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Chapter XIII. The second difference between our beholding the glory of Christ by faith in this world and by sight in heaven.
Faith is the light wherein we behold the glory of Christ in this world. And this in its own nature, as unto this great end, is weak and imperfect, like weak eyes, that cannot behold the sun in its beauty. Hence our sight of it differs greatly from what we shall enjoy in glory, as has been declared. But this is not all; it is frequently hindered and interrupted in its operations, or it loses the view of its object by one means or other. As he who sees any thing at a great distance, sees it imperfectly, and the least interposition or motion takes it quite out of his sight, so is it with our faith in this matter; whence sometimes we can have little, sometimes no sight at all of the glory of 390Christ by it. And this gives us, as we shall see, another difference between faith and sight.
Now, although the consideration hereof may seem a kind of diversion from our present argument, yet I choose to insist upon it, that I may evidence the reasons whence it is that many have so little experience of the things whereof we have treated, — that they find so little of reality or power in the exercise of this grace, or the performance of this duty. For it will appear in the issue that the whole defect is in themselves; — the truth itself insisted on is great and efficacious.
Whilst we are in this life, the Lord Christ is pleased, in his sovereign wisdom, sometimes to withdraw, and, as it were, to hide himself from us. Then do our minds fall into clouds and darkness; faith is at a loss; we cannot behold his glory; yea, we may seek him, but cannot find him. So Job complains, as we observed before, “Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him: on the left hand, where he does work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him,” chap. xxiii. 8, 9. Which way soever I turn myself, whatever are my endeavours, in what way or work of his own I seek him, I cannot find him, I cannot see him, — I cannot behold his glory. So the church also complains, “Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour,” Isa. xlv. 15; and the Psalmist, “How long, Lord? wilt thou hide thyself for ever?” Ps. lxxxix. 46. This hiding of the face of God is the hiding of the shining of his glory in the face of Christ Jesus, and therefore of the glory of Christ himself, for it is the glory of Christ to be the representative of the glory of God. The spouse in the Canticles is often at a loss, and herein bemoans herself, that her Beloved was withdrawn, — that she could neither find him nor see him, chap. iii. 1, 2; v. 6.
Men may retain their notions concerning Christ, his person and his glory. These cannot be blotted out of their minds but by heresy or obdurate stupidity. They may have the same doctrinal knowledge of him with others; but the sight of his glory does not consist therein. They may abide in the outward performance of duties towards him as formerly; but yet all this while, as unto the especial gracious communications of himself unto their souls, and as unto a cheerful refreshing view of his glory, he may withdraw and hide himself from them.
As under the same outward dispensations of the Word he does manifest himself unto some, and not unto others — (“how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world?” John xiv. 22), — whereon they to whom he does so manifest himself do see him to be beautiful, glorious, and lovely (for “unto them that believe, he is precious”); whilst the others see nothing hereof, but wonder 391at them by whom he is admired, Cant. v. 9; — so, in the same dispensation of the Word he sometimes hides his face, turns away the light of his countenance, clouds the beams of his glory unto some, whilst others are cherished and warmed with them.
Two things we must here speak unto.
1. Why does the Lord Christ, at any time, thus hide himself in his glory from the faith of believers, that they cannot behold him?
2. How we may perceive and know that he does so withdraw himself from us, so that, however we may please ourselves, we do not indeed behold his glory.
1. As unto the first of these, though what he does is supposed an act of sovereign, unaccountable wisdom, yet there are many holy ends of it, and consequently reasons for it. I shall mention one only. He does it to stir us up in an eminent manner unto a diligent search and inquiry after him. Woeful sloth and negligence are apt to prevail in us in our meditations on heavenly things. Though our hearts wake (as the spouse speaks, Cant. v. 2), in a valuation of Christ, his love, and his grace, yet we sleep as unto the due exercise of faith and love towards him. Who is it that can justify himself herein? — that can say, “My heart is pure, I am clean from this sin?” Yea, it is so far otherwise with many of us, that he is for ever to be admired in his patience, — that on the account of our unkindness and woeful negligence herein, he has not only withdrawn himself at seasons, but that he has not utterly departed from us. Now, he knows that those with whom he has been graciously present, — who have had views of his glory, although they have not valued the mercy and privilege of it as they ought, yet can they not bear a sense of his absence and his hiding himself from them. By this, therefore, will he awake them unto a diligent inquiry after him. Upon the discovery of his absence, and such a distance of his glory from them as their faith cannot reach unto it, they become like the doves of the valleys, all of them mourning every one for his iniquity, and do stir up themselves to seek him early and with diligence. See Hosea v. 15. So wherever the spouse intimates this withdrawing of Christ from her, she immediately gives an account of her restless diligence and endeavours in her inquiries after him until she have found him, chap. iii. 1–4; v. 2–8. And in these inquiries there is such an exercise of faith and love, though it may be acting themselves mostly in sighs and groans, as is acceptable and well-pleasing to him.
