How we should eye ETERNITY, that it may
have its due influence upon us in all we do
Thomas Doolittle, 1630-1707
"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:18
Eternal! What a sound does this word "eternal" make in my ears! what workings does it cause within my heart! what casting about of thoughts! What word is next to be added to it? Is it, "eternal world!" Where? for this is temporal. O! that eternal world is now by us unseen, and as to us is yet to come. But yet my trembling heart is still solicitous to what other word this word "eternal" might be prefixed as to myself, or those that hear me this day, when they and I, who, through the long-sufferance of God are yet in this present and temporal, shall be in that eternal world. Shall it be "eternal damnation" in that eternal world? What! after so many knockings of Christ, strivings of the Spirit, tenders of mercy, wooings of grace, calls of ministers, warnings of conscience, admonitions of men, waitings of patience—all which put us into a fair probability of escaping eternal damnation. O dreadful words! Can more terror be contained, can more misery be comprehended, in any two words, than in "eternal damnation?" But we in time are praying, hearing, repenting, believing, conflicting with devils, mortifying sin, weaning our hearts from this world—that, when we shall go out of time, we might find "life" or "salvation" added to "eternal." Eternal salvation! these are words as comfortable as the other were terrible, as sweet as they were bitter.
What, then? This word "eternal" is the horror of devils, the amazement of damned souls, which causes desperation in all that hellish crew; for it wounds like a dart, continually sticking in them, that they most certainly know that they are damned to all eternity. Eternal! it is the joy of angels, the delight of saints, that while they are made happy in the beatific vision, are filled with perfect love and joy, they sit and sing, "All this will he eternal." Eternal! this word—it is a loud alarm to all that be in time; a serious caution to make this our grand concern—that when we must go out of time, our "eternal" souls might not be doomed down to "eternal" damnation, but might obtain salvation that shall be "eternal;" of which we have hope and expectation, "So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."
Not only the experience of present spiritual good in the inward—by the pressing afflictions on the outward man, in weakening of sin, in purging away our dross, in weaning us from the world, in humbling us for our miscarriages, in reducing us from wandering, in emptying us of self-conceit, in trying our faith, in exercising our patience, in confirming our hope, in awakening of conscience, in bringing us to examine our ways, in renewing our repentance, in proving our love, in quickening us to prayer—but also the clear and certain prospect of glory after affliction, of a "weight of glory" after "light affliction," of eternal glory after short affliction, of a weight of glory "far more exceeding" all our present sorrows, burdens, calamities, than tongue can express, or pen describe, or the mind of man conceive; being more than "eye has seen, or ear has heard, or have entered into the heart of man," (1 Cor. 2:9,)—must needs be an alleviation of our sorrows, a lightening of our burdens, comfort in our grief, joy in our groans, strength in our weakness.
Though "we are troubled on every side, yet are we not distressed ; though perplexed, yet not in despair ;" (2 Cor. 4:8;) though under afflictions both felt and seen, yet "we faint not," while we keep our eye fixed upon the glorious things in the other world that are unseen and eternal too.
The reason moving believers to keep a steadfast eye upon things unseen, and to look off from things seen—is the eternal duration of the one, and the short continuance of the other: "While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen—because the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal." The good things in this world which are seen—as riches, pleasures, honors—are things of time, and only for time; therefore we are not much concerned whether we win or lose them: and the bad things in this life which are seen—as poverty, imprisonment, persecution—are at longest but for a short space; and therefore we are not much concerned whether we endure them, or are freed from them. But that which adds weight to the things in the other world now not seen by the men of this world, and draws our eyes toward them, and keeps them fixed thereon—is the eternity of them.
Take, then, a summary account of all that wicked, worldly men have—all is "but for a while." See what the richest among them have: their grandeur endures "but a short time;" and then is past and gone, and has no more existence. See what the merriest among them have—pleasures, mirth, carnal delights and joy: and this is "but for a season;" their merry bouts will be quickly over, and then follows weeping and wailing forever! What the best among them have: even their hope but for a short time; at longest, until death shall close their eyes, and then they shall lie down in everlasting despair! So that all their comings-in—whether profits from the world, or pleasures from their sin, or supposed happiness from their supposed graces—have their goings-out; that, upon all they have, you may write, "All is temporal!" They had riches—but they are gone. They had honors and pleasures—but they are gone. They had many good things in time—but, at the end of time, all have an end; and then, when their endless misery comes, this will be their doleful tune, "All our good is past and gone!"
The object, then, of believers' looking is the unseen, the eternal God, as their happiness objectively considered, which is so eternal as to be without beginning and end; and the enjoyment of this unseen, eternal God in the invisible heavens—which fruition, being their happiness formally considered, has a beginning, but no ending.
How we eye eternity—which makes men eternally miserable or everlastingly blessed, should have a powerful influence upon every step we take in our daily travels to the unseen, eternal world—to look at unseen, eternal evil things, that we might not fall into them—to look at unseen, eternal good things, that we might not fall short of them. Which is the design of the question propounded from this text; namely, How we should eye eternity, that it may have its due influence upon us in all we do.
We must look at eternal things that are unseen with an eye that also is unseen; namely, with an eye of knowledge, faith, love, desire, hope. While we have a certain knowledge of unseen, eternal things, a firm belief of them, fervent love unto them, ardent desires after them, lively hope and patient expectation of them—we faint not in all our tribulations.
There is a looking into eternal realities, by studying the nature of them, to know more of the reality, necessity, and dignity of them: "Which things the angels desire to look into." (1 Peter 1:12.) If angels do, men should. There is a looking for them; either as we look for things that we have lost—look until we find; as the man for his lost sheep, or the woman for her lost silver, (Luke xv. 4, 8,)—or to look for a thing that is yet to come. (Titus ii. 13; Isaiah viii. 17.) And there is a looking at them; which is not an idle gazing at the unseen, eternal world, but a practical, lively, affecting look in this manner following—
1. We should look at eternal things with such an eye of FAITH, that should show them unto us, though they are yet to come. Hence faith is said to be "the substance," or "subsistence," "of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (Heb. xi. 1.) Faith so looks at things that are far off, that they have a kind of mental, intellectual existence; though absent, as if they were present; being promised, as sure as if they were already possessed. Faith convinces and assures the heart of a believer more strongly of the truth of a thing, while it looks to the revelation and testimony of God, than any argument brought forth from natural reason could do; and does give as firm assent to the certainty and reality of eternal things, (though unseen,) as to anything which he beholds with his eyes, or perceives by the apprehension of any sense; because our eyes may be deceived, but God neither can deceive, nor be deceived.
Look, then, for instance, at the coming of Christ with such an eye of faith, as if with your bodily eyes you saw him descending from heaven, in flaming fire, with glorious attendance; as if you heard the trumpet sounding, and the cry made, "Arise, you dead, and come to judgment;" at which command, as if you saw the dead quickened, and peeping out of their graves, to see why they are raised; as if you saw the wicked come forth, fearfully amazed, with vile and filthy bodies, like toads from their holes, with pale and ghastly countenances, with trembling hearts, and their knees for horror knocking one against another, tearing their hair, smiting on their breasts, and crying out, "What is the matter? What meant that loud alarm, that thundering call, that awaked us out of the deep sleep of death?" "O, the Lord is come, the slighted Christ is come!" "Come! how does he come?" "How? Clothed with vengeance, with fury in his face; and his wrath, like fire, burns before him. Because of his indignation, the heavens melt over our heads, and the earth burns under our feet, and all is in flames round about us." "O terrible day! such as this we never saw. O the storms! the storms! O, such burning, scorching storms we never saw nor felt before! We have been sleeping all the night of death; and the morning is come, the day does dawn. Dawn! O, it is broad day all about. We were accustomed to wake, and go to work, and go to sin, to swear and lie, to drink and take our pleasure; but now we wake, and must to hell, to pain, and punishment. Now we must go from God to devils, from the only Savior to eternal torments. O, what day is this? What day? It seems to be rather night than day; for it is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of waste and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of the trumpet and alarm against us all impenitent sinners; and to us all it will prove the great damnation-day. When our souls and bodies by death were separated, it was a sorrowful parting; but this is a sorer meeting."
