Was I not a thousand times worse than mad, when I censured the holy way of God as needless preciseness; when I thought the laws of Christ too strict? What would all sufferings for Christ and well-doing have been — compared with these sufferings that I must undergo forever? Would not the Heaven, which I have lost — have recompensed all my losses? And would not all my sufferings have been there forgotten? What if Christ had bid me to do some great matter; whether to live in continual fears and sorrows, or to suffer death a hundred times over — should I not have done it? How much more, when he only said, 'Believe and be saved. Seek my face, and your soul shall live. Take up your cross and follow me, and I will give you everlasting life.' O gracious offer! O easy terms! O cursed wretch, that would not be persuaded to accept them!"
This also will be a most tormenting consideration, to remember for what they sold their eternal welfare. When they compare the value of the pleasures of sin with the value of "the recompense of reward" — how will the vast disproportion astonish them! To think of the low delights of the flesh, or the applauding breath of mortals, or the possessing heaps of gold — and then to think of everlasting glory. "This is all I had for my soul, my God, my hopes of blessedness!"
It cannot possibly be expressed how these thoughts will tear his very heart. Then will he exclaim against his folly: "O miserable wretch! Did I sell my soul for so base a price? Did I part with my God for a little dirt and dross; and sell my Savior, as Judas, for a little silver? I had but a dream of delight for my hopes of Heaven; and, now I am awakened — it is all vanished. My morsels are now turned to gall, and my cups to wormwood. When they were past my taste — the pleasure perished. And is this all that I have had, for the inestimable treasure? What a mad exchange did I make! What if I had gained all the world, and lost my soul! But, alas! how small a profit of the world was it for which I gave up Heaven!"
O that sinners would think of this — when they are swimming in the delights of the flesh, and studying how to be rich and honorable in the world! when they are desperately venturing up on known transgression, and sinning against the checks of conscience!
It will add yet more to their torment, when they consider that they most willfully procured their own destruction. Had they been forced to sin — it would much abate the rage of their consciences; or if they were punished for another man's transgressions or any other had been the chief author of their ruin. But to think it was the choice of their own will, and that none in the world could have forced them to sin against their wills — this will be a cutting thought! "Had I not enemies enough in the world," thinks this miserable creature, "but I must be an enemy to myself? God would never give the devil, nor the world, so much power over me as to force me to commit the least transgression. They could but entice — it was myself who yielded and did the evil. And must I lay hands upon my own soul, and imbrue my hands in my own blood? Never had I so great an enemy as myself! Never did God offer any good to my soul — but I resisted him. He has heaped mercy upon me, and renewed one deliverance after another, to draw my heart to him; yes, he has gently chastised me, and made me groan under the fruit of my disobedience; and though I promised largely in my affliction — yet never was I heartily willing to serve him."
Thus will it gnaw the hearts of these sinners, to remember that they were the cause of their own ruin; and that they willfully and obstinately persisted in their rebellion, and were volunteers in the service of the devil.
The wound in their consciences will be yet deeper, when they shall not only remember it was their own doing — but that they were at so much cost and pains for their own damnation! What great undertakings did they engage in to effect their ruin; to resist the Spirit of God; to overcome the power of mercies, judgments, and even the word of God — to subdue the power of reason and silence conscience! All this they undertook and performed. Though they walked in continual danger of the wrath of God, and knew he could lay them in the dust, and cast them into Hell in a moment — yet would they run upon all this.
O the labor it costs sinners to be damned! Sobriety, with health and ease, they might have had at a cheaper rate; yet they will rather have gluttony and drunkenness, with poverty, shame, and sickness. Contentment they might have, with ease and delight; yet they will rather have covetousness and ambition, though it costs them cares and fears, labor of body and distraction of mind. Though their anger be self-torment, and revenge and envy consume their spirits; though impurity destroy their bodies, estates, and good names — yet will they do and suffer all this, rather than suffer their souls to be saved!