We are like him in the parable of the prophet that spake unto Ahab, who having one committed unto him to keep, affirms that whilst he was busy here and there, he was gone. Christ commits himself unto us, and we ought carefully to keep his presence. “I held him,” saith the church, “and would not let him go,” Cant. iii. 4. 392But whilst we are busy here and there, while our minds are overfilled with other things, he withdraws himself, — we cannot find him. But even this rebuke is a sanctified ordinance for our recovery, and his return unto us.
2. Our second inquiry is, how we may know when Christ does so withdraw himself from us, that we do not, that we cannot, behold his glory.
I speak herein unto them alone who make this observation of the lively actings of faith and love in and towards Jesus Christ their chiefest concern in all their retirements, yea, in their whole walk before God. Concerning these, our inquiry is, how they may know when Christ does in any degree or measure withdraw from them so as that they cannot in a due manner behold his glory.
And the first discovery hereof is by the consequents of such withdrawings. And what are the consequents of it we can know no otherwise but by the effects of his presence with us, and the manifestation of himself unto us; which, as unto some degrees, must necessarily cease thereon.
(1.) Now the first of these is the life, vigour, and effectual acting of all grace in us. This is an inseparable consequent and effect of a view of his glory. Whilst we enjoy it, we live; nevertheless not we, but Christ lives in us, exciting and acting all his graces in us.
This is that which the apostle instructs us in; while “we behold his glory as in a glass, we are transformed into the same image, from glory to glory,” 2 Cor. iii. 18; — that is, whilst by faith we contemplate on the glory of Christ as revealed in the Gospel, all grace will thrive and flourish in us towards a perfect conformity unto him. For whilst we abide in this view and contemplation, our souls will be preserved in holy frames, and in a continual exercise of love and delight, with all other spiritual affections towards him. It is impossible, whilst Christ is in the eye of our faith as proposed in the Gospel, but that we shall labour to be like him, and greatly love him. Neither is there any way for us to attain unto either of these, which are the great concernments of our souls, — namely, to be like unto Christ, and to love him, — but by a constant view of him and his glory by faith; which powerfully and effectually works them in us. All the doctrinal knowledge which we have of him is useless, — all the view we have of his glory is but fancy, imagination, or superstition, which are not accompanied with this transforming power. And that which is wrought by it, is the increase and vigour of all grace; for therein alone our conformity unto him does consist. Growth in grace, holiness, and obedience, is a growing like unto Christ; and nothing else is so.
I cannot refrain here from a necessary short digression. This 393transforming efficacy, from a spiritual view of Christ as proposed in the Gospel, being lost, as unto an experience of it, in the minds of men carnal and ignorant of the mystery of believing (as it is at present by many derided, though it be the life of religion), fancy and superstition provided various supplies in the room of it. For they found out crucifixes and images with paintings to represent him in his sufferings and glory. By these things, their carnal affections being excited by their outward senses, they suppose themselves to be affected with him, and to be like unto him. Yea, some have proceeded so far as, either by arts diabolical, or by other means, to make an appearance of wounds on their hands, and feet, and sides; therein pretending to be like him, — yea, to be wholly transformed into his image. But that which is produced by an image is but an image. An imaginary Christ will effect nothing in the minds of men but imaginary grace.
Thus religion was lost, and died. When men could not obtain any experience in their minds of the spiritual mysteries of the Gospel, nor be sensible of any spiritual change or advantage by them, they substituted some outward duties and observances in their stead; as I shall show, God willing, elsewhere more at large. These produced some kind of effects on their minds and affections, but quite of another nature than those which are the real effects of true evangelical grace. This is openly evident in this substitution of images instead of the representation of Christ and his glory made in the Gospel.