The BODY, with doleful groans does strangely greet its re-united soul: "O you damned soul! must I be tied to you again with a faster knot than ever? Death did heretofore part you and me, but all the pains of hell hereafter cannot do it. You were commander over me, and should have managed your government better: you should have used this tongue to call upon your Maker: you should have used these ears to have hearkened to the calls of Christ, to the wooings of grace, to the entreaties of mercy; these feet to have carried you to the means of grace; these hands to have been instruments of good. They were all at your command: what you bade them do, they did; and where you commanded them to go, they went. O that I might continue to lay rotting in my grave! for then I had been at rest. For, though in the grave I had no pleasure—yet there I felt no pain: but since I have been again united to this before-damned soul, I feel intolerable punishment; and I now perceive it is past doubt that it will be eternal!"
The SOUL will give no better salutations to the body: "O cursed flesh! What! alive again? Must I be linked to such a loathsome lump, worse than any carrion? You did rebel against the commands of reason; and your appetite was pleased, and your lusts were obeyed; and all the time of life on earth was spent and fooled away in feeding, clothing, and pleasing you: and as I was led away and enticed by you to live with you a sensual, flesh-pleasing life, so, formerly sowing to the flesh, now of the flesh we reap that damnation which shall be eternal. For the Judge is come, his throne is set, and all the world is summoned to appear; the separation is made, the books are opened; all on the right hand are acquitted, and called to the possession of an everlasting kingdom; while we are doomed down to eternal torments. Lo! they are going with their blessed, glorious Lord unto eternal glory; and we with cursed devils, like cursed wretches—to everlasting shame and pain, and banishment from God and Christ and saints and angels forever!"
Look thus believingly on these unseen things, as if you saw all these, and a thousand times more terrible and more joyful, transacted now before your eyes.
2. Look DIRECTLY at unseen, eternal things.Many do look indirectly at things eternal, but directly at things temporal; pretending things not seen, intending things that are seen: in praying, preaching, and professing, they seem to have an eye to God and Christ and heaven; but they look asquint to their worldly profits, credit, and applause. Should they pray that they might see God, it is but that they might be "seen of men." (Matt. 6.5; 23.14.) But this is to look awry, contrary to Solomon's advice: "Let your eyes look right on, and let your eye-lids look straight before you." (Proverbs 4.25.)
3. Let unseen, eternal things be the FIRST that you look at.Do not first look at riches, honors, pleasures; and please yourselves with purposes, after that, to look after God and Christ and the happiness of heaven, when sickness comes, and death approaches and when near the end of time, to begin to make preparation for eternity. Men spend their days in getting a visible estate, while the unseen, eternal God and glorious Savior and heaven's happiness are neglected by them; but it would make a considering man to tremble to think what a sight these sinners shall have after death has closed their eyes; when the separated soul shall see an angry God, a condemning Judge, the gates of heaven shut against it, and itself in everlasting misery.
Unseen, eternal things are first in order of duration; for the invisible God was, when nothing was beside himself: and first in order of dignity; and should have the priority of our thoughts, care, and diligent endeavors: "Seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." (Matt. vi. 33.) When we first take care about eternity, the things of time shall be given to us over and above: but the eternal happiness of heaven shall never be given over and above to those who primarily look at and seek the things of time.
But this damnable preferring of things temporal, and cursed postponing of things eternal, is the setting of God in the room of the creature, and the creature in the throne of God; as if they would set the heavens where the earth does stand, and the earth where the heavens are, and so subvert the order of things which God has appointed to be observed in the nature of things.
4. Look HEEDFULLY at eternity.All the things that are only for time, are toys and trifles: the things for an eternal world are the grand concerns that we should narrowly look to in time. The gathering of riches in time—to the getting of grace and an interest in Christ, for the escaping of damnation and obtaining of happiness to eternity—is busy idleness, careful negligence, and laborious sloth. If God, "who inhabits eternity" (Isai. Ivii. 15,) "looks narrowly unto all" our actions done in time; (Job xiii. 27;) how narrowly should we look to our own, when everyone is a step to everlasting happiness or eternal misery! We should look narrowly that we do not walk in the broad way which leads unto the one, but in the narrow that will bring us to the other. (Matt. vii. 13, 14.)
5. Look EARNESTLY, with a longing look, at unseen, eternal things.Let your hearts be filled with greatest intense desires after them, as one who looks and thinks it long until the desire be accomplished: as "the mother of Sisera looked out at a window, and cried through the lattice, Why is his chariot so long in coming? why tarry the wheels of his chariot?" (Judges v. 28.) "Why does time make no more haste to be gone and flee away, that, when it is gone and past, I might enter into eternal joys—which never shall be past and gone? Why does the sun, that, by its alternate presence and absence, is the measure of my nights and days, make no swifter speed in its diurnal motion? If it be 'as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoices as a strong man to run a race,' (Psalm xix. 5,) why does it seem to my longing soul (as in the days of Joshua) to stand still?' If the sun in the skies is so slow, let the Sun of Righteousness make more haste, and come, and lighten my passage to the other, eternal world; that I might see him as he is, and be more like unto him than at this distance I can be! 'Return, return, O Shulamite; return, return, that I may look upon you. Make haste, my beloved, and be like to a roe or to a young deer upon the mountains of spices;' (Canticles vi. 13 j viii. 14;) that my looking for and after you might be turned into looking upon you! Did you say?—'A little while, and you shall not see me: and again, a little while, and you shall see me.' (John xvi. 16.) Why, dearest Lord, shall I count that 'a little while,' in which I do not see you? Have you left it upon record?—'Yet a little while, and he who shall come will come, and will not tarry.' (Heb. x. 37.) Sweetest Savior! to my thirsty, panting soul—it seems a great while, while you do tarry, and not come; time seems long until I do see you: but when I shall see you, in looking on your lovely, glorious self, eternity shall not seem long. I will remind you of your promise, 'Surely I come quickly;' and make it matter of my prayer; and, in confidence of the performance of your promise and audience of my prayer, will say, 'Amen. Even so,' so quickly, 'come, Lord Jesus.' (Rev. xxii. 20.) For according to my 'earnest expectation' and my hope, I 'groan and am travailing in pain,' (Romans viii. 19, 22,) until I see you, who to me are now unseen; that then I might live 'by sight,' and no longer 'walk by faith.'" (2 Cor. v. 7.)
6. Look, though with earnest, yet with PATIENT, expectation, at unseen, eternal things.He who walks now by faith, that he shall hereafter live by sight, will not make undue, untimely haste: though what he sees by faith in unseen, eternal joys and glory, does fill his soul with longing desires after them, yet hope does help with patience to wait for them. (Romans viii. 25.) For the beatific "vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end" of temporal life it will be given: "though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry." (Hab. ii. 3.) Though it tarries beyond some months or years that you desire to be there, yet it shall not tarry one moment beyond the time that God has appointed to take you to it. Therefore, in the meantime live by faith, and see in things unseen what can be seen by faith; until things unseen shall clearly, and with open face, be seen by you.
7. Look with a fixed, STEADFAST eye at unseen, eternal things.If you give a glance or cast of the eye toward things seen and temporal, the eye and heart, too, are ready to fix upon them. If you would fix your eye upon eternity, upon God and Christ and the joys above, Satan, sin, the flesh and world will be diverting of it; so that now in time, comparatively, you can but glance upon eternity. If you look that way, many objects will interpose themselves, to hinder your sight, and to turn your eyes from things eternal to things temporal, from God to the creature, from things above to things below. But yet if we were "full of the Holy Spirit," as Stephen was, we might "look up steadfastly into heaven," as Stephen did; and, though not with the same eye, yet to the same effect and purpose, "see the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God." (Acts vii. 55.) Though the thoughts are immanent, yet in this respect they are too transient—that they do no longer dwell upon eternity. But if the devil and the world find your thoughts tied to this subject, and go about to loosen them.