With what rage will they lament their folly, and say, "Was damnation worth all this cost and pains? Might I not have been damned with less cost — but I must purchase it so dearly? I thought I could have been saved without so much ado — and could I not have been destroyed without so much ado? Must I so laboriously work out my own damnation, when God commanded me to work out my own salvation?' If I had done as much for Heaven as I did for Hell — I had surely had it. I cried out of the tedious way of godliness, and the painful course of self-denial; and yet I could be at a great deal more pains for Satan and for damnation. Had I loved Christ as strongly as I did my pleasures, and profits, and honors; and thought on him as often, and sought him as painfully — O how happy would I have now been! How justly do I suffer the flames of Hell for buying them so dear, rather than have Heaven, when it was purchased to my hands!"
O that God would persuade you, reader, to take up these thoughts now — for preventing the inconceivable calamity of taking them up in Hell as your own tormentor! Say not that they are only imaginary. Read what Dives thought, being in torments. As the joys of Heaven are chiefly enjoyed by the rational soul in its rational actings — so must the pains of Hell be suffered. As they will be men still, so will they feel and act as men.
The Misery of Those Who, Besides Losing the Saints' Rest, Lose the Enjoyments of Time, and Suffer the Torments of Hell.
I. The enjoyments of time which the damned lose:
1. Their presumptuous belief of their interest in God and Christ;
2. All their hopes;
3. All their peace of conscience;
4. All their carnal mirth;
5. All their sensual delights.
II. The torments of the damned are exceedingly great:
1. The principal Author of them is God himself.
2. The place or state of torment.
3. These torments are the effects of divine vengeance.
4. God will take pleasure in executing them.
5. Satan and sinners themselves will be God's executioners.
6. These torments will be universal;
7. Without any mitigation;
8. And eternal.
The obstinate sinner convinced of his folly in venturing on these torments; and entreated to fly for safety to Christ.
As "godliness has a promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come;" and if we "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness," then all lower "things shall be added unto us;" so also are the ungodly threatened with the loss both of spiritual and temporal blessings; and because they sought not first God's kingdom and righteousness, therefore shall they lose both it and that which they did seek, and there "shall be taken from them that little which they have."
If they could but have kept their present enjoyments — they would not have much cared for the loss of Heaven. If they had "lost and forsaken all for Christ," they would have found all again in him; for he would have been all in all to them. But, now they have forsaken Christ for other things — they shall lose Christ, and that also for which they forsook him, even the enjoyments of time, besides suffering the torments of Hell.
1. They shall lose their presumptuous belief of their interest in the favor of God and the merits of Christ.This false belief now supports their spirits, and defends them from the terrors that would otherwise seize upon them. But what will ease their trouble when they can believe no longer, nor rejoice any longer? If a man is near to the greatest harm, and yet strongly believes that he is in safety, he may be as cheerful as if all were well. If there were no more to make a man happy but to believe that he is so, or shall be so — then happiness would be far more common than it is like to be.
As true faith is the leading grace in the regenerate — so is false faith the leading vice in the unregenerate. Why do such multitudes sit still when they might have pardon — but that they truly think they are pardoned already? If you could ask thousands in Hell, what madness brought them there? they would most of them answer, "We thought we were sure of being saved — until we found ourselves damned! We would have been more earnest seekers of regeneration and the power of godliness — but we truly thought we were Christians already. We have flattered ourselves into these torments, and now there is no remedy!"
Reader, I must in faithfulness tell you that the confident belief of their good state, which the careless, unholy, unhumbled multitude so commonly boast of — will prove in the end but a soul-damning delusion! There is none of this false believing in Hell. It was Satan's stratagem, that being blindfold, they might follow him the more boldly; but then he will uncover their eyes, and they shall see where they are!
2. They shall lose also all their HOPES.In this life, though they were threatened with the wrath of God — yet their hope of escaping it bore up their hearts. We can now scarcely speak with the vilest drunkard, or swearer, or scoffer — but he hopes to be saved, for all this. O happy world, if salvation were as common as this hope! Nay, so strong are men's hopes, that they will dispute the cause with Christ himself at the judgment, and plead their "having ate and drank in his presence, and prophesied in his name, and in his name cast out devils;" they will stiffly deny that ever they neglected Christ, in hunger, nakedness, or in prison, until he confutes them with the sentence of their condemnation. O the sad state of those men when they must bid farewell to all their hopes!
