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OF THE INCAPACITY OF AN UNREGENERATE PERSON FOR RELISHING THE ENJOYMENTS OF THE HEAVENLY WORLD.
—Except a man be born again, he can not see the kingdom of God.
IN order to demonstrate the necessity of regeneration, of which I would fain convince not only your understandings, but your consciences, I am now proving to you, that without it, it is impossible to enter into the kingdom of God; and how weighty a consideration that is I am afterwards to represent.
That it is thus impossible, the words in the text do indeed sufficiently prove: but for the further illustration of the subject, I have proposed to consider it under two distinct views.
I have already shown it is impossible, because the constitution of the kingdom of heaven is such, that God has solemnly declared, and this under different dispensations, and more or less 151plainly in all ages of his church, that no unregenerate person, i. e. no impenitent sinner, shall have any part in it. And I am now further to show,
That the nature of the future happiness, which is here chiefly signified by the kingdom of God, is such, that an unregenerate person would be incapable of relishing it, even upon a supposition of his being admitted into it.
This is a thought of so great importance, and so seldom represented in its full strength, that I shall at present confine my discourse entirely to it.
I know, sinners, it will be one of the most difficult things in the world, to bring you to a serious persuasion of this truth. You think heaven is so lovely, and so glorious a place, that if you could possibly get an admittance there, you should certainly be happy. But I would now set myself, if possible, to convince you that this is a rash and ill-grounded persuasion; and that on the contrary, if you were now in the regions of glory, and in the society of those blessed inhabitants, that unrenewed nature and unsanctified heart of yours, would give you a disrelish for all the sublimest entertainments of that blissful place, and turn heaven itself into a kind of hell to you.
Now for the demonstration of this, it is only 152necessary for you seriously to consider what kind of happiness that of heaven is, as it is represented to us in the word of God; for from thence undoubtedly we are to take our notions of it.
You might to be sure sit down and imagine a happiness to yourselves, which would perfectly suit your degenerate taste; a happiness, which the more entirely you were enslaved to flesh and sense, the more exquisitely you would be able to enter into it. If God would assign you a region in that beautiful world, where you should dwell in fine houses magnificently furnished, and gaily adorned; where the most harmonious music should soothe your ear, and the most delicious food and generous wines in a rich variety should regale your taste: if he should give you a splendid retinue of people, to caress and attend you, offering you their humblest services, and acknowledging the most servile dependence upon your favor: especially if with all this he should furnish you with a set of companions just of your own temper and disposition, with whom you might spend what proportion of time you pleased, in gaming and jollity, in riot and debauchery, without any interruption from the reproof, or even the example of the children of God, or from indispositions of body, or remorse of conscience: this you would be ready to call life and happiness indeed: and 153if the great Disposer of all things were but to add perpetuity to such a situation, you would not envy persons of a more refined taste the heaven you lost, for such a Paradise as this.
Such indeed was the happiness which Mahomet promised to his followers: flowery shades and gay dresses, luxurious fare and beautiful women, are described with all the pomp of language in almost every page of his Alcoran, as the glorious and charming rewards which were to be bestowed on the faithful after the resurrection. And if this were the felicity which the Gospel promised, extortioners and idolators, whoremongers and drunkards, would be much fitter to inherit the kingdom of God, than the most pious and mortified saints that ever appeared on earth. But here, as almost everywhere else, the Bible and the Alcoran speak a very different language; and far from leading us into such gross and sensual expectations, our Lord Jesus Christ has told us that the children of the resurrection neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are like the angels of God in heaven, (Matt. xxii. 30,) and enjoy such pure and spiritual delights, as are suited to such holy and excellent creatures.
It is true that in the book of Revelations, stately palaces and shining habits, delicious fruit and harmonious music are all mentioned, as contributing 154to the happiness of those, who have the honor to inhabit the New Jerusalem. But then the style of that obscure and prophetical book naturally leads us to consider these merely as figurative phrases, which are made use of to express the happiness that Divine wisdom and love has prepared for the righteous, in a manner accommodated to the weakness of our conceptions; or at least, if in any of these respects provision be made for the entertainment of a glorified body, whatever its methods of sensation and perception will be, all will be temperate and regular; and after all, this is even there represented but as the least considerable part of our happiness, the height of which is made to consist in the most elevated strains of devotion, and in an entire and everlasting devotedness to the service of God and of the Lamb.