Or if you are at any season seasonably got up into the mount, viewing eternity, and they send messengers to you to come down, reply, (for they "think to do you mischief;") "I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, while I leave it, and come down to you?" And though they send more than "four times after this sort," yet "answer them still after the same manner." (Neh. vi. 3, 4.)
8. Look UNWEARIEDLY at unseen, eternal things.The eye might be fixed for a while upon an object, and after a while be weary in looking at it. Can you look unweariedly at the vanities of this world? and will you be so soon tired in beholding the glorious things in the other world? Do you look on things temporal, where seeing is not satisfying, and yet are never satisfied with looking? and will you not look on things eternal, where seeing would be such a filling of your heart with satisfactory content, that looking would not be tedious to your eye? There is so much in God, in Christ, in all eternal things in heaven—so much beauty, glory, fullness—that methinks we might stand looking at them night and day, without any irksomeness at all. But, alas! when "the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak;" (Matt. xxvi. 41;) and while the soul must look out of flesh to see those glorious things, it is so clogged with corruption, that is like dust within its eyes, that makes it weep, because it can look no longer. But yet in time we should endeavor to be more like to those who are already in that eternity, where they look at God and Christ unweariedly; and though their looking is not measured by days or months or years, but by immensurable eternity, yet they shall never be weary of looking at them to all eternity.
9. Look with a JOYFUL, pleasant eye at unseen, eternal things.Look until you feel your heart to leap for joy; look until you find your spirit is revived within you; look until the sight of your eye affect your heart. Is Christ unseen? Yet not unknown. Do not you now see him with bodily eyes? Yet you do with an eye of faith and love; and therefore may "rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory." (1 Peter 1:8.) When you look up unto the heavens, and see, and say, "Yonder is the place of my everlasting abode: there I must dwell with God, there I must be with Christ, and joyfully join with angels and saints in praising of my Lord and Savior;" the foresight of this will make you joyful for the present and pleasant in your looking at it.
10. Look CONFIDENTLY at unseen, eternal things.With a holy, humble confidence that, by Jesus Christ, upon the performance of the conditions of the gospel, they shall be all your own; that, by turning from all your sin, by repentance and faith in Christ, you trust you shall be possessed of them; that—when you see there are mansions now unseen, there are eternal joys, an immovable kingdom, an incorruptible crown, the eternal God, to be enjoyed; and for all this you have a promise, and you know this promise is made to you by the performance of the conditions annexed to the promise, you trust in time to come unto it, or rather, when you go out of time into eternity, you shall be blessed in the immediate, full, eternal enjoyment of all the happiness that God has prepared in heaven, to give you welcome, joyful entertainment in that unseen, eternal world; that you so eye that world, while you live in this, that when by death you are going out of this world into that, you might have this well-grounded confidence to say, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day." (2 Tim. iv. 7, 8.)
If you get such a sight as this, as now has been set forth before you, upon such eternal objects as before were propounded to you, you will be able from your own experience to answer the third question contained in the general case. But yet I will proceed unto that branch question in. What INFLUENCE will such an eyeing of eternity have upon us in all we do? Will its influence be so universal? will the efficacy of such a sight be so extensive, to reach forth its virtue in all we do?" Yes! "in all we do." Whether we eat, or drink, or go to sleep; whether we trade, or work, or buy, or sell; whether we pray, or hear, or search our hearts, or meditate, or receive, or study, or preach, or sin, or suffer, or die; it will have a mighty influence upon us in anything wherein we are active or passive, culpable or praiseworthy; in any condition—be it poverty or riches, health or sickness; in any relation—be it of husband and wife, of parents and children, of masters and servants; in any office and employment, sacred or civil. Out of such a heap, because I am limited, I will take a handful; and take them as they come, in some few particulars only.
1. Such an eyeing of eternity in all we do would make us careful to avoid SIN in anything we do.Or, however we might fail in all we do, yet that we allow it not to reign or have dominion over us. Look at eternity with a believing eye, and you will look at sin with an angry eye—you will cast a deadly look at sin, when you have a lively look at eternity of joy or misery.
(1.) Sin would deprive me of eternal life. Therefore I will be its death. It would keep me from eternal rest: therefore I will never rest, until I have conquered and subdued it. Nothing in the world would bring upon my eternal soul the eternal loss of the eternal God, his glorious Son, and Holy Spirit—of the company of the holy angels and saints, of eternal treasures, of a blessed kingdom and incorruptible crown—but cursed sin. Poverty, sickness, men, death, devils, cannot—nothing but sin. Therefore I will be its bane—sin shall not reign in me, that it would not allow me to live in everlasting happiness.
(2.) Sin would plunge me into unseen, eternal torments, into endless flames and everlasting burnings. If you could speak with a soul departed into hell but a month ago, and ask him, "What do you now think of the delights of sin, of your pleasant cups and delightful games, of pleasing of the flesh, and gratifying of its lusts?" What a sad reply would he return, and what a doleful answer would he make you! "Sin! O sin was my ruin! It was sin which has brought me (miserable wretch!) to everlasting torment! It was sin which shut me out of heaven, that sank me down to hell! O you foolish sons of men, who are yet in time, be not insane, as I was insane; and do not do as I did. Let not the seen pleasures and profits of the world, which I have found were but for a time, deceive you and bewitch you. The devil showed me the delights of sin, but concealed from me the extremity and eternity of the pain which sin has brought me to: the pleasure is past, and the pain continues, and I am lost forever; and all this sin has brought me to."
Let your eyeing of eternity, while you are standing in time, be instead of one's speaking to you in time, that has been in eternity: for the eternal God does tell you as much as any damned soul can tell you. Would you believe one from hell, and not the Son of God who came from heaven? O, look and view eternity in the glass of the scripture, and firmly believe it; and it will make slaughtering work among your sins, and destroy that which would damn you.
2. Such eyeing of eternity would be a mighty help to quiet your hearts under the dispensations of Providence here to men on earth.When you look at the seen afflictions, distresses, disgraces, stripes, imprisonments, persecutions, and poverty of the people and children of God; and the riches, ease, honors, pleasures, and the seen flourishing prosperity of the worst of men, that by their swearing, drinking, whoring, hating of godliness, being patterns of wickedness, proclaim themselves the children of the devil; and you are offended, and your mind disquieted; except in this you have a better heart than Job, (chapter xxi. 6—16,) or David, a man after God's own heart, (Psalm lxxiii. -2—16,) or Jeremiah, (chapter xii. 1, 2,) or Habakkuk. (Chapter 1:13, 14.)
Now, among the many helps to allay this temptation, the eyeing of the last, yes, everlasting, things is not the least. Look upon these two sorts of men, (which comprehend all in the world,) as going to eternity, and lodged there; and then you will rather pity them the wicked, because of their future misery, than envy them for their present prosperity. What, if they have their hearts' desire for a moment? They must be tormented forever! What, if they have pleasures and carnal delights for a season? They must be under the heavy wrath of God forever! You might stand and see all their mirth at an end; but their sorrow never will have end: all their joy is but for a moment, "as the crackling of thorns under a pot," but their misery will be endless misery. Let them laugh a while; they shall weep forever: let them rejoice for a season; their mirth shall be turned into heaviness, their temporal rejoicing shall be turned into everlasting howling. And the eternity of joy will be more than a recompence to the afflicted saints, whatever their sufferings for Christ and conscience be in this world.