"When a wicked man dies — his expectation shall perish; and the hope of unjust men perishes. But the eyes of the wicked will fail, and escape will elude them; their hope will become a dying gasp." As the soul departs not from the body without the greatest pain, so does the hope of the wicked depart. The soul departs from the body suddenly, in a moment, which has there delightfully continued so many years; just so does the hope of the wicked depart. The soul will never more return to live with the body in this world; and the hope of the wicked takes an everlasting farewell of his soul. A miracle of resurrection shall again unite soul and body — but there shall be no such miraculous resurrection of the damned's hope.
Methinks it is the most pitiable sight this world affords, to see such an ungodly person dying, and to think of his soul and his hopes departing together. With what a sad change he appears in another world! Then if a man could but ask that hopeless soul, "Are you as confident of salvation as you were accustomed to be?" what a sad answer would be returned! O that careless sinners would be awakened to think of this in time!
Reader, rest not until you can give a reason of all your hopes, grounded upon Scripture promises: that they purify your heart; that they quicken your endeavors in godliness; that the more you hope the less you sin, and the more exact is your obedience. If your hopes are such as these, go on in the strength of the Lord, hold fast your hope, and "never shall it make you ashamed." But if you have not one sound evidence of a work of grace on your soul, cast away your hopes. Despair of ever being saved, "except you be born again;" or of "seeing God — without holiness;" or of having part in Christ — except you "love him above father, mother, or your own life."
This kind of despair is one of the first steps to Heaven. If a man is quite out of his way, what must be the first means to bring him in again? He must despair of ever coming to his journey's end in the way that he is in. If his home be eastward and he is going westward, as long as he hopes he is right, he will go on and as long as he goes on hoping, he goes further amiss. When he despairs of coming home, except he turns back, then he will return, and then he may hope. Just so it is, sinner, with your soul: you are born out of the way to Heaven, and have proceeded many a year; you go on and hope to be saved, because you are not so bad as many others. Except you throw away those hopes and see that you have all this while been quite out of the way to Heaven — you will never return and be saved. There is nothing in the world more likely to keep your soul out of Heaven, than your false hopes of being saved, while you are out of the way to salvation. See then how it will aggravate the misery of the damned, that, with the loss of Heaven, they shall lose all that hope of it which now supports them.
3. They will lose all that false PEACE OF CONSCIENCE which makes their present life so easy.Who would think, observing how quietly the multitude of the ungodly live — that they must very shortly lie down in everlasting flames? They are as free from the fears of Hell as an obedient believer; and for the most part have less disquiet of mind than those who shall be saved. Happy men, if this peace would prove lasting! "When they shall say, Peace and safety! then sudden destruction comes upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape." O cruel peace, which ends in such a war!
The soul of every man by nature is Satan's garrison; all is at peace in such a man, until Christ comes and gives it terrible alarms of judgment and Hell, batters it with his threats and terrors, forces it to yield to his mere mercy, and take him for the governor; then does he cast out Satan, "overcome him, take from him all his armor wherein he trusted, and divides his spoils," and then does he establish a firm and lasting peace.
If, therefore, you are yet in that first peace, never think it will endure. Can your soul have lasting peace, in enmity with Christ? Can he have peace, against whom God proclaims war? I wish you no greater good than that God break in upon your careless heart, and shake you out of your false peace, and make you lie down at the feet of Christ, and say, "Lord, what would you have me to do?" and so receive from him a better and surer peace, which will never be quite broken — but be the beginning of your everlasting peace, and not perish in your perishing, as the groundless peace of the world will do.