Let us therefore immediately proceed to settle the point in question, by a more particular survey of the several branches of the celestial felicity, as represented to us in the word of God; and from thence it will undeniably appear, that were an unregenerate soul in the same place with the blessed, and surrounded with the same external circumstances, the temper of the mind would not by any means allow him to participate of their happiness. For it is plain the Scripture represents 155the happiness of heaven as consisting,—-in the perfection of our minds in knowledge and holiness;—-in the sight and service of the ever blessed God,—-in beholding the glory of our exalted Redeemer;—-and enjoying the society of glorious angels and perfected saints,—-throughout an endless eternity. Now, sinners, it is impossible you should enter into any such delights as these, while you continue in an unregenerate state.
1. One very considerable part of the happiness of heaven consists in that perfection of knowledge and holiness to which the blessed shall be there exalted; but in which the unregenerate soul can have no pleasure.
Thus we are told, that the spirits of just men shall there be made perfect; (Heb. xiii. 23;) for nothing that defiles, as every degree of moral imperfection does, shall enter into the New Jerusalem. Rev. xxi. 27. An Old Testament saint conceived of future happiness, as consisting in being satisfied with the likeness of God: (Psal. xvii. 15;) a character that is manifestly most agreeable to the view of it, which the beloved disciple gives us, where he says, that when Christ shall appear, we shall be tike him, for we shall see him as he is; (1 John iii. 2;) which must certainly refer to the glories of the mind, which are of infinitely greater importance than the highest imaginable beauty 156and ornament, that can be put upon the corporeal part of our nature in its most illustrious state.
Now from this perfection and holiness, which shall then be wrought in the soul, there will naturally arise an unspeakable complacency and joy, something resembling that which the blessed God himself possesses, in the survey of the infinite and unspotted rectitude of his own most holy nature. And in proportion to the degree, in which the eyes of our understandings are enlightened to discern wherein true excellency consists, will the soul be delighted in the consciousness of such considerable degrees of it in itself.
But surely it will be superfluous for me to undertake to demonstrate, that an unregenerate soul can have no part in this divine pleasure, which implies the complete renewal of the mind as its very foundation. For to imagine that he might, would be supposing him regenerate and unregenerate at the same time. As Mr. Baxter very well expresses it, "The happiness of heaven is holiness; and to talk of being happy without it is as apparent nonsense, as to talk of being well without health, or being saved without salvation."
I would only add on this head, that the highest improvement of our intellectual faculties could not make us happy, without such a change in the 157affections and the will, as I have before described under the former general head. For the more clear and distinct the knowledge of true excellence and perfection is, the greater would be your anguish and horror, to see and feel yourselves entirely destitute of it; and it is exceedingly probable that spirits of the most elevated genius have the keenest sensation of that infamy and misery, which is inseparable from the prevalence of sinful dispositions in such minds as these.
2. Another very considerable branch of the celestial happiness, is that which arises, from the contemplation and enjoyment of the ever blessed God; but of this likewise an unregenerate sinner is incapable.
As our own reason assures us, that God is the greatest and best of beings, and the most deserving object of our inquiries and regards, one would think it would naturally lead us to imagine, that the perfection and happiness of the human soul consists in the knowledge and enjoyment of him; and that when it arrives at the seat of complete felicity, it must intimately know him, and converse with him. And in this view, I have sometimes been surprised, that men of such distinguished abilities, as some of the heathen poet, and philosophers appear to have been, should have had no greater regard to the Supreme Being 158in the description which they give us of the future happiness. That sort of friendship for them, which an acquaintance with their writings must give to a person of any relish for the beauties of composition, makes one almost unwilling to expose the low and despicable ideas, which they often give of the state of their greatest heroes in the regions of immortality. But the word of God speaks a very different language. Our Lord represents the rewards to be bestowed on the pure in heart, by telling us that they shall see, i. e. contemplate and enjoy God; (Matt. v. 8;) and virtuous souls who overcome the temptations with which they are here surrounded, shall be made as pillars in the house of their God, and shall go no more out: (Rev. iii. 12;) and it is elsewhere said that his servants shall serve him, and shall see his face. Rev. xxii. 3, 4. And David's views under a darker dispensation rose to such a degree of refinement, as to say, As for me, I shall behold thy face in righteousness; (Psal. xvii. 1;) which he mentions as a felicity infinitely superior to all the delights of the most prosperous sinner.