A supposed case might be a help in this temptation. Suppose, then, that you were poor, and full of pain for so long time, (or, rather, for so short,) that you should fall asleep, and, after you awake, should be poor no more, nor afflicted any more, but have a life of delights afterwards. Suppose, again, another man were compassed about with all manner of accommodations; costly dishes to please his palate, beautiful objects to delight his eyes, all manner of music grateful to his ears; many servants to attend him; all standing ready before him, and bowing the knee in honor to him—and all this, and much more, he were to enjoy as long as he could abstain from sleeping. But, as soon as he does fall asleep, he should be taken off his bed, and cast into a furnace of boiling lead or scalding pitch. I ask—which of these two men's conditions you would choose. I know it would be the condition of the former, and not the latter. This, and infinitely beyond this, is the case in hand. You are afflicted until you fall asleep; and then you shall be afflicted no more, but live a life of joy forever. The wicked prosper until they fall asleep; and they cannot long keep open their eyes, but death will come and close them: then the justice of God will arrest them, and then devils will seize upon them; and they shall be cast into a lake of burning brimstone, where they shall have no rest, night or day; but "the smoke of their torment shall ascend up forever and ever." (Rev. xiv. 11.) Exercise your thoughts in this manner, and have an eye unto eternity; and you will more easily and successfully overcome such temptations to murmuring and discontent, from the different dispensations of the providence of God here in time to good and bad.
3. Such eyeing of eternity would have great influence for the well-improvement of our TIME.Time is to be valued in order to eternity; because we go out of time into eternity, and (that which should make every man in time most concerned,) out of time into eternity of misery or glory. O, what a precious thing is time! It is beyond the worth of gold or silver; because we might do more in time in reference to eternity, than we can do by all our gold and silver! Jewels are but toys in comparison of precious time. Many are saving of their money, but are prodigal of time, and have more of time than they know what to do with; when others find so much to do, that they know not what to do for time to do it in. O fools and blind! what were a hundred years, to make preparation for eternity! Sluggish, careless sots! do you ask, "How shall we pass away the time?" Might you not with more reason ask, "How shall we prevent fleeting time from passing away with such winged motion? Or, if that cannot be prevented, how shall we improve our time that is so fast running from us?"
Blind world! do any men in you inquire, "How shall we spend our time?" It is easily answered: In praying, repenting, begging for grace, the pardon of sin, the favor of God, and peace with him, and fitness for eternal life. Had the damned in hell the time that once they had and you now have, do you think they would ask what they should do to pass away the time! Their cry rather is, "Hasty time, where are you fled? Why did you move so fast while we sat still? Or why in time did we so swiftly run in ways of sin, as if we could not have sinned enough before time was past and gone? When we had a God to serve, and souls to save, and an everlasting state to make preparation for—we like fools did say, 'How shall we spend our time?' But now our time is spent, and past, and gone; and now the question is, (which never can be answered,) 'How shall we spend eternity?' which never can be spent; no, not in enduring ten thousand thousand millions of years in pain and punishment; for when they are past, it is as fresh and as far from ending as it was the first moment it began." Then eye eternity, and you cannot but improve your time.
4. Such eyeing of eternity would make us careful how we DIE.Because death is our passing out of time into eternity. Death is dreadful to the ungodly, because it opens the door into everlasting misery; gainful to all endued with saving grace, because it lets them into everlasting happiness. Did you who are yet Christless, impenitent, and unbelieving, see where you are going, and where you must within a little time take up your everlasting lodgings; what fear and trembling would seize upon all your joints! and when by sickness you perceived death to be approaching, you would cry out, "O death, forbear, forbear! stay your hand, and do not strike! for if you cut me down in this condition, I drop into eternal misery. There is nothing but this single thread of my frail life between me and endless woe; and if this be cut or snapped asunder, I sink into irrecoverable misery, without all hope of ever coming forth."
Could you but see a soul the next hour after its separation from the body—what a fearful state it is in, what woe, what despair it is filled with—would you then live without Christ, go to bed without Christ, and rise and trade and still remain without a saving interest in Christ? What do you mean, sirs, to make no provision for death that is so near, so very near; when you are as near to going into an everlasting world as you are to going out of this transitory world, and your souls will be dragged sooner by devils into hell than your bodies can be carried by men unto your graves? Awake, arise, repent, and turn unto the Lord: for if you sleep on in sin until you sleep by death, you will be awaked by the flames of hell; and then, though you be under the power of eternal death, you will sleep no more and rest no more forever.
And death is as gainful and desirable to a gracious man, as it is terrible to the ungodly; for it lets him into unseen, eternal glory; to the sight of Christ, unseen to us on earth. How willing would you be to go a thousand miles to see Christ and converse with him, if he were on earth! It is better to see this precious Christ in eternal glory: it is worth the while to die, to have a view of your Lord-Redeemer in the highest heavens—the wonderful, transporting joys that the soul is filled with, when it first comes into the unseen, but happy, world! when it has the first glorious view of its dearest Lord! Do you think it would desire to return to live in flesh upon earth again? Do you know what you do, when you are so loath to die? Do you understand yourselves, when you are so backward to be taken out of time? It is to be reluctant to go into everlasting happiness, to go and take possession of unseen, eternal glory.
5. Such an eyeing of eternity would make us more patient, constant, joyful, in all our sufferings for Christ's sake.When we pore upon our seen troubles, and do not look at rest after trouble; when we see and feel what is inflicted upon us, but do not look at what is laid up in heaven for us; when we see the rage of men, and do not look at the love of God; our hearts and flesh do fail. But if we set unseen, eternal things over against things seen and temporal, it will be strength unto us. Against the power of men, which is temporal, set the power of God, which is eternal; and then you will see their power to be weakness. Against the policy of men, which is temporal, set the wisdom of God, which is eternal; and then you will see all their policy to be foolishness. Against the hatred of men, which in its effects to you is temporal, set the love of God, which is both in itself and in its effects to you eternal; and you will see their hatred to be no better than raging, unreasonable madness.
Keep your eye upon the unseen torments in the other world; and you will rather endure sufferings in this life, than venture upon sin, and expose yourselves to them. Keep your eye upon the unseen, eternal crown of glory; and it will carry you through fire and flames, prisons and reproaches for the sake of Christ: "Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing Him who is invisible." (Heb. xi. 26, 27.)
6. The eyeing of eternity will be a powerful preservative against the temptations of men or devils—a sovereign antidote against the poison of temptation.I see, the invisible God looks at me; shall I, then, yield to the suggestions of the devil, or the solicitations of men to sin? I see, there is an everlasting state of joy or torment that I must be shortly in, as sure as I am in this place; and Satan's design is to bring me to that state of torment; and if I follow him, I shall be excluded from yonder glorious place, from God and Christ and saints above. Therefore, by the grace of God, I will not yield to this temptation; but strive I will, and watch and pray I will, against the assaults of this deceitful adversary. For why should I be so foolish as to lose eternal glory for momentary pleasures, and run my immortal soul into eternal pain for short delights? I do plainly see what will is the end, if I do yield—damnation without end, banishment from God without end. I do clearly see that stealing and murder is not a more ready road to a place of execution upon earth, than yielding to a tempting devil is to everlasting misery.
7. Such eyeing of eternity would wean our hearts from the things of time.Sight and view of heaven's glory would darken the glory of the world, as looking at the shining sun over your head obscures in your eyes the things under your feet. After a believing view of the invisible God and the glory of the place above—this world would appear as a very ash-heap in your eyes. (Phil. iii. 7, 8.) As, where we love, there we look; so, the more we look, the more we shall love; and the more we love the eternal things that are above, the less we shall love the temporal things that are below.
8. Such eyeing of eternity would make us more like God and Jesus Christ.It will be a transforming and assimilating look: "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." (2 Cor. iii. 18.) Therefore, when we shall see Christ, who is now out of sight, we shall be perfectly like unto him. "But we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." (1 John iii. 2.)
