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We are saved by hope.
NOW to go on, the next direction to be given is,
Direction 5. Ponder well and thoroughly the capacities of your own natures. I know not what should do more to raise and cherish this hope in you, of which the text speaks, for you have been told it doth not speak of hope, as hope; to wit, all hope. There is an hope (as was said) that is so far from saving men, that it destroys them. There are many that are ruined, and not saved by their hope; but it is the truly Christian hope terminating to the last end of it, in a glorious eternity that we are to be saved by; that which is truly the hope of salvation, and which is spoken of under the notion of an helmet, the seat of counsel and design; and it is impossible there can be any design for salvation, without hope; or indeed any design at all, whereof there is no hope; and therefore I say, in order to the heightening, and improving of this hope, the truly Christian hope, it is of the greatest necessity and use imaginable, to study much the capacity of our own natures; to wit, often to recount with ourselves, what is such a creature as I, an human creature, capable off What are the limits and bounds of my capacity, the capacity of my nature?
Nothing will be plainer, (if it be considered,) than that our natures are capable of greater, and more enduring things, than ordinarily we employ our minds about. The usual exercise of our minds is far from reaching the capacity 365of our natures: from any body that allows himself to think, this acknowledgment will be extorted, at the first sight or hearing, that spiritual things are greater, more excellent, and more noble, than earthly and carnal things are. And do not we find there is a capacity in our natures of conversing with such things? Are our natures capable of conversing with nothing but earth and clay? Can they look no higher? Can we form no notions of objects of a more noble and excellent kind?
And they are capable of more enduring things than we employ them about, that is, of eternal things; nay, so far it is from us to be incapable of having any thought of eternal things, that if we could impose upon ourselves, we cannot possibly avoid that thought; our minds will run into an endless and eternal scheme, do we what we can; that is, we cannot so much as by a thought fix to ourselves any utmost bounds, or periods of things; and therefore, our minds do naturally run into eternity. And more than that, we are not only capable of knowing much of spiritual, and eternal things, things that are more noble and excel lent in their kind, and more lasting in duration, than the things are which we commonly employ them about.
But we are capable of understanding this higher and larger capacity; we are secretly conscious to ourselves, that there is nothing terrene and temporary, that can measure the capacity of our nature, and fill up, and correspond to it; every man is conscious to himself of this, that allows himself to think; we are not only capable of knowing that there are spiritual things above the sphere of sense, and eternal things above the bounds and limits of time; but we are capable of knowing that we know it; to wit, we are conscious to ourselves of the greater and larger capacity of our natures.
And that being supposed, truly it must be said of us, we know too much, to enjoy no more. If we are not to hope for more, we know too much; we know that there is a glorious sphere of spiritual objects, that lie above the reach of our sense; we know there is an eternal state beyond the bounds and limits of time; and knowing this, we know too much, if we are not to hope for more. And if that indeed were the state of our case, that we are to hope for no more than what lies within the compass of our present state, it might make a mere philosopher to curse his nature, that ever it should be capable of prospect, that ever I was a creature capable of prospect, and yet so doomed and confined 366to the strait and narrow bounds of this base earth as to have nothing to enjoy, higher and greater, than this can afford me. Study the capacity of your nature, and think with yourselves, this immortal mind and spirit that I have in me, is it to be supposed it could have been put into me only to sustain a mean, vile flesh, that after the greatest and utmost care, must at length rot in the dust? Had I a reasonable immortal soul put into me, only to enable me to eat and drink, to please and indulge sense? A brute is furnished for such purposes as these, as well as I.—What? Did I need a mind, an intelligent mind, an immortal mind, for such purposes as these?
A man may confirm it himself, that he is not in a dream about the larger capacity of his own nature; for when he finds he hath in him a mind, is that a dream? Do not I know, I can know? Do not I understand, that I can understand? And that I have that in me that can think? And I beseech you, what proportion is there between a thought, and a clod of clay? Between a mind, and a piece of earth? That the capacity of this mind should be filled up with any earthly thing, what proportion is there in that?
And then, that this mind of mine must be an immortal thing, and so exist in an eternal state; I cannot be in a dream about this; for I beseech you, what proportion is there between a thought and death? Is it a likely thing, that a thing that can think, can die? If I have that in me that can think, I have that in me that cannot die.