But now, sinners, it is utterly impossible that while you continue in an unregenerate state, you should behold the face of God with pleasure. The unutterable delight which the blessed inhabitants of heaven find in it, arises not merely from the 159abstract ideas of his essential perfections, but from a sense of his favor and love to them. It is this that gives a relish to the whole survey, and rejoices the heart of all the saints, both in heaven and on earth. He is a God of awful majesty and irresistible power, of infinite wisdom and unspotted holiness, of unerring justice, invariable fidelity, and inexhaustible goodness; and this God is our God; he will be our guide and our portion forever. Psal. xlviii. 14; lxxiii. 26. And were it not for this view, let a creature think of God with ever so much spirit and propriety, he must think of him, and be troubled; (Psal. lxxvii. 3;) yea, he must be filled with unutterable horror and confusion, as the devil is at the thought of an infinitely perfect Being, in whom he has no interest, from whom he has nothing friendly to expect; and if nothing friendly, then everything dreadful.
Now it is certain, sinners, that while you continue in an unregenerate state, under the influence of that carnal mind which is enmity against God, (Rom. viii. 7,) and full of unconquerable rebellion against his law, there can be no foundation for a friendship between him and your souls; nor for any persuasion, or any apprehension of your interest in his favor and love. Friendship, you know, supposes something of a similitude of 160nature and sentiment; for as God himself argues, how can two walk together except they be agreed? Amos iii. 3. Now I have before observed to you at large, that God being of purer eyes than to behold evil, (Heb. i. 13,) must necessarily hate all the workers of iniquity; the foolish therefore shall not stand in his sight, (Psal. v. 5,) or shall not be admitted to such a situation: nor would they indeed be able to endure it. Let conscience judge what satisfaction you could find in the presence of a God, that you knew scorned and hated you, even while he suffered you to continue among the crowd of his children and servants. The more lively ideas you had of the beauty and perfection of the Divine nature, the more you must loathe yourselves for being so unlike him, and so abominable to him: and what pleasure do you think consistent with such self-contempt and abhorrence? Or rather, would not the wretched degeneracy of your nature lead you another way; and a kind of unconquerable self-love, joined even with this consciousness of deformity and vileness, lead you to hate God himself? It is described as the fatal effect of prevailing wickedness in the heart, my soul loathed them, and their soul also abhorred me. Zechariah xi. 8. And thus would it probably work in you, and produce in your wretched breasts a mortal hatred against him, and 161an envious rage at the thought of his perfect happiness; a state of mind, of all others that can be imagined, the most odious, and the most tormenting.
How, sirs, could your hearts, possessed with these diabolical passions, bear to see the beams of his glory surrounding you on every side? How could you bear to hear the songs and adorations, that were continually addressed to his throne; and to observe the humble attendance of all the hosts of heaven about it, who perpetually reckon it their honor and happiness to be employed in obedience to his commands? Such a sight of the glory and felicity of your Divine Enemy would make you, so far as your limited nature was capable of it, miserable even in proportion to the degree in which he is happy. This was, no doubt, the torment of the devils as soon as they had harbored a thought of hostility against God; and the remembrance of that glory in which they once saw him, and which they know he still invariably possesses, is surely an everlasting vexation to them: and it would be so to you, if you were within the sight of it.
But further, the blessed in heaven find their everlasting entertainment in the service of God. They rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty; (Rev. iv. 8;) i. e. they 162are continually employed, either in the immediate acts of devotion, or in other services, in which they still maintain a devotional temper, and are breathing out their souls in holy affections, while their active powers are employed in the execution of his commands. But as I have already shown you, that while in an unregenerate state you could have no sense of his favor to you, it is very apparent, that you could have no sentiments of gratitude and love towards him. So that while angels and glorified saints were breathing out their souls in the most delightful and rapturous praises, you must keep a sullen silence; or, if it were possible that your harps and voices should sound as melodiously as theirs, it would be all ceremony and show; the music of the heart would be wanting; and you would look on all the external forms of service but as a tedious task, and count it your misfortune, that the customs of the place obliged you to attend them.