9. Such an eyeing of eternity would fill our souls with holy admirations of the goodness, grace, and love of God to us.When Paul had a sight of such unseen things, he was in a holy ecstasy and divine rapture. (2 Cor. 12) When we consider the eternal happiness of heaven, we shall stand as men amazed, that God should prepare such things for such men, and bear such love and show such mercy to such as we, who are so vile and full of sin; and say, "Lord, what am I—who might forever have howled in the lowest hell—that I should hope to praise you in the highest heavens? Lord, what am —who might have been in everlasting darkness—that there should be prepared for me everlasting light and joy? Why me, Lord? why have you chosen me, and wrought upon my heart, and made me in any measure fit to be partaker of such eternal glory?" "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" (Rom. xi. 33.) "How precious are your thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them!" (Psalm cxxxix. 17.) "O how great is your goodness, which you have laid up for those who fear you; which you have wrought for those who trust in you before the sons of men!" (Psalm xxxi. 19.)
10. Such an eyeing of eternity would have this influence surely upon us—to set ourselves under a searching, skillful, serious ministry.It does much concern you; for you are going to an endless life, and preaching is the appointed means to fit you for an endless happy life. Then, do you choose the most lively, searching, powerful preaching; it is for the life of your souls, for the everlasting life of your everlasting souls. If you were sick and in danger of death, when your life lies upon it, you would have the advice of an able physician, who is serious and concerned that he no way becomes guilty of your death. Would you like that physician who seems to be unconcerned, and cares not whether you live or die—so long as he gets his fee? or that should merrily jest with you, when you are sick at heart and near to death—if you are not cured? Would you take pleasure in his witty sayings—and be jested into your grave? Or if you go unto a lawyer about your whole estate, would you choose one that did not care whether you win or lose your case? Would you be pleased with some witty sayings, impertinent to the pleading of your cause? Would you not say, "Sir, I am in danger of losing all I am worth; my estate lies at stake. Deal plainly with me, and be serious in your undertaking for me; and tell me, in words that I can understand, the plain law by which my case must be tried."
And will you be more careful about the temporal life of a body which must die, and about a temporal estate which you must leave when you die? and not about your soul, which must ever live, and never die? No! not so much as to set yourselves under faithful preachers, who shall, in words that you can understand, plainly tell you the laws of Christ, by which you must be tried for your life, and according to them be eternally damned or saved?
11. Such an eyeing of eternity would make you serious and lively in all your spiritual duties, in all your approaches unto God.If you have no grace, the serious thoughts of the unseen, eternal world would stir you up to beg and cry and call for it; if you have some to desire more, and to exercise what you have; to confess your sins with such contrite, broken, penitent hearts, as though you saw the fire burning, which by your sins you have deserved to be cast into; to beg for Christ and sanctifying grace and pardoning mercy with that lively importunity, as if you saw the lake of boiling brimstone, into which you must be cast, if you are not sanctified and pardoned; to hear the word of God, which sets this eternal world before you, with that diligent attention, as men hearkening for their lives. To commemorate the death of Christ with such life while you are at the Lord's supper, while you do, as it were, see the torments that you are delivered from, and the eternal happiness by faith in a crucified Christ which you have a title to; it will cause a fire and flame of love in your hearts to that Lord who died for you, ardent desires after him, delight in him, thankfulness, hope of heaven, hatred to sin, resolution to live to or die for him who died for you. If your hearts are dead and dull and out of frame, go and look into the unseen, eternal world; take a believing view of everlasting joys and torments on the other side of time; and you shall feel warmth and heat and lively actings to be produced in you.
12. Particularly this eyeing of eternity would make ministers sensible of the weightiness of their work.That it calls for all possible diligence and care, our utmost serious study and endeavors, our fervent cries and prayers to God for ability for the better management of our work, and for success therein; forasmuch as our employment is more immediately about eternal matters—to save (under Christ) eternal souls from eternal torments, and to bring them to eternal joys. When we are to preach to people who must live forever in heaven or hell, with God or devils; and our very preaching is the means appointed by God to fit men for an everlasting state: when we stand and view some hundreds of people before us, and think, "All these are going to eternity: now we see them, and they see us; but after a little while they shall see us no more in our pulpits, nor we them in their pews, nor in any other place in this world; but we and they must go down unto the grave, and into an everlasting world!" When we think, "It may be, some of these are hearing their last sermon, making their last public prayers, keeping their last sabbath; and, before we come to preach again, might be gone into another world!" If we had but a firm belief of eternity ourselves, and a real lively sense of the mortality of their bodies and our own, and the immortality of the souls of both, of the eternity of the joy or torment we must all be quickly in; how pathetically should we plead with them, plentifully weep over them, fervently pray for them; that our words, or rather the word of the eternal God, might have effectual operation on their hearts! This eyeing of eternity should,
(1.) Influence us to be diligent in our studies to prepare messages of such weight.When we are to preach to men about everlasting matters, to set before them the eternal torments of hell, and the eternal joys of heaven: especially when we consider how hard a thing it is to persuade men to leave their sins, which do endanger their immortal souls; when, if we do not prevail with them to hearken to our message, and obey it speedily and sincerely, they are lost eternally; when it is so hard to prevail with men to accept of Christ, the only eternal Savior, on the conditions of the gospel. You might easily see that idleness, either in young students who are designed for this work, or in ministers actually engaged in it, is an intolerable sin, and worse in them than in any men under heaven. Idleness in a shop-keeper is a sin, but much more in a minister; in a trader, much more in a preacher. Bear with me, if I tell you that an idle cobbler, that is to mend men's shoes, is not to be approved; but an idle preacher, that is to mend men's hearts, and save their souls, shall be condemned by God and men; for he lives in daily disobedience of that charge of God: "Give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Meditate upon these things; give yourself wholly to them; that your profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto yourself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them." (1 Tim. iv. 13, 15, 16.)
(2.) It would provoke us to be faithful in delivering the whole counsel of God, and not to "daub with untempered mortar"—Not to flatter them in their sin, or to be afraid to tell them of their evils, lest we should displease them or offend them. Is it time to flatter men in their ignorance, in their neglect of duty, when we see them at the very door of eternity, on the very borders of an everlasting world; and this the fruit—that they shall die in their sins, and their blood be required at our hands! (Ezek. xzxiii. 1—9.) But it would provoke us so to preach and discharge the ministerial function, that when dying, we might be able to say, (as Acts xx. 25-27) "And now, behold, I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more. Therefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God."
(3.) To be plain in our speech.That every capacity—even of the weakest in the congregation, who has an eternal soul that must be damned or saved forever—might understand, in things necessary to salvation, what we mean and aim and drive at. It has made me tremble to hear some soar aloft, that educated people might know their great abilities, while the uneducated people are kept from the knowledge of Christ; and put their matter in such a dress of words, in such a style, so composed, that the most stand looking the preacher in the face, and hear a sound, but know not what he says: and while he does pretend to feed them, he indeed does starve them; and while he does pretend to teach them, keeps them in ignorance.
Would a man of compassion go from a prince to a condemned man, and tell him, in such language that he would not understand, the conditions upon which the prince would pardon him; and the poor man lose his life, because the proud and haughty messenger must show his knack in delivering his message in fine English, which the condemned man could not understand? But this is coarse dealing with a man in such circumstances that call for pity and compassion: Paul had more abilities and learning, but more self-denial, than any of these, when he said, "And I, brethren, when I came to you, I came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power." (1 Cor. ii. 1, 4.) "Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: and not as Moses, which put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished." (2 Cor. iii. 12,13.) Some put a veil upon their words, that people of low education, who yet have souls which must be damned or saved, cannot look into those truths that shall never be "abolished." But what is this, but a cursed preferring their own abilities and praise, before the salvation of eternal souls; and the preaching themselves, and not Christ? which will not be their praise, but shame, at the eternal judgment; when some shall plead that they stand there condemned, because the learned preacher would not stoop to speak to them of eternal matters in language that they might have understood.