And then, reckon it unworthy to hope beneath the capacity of your nature; to let your ordinary hope, the hope that is to live in you, and guide your course, to let that (I say) sink beneath the capacity of your nature. And again,
Direction 6. Consider much, the large and immense goodness and benignity of the divine nature; and do not think it agreeable to that, (as it is certain it cannot be,) that there should be such a sort of creatures endowed with a spiritual, immortal mind, that should not be accommodated and suited with proportionable objects. Consider the goodness of God to this purpose, as it appears in other instances. You see that all other sorts of creatures he doth accommodate with suitable objects. Look to yourselves, consider his goodness to you in other respects all your time hitherto. He is that God (as good Jacob when dying said) “that hath fed me all my life;” through him you were born, and through him you have lived; did he give you the 367appetite of meat and drink, and hath he not given you meat and drink too? If he hath given you faculties in your inferior nature, he hath assigned you their particular suitable objects. And do you think that if he hath given you also rational and immortal minds, it could stand with so vast goodness, not to suit them with proportionable objects too? Is that like his other methods? When the whole earth is full of his goodness, this region, this seat of apostacy, and wickedness, all the creatures looking up to him with craving eyes, and he satisfies them all: therefore it cannot be on his part that ever there should be such a flaw, such a defect, in the order of things in his creation, that he should have made an intelligent, immortal mind and spirit, and never have provided for it a suitable good, that may answer the capacity of his nature; and you already know, that there is no terrene, or temporary thing, that is a suitable good to it.
And thence it cannot but be, (for the matter must not be refunded upon the Creator,) I say it cannot but be, that if souls be miserable, it must be by themselves; their aversion from God, their refusal to return to him, their resistance of the methods he hath used for the gathering back of wandering souls: they will not return, they love earth and vanity more; and if this, indeed, be the habitual temper of any soul under that gospel, which is designed on purpose for recovering and reducing souls unto God, and this disaffection of theirs cannot be overcome, this is the highest provocation that can be given to goodness itself; and goodness itself must most highly justify and gratify itself in the ruin of those souls, who have had the offers made them of a suitable correspondent good, but lived all their days, while here in the flesh, in the refusal, and contempt, and defiance, of these offers. And again,
Direction 7. Consider the confirmation that God hath so expressly given of his special good-will to his own, besides what may be collected of his common goodness towards the generality of his creatures; think how he has confirmed to them, that are become peculiarly his, his peculiar kindness, and favour; and their right and title to that heavenly inheritance which they are finally to hope for: he hath sundry ways confirmed it to them.
1. By their regeneration; by which he hath in a great measure cured (to wit, in a prevalent degree) the depravity of their sensualized nature. And even in the work of regenerating them, begotten them to this very hope, or to the 368hope of this very state. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath begotten us again to a lively hope.” 1 Peter i. 3. To what living hope, or the living hope of what? Why, “of an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, reserved in heaven for us.” It is true, you had a capacity in your natures, of higher, and greater things than this earth affords; but what signified a mere natural capacity, that was overwhelmed with vicious inclinations when there was a capacity of greater things, but no habitude? But now there is a gracious habitude in the work of regeneration, added to the natural capacity, which repairs the natural powers to those exercises, which that capacity comprehends and means. The understanding is, in some measure, rid of the cloudy darkness that hovered oft over it before: “They that were darkness” in this work of regeneration: are made “light in the Lord.” Eph. v. 8. They are become light:—they were dead in trespasses and sins; here is a divine life made to spring up in them, that aims at God, that aims at heaven, that aims at immortal things; and whatever is born, must be fed; here is a new creature born, that cannot be fed at the common rate, how should this heighten, and raise hope?