4. They shall lose all their CARNAL MIRTH.They will themselves say of their "laughter — it is foolish. And what does pleasure accomplish?" It was but "as the crackling of thorns under a pot." It made a blaze for a while — but it was presently gone, and returned no more. The talk of death and judgment was irksome to them, because it damped their mirth. They could not endure to think of their sin and danger, because these thoughts sunk their spirits. They knew not what it was to weep for sin, or to humble themselves under the mighty hand of God. They could laugh away sorrow, and sing away cares, and drive away those melancholy thoughts.
To meditate and pray, they imagined, would be enough to make them miserable, or run mad. Poor souls, what a misery will that life be, where you shall have nothing but sorrow — intense, heart piercing, multiplied sorrow; when you shall neither have the joys of saints nor your own former joys! Do you think there is one merry heart in Hell? or one joyful countenance or jesting tongue? You now cry, "a little mirth is worth a great deal of sorrow." But surely a little godly sorrow, which would have ended in eternal joy, had been worth much more than all your foolish mirth; for the end of such mirth is sorrow.
5. They shall also lose all their SENSUAL DELIGHTS.That which they esteemed their chief good, their heaven, their god — must they lose, as well as God himself. What a fall will the proud ambitious man have from the height of his honors! As his dust and bones will not be known from the dust and bones of the poorest beggar — so neither will his soul be honored or favored more than theirs. What a number of the great, noble, and learned will be shut out from the presence of Christ! They shall not find their magnificent buildings, soft beds, and easy couches. They shall not view their curious gardens, their pleasant meadows, and plenteous harvests. Their tables will not be so furnished nor attended. The rich man is there no more "clothed in purple and fine linen, and faring sumptuously every day." There is no expecting the admiration of beholders. They shall spend their time in sadness — and not in sports and pastimes.
What an alteration will they then find! The heat of their lust will be then abated. How will it even cut them to the heart to look each other in the face! What an interview will there then be, cursing the day that ever they saw one another!
O that sinners would now remember and say, "Will these delights accompany us into the other world? Will not the remembrance of them be then our torment? Shall we then take this partnership in vice, for true friendship? Why should we sell such lasting incomprehensible joys — for a taste of seeming pleasure? Come, as we have sinned together, let us pray together that God would pardon us; and let us help one another toward Heaven, instead of helping to deceive and destroy each other." O that men but knew what they desire, when they would so earnestly have all things suited to the desires of the flesh! It is but to desire their temptations to be increased and their snares strengthened.
II.As the loss of the saints' rest will be aggravated by losing the enjoyments of time — it will be much more so by suffering the torments of Hell. The exceeding greatness of such torments may appear, by considering,
1. The principal AUTHOR of Hell-torments is God himself.As it was no less than God whom sinners had offended — so it is no less than God who will punish them for their offences. He has prepared those torments for his enemies. His continued anger will still be devouring them. His breath of indignation will kindle the flames. His wrath will be an intolerable burden to their souls.
If it were but a creature they had to do with, they might better bear it. Woe to him that falls under the strokes of the Almighty! "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!" It were nothing in comparison to this, if all the world were against them, or if the strength of all creatures were united in one to inflict their penalty.
They had now rather venture to displease God than displease a customer, a master, a friend, a neighbor, or their own flesh; but then they will wish a thousand times, in vain, that they had been hated by all the world — rather than have lost the favor of God.
What a consuming fire is his wrath! If it be kindled here but a little, how do we "wither like grass!" How soon does our strength decay and turn to weakness, and our beauty to deformity! The flames do not so easily run through the dry stubble — as the wrath of God will consume these wretches! Those who could not bear a prison, or a gibbet, or a fire for Christ, or scarcely a few scoffs — how will they now bear the devouring flames of Divine wrath?
2. The place or state of torment is purposely ordained to glorify the JUSTICE of God.When God would glorify his power, he made the worlds. The lovely order of all his creatures declares his wisdom. His providence is shown in sustaining all things. When a spark of his wrath kindles upon the earth, the whole world, except only eight people, are drowned; Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboim are burnt with fire from Heaven; the sea shuts her mouth upon some, the earth opens and swallows up others; the pestilence destroys by thousands.