(4.) This eyeing of eternity would stir us up to improve our interest in God and men—for a continual succession of men in the ministerial function.In God, by prayer "that the Lord of the harvest would send forth more laborers into his harvest:" (Matt. ix. 38:) in men; whether such are serious in religion, and inclined to this employment—that they would give them to God, and give them education in order to it, which would be the honor of parents, to have such proceed from their loins those who shall be ambassadors to call the blind, ungodly world to mind eternity, to escape everlasting damnation, and obtain eternal life; or whether they be such as have no children so qualified or disposed, yet have riches to be helpful to such as have such children, but not an estate to bring them up. For there is a necessity of a continued ministry. Men in all ages are hastening to eternity: those that were our ancestors in former ages are already there, and have taken up their lodgings where they must forever dwell; and we are following after them. And what a mercy is it, that we have the gospel preached unto us, wherein we have directions how to escape everlasting torments, and obtain eternal joys, in the other eternal world to which we are a-going! And those who shall live after us, when they have been upon the stage of this world awhile, shall follow us and our fathers into eternity, and give place to those who follow after them. Thus this world does often change its inhabitants.
What is the life of man—but a coming into time, and a going out into eternity? O, how needful is it, then, that while they make their short stay on earth, they should have preaching ministers, to warn them of eternal misery, and teach them the way to eternal glory! Those that are now engaged in the work,"will shortly be all silenced by death and dust; and how desirable is it that your children and posterity should see and hear others preaching in their place! And the honorableness of the office might allure young men to incline unto it: is it not an honor to be an ambassador of the great eternal God, to propound articles of everlasting peace between him and everlasting souls? What is buying and selling temporal, transitory things—in comparison of a calling wherein it is men's work and business to save souls from eternal misery, and to bring them to the eternal enjoyment of the glorious God?
Thus in some few particulars we have showed the influence that the eyeing of eternity will have upon us in what we do.
The CONCLUSION of this discourse shall be some particular uses.
USE 1.Is there an eternal state—such unseen, eternal joys and torments? Who, then, can sufficiently lament the blindness, madness, and folly of this distracted world, and the unreasonableness of those who have rational and eternal souls? We see them busily employed in the matters of time, which are only for time, in present honors, pleasures, and profits—while they neglect everlasting things! Everlasting life and death are before them, everlasting joy or torment is near at hand; and yet poor sinners take no concern how to avoid the one, or obtain the other! Is it not matter of lamentation, to see how many thousands bereaved of the sober, serious use of their understandings? that while they use their reason to get the riches of this world, they will not act as rational men to get the joys of heaven; and to avoid temporal calamities—yet not to escape eternal misery? Or if they be fallen into present afflictions, they contrive how they may get out of them; if they be sick, reason tells them that they must use the means, if they would be well; if they be in pain, nature puts them on to seek after a remedy. And yet these same men neglect all duty, and cast away all care, concerning everlasting matters. They are for seen pleasures and profits, which are passing from them in the enjoyment of them; but the unseen, eternal glory in heaven, they care not for, they think not of.
Are they unjustly charged? Let conscience speak, what thoughts they lie down with upon their pillow: if they wake, or sleep flies from them, in the silent night, what a noise do the cares of the world make in their souls! With what thoughts do they rise in the morning? of God, or of the world? of the things of time, or of eternity? Their thoughts are in their shops—before they have been in heaven; and they have many desires after visible, temporal gain—before they have had one desire after the invisible, eternal God, and treasures which are above. What do they do all the day long? What is it which has their endeavors, all their labor and travail, their most painful industry and unwearied diligence? Alas! their consciences will tell themselves, and their practices tell others; when there is trading—but no praying; buying and selling—but no religious duties performed; the shop-book is often opened—but the sacred book of God is not looked into all the week long.
O Lord, forgive the hardness of my heart, that I can see such insufferable folly among reasonable creatures, and so weakly lament this folly! Good Lord, forgive the lack of compassion in me, who can stand and see this foolishness in the world, as if the most of men had lost their wits, and were quite beside themselves; and yet my affections yearn no more toward immortal souls who are going to unseen miseries in the eternal world! To see foolish men busy in doing things that tend to no account; to see men who have reason—to use it not for God and Christ and their own eternal good; to see them love and embrace a present dunghill-world, and cast away all serious, affecting, and effectual thoughts of the life to come; to see them rage against the God of heaven, and cry out against holiness as foolish preciseness, and serious godliness as madness and melancholy.
Alas! these men are brutes in the shape of men; for, like the very beasts, they live by sense, and are led away by their carnal appetite. The brute takes pleasure in his present food, and feels the smart of the present spur or goad: and so do sensual sinners find sweetness in their present pleasures and profits, and do complain of present pain and sickness. But of pains to come and joys to come, which are eternal—they have no care or serious thoughts. Better such had been toads and serpents, than rational creatures; for, as these reptiles mind no future things in the other world, so they are not subjects capable of eternal punishment or everlasting happiness. But the unsaved are not so wise as the ant, that in summer stores up for winter; and, while the warm sun does shine, provides for a cold and stormy day. But men, who have immortal souls, are only for this present world; but do not provide for a stormy day that is a-coming, nor for an eternal state to which they are hastening.
Let us call the whole creation of God to lament and bewail the folly of man—who was made the best of all God's visible works, but now by such wickedness is evil beyond them all; being made by God for an everlasting state, and yet minds nothing less than that for which he was principally made.
O sun, why is it not your burden, to give light to men to do those evil works—and walk in those ways which bring them to eternal darkness? O earth, why do you not groan, to bear such burdensome fools, who dig into you for gold and silver, while they do neglect everlasting treasures in the eternal world? O you sheep and oxen, fish and fowl, why do you not cry out against them, who take away your life to maintain them in being, but only mind present things—but forget the eternal God, who gave them dominion over you, to live upon you, while they had time to mind eternal things, but do not? O you angels of God, and blessed saints in heaven, were you capable of grief and sorrow, would not you bitterly lament the sin and folly of poor mortals upon earth? Could you look down from that blessed place where you dwell, and behold the joy and glory which is to us unseen—and see how it is basely slighted by the sons of men; if you were not above sorrow and mourning, would not you take this up for a bitter lamentation?
O you saints on earth, whose eyes are open to see what the blind, deluded world does not see—let your heads be fountains of water, and your eyes send forth rivers of tears, for the great neglect of the eternal joys and happiness of heaven. Can you see men going out of time into eternity in their sin and in their blood, in their guilt and unconverted state—and your hearts not be moved, your affections not yearn? Have you spent all your tears in bewailing your own sin, that your eyes are dry when you behold such monstrous madness and unparalleled folly of so many with whom you daily converse?
You godly parents, have you no pity for your ungodly children? nor godly children for ungodly parents?—"O, my father, my father, by whom I had my being—is going to eternal darkness! Alas for my mother, my dear mother! Who carried me in her womb, who dandled me upon her knees, who suckled me at her breasts; who delighted to break her sleep, to quiet me when I was uneasy, to look to me when I was sick; who bound my head when it was pained; who wiped my eyes when I did weep, and my face when I did sweat because of my disease—this my mother is forgetful of her own immortal soul! She was more troubled for me when she thought I was near my grave, than for herself, though she is near to hell! When I was young, she took care of me for things temporal; but for herself, neither young nor old, for things eternal. Before long, she will be dead, and, I am afraid, damned too! Before long, she must go out of time; and, for anything I can perceive, being ignorant and fearless of God and unmindful of eternity, her soul will go into eternity of torments! O how loath am I to have such thoughts of one so near, so dear unto me! O, it is the cutting of my heart, it is bitterness to my soul! I had rather die, than that she should be damned; and yet it is my fear, she is hastening to an eternity of woe; for, to my observing eye, she is taken wholly up with the cares and pride and vanity of this life, and apparently regardless of that eternal world."
Why do not also you who are godly parents, who have a belief in an everlasting state, take on, and bewail the doleful state of your ungodly children, who in their sinful courses are hastening to eternal pains? "What, my son! the son of my womb! did I bear you with so much sorrow—and shall you be eternally damned? Did I travail with you with so much pain, and brought and nursed you up with so much labor—and must you be forever fuel for the flames of hell? Have I brought forth my child to be a prey to devils, and a companion with them to all eternity? O, my son, my son! what shall I do for you, my son, my son!"