You may the more easily apprehend and believe this when you consider what little relish you now have for those solemnities of Divine worship, in which sincere Christians have the most lively foretaste of heaven. You know, in your own consciences, that short and interrupted as our public services are, they are the burden of your lives. You know that you say, in your hearts at least, 163When will the Sabbath be past, and the new moon be gone? Amos viii. Judge then how insupportable it would be to you, to spend an everlasting Sabbath thus. I question not, but to your wretched spirits annihilation would appear vastly preferable to an eternal existence so employed.
3. Another very considerable branch of the happiness of heaven, is that which arises from the sight of the glory of an exalted Redeemer; but for this likewise no unconverted sinner can have any relish.
This is a view of the future happiness, which our Lord gives us, when he prays for his people in those memorable words, engraven, as I hope, upon many of our hearts; Father, I will that they whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory which thou hast given me. John xvii. 24. And he elsewhere promises it, as the great reward he would bestow upon his people; If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there also shall my servant be. John xii. 26. And agreeably to this, the apostle Paul represents it as the transporting view in which he considered the happiness of the future world; I desire, says he, to depart and be with Christ; which is far better; (Phil. i. 28;) incomparably beyond any of the enjoyments of the present world which can come 164into competition with it. But for this part of the happiness of angels, and of the spirits of just men made perfect, it is also evident, that you, sinners, can have no relish.
The sight of Christ will afford holy souls a transporting delight, because they will regard it as the glory of their Redeemer and their Friend, and as a pledge and security of their own glory. But what foundation can you, sinners, find for such a joyful sympathy with Christ, and such a comfortable conclusion with regard to yourselves? Such is the wretched degeneracy of your nature, that though Christ be indeed the chiefest among ten thousand, and altogether lovely, (Cant. v. 10, 16.) being the brightness of his Father's glory, and the express image of his person, (Heb. i. 3,) possessed of every divine perfection and excellence; yet you now slight and neglect him, and discern in him no form or comeliness, for which he is to be desired: (Isa. liii. 2:) and were you unregenerate in heaven, the same principle would prevail. Now where there is no love to a person, there can be no delight in his converse, nor any pleasure in his happiness. Nay, the contrariety of your nature to his would rather occasion aversion and terror. You could not but know, that the blessed Jesus is holy and undefiled, and separate from sinners; (Heb. vii. 26;) that he 165abhors all moral evil to such a degree, that he laid aside all the glory and entertainments of heaven, that he might destroy the interest of sin in this world of ours, and might purify to himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works: (Tit. ii. 14:) and when you should recollect at the same time that sinfulness that continued to reign in your hearts, and made you to every good work reprobate, (Tit. i. 16,) you could not but know that you must be hateful to him; and therefore could not but fear, lest his almighty power should be exercised for your punishment and destruction: and thus your terror must rise, in proportion to the sensible evidence you had of his dignity and authority. In a word, you would stand like guilty rebels in the presence-chamber of their injured and displeased Sovereign: his throne. and his sceptre, his robe and his crown, his courtiers and his guards, though in themselves splendid and magnificent objects, only serve to terrify and amaze them, while they display the grandeur and power of their enemy.
4. Another very considerable branch of the celestial happiness will be the society of angels and glorified saints; but for this likewise an unregenerate sinner must be unfit.
You know that when the apostle speaks of our alliance to the heavenly world, he represents it as 166a social state; where excellent spirits dwell together, and converse with each other with mutual esteem and endearment: ye are come, says he, to the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven, and to the spirits of just men made perfect. Heb. xii. 22, 23. It is sitting down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, with all the patriarchs and prophets, all the apostles and martyrs in the kingdom of heaven: (Matt. viii. 11:) and perhaps you think you shall want nothing more to complete your happiness, than to be admitted to a place among them. But reflect a little more attentively upon the circumstances of things, and I am persuaded you will form a different judgment.