Yet the glorifying of the mercy and justice of God is intended most eminently for the life to come. As God will then glorify his mercy in a way that is now beyond the comprehension of the saints who must enjoy it, so also will he manifest his justice to be indeed the justice of God. The everlasting flames of Hell will not be thought too hot for the rebellious; and, when they have there burned through millions of ages, God will not repent of the evil which has befallen them. Woe to the soul that is thus the object of the wrath of the Almighty, as a bush that must burn in the flames of his jealousy and never be consumed!
3. The torments of the damned must be extreme, because they are the EFFECT OF DIVINE VENGEANCE.Wrath is terrible — but vengeance is implacable. When the great God shall say, "My rebellious creature shall now pay for all the abuse of my patience; remember how I waited your leisure in vain, how I stooped to persuade and entreat you — did you think I would always be so slighted?" Then will he be avenged for every abused mercy, and for all their neglects of Christ and grace. O that men would foresee this, and please God better in preventing their woe!
4. Consider also, that though God had rather men would accept of Christ and mercy — yet, when they persist in rebellion, he will take pleasure in their execution.He tells us, "Fury is not in me;" yet he adds, "Who would set the briers and thorns against me in battle? I would go through them, I would burn them together." Wretched creatures, when "he who made them will not have mercy upon them, and he who formed them will show them no favor. As the Lord rejoiced over them to do them good — so the Lord will rejoice over them to destroy them, and bring them to nothing."
Woe to the souls whom God rejoices to punish: "He will laugh at their calamity, he will mock when their fear comes; when their fear comes as desolation, and their destruction comes as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish come upon them." Terrible thing, when none in Heaven or earth can help them but God — and he shall rejoice in their calamity! Though Scripture speaks of God's laughing and mocking, not literally — but after the manner of men; yet it is an act of God in tormenting the sinner, which cannot otherwise be more fitly expressed.
5. Consider that Satan and themselves shall be God's executioners.He who was here so successful in drawing them from Christ, will then be the instrument of their punishment for yielding to his temptations. That is the reward he will give them for all their service; for their rejecting the commands of God, forsaking Christ, and neglecting their souls at his persuasion. If they had served Christ as faithfully as they did Satan — he would have given them a better reward. It is also most just that they should be their own tormentors; that they may see their whole destruction is of themselves and then, whom can they complain of but themselves?
6. Consider also that their torment will be UNIVERSAL.As all parts have joined in sin, so must they all partake in the torment.
The soul, as it was the chief in sinning — shall be the chief in suffering; and as it is of a more excellent nature than the body, so will its torments far exceed bodily torments; and as its joys far surpass all sensual pleasures, so the pains of the soul exceed corporeal pains. It is not only a soul — but a sinful soul that must suffer. Fire will not burn except the fuel be combustible; but if the wood be dry, how fiercely will it burn! The guilt of their sins will be to damned souls, like tinder to gunpowder, to make the flames of Hell take hold upon them with fury.
The body must also bear its part. The body which was so carefully looked to, so tenderly cherished, so curiously dressed — what must it now endure! How are its haughty looks now brought down! How little will those flames regard its loveliness and beauty!
Those eyes which were accustomed to be delighted with curious sights — must then see nothing but what shall terrify them! an angry God above them, with those saints whom they scorned enjoying the glory which they have lost; and about them will be only devils and damned souls! How will they look back and say, "Are all our feasts, and games, and revels come to this?"
Those ears, which were accustomed to music and songs, shall hear the shrieks and cries of their damned companions; children crying out against their parents, who gave them encouragement and example in evil; husbands and wives, masters and servants, ministers and people, magistrates and subjects, charging their misery upon one another, for discouraging in duty, conniving at sin, and being silent when they should have plainly foretold the danger. Thus will soul and body be companions in woe.