However, there is a general supposition granted on all hands, — namely, that there must be a view of Christ and his glory, to cause us to love him, and thereby to make us conformable or like unto him. But here lies the difference:— those of the Church of Rome say that this must be done by the beholding of crucifixes, with other images and pictures of him; and that with our bodily eyes: we say it is by our beholding his glory by faith, as revealed in the Gospel, and no otherwise. And, to confess the truth, we have some who, as they reject the use of images, so they despise that spiritual view of the glory of Christ which we inquire after. Such persons on the first occasion will fall on the other side; for anything is better than nothing.
But, as we have a sure word of prophecy to secure us from these abominations, by an express prohibition of such images unto all ends whatever; so, unto our stability in the profession of the truth, an experience of the efficacy of this spiritual view of Christ transforming our souls into his own likeness, is absolutely necessary. For if an idolater should plead, as they do all, that in the beholding of the image of Christ, or of a crucifix, especially if they are sedulous and constant therein, they find their affections unto him greatly excited, increased, and inflamed (as they will be, Isa. lvii. 5); and that hereon 394he endeavours to be like unto him; what shall we have to oppose thereunto? For it is certain that such images are apt to make impressions on the minds of men; partly from the readiness of the senses and imagination to give them admittance into their thoughts; and partly from their natural inclinations unto superstition, their aversion from things spiritual and invisible, with an inclination unto things present and visible. Hence among them who are satisfied that they ought not to be adored with any religious veneration, yet some are apt, upon the sight of them, to entertain a thoughtful reverence, as they would do if they were to enter into a Pagan temple full of idols; and others are continually making approaches towards their use and veneration, in paintings, and altars, and such outward postures of worship as are used in the religious service of them. But that they do sensibly affect the minds of men carnal and superstitious, cannot be denied; and as they suppose, it is with a love unto Christ himself. However, certain it is in general, and confessed on all hands, that the beholding of Christ is the most blessed means of exciting all our graces, spiritualizing all our affections, and transforming our minds into his likeness. And if we have not another, and that a more excellent way of beholding him, than they have who behold him, as they suppose, in images and crucifixes, they would seem to have the advantage of us; for their minds will really be affected with somewhat, ours with nothing at all. And by the pretence thereof, they inveigle the carnal affections of men ignorant of the power of the Gospel, to become their proselytes. For having lived, it may be, a long time without any the least experience of a sensible impression on their minds, or a transforming power from the representation of Christ in the Gospel, upon their very first religious, devout application unto these images, they find their thoughts exercised, their minds affected, and some present change made upon them.
But there was a difference between the person of David and an image with a bolster of goat’s hair, though the one were laid in the room and place of the other; and there is so between Christ and an image, though the one be put into the place of the other. Neither do these things serve unto any other end, but to divert the minds of men from faith and love to Christ; — giving them some such satisfactions in the room of them, as that their carnal affections do cleave unto their idols. And indeed it does belong unto the wisdom of faith, or we stand in need of spiritual light, to discern and judge between the working of natural affections towards spiritual objects, on undue motives by undue means with indirect ends, — wherein all Papal devotion consists, — and the spiritual exercise of grace in those affections duly fixed on spiritual objects.
But, as was said, it is a real experience of the efficacy that there is 395in the spiritual beholding of the glory of Christ by faith, as proposed in the Gospel, to strengthen, increase, and excite all grace unto its proper exercise, so changing and transforming the soul gradually into his likeness, which must secure us against all those pretences; and so I return from this digression.
Hereby we may understand whether the Lord does so withdraw himself as that we do not, as that we cannot, behold his glory by faith in a due manner; — which is the thing inquired after. For if we grow weak in our graces, unspiritual in our frames, cold in our affections, or negligent in the exercise of them by holy meditation, it is evident that he is at a great distance from us, so as that we do not behold his glory as we ought. If the weather grow cold, herbs and plants do wither, and the frost begins to bind up the earth, all men grant that the sun is withdrawn, and makes not his wonted approach unto us. And if it be so with our hearts, that they grow cold, frozen, withering, lifeless, in and unto spiritual duties, it is certain that the Lord Christ is in some sense withdrawn, and that we do not behold his glory. We retain notions of truth concerning his person, office, and grace; but faith is not in constant exercise as to real views of him and his glory. For there is nothing more certain in Christian experience than this is, that while we do really by faith behold the glory of Christ, as proposed in the Gospel, the glory of his person and office, as before described, and so abide in holy thoughts and meditations thereof, especially in our private duties and retirements, all grace will live and thrive in us in some measure, especially love unto his person, and therein unto all that belongs unto him. Let us but put it to the trial, and we shall infallibly find the promised event.