Thus, whatever relation, neighbor, friend, or acquaintance you have, or others, that you see go on in sin, let it be your grief, trouble, lamentation; when there is an eternity of joys, and they will lose it; an eternity of torments, and they be cast into it.
USE 2.Do something every day in preparing for an eternal state. If anything of weight lies upon your hands—this is it. If I could prevail with you in anything, O that it might be in this! If, in anything which I am to preach, I had need to have gone unto my knees, to beg that my message might be regarded—this is it. If in anything I should be serious in preaching, and you in hearing—still this is it. The longer your life shall is, the greater preparation you should make. When we exhort you to prepare for other duties, it is but in order unto this—that you might be prepared for the eternal world. When we exhort you to repent, believe, be holy, or prepare for death—in all we have an eye unto eternity. But if my words be rejected by you, will you also reject the word of the eternal God himself? If I show you express commands from God, which will shortly take you into heaven, or judge you down to hell; which will quickly call you out of time into eternity; will you regard it then? Then read—and do what you shall read—Matt. vi. 18-20, 33; Luke xiii. 24; John vi. 27; 1 Tim. vi. 12; 2 Peter 1:10, 11. To these scriptures I will add these following arguments to persuade you—
1. God has set you in this world for this very work—to make ready for eternity. Consider, I beseech you, and demand an answer of yourselves: why has God brought you out of nothing, and given you a being more noble than all his visible works, in making your souls immortal, enduing you with reason and understanding? Do you think it was that you should seek after riches, and not grace; things temporal, not eternal; to buy and sell, and eat and drink and sleep? Do you in your conscience think that God has appointed you no higher things to mind, no more lasting things to get? Reason will convince you, and conscience will prove it to your face, and the immortality of your own souls, considered, does undeniably argue, that God has made you for more noble ends, higher employments, and greater concerns. Why, then, do you not mind the end of your creation, and do the work that God has set you in time to do, and look after that eternal state that God has made you for?
I have read of a devout pilgrim, who was traveling to Jerusalem; and on his way passed through many cities, where he saw many stately buildings, rare monuments, and delightful things: but he was accustomed to say, "But this is not Jerusalem; this is not the end of my journey." I am sure that you are pilgrims; but whether devout or not, let conscience speak. Either you are traveling to the heavenly Jerusalem—or you are traveling to eternal torments. Why, then, do you stand gazing at the temporal things which you see in your journey, and why are your hearts and eyes so taken with them? Sirs, this is not the heavenly Jerusalem; this is not the end of your being. Be sure, the minding, loving, looking after things of time, in the neglect of God and Christ and heaven—is not preparing for eternity; except it be for an eternity of woe and misery! And for what need you be at so much pains and labor to get there?
2. God gives you your time in this world, to prepare for eternity. You have time to repent, to get a saving interest in Christ, to mortify sin, to pray for grace, to make your peace with God, to get the pardon of your sins; and all this, that you might be fitted for eternity. Why, then, do not you do in time—that which God has given you time for? Can you imagine that God does lengthen out so long the day of his patience, only that you might labor for temporal riches, or that you should live a life of carnal pleasure, or gratify the flesh? Can it enter into your heads, that God supports you in being, and keeps you yet out of the grave and hell—that you might scrape together things temporal, and neglect the things that are eternal? Does he make his sun to rise upon you every morning, to give you light to drudge for things which are but for a moment—and let alone the things which are forever? And if God has given you time in order to prepare for eternity—why do you spend your time in getting things that are but for a time, and not for eternity? O the years that you have had! the months, the weeks, which God has given you, to be improved for eternity! and you spend it—some in things absolutely sinful, in serving of the devil and your lusts; some, in things in themselves lawful, but none in the things absolutely necessary, that you may be happy in eternity; some in taking of your carnal pleasures; some in trading; some in everything—but the one thing needful; so that no time is left for an everlasting state. But when you shall be in eternity, you will repent—though then too late, that in this world you so spent your time.
3. As you go out of time—so you must in the same state go into eternity!If you die in your sin—you must in your sin go down to hell. This is a life of trial; here in time you are probationers for eternity; and as you are found at the end of your life—so your state shall be determined to eternity of happiness, or misery without end.
4. You stand upon the brink of time—near the borders of eternity!So near, that you might be in eternity tomorrow, or sooner! For you never yet saw that hour which you could say, you are sure of the next. When you have drawn one breath, you are not sure to draw another. "Time is short!" It is set forth sometimes by "years;" if seventy, how much is already past! Sometimes by "months," by "days," by "one day," by a "span," by "nothing," by "a vapor." But Suppose you were to live a thousand years of pleasure upon earth—and after that pass into an eternity of pain and torment. Would you not, when there, cry out of your own folly—that you should purchase a thousand years of pleasure at so dear a rate, as to endure for them everlasting burnings? One would think, you should not get it out of your heads that you are almost in eternity. One would think, you should think on this when you lie down and when you do rise up, or dream of this in your sleep—that you are as near to heaven or hell, to an eternity of joy or misery, as to your grave.
5. When time is past and gone, and you have entered into eternity; it will be too late to prepare for it.Preparation for eternity must be done in time, not in eternity. Now or never; if once death stops your mouth and closes your eyes, dying in your sin, you musty bid farewell to God and Christ forever! When time is gone, your hope, and all, is gone. When time is gone, it will never come again. Yesterday you shall never see again; and the time that is future, when gone, will never come again. If you lose your health, you might recover it again; if your estate, you might get it again; but if you lose your time, it is gone forever.
6. If you go out of time unfitted for eternity, better you had never been in time.Better for you, if you had been always nothing; or, if a being, to have been a dog, a toad, or a serpent; for these do live in time, but after time they do not live in eternal misery, as they are not capable of eternal happiness. And when you lie in extremity and eternity of pains in hell, this will be your judgment—that it had been better never to have been, than to be forever miserable!
7. Multitudes have, and more shall, come short of eternal happiness, and go down to everlasting misery.And yet does it not concern us to be preparing for eternity? What means this sottishness of mind—that, when multitudes are going daily out of time into eternity—from seen pleasures to unseen pains—that we are thus secure and careless; as if we would live so long in time—as never to live in eternity, or that our being should end with our death? Have not we deserved eternal punishment, as well as those who in eternity are now enduring of it? You know you have deserved it—and still you take no care to prevent it? not so much as ask of God, by serious prayers and tears, that you might not be cast into everlasting burnings? O worldling, do you think you can make as light of the wrath of God when you shall feel it in eternity—as you do when you hear of it in time? Can you be merry in the flames of hell? Can you jest and sport and play—when you shall be filled with the indignation of a provoked God, or when the arrows of the Almighty shall stick so fast as never to be plucked from you?
Why do you in time cry out and roar and bitterly complain under the smarting pain that the gout or stone or cholic puts you to? Why do you say, that if this were to continue for one year without intermission or mitigation, you had rather die than live?
Do not many walk in the broad way which leads to eternal damnation? (Matt. vii. 13, 14.) Are not the holy, humble, penitent ones saved with much difficulty? (1 Peter iv. 18.) Have not many professors gone to hell—and preachers too? (Matt. viii. 12; vii. 22, 23.) And yet, is it not time for you in good earnest to mind your eternal state; lest, there being an everlasting kingdom, you should never enter into it; and everlasting torments, and you should feel them to all eternity?
8. God does give you all the helps and means you have—that you should make ready for eternity.Have not you had sermons and sabbaths? Have not God's ministers preached to you, and warned you from God of the wrath to come, and charged you in the name of God to repent, believe, and turn; and told you that you must either turn from sin, or burn in hell? And will you go from hearing on earth—to howlings in hell? from the light of the gospel—to utter darkness? with the sound of the voice of mercy in your ears—after a thousand calls to mind your souls, to accept of Christ? Do you desire to have the hottest place in that infernal lake—the heaviest load of wrath in that eternal furnace? Read, and tremble when you read, Matt. xi. 20-24.