There is no reason to doubt, but that at your first entrance into the regions of glory you would be agreeably struck with the view of those inhabitants. As for those beauties of their character, which consist in love to God, and in zeal for his honor and interest, it is certain, that you would be insensible of them, and pay but little regard to them: but the humanity and benevolence of their temper would, no doubt, render them agreeable to you; and so much the more, as self-love might lead you to expect some personal 167advantage by it. And it is more than possible, that you would be much prejudiced in their favor by those resplendent and attractive forms in which they appear; forms, no doubt, far more beautiful and engaging than any which the children of men ever saw upon earth. On both these accounts it might be natural enough for you, at first, to address them with an air of respect, as persons that you could be glad to be upon good terms with, and in whose friendship you could desire a share.
But how do you think that any such proposal of friendship would be received by an angel, or a glorified saint? No doubt, if there were any prospect of converting you, or any hope you might be brought to a devout and holy temper, they would immediately become preachers of righteousness to you; and endeavor by the most rational, the most pathetic, and the most insinuating address, to awaken and charm you to a sense of religion, and so to form you to a capacity for happiness. But they would know, that according to the eternal constitution of God, there could be no room to entertain such a hope; but that being filthy, you must be filthy still: (Rev. xxii. 11:) and therefore, as they would know you to be incorrigible, their love to God, and their concern to be approved and accepted 168by him, would prevent their forming any intimate friendship with persons whose natures were so contrary to him, and on whom he looked with such irreconcilable abhorrence. And besides this, their own personal sanctity of character would give them an aversion to such corrupt and degenerate creatures: so that how much soever they might pity your condition, they would turn away from you, as objects whose presence and converse were not to be endured.
And do you not easily apprehend, that such a refusal on their part would be both shameful and very provoking to you? For which way could you bear it, to be thus rejected and dishonored by the most excellent part of the creation; by those whom perhaps you once intimately knew, and with whom you conversed upon equal terms; nay, by many who were once much your inferiors, and whom, perhaps, in the pride of your hearts, you would not condescend to regard? The natural effect of this must surely be, that you would soon be proportionably displeased and enraged with the refusal, as you were at first charmed at their appearance; and when you saw that transporting pleasure which they took in the affection and friendship of each other, and the joy which the Divine favor poured into their souls, while you, in the very same place, were excluded from 169these rich entertainments, your hearts would soon burn with envy and indignation; and as much as you before admired them, you, upon this, would come to hate them. And, perhaps, that hatred would put you upon some attempt to interrupt, or even, if it were possible, to destroy that happiness which you were not allowed to share. But, then, when you saw them continually under the Divine protection, and compassed with his favor as with a shield, (Psalm v. 12,) so that your malice could not reach them, all the keenness and rancor of your spirit would recoil upon itself; you would fly from their presence, as insupportable; and would be glad to retire to some meaner apartment, or to hide yourselves in the shades of darkness; so that you might but get rid of the sight of so many dazzling objects, whose lustre, instead of cheering your vitiated eye, would pain and overpower it.
But if you should not be transported to this diabolical excess--if it were possible for you to behold the glorified saints, and to live among them, without these envious and tormenting passions; yet surely you would want a relish for the most entertaining part of their conversation. Had you indeed a good natural genius, which to be sure many unconverted sinners have, it might be very agreeable to hear them discoursing of the 170wonders of nature; and that curiosity, which is in some measure incident even to persons of the meanest capacities, would make it pleasant to hear them recount the important history relating to the revolutions of the angelic world, which we on this earth are entirely strangers to, or at least have been very little acquainted with them. But surely the most delightful topics of conversation, which heaven itself can furnish out, must be those which are religious and divine; the infinite perfections of the ever blessed God; the personal glories and incomparable love of his condescending, but exalted Son; and the sanctifying operations of the blessed Spirit on the soul, transforming it into the Divine Image, and making it meet for eternal glory. Yes, even when the blessed spirits above are handling philosophical or historical subjects, they still consider them with a regard to God, as his perfections are displayed and illustrated in the works of his hands, and in the conduct of his providence. And here their pleasure flows, not merely from a set of rational ideas, which arise in their own minds, or are suggested to them by others: but from the exercise of those devout affections upon the blessed God, which are correspondent to these several subjects of discourse.
And can you, sirs, who are alienated from the 171divine life, (Eph. iv. 18,) and accustomed to live in a continual neglect and forgetfulness of the Great Parent of universal nature, can you relish such subjects as these? You would, no doubt, be discontented and uneasy in such a scene: the heavenly oratory of this holy society would have no charms for you; but you would be longing for some of those vain and worthless companions, whom you were so fond of here upon earth, to hear a merry story, or a song, or to join with them in the pleasures of a debauch.