7. Far greater will these torments be, because WITHOUT MITIGATION. In this life, when told of Hell, or if conscience troubled their peace, they had comforters at hand; their carnal friends, their business, their company, their mirth. They could drink, play, or sleep away their sorrows. But now all these remedies are vanished. Their hard, presumptuous, unbelieving heart was a wall to defend them against trouble of mind. Satan was himself their comforter, as he was to our first mother. "Has God said, you shall not eat? You shall not surely die! Does God tell you that you shall die in Hell? There is no such matter; God is more merciful. Or, if there be a Hell, what need you fear it? Are not you Christians? Was not the blood of Christ shed for you?" Thus as the Spirit of Christ is the Comforter of the saints, so Satan is the comforter of the wicked.
Never was a thief more careful lest he should awake the people when he is robbing a house, than Satan is not to awaken a sinner! But when the sinner is dead, then Satan has done flattering and comforting. Which way, then, will the forlorn sinner look for comfort? Those who drew him into the snare, and promised him safety — now forsake him, and are forsaken themselves. His comforts are gone, and the righteous God, whose forewarnings he made light of; will now make good his word against him to the last tittle.
8. But the greatest aggravation of these torments will be their ETERNITY.When a thousand millions of ages are past, they are as fresh to begin as the first day. If there were any hope of an end, it would ease the damned to foresee it; but FOREVER is an intolerable thought! They were never weary of sinning — nor will God be weary of punishing. They never heartily repented of sin — nor will God repent of their suffering. They broke the laws of the eternal God, and therefore shall suffer eternal punishment. They knew it was an everlasting kingdom which they refused, and what wonder if they are everlastingly shut out of it? Their immortal souls were guilty of the trespass — and therefore must immortally suffer the pains.
What happy men would they think themselves, if they might have lain still in their graves, or might but there lie down again! How will they call and cry, "O death, where are you now gone? Now come and cut off this doleful life. O that these pains would break my heart, and end my being! O that I might once at last die! O that I had never had a being!" These groans will the thoughts of eternity wring from their hearts.
They were accustomed to think sermons and prayers long; how long then will they think these endless torments! What difference is there between the length of their worldly pleasures — and their eternal pains! The one continued but a moment, the other endure through all eternity.
Sinner, remember how time is almost gone. You are standing at the door of eternity; and death is waiting to open the door, and put you in. Go, sleep out a few more nights, and stir about a few more days on earth — and then your nights and days shall end: your thoughts, and cares, and pleasures shall all be devoured by eternity; you must enter upon the state which shall never be changed. As the joys of Heaven are beyond our conception, so are the pains of Hell. Everlasting torment is inconceivable torment!
But methinks I see the obstinate sinner desperately resolving, "If I must be damned, there is no remedy. Rather than I will live as the Scripture requires, I will put it to the venture; I shall escape as well as others, and we will even bear it as well as we can." Alas poor creature, let me beg this of you, before you do so resolve, that you would lend me your attention to a few questions, and weigh them with the reason of a man.
Who are you, that you should bear the wrath of God? What is your strength? Is it not as the strength of wax or stubble to resist the fire, or as chaff to the wind or as dust before the fierce whirlwind? If your strength were as iron, and your bones as brass; if your foundation were as the earth, and your power as the heavens — yet would you perish at the breath of his indignation. How much more, when you are but a piece of breathing clay, kept a few days from being eaten with worms, by the mere support and favor of Him whom you are thus resisting!
Why do you tremble at the signs of almighty power and wrath? at peals of thunder or flashes of lightning or that unseen power which rends in pieces the mighty oaks, and tears down the strongest buildings; or at the plague, when it rages around you? If you had seen the plagues of Egypt, or the earth swallow up Dathan and Abiram, or Elijah bring fire from Heaven to destroy the captains and their companies — would not any of these sights have daunted your spirit? How then can you bear the plagues of Hell?
Why are you dismayed with such small sufferings as befall you here: a tooth-ache, a fit of the gout or stone, the loss of a limb, or falling into beggary and disgrace? And yet all these put together will one day be accounted a happy state — in comparison of that which is suffered in Hell.