Do any of us find decays in grace prevailing in us; — deadness, coldness, lukewarmness, a kind of spiritual stupidity and senselessness coming upon us? Do we find an unreadiness unto the exercise of grace in its proper season, and the vigorous acting of it in duties of communion with God, and would we have our souls recovered from these dangerous diseases? Let us assure ourselves there is no better way for our healing and deliverance, yea, no other way but this alone, — namely, the obtaining a fresh view of the glory of Christ by faith, and a steady abiding therein. Constant contemplation of Christ and his glory, putting forth its transforming power unto the revival of all grace, is the only relief in this case; as shall farther be showed afterward.
Some will say, that this must be effected by fresh supplies and renewed communications of the Holy Spirit. Unless he fall as dew and showers on our dry and barren hearts, — unless he cause our graces to spring, thrive, and bring forth fruit, — unless he revive and 396increase faith, love, and holiness in our souls, — our backslidings will not be healed, nor our spiritual state be recovered. Unto this end is he prayed for and promised in the Scripture. See Cant. iv. 16; Isa. xliv. 3, 4; Ezek. xi. 19; xxxvi. 26; Hos. xiv. 5, 6. And so it is. The immediate efficiency of the revival of our souls is from and by the Holy Spirit. But the inquiry is, in what way, or by what means, we may obtain the supplies and communications of him unto this end. This the apostle declares in the place insisted on: We, beholding the glory of Christ in a glass, “are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even by the Spirit of the Lord.” It is in the exercise of faith on Christ, in the way before described, that the Holy Spirit puts forth his renewing, transforming power in and upon our souls. This, therefore, is that alone which will retrieve Christians from their present decays and deadness.
Some complain greatly of their state and condition; none so dead, so dull and stupid as they; — they know not whether they have any spark of heavenly life left in them. Some make weak and faint endeavours for a recovery, which are like the attempts of a man in a dream, wherein he seems to use great endeavours without any success. Some put themselves unto multiplied duties. Howbeit, the generality of professors seem to be in a pining, thriftless condition. And the reason of it is, because they will not sincerely and constantly make use of the only remedy and relief; like a man that will rather choose to pine away in his sickness with some useless, transient refreshments, than apply himself unto a known and approved remedy, because, it may be, the use of it is unsuited unto some of his present occasions. Now this is, to live in the exercise of faith in Christ Jesus. This himself assures us of, John xv. 4, 5, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without me ye can do nothing.”
There is a twofold coming unto Christ by believing. The first is that we may have life; — that is, a spring and principle of spiritual life communicated unto us from him: for he is “our life,” Col. iii. 4, and “because he liveth, we live also,” John xiv. 19. Yea, it is not so much we that live, as he liveth in us, Gal. ii. 19, 20. And unbelief is a not coming unto him, that we may have life, John v. 40. But, secondly, there is also a coming unto him by believers in the actual exercise of faith, that they may “have this life more abundantly,” John x. 10; that is, such supplies of grace as may keep their souls in a healthy, vigorous acting of all the powers of spiritual life. And as he reproacheth some that they would not come unto him that they might have life, so he may justly reprove us all, that we do not 397so come unto him in the actual exercise of faith, as that we might have this life more abundantly.
(2.) When the Lord Christ is near us, and we do behold his glory, he will frequently communicate spiritual refreshment in peace, consolation, and joy unto our souls. We shall not only hereby have our graces excited with respect unto him as their object, but be made sensible of his actings toward us in the communications of himself and his love unto us. When the Sun of Righteousness ariseth on any soul, or makes any near approach thereunto, it shall find “healing under his wings;” — his beams of grace shall convey by his Spirit holy spiritual refreshment thereunto. For he is present with us by his Spirit, and these are his fruits and effects, as he is the Comforter, suited unto his office, as he is promised unto us.