5. Another considerable branch of the happiness of heaven arises from the assured prospect of the everlasting continuance of this felicity; but, if an unregenerate soul could find any entertainment at all in heaven, he certainly could have no ground for such an expectation of its continuance.
When the children of God on earth think of the happiness of heaven, the eternity of it makes a very deep impression on their hearts, and even swallows up their souls with ardent desire and unutterable joy: it raises their esteem, and animates their hope, while they reflect on that exceeding and eternal weight of glory, (2 Cor. iv. 17,) that house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, (2 Cor. v. 1,) and that inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and which fadeth not away. 1 Pet. i. 4. And no doubt that the blessed in 172heaven regard it in the same view, and all the pleasures they enjoy are vastly increased by the prospect of their endless duration; so that by the anticipation of an eternity still to come, they do, as it were, every moment enjoy an infinite satisfaction. But as for you, sinners, while you are so ill attempered to the happiness of heaven, the prospect of an eternal abode there would not, on the principles I have laid down above, be a prospect of eternal happiness, but rather, on the whole, of eternal uneasiness to you.
But suffer me a little to discourse upon another supposition; and let me now, for argument sake, waive what I have been so long insisting upon, and suppose, that you could so far command the turbulent passions of your own heart, and so unite, as it were, the whole powers of your soul, to attend to the beauty of place, the harmony of music, and whatever else may be supposed capable of regaling the senses or the imagination, as upon the whole, to find heaven a pleasing and delightful abode, and to wish, that though some of its entertainments were above your taste and capacity, yet you might be allowed an eternal enjoyment of the rest; could there be any room for you to expect a perpetual abode in these blissful seats? No, sinners, you would not be able so much as to hope it. The good itself is so great, 173and perpetual enjoyment, even in any degree, has such a kind of infinite value, that I know not how the purest and noblest spirits in heaven could absolutely have been secure of it, separate from the engagement of a Divine promise.
And what Divine promise would you be able to have recourse to in such a circumstance as we now suppose? Where could you find it in all the book of God, that persons of your character should ever enter into heaven at all, much less that you should forever continue there? You could have therefore no security of the continuance of your abode in heaven, if it were possible that you should enter on the possession of it: but when you should consider the unsullied holiness of the ever blessed God, the sovereign of this sacred province, and the spotless purity of that gracious Redeemer, to whom the government of it is committed, you could not but fear, that you should quickly be seized by the hand of vengeance, be hurled from the battlements of heaven, and plunged low into the pit of destruction. You know this was the condemnation of the rebel angels, and your guilt, compared with that dreadful event, which makes so considerable a scene of the history of heaven, would, I doubt not, be sufficient to create everlasting jealousy and uneasiness, and to turn every pleasurable circumstance into a 174source of horror, in the apprehensions of being deprived eternally of it.
Thus you see, sirs, from a particular survey of the various lights in which heaven is represented, and of the various branches of which its happiness consists, an unregenerate sinner is incapable of it, even though we would suppose that he was actually admitted to it. Let me entreat you to reflect on all these things, and you will see the reasonableness of that one remark with which I shall conclude this discourse, viz.:
How vain are all those hopes of heaven, which in your present condition you are ready to entertain!
I have been proving at large, that if God were to admit you to the possession of heaven, which it is certain he never will, you would be incapable of relishing the enjoyment of it: nay, that there would be a solid foundation in your own hearts, for many of the most tumultuous and disquieting passions. Envy and grief, fear and rage, those roots of bitterness, would spring up even in the Paradise of God, and turn the fertility of that blessed soil into their own nourishment. And do you imagine that any external accommodations or ornaments could make you easy and comfortable, under the transports of such hellish passions? What if you were to take a man that was tormented 175with a violent fit of the stone or gout, and to place him in a most delicious garden, or in a palace of marble and cedar, to set him on a throne of gold under a canopy of purple, to clothe him with robes of velvet and embroidery, regaling him with the most delicious fruits and generous wines, and at the same time soothing his ear with all the harmony of sound, which the most melodious symphony of instruments and voices could afford? Would all this magnificence and luxury make him insensible of that anguish which was racking his very vitals? or would not that inward torture rather render him insensible of this association of pleasurable impressions from without? Yea, would it not incline him to suspect, that you intended all these pompous preparations only to deride and insult him?' As little would your distempered and unholy souls be capable of relishing the entertainments of heaven, while these entertainments and these souls of yours, continue what they are at present.