2. He hath taken them into union with his own Son, who is the primary great heir, and in whose right they come to be sons, and so come to be heirs; how should this raise hope in me? I am taken into union with the Son of God. If you receive him you are so; that is the amplexus of the soul; that faith by which the soul receives him, thereby it comes to be adjoined to him, and so to be invested secondarily with his right. “To as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God.” John i. 12. “And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ.” If you share with him in the sonship, then you share with him in the inheritance too. You have a right, even as the sons of God, to this inheritance; this heavenly state, in all the blessedness and glory of it belongs to you by right of inheritance; or as you are heirs of it, “heirs of God, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ,” and so you are to be glorified with him: and what? Are you not to hope for your own inheritance? That which doth belong to you by right of inheritance, are you not to live in the hopes of it? And,
3. There is God’s special promise superadded to all this; to wit, that he will give grace and glory; and that the things that “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it 369entered into the heart of man to conceive, are all prepared for them that love him.” And,
4. He hath added his oath to his promise, that the heirs of promise might have strong consolation from the two immutable things, the promise and the oath superadded, by which, it is impossible for God to lie. Heb. vi. 17, 18. And why should not hope live and flourish, in reference to this inheritance, the heavenly state you are finally to look for upon all this? therefore, take that for a further direction, often to recount with yourselves the express confirmations and assurances, which God hath given of his special kindness to his own, and of their right to the heavenly inheritance. And again,
Direction 8. Often renew your covenant with God, that so this hope may be cherished and live in you. Renew your covenant with God often, by which he becomes yours, and you his; by which he once became so, that so you may have a constant, explicit notion, or apprehension of him, as such; that you may not look towards him as a stranger, as an unrelated one. There is nothing needful to make him yours, and you his, but this mutual agreement by covenant between him and you. The matter is unalterable on his part; and you may be sure that nothing is more requisite on your part; nothing can be more requisite, than that you often commune with yourselves about this matter; Do I stand to my covenant? I once said I was willing that God in Christ should be mine, and that I in Christ should be his; am I still willing? Do I stand to this covenant with God in Christ; yea or no?
Then consider, whence are your expectations to be? I am not to have my great expectations from a stranger, from a strange god, but from a God of my own. “This God is our God for ever and ever, and he that shall be our guide even unto death.” Psalm xlviii. last verse. How great a thing is it to be able to say, “God, even our own God shall bless us.” Psalm lxvii. 6. Your hope will languish if you let the apprehension dwindle of the relation between God and you; so that you look not towards him from day to day, and at all times, as a God related to you, upon the term?, and by the tenor, of an everlasting covenant; how wisely will that man look about him in his wants, and in his languishings, that hath no one to expect help and relief from? From one no more than from another? That is, if all about him, or with whom he is to expect, are equally strangers to him, and he can have no more expectation 370from one than from another. Tb hear of the name of God, that he is a great God, a bountiful God, and that there is an immense fulness of goodness in him; but what is that to me, when I have no concern with him, nor he with me? But when you know, that there is nothing requisite, to bring about a fixed relation between him and you, but your consenting to the terms of his covenant; “I entered into covenant with thee, and thou becamest mine,” Ezek. xvi. 8. If that be from time to time recognized, be made more and more explicit, then are you to walk in this sense from day to day. This God is my God, and I am his. And then what may you not hope for? What may you not expect from him, in reference to present support, and final blessedness? And again,
Direction 9. Keep up a continual intercourse with God hereupon, walk with him if he be yours and you be his, and that is ascertained by a sure covenant often recognized; then accordingly, walk with him continually, keep up an intercourse by acts of reverence, and trust, and love, and subjection; so is the intercourse to be kept up, for you must consider, it is not an intercourse inter pares, between equals; but it is an intercourse between an all-sufficient God, a self-sufficient God, a sovereign Lord and Ruler, and a mean indignant object, and (who ought to be) a subject creature; and so only ought the intercourse to be kept up. “As the Father loveth me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love, even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.” John xv. 9, 10. And so are we directed to keep ourselves in the “love of God.” Jude, verse 21. This is the way to maintain hope, waiting for his mercy by Christ Jesus to life eternal. Be in his fear all the day long, keep your hearts in a subject frame and posture towards him; keep you in a depending frame; keep you in a complacential frame, always apt and ready to exert acts of love, kindness, and good-will towards God. Oh, that I could do more for thee! I love thy name, thy honour, thy interest, thy presence, thy communion. In this way let intercourse with God be kept up, and so hope will flourish, will do its part towards the saving of you; even the saving you out of the gulph in which you now lie, almost swallowed up, only to be saved by this hope, such an hope as is subservient and conducing thereunto. Again,
Direction 10. If such an intercourse should be intermitted, (as can never be, but by slips and failings on your part,) 371hasten the restoring of it. As you value the life of your hope, and as you value the life of your souls, hasten the restoring of it. That is not to be borne, for one to say, Now the intercourse ceaseth between God and me; What? that there should be a discontinuance of my commerce with God, this is not to be borne. Oh! hasten to get all rectified, and set aright, by renewed applications of the blood of Jesus; by speedy and serious turning to God with all the heart, and with all the soul. By any such more observable slips hope hath got a wound, and it is to be healed, recovered, redintegrated, by such a return; your return to God in Christ speedily and betimes.