Many love to walk in a very careless, unwise profession. So long as they can hold out in the performance of outward duties, they are very regardless of the greatest evangelical privileges, — of those things which are the marrow of divine promises, — all real endeavours of a vital communion with Christ. Such are spiritual peace, refreshing consolations, ineffable joys, and the blessed composure of assurance. Without some taste and experience of these things, profession is heartless, lifeless, useless; and religion itself a dead carcass without an animating soul. The peace which some enjoy is a mere stupidity. They judge not these things to be real which are the substance of Christ’s present reward; and a renunciation whereof would deprive the church of its principal supportments and encouragements in all its sufferings. It is a great evidence of the power of unbelief, when we can satisfy ourselves without an experience in our own hearts of the great things, in this kind of joy, peace, consolation, assurance, that are promised in the Gospels. For how can it be supposed that we do indeed believe the promises of things future, — namely, of heaven, immortality, and glory, the faith whereof is the foundation of all religions, — when we do not believe the promises of the present reward in these spiritual privileges? And how shall we be thought to believe them, when we do not endeavour after an experience of the things themselves in our own souls, but are even contented without them? But herein men deceive themselves. They would very desirously have evangelical joy, peace, and assurance, to countenance them in their evil frames and careless walking. And some have attempted to reconcile these things, unto the ruin of their souls. But it will not be. Without the diligent exercise of the grace of obedience, we shall never enjoy the grace of consolation. But we must speak somewhat of these things afterward.
It is peculiarly in the view of the glory of Christ, in his approaches unto us, and abiding with us, that we are made partakers of evangelical peace, consolation, joy, and assurances. These are a part of the 398royal train of his graces, of the reward wherewith he is accompanied. “His reward is with him.” Wherever he is graciously present with any, these things are never wanting in a due measure and degree, unless it be by their own fault, or for their trial. In these things does he give the church of his loves, Cant. vii. 12. “For if any man,” saith he, “love me, I will love him, and will manifest myself unto him,” John xiv. 21; — “yea, I and the Father will come unto him, and make our abode with him,” verse 23; and that so as to “sup with him,” Rev. iii. 20; — which, on his part, can be only by the communication of those spiritual refreshments. The only inquiry is, by what way and means we do receive them? Now, I say this is in and by our beholding of the glory of Christ by faith, 1 Peter i. 8, 9. Let that glory be rightly stated, as before laid down, — the glory of his person, his office, his condescension, exaltation, love, and grace; let faith be fixed in a view and contemplation of it, mix itself with it, as represented in the glass of the Gospel, meditate upon it, embrace it, — and virtue will proceed from Christ, communicating spiritual, supernatural refreshment and joy unto our souls. Yea, in ordinary cases, it is impossible that believers should have a real prospect of this glory at any time, but that it will in some measure affect their hearts with a sense of his love; which is the spring of all consolation in them. In the exercise of faith on the discoveries of the glory of Christ made unto us in the Gospel, no man shall ever totally want such intimations of his love, yea, such effusion of it in his heart, as shall be a living spring of those spiritual refreshments, John iv. 14; Rom. v. 5. When, therefore, we lose these things, as unto a sense of them in our souls, it is evident that the Lord Christ is withdrawn, and that we do not behold his glory.
But I cannot here avoid another short digression. There are those by whom all these things are derided as distempered fancies and imaginations; yea, such things have been spoken and written of them as contain a virtual renunciation of the Gospel, the powers of the world to come, and the whole work of the Holy Ghost as the comforter of the church. And hereby all real intercourse between the person of Christ and the souls of them that do believe is utterly overthrown; — reducing all religion to an outward show, and a pageantry fitter for a stage than that temple of God which is in the minds of men. According unto the sentiments of these profane scoffers, there is no such thing as the shedding abroad of the love of God in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, nor as the witnessing of the Spirit of God with our spirits that we are the children of God, from which these spiritual joys and refreshments are inseparable as their necessary effects; — no such thing as the lifting up of the light of God’s countenance upon us, which will put gladness into our hearts, that gladness 399which compriseth all the things mentioned; — no such thing as rejoicing upon “believing, with joy unspeakable and full of glory;” — no such thing as Christ’s showing and manifesting himself