Why does the approach of death so much affright you? O how cold it strikes to your heart! And would not the grave be accounted a paradise, compared with that place of torment which you slight? Is it an intolerable thing to burn part of your body by holding it in the fire? What, then, will it be to suffer ten thousand times more forever in Hell!
The thought or mention of Hell occasions disquiet in your spirit; and can you endure the torments themselves? Why does the rich man complain to Abraham of his torments in Hell? or your dying companions lose their courage, and change their haughty language? Why cannot these make as light of Hell as yourself? Did you never see or speak with a man in despair? How uncomfortable was his talk! how burdensome his life! Nothing he possessed did him good: he had no sweetness in food or drink; the sight of friends troubled him; he was weary of life, and fearful of death. If the misery of the damned can be endured, why cannot a man more easily endure these foretastes of Hell?
What if you should see the devil appear to you in some terrible shape! Would not your heart fail you, and your hair stand on an end? And how will you endure to live forever where you shall have no other company but devils and the damned, and shall not only see them — but be tormented with them and by them?
Let me once more ask, if the wrath of God be so light, why did the Son of God himself make so great a matter of it? It caused "his sweat to be, as it were, great drops of blood, falling down to the ground." The Lord of life cried, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death." And on the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Surely if anyone could have borne these sufferings easily, it would have been Jesus Christ. He had another measure of strength to bear it than you have. Woe to you, sinner, for your mad security! Do you think to find that tolerable to you — which was so heavy to Christ? Nay, the Son of God is cast into a bitter agony and bloody sweat, only under the curse of the law — and yet you, feeble, foolish creature, fear not to bear also the curse of the Gospel, which requires a "much sorer punishment." The good Lord bring you to your right mind by repentance, lest you buy your wit at too dear a rate!
And now, reader, I demand your resolution. What use will you make of all this? Shall it be lost to you? or will you consider it in good earnest? You have cast away many a warning of God; will you do so by this also? Take heed; God will not always stand warning and threatening. The hand of vengeance is lifted up, the blow is coming, and woe to him on whom it lights! Do you throw away this book, and say it speaks of nothing but Hell and damnation. Thus you used also to complain of the preacher. But would you not have us tell you of these things? Should we be guilty of the blood of your soul, by keeping silent that which God has charged us to make known? Would you perish in ease and silence, and have us perish with you — rather than displease you by speaking the truth?
If you will be guilty of such inhuman cruelty, God forbid we should be guilty of such sottish folly! This kind of preaching or writing is the ready way to be hated; and the desire of applause is so natural, that few delight in such a displeasing way. But consider, are these things true — or are they not? If they were not true, I would heartily join with you against any that frighten people without a cause. But if these threatenings are the word of God — then what a wretch are you, who will not hear it and consider it!
If you are one of the people of God, this doctrine will be a comfort to you, and not a terror. Preaching Heaven and mercy to you, is entreating you to seek them, and not reject them; and preaching Hell, is but to persuade you to avoid it. If you were quite past hope of escaping it, then it were in vain to tell you of Hell; but as long as you are alive — there is hope of your recovery, and therefore all means must be used to awaken you from your lethargy.
Alas! what heart can now possibly conceive, or what tongue express, the pains of those souls that are under the wrath of God! Then, sinners, you will be crying to Jesus Christ, "O mercy! O pity, pity on a poor soul!" Why, I do now, in the name of The Lord Jesus, cry to you. "O have mercy, have pity, man — upon your own soul!" Shall God pity you, who will not be entreated to pity yourself? If your horse sees but a pit before him, you can scarcely force him in; and will you so obstinately cast yourself into Hell, when the danger is foretold you?
"Who can stand before the indignation of the Lord? and who can abide the fierceness of his anger?" Methinks you should need no more words — but presently cast away your soul-damning sins, and wholly deliver up yourself to Christ. Resolve on it immediately, and let it be done, that I may see your face in rest among the saints. May the Lord persuade your heart to strike this covenant without any longer delay! But if you are hardened unto death — yet say that you were faithfully warned, and had a friend that would gladly have prevented your damnation.