9. This will be approved wisdom before long by all the sons of men.Those who now mock at praying, and make a mock of sinning, and deride serious godliness—shall quickly be of another mind. They shall confess and know that those were the wisest men, who in time prepared for eternity; and they were the fools who spent their time in sin and vanity. Some realize this when they lie a-dying, and wish, "O that I had been convinced of this, before my time had been so near an end, before my glass had been so nearly out! O my folly! O my vanity! I had eternity to make preparation for, and yet, of all the time I had, I never spent one hour in hearty prayer unto God to save me from everlasting torments! Woe is me! my strength is almost gone; my time is almost gone; and I in danger of eternal torments, that never shall be past and gone!"
Or if they be blind or hardened on their death-beds, yet a moment after death they shall be convinced indeed—that it was worse than madness to neglect eternity. When stepped into the eternal world, they shall be bewildered and confounded, saying, "Where am I now? What a place is this! What a state is this! I heard of such a place before; but it is worse than any man's tongue in time could tell. What! is time gone? This is not time. Here is no sun to measure it by its motion; here is no succession of night and day; here is no turning of an hour-glass, no striking of clocks; no morning, noon, and evening: this is not time; I see nothing like the things I saw in time. But a little while ago, I was among my friends on earth. Did I say—little while ago? Alas! this 'little while' seems to me a thousand years. O, happy those who are in eternity, but in another place than I am in! They were wise indeed that have prepared for their coming hither, and are got into a place that is as light as this is dark, as joyful as this is sorrowful, as full of ease as this is of pain. Yet this must last as long as that—and that makes this as bitter and dreadful as that is pleasant and delightful. Wise were they that did foresee while they were in time; but I, like a blind fool, did not see, before I felt—what I must endure forever! I did not see; but death opened the curtain, opened the door—and let me into my eternal misery and damnation! Woe is me!"
10. In eternity there will be no mixture.In the eternal world there is all pure love—or all pure wrath; all sweet—or all bitter; without all pain—or without all ease; without all misery—or without all happiness. Not partly at ease—and partly in pain; not partly happy—and partly miserable; but all the one or the other. This present life is a middle place between heaven and hell; and here we partake of some good and some evil. There is no judgment on this side hell upon the worst of men—but there is some mercy mixed with it; for it is mercy that they are yet on this side hell. There is no condition on this side heaven but there is some evil mixed with it; for, until we get to heaven, we shall have sin in us. In heaven all are good, in hell all are bad; on earth some good, but more bad. In hell there is misery—without mixture of mercy or of hope. They have no mercy—and that is bad; and they can hope for none—and that is worse. While they are in time, they are pitied; God pities them, and Christ pities them, and godly men pity them; their friends and relations pity them, pray for them, and weep over them. But when time is past—all pity will be past—and they in misery without pity to all eternity! "They must drink the wine of God's wrath. It is poured out undiluted into God's cup of wrath. And they will be tormented with fire and burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb. The smoke of their torment rises forever and ever, and they will have no relief day or night." Revelation 14:10-11
For your souls' sake, as upon my knees I beseech you, if you have any dread of God, any fear of hell, any desire of heaven, any care where you must eternally go—take no rest night or day in time, until you have secured your everlasting happy state, that you might have everlasting rest night and day in eternity; or that you might pass into that eternity where it is always day, and no night; and not into that where it shall be always night, and never day.
Sirs, what do you say? What are you resolved upon? To sin still? or to repent that you have already sinned—and by the grace of God to sin so no more? To work in time—for things of time? or in time to prepare for eternity? Will you obey my message—or will you not? Repent in time—or you shall cry and roar forever. The time of this sermon is out, and the time of your life will be quickly out; and I am afraid I shall leave some of you as unfit for eternity as I found you: and my heart does tremble, lest death should find you as I shall leave you, and the justice of God and the devils of hell shall find you as death shall leave you—and then vengeance shall never leave you, and the burning flames, tormenting devils, and the gnawing worm, shall never leave you!
Will you, then, work it upon your hearts, that you came into time unfit to go into eternity? that in time you have made yourselves more unfit? that the only remedy is the Lord Jesus Christ, that in the fullness of time did die—that sinners might not be damned forever? that this crucified Christ will not save you from eternal misery, nor take you to eternal glory—except you do perform the conditions of the gospel; without which, his death puts no man into an actual state of happiness? You must repent and be converted; you must take him for your Savior and your Lord; you must be holy sincerely, hate sin universally, love Christ superlatively—or else the Savior will not save you, mercy itself will not save you, from everlasting misery. You must persevere in all this to the end of your life; and then you shall be happy in eternity—to eternity.
Otherwise—if you shall not give audience, Sirs—otherwise you shall not be happy. Happy? No—you shall be miserable! If the loss of God and Christ and heaven will make you miserable forever—you shall be miserable forever. If the pains of hell, the company of devils, the stingings of conscience, the terrors of darkness, total, final despair of having any end of your damned condition, will make you miserable—you shall be miserable forever. If all that wrath which God can lay upon you, if all that devils can torment you with, if all that conscience can forever accuse you for; if all that is in hell, can make you miserable; except you repent in time, and believe on Christ in time, and be sanctified in time—you shall be miserable forever!
O my God! Be my witness of this doctrine. All you who fear God, who hear me this day—bear me witness that I have published this in the ears of all that hear me. You conscience, which is in that man who is yet going on in sin and hastening with speed to eternal misery, bear me witness now and at the day of judgment—that I told him what must be done upon him, in him, and by him, if he would escape eternal torments! If he will not hearken nor obey while he is in time, conscience, I bespeak your witness against him, and that you bring your accusation against him, and upbraid him to the confusion of his face—among all the devils in hell, and all who shall be damned with him—that he was told he could not keep his sins, and be kept out of hell when he died; he was told that he could not reject Christ and finally refuse him, and be saved forever.
Sinner! Don't you care? Will you continue in your dreadful state? Good God! must we end thus? Must I leave without hopes of your repenting? Will you die with foolish hopes of being saved after death has cast you into that eternity where the worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched? In those endless flames you shall cry out and roar, "O cursed wretch! what did I mean all the while I was in time, to neglect preparation for eternity? O miserable wretch! this is a doleful, dreadful state; and still the more so, because it is eternal. Woe is me, that I cannot die, nor cease to be! O that God would cut me off! O that devils could tear me into a thousand, thousand pieces! O that I could kill myself, that I might be no longer what I am, nor where I am! But, alas! I wish in vain, and all these desires are in vain! O, cursed be the day that ever I was born! Cursed be that folly and madness which brought me to this cursed place! for here I lie under extremity of pain, which, if it were for a year or two, or many millions of years, and then to end, would be in this respect exceeding heavy, because it were to last so long; but that then it should be no longer, would make it in the mean while to be the lighter. But when eternity is added to extremity, nothing can give me hope, because in this extremity I am eternally miserable! O eternity, eternity! in my condition what is more dreadful than eternity? This fire burns to all eternity! The heavy strokes of revenging justice will be laid on me to all eternity! I am banished from God and happiness to all eternity! O eternity, eternity! nothing cuts me to the heart like the dreadful thoughts of this eternity! I am an object of the wrath of God, of the contempt of angels, of the derision of saints, of the mockings of devils and cursed fiends—to all eternity! I burn, but cannot be consumed! I toss and roll—and cannot rest to all eternity! O eternity, eternity! you are enough to break my heart and make it die—but it cannot break nor die to all eternity!"
And if this shall be the doleful language, the direful lamentations, of souls that went Christless out of time into eternity—you, while you are in time, eye eternity in all you do, and get a title to eternal happiness; or else, when you are in eternity, you shall remember that in time you were forewarned; which warning, because you did not take it, shall be a vexation to your hearts to all eternity!