Direction 11. After that walk more “circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise,” as knowing you are to live and be saved by hope; and your hope is to live, and be maintained by your continual commerce with God. Walk accurately according to the gospel instructions; to wit, according to the instructions and teachings of appearing grace. The grace of God, that bringeth salvation, hath appeared, teaching us, what? that “denying ungodliness, and worldly lusts, we do live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present world;” and what is the consequent hereupon? “Looking for the blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God, and our Saviour Jesus Christ.” Now, as being taught effectually by the grace that hath appeared bringing salvation, Oh, deny “all ungodliness,” and every thing of ungodliness; deny it as an abhorred thing, as a most abominable thing. What? Should I bear an ungodly frame of heart to him, whose grace hath appeared to save me? And all “worldly lusts;” shall worldly lusts rule in me, and govern me, who am a disciple of grace, and under the teachings of grace? And it teaches me to live soberly, righteously, and godly. Oh! let us comply with these teachings, when we see what will be the end of it, what will follow, then we shall live “looking for the blessed hope;” how reviving will our own hope be to us then! How full of vigour, how full of sweetness, and how full of power, and life! Every thought of that blessed state will even bless our souls, and make them flourish as a field that the Lord hath blessed. And,
Direction 12. Converse much with them that have the same hope that you have. That is a very heart strengthening thing, mightily animating, to have much conversation with them that will give you a reason of the hope that is in them, “with meekness and fear;” 1 Peter iii. 15. and to 372whom also, you may give a reason of the hope that is in you, with the same meekness, and the same fear. That is fruitful, edifying conversation, to converse with them that will interchange accounts with you of the reason of their hopes, which you can. give them, and they can give you. But if there be any that care not for that society, that can take a thousand times more pleasure to talk two or three hours over a glass of wine in a tavern, with impertinent, idle fellows, from whom there is nothing of good to be gotten; this is that they rather choose, which they can savour, can take complacency in; but all discourses about God and the things of God, and the world to come, and the matters of an eternal hope, are unsavoury and unpleasant. If this be with any an habitual frame, from week to week, and from month to month, and from year to year, and yet they will tell you they hope to be saved; oh! the monstrous stupidity of these wretched souls! What are they sunk into, and that under this very gospel, which makes all things so very plain!
I tremble to think of the case of such, when they have nothing at all to keep off terrors from their hearts, but either a present peremptory refusal to think, I will think of no such thing; or the vain hope of a death-bed repentance at last, that shall expiate for so sensual and unchristian a life. I tremble (1 say) to think what the case of such men will be at last. They may have some confidence in a death bed repentance at a distance, while they put off from them the evil day; but that repentance may be far fled, removed, and hid from their eyes, when the dying hour is come, and when they are stretched out on the bed of sickness, and languishing. And will God overthrow his own design, merely to comply with the brutish inclination of this or of that man, when his design is to have a people in this world, that shall in their continual, holy, heavenly, conversation, testify against the wicked conversation of it? But he shall dispense with them, and let them live like so many brutal sots all their days, and save them at last, because they say they will repent upon a dying bed; but how such will dare to die, God knows; when in the mean time they hardly dare to come to an ordinance of God, but make all the shift they can, to avoid serious and searching preaching; and think it a great gain to them, if they can this or that day avoid a blow. Thou that hast lived so long in the indulgence of sensual and brutish inclinations, that art afraid to come to a sermon, or come to the Lord’s table; or the 373like guilt stares thee in the face; how wilt them not be afraid to die, and to appear at last before the tribunal of thy judge? Will God alter his gospel for you, and determine that a man may live an earthly and carnal life in this world, and be saved at last; though he hath told us, that they who mind earthly things (the gust and relish of their souls lies there, they savour them), their end is destruction, and they are enemies to the cross of Christ? They counter design the end of Christ’s dying, and so their end is destruction. And I add,
Direction 13. Take heed of too impatient a sense of the tediousness of your expecting state, while you are expecting: we must be expectants here; we are saved by hope. There needs a great deal of patience; not only in order to bearing, but in order to expecting; not only in order to the bearing of evil things, but in order to the expecting of good things: “ye have need of patience, that after ye have done the will of God, you might receive the promise.” Heb. x. 36. And see what immediately follows the text; “We are saved by hope; but hope that is seen, is not hope; for what a man sees, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it:” so we read of “the patience of hope,” 1 Thess. i. 3. as that which the apostle blesseth God for, on the behalf of those Thessalonian Christians, having heard of their patience of hope, how cheerfully they did endure in an expecting state. And,
Direction 14. Labour to fortify yourselves against the fear of death, that so your hope may live and flourish. That inasmuch as the final object of your hope lies beyond time, and beyond this present world; it is a sad thing there should be that gulph between you and the last object of your hope, which you dare not shoot; but are afraid of that which you supremely are to hope for. How very uncomfortable a case is that, that the highest matter of your hope should be also the matter of your fear, the going into that estate wherein mortality is to be swallowed up of life? What? Are we afraid of becoming immortal? To be an gels fellows, equal with the angels of God, gathered up to the innumerable company of angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect? Are we afraid indeed of that which we are chiefly to hope for? Oh! labour to overcome that fear; know that Christ died for this end, that you might do it. He was partaker of flesh and blood, he took a human body as we have here; that “by death, he might destroy 374him that had the power of death, that is the devil; and deliver them, who, through fear of death, were all their life time subject unto bondage.”