There must be therefore a change: and will you consider where that change must be made? If you continue still in your present character and circumstances, there must be a vast change in heaven itself, before you can be happy in it. The whole temper, character, and disposition of every saint and angel there, must be changed from what 176it now is, before they can be capable of any friendly and complacential conversation with you. Yea, our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever, (Heb. xiii. 9,) must divest himself of those beauties of holiness, which are infinitely dearer to him than any external grandeur or authority, before he can receive you into his kingdom. Nay, the very Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning, (Jam. i. 17,) must be entirely changed. He must lay aside that holiness which is essential to his nature, and which is the brightness and glory of it: he must love that which he now hates, and be indifferent to that which he most affectionately loves, before he can open his arms to you, and smile upon your souls. And can you dare to hope for such an unaccountable, such an inconceivable revolution as this? No, sirs, infinitely sooner would God change earth into hell, and bury you, and all of your character, under the ruins of this world, which you inhabit and pollute, than he would thus tarnish the beauties of heaven, and divest himself of the brightest glory of his own divinity. "God," says Archbishop Tillotson, "has condescended to take our nature upon him, that he might make us capable of happiness; but if this will not do, he will not put off his own nature to make us happy."177
What then do you imagine? Do you think that God will prepare some separate apartments in heaven, furnished with a variety of sensual pleasures, for the entertainment of persons of your character? some apartments from whence the tokens of his presence shall be withdrawn, from whence the exercise of his worship shall be banished, from whence saints and angels shall retire to make way for those inhabitants, who, like you, have sinned themselves beyond a capacity of enjoying God, or of being fit companions for any of his most excellent creatures? This were to suppose the Christian religion false, and to contradict the light of natural reason too, which not only shows such a disposition of things to be unworthy the Divine sanctity and majesty, but also shows that if there be a future state, it must be a state of misery to wicked men, in whose minds those vicious habits prevail, which are even now the beginnings of hell; which therefore they must carry along with them wherever they are, in proportion to the degree in which they are predominant.
Upon the whole then, you must evidently see that it is absolutely necessary that you, sinners, should be changed, if ever you expect to have any part or lot in the future happiness. And when do you expect that change should be wrought? 178Do you expect it when death has done its dreadful office upon you, and your soul arrives at the invisible world? Is the air of it, if I may be allowed the expression, so refined that it will immediately purify, and transform every polluted sinner that comes into it? You cannot but know, that the whole tenor of scripture forbids that presumptuous destructive hope. It assures us that there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave; (Eccl. ix. 10;) but that we must be judged according to what we have done in the body, and not according to what has passed in a separate state, whether the actions we have done be good, or whether they be evil. 2 Cor. v. 10.
If ever therefore you are regenerate at all, it must be while you are here below, in this state of education and trial: and if you continue in your sins till death surprise you, your souls will be forever sealed up under an irreversible sentence, and by the decree of God, and the constitution of things, will be excluded from happiness, as by no means either entitled to it, or prepared for it. So evident is the truth of this assertion in the text, that Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.
And will you then sit down contentedly under such conclusion as this, "I shall be excluded from this kingdom, as accursed and profane?" Alas, 179sirs, the conclusion is big with unutterable terror and death, as I should now proceed to show you at large if my time would allow: for I am next to represent the infinite importance of entering into that kingdom, and consequently of that entire change which has been proved to be necessary to that entrance. But I must reserve that to the next opportunity of this kind.
In the mean time let me add, that I doubt not but there are many present, who have heard this description of the heavenly world with delight, and who are saying in their hearts, "This is my rest forever: here will I dwell, for I have desired it: (Psal. cxxxii. 14:) This is the felicity to which my heart aspires with the most ardent breathing." Such may with the utmost reason regard it as a token for good, and may go on in a cheerful assurance, that the grace that has made them meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light, (Col. i. 12,) will at length conduct them to it, in perfect safety and everlasting triumph. Amen.180
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