It is not only an uncomfortable, and an unchristian, but it is an irrational thing, and an unmanly thing, to live under the continual dominion and government of the fear of that which cannot be avoided. That is irrational; no man can give account of his own reason, why he should do so. It is a scandal even to the reason of a man, to be engaged in a continual contest against impossibilities; that which can not be avoided, it is impossible I should avoid it. And to be in a constant war with this, is what no man can reconcile to his own understanding, if he do but use the understanding of a man.
And, therefore, there is nothing to be done in the case, but to fall into a speedy union with the great Prince and Lord of life, and then never fear death; that being the state of our case, that this death lies between us, and our great hope, our final hope: when we think what we are to enjoy after death, one would go through a thousand deaths to enjoy that; and much more to die once to escape a thou sand deaths. We die here every day; we are killed a thousand times over, from day to clay, and from week to week; and if we would die a thousand deaths that way, to avoid one death, sure we may die one death, which we are to suffer unavoidably, that we may enjoy what we are to enjoy afterwards. Then I add,
Direction 15. That if we are to hope for the blessedness of the other state, as our last end, we are to hope too for whatsoever is certainly intermediate to the universal introduction of that state: and, therefore, so far as any better time or state of things in this world is ascertained to us, we are to live in the hope of it, as that which shall antecede our end; for it is the last end that our last hope terminates upon. But then, in the last place,
Direction 16. Take heed of letting your hope ultimately pitch upon any thing but what is itself ultimate; that is, take heed of letting your hope settle upon any thing on this side a blessed* glorious eternity, or upon any other state of things: take heed of having your spirits sp deeply engaged upon any better state of things on earth, that you mind less, or with much more coolness, and indifferency, the concernments of the eternal state. Be not so much taken up in the thoughts and expectations of a better scene of things in this lower world, that the very thoughts of heaven, 375and a blessed eternity, should be unsavoury, and unpleasant.
This is a very grievous, (I might say) a mortal evil; so preposterously doth it invert the course of things; it takes down the supreme end, and substitutes somewhat inferior in the room and stead of that. And though this spiritual distemper may be indulged by many, under a spiritual pretence, I would fain see religion thrive more, and God be honoured and better served in this world: yet there is this to be said to it, it is well, if seriously we desire such things indeed; but if such desires after the best state of things that is supposeable in this world do grow superior to the desires that we have of a perfect, blessed state of things in the other world; this is (I say) to set the means against the end; and so is quite to invert the order of things.
Live in the glorious expectation of eternity; and live also in the comfortable hope, that all things in this world in order thereunto shall be managed suitably and subserviently, by that wisdom that cannot err, or make a false step, and by a power that cannot be resisted, or disturbed: but there is a great deal of carnality under that pretence of spirituality; and hence comes that contestation of interests and parties; party against party, and interest against interest. There will be perpetual quarrels, while all men are not of a mind about things within the compass of time; but in reference to the glory of the eternal state, there can be no possibility of such collision, but all will adoringly and joyfully fall into everlasting adoration and praise.
And this must be the matter of our last hope. And so I shall shut up all with the prayer of the apostle: “Now the God of peace, that hath given us eternal consolation, and good hope through grace, fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost,” Rom. xv. 18. Amen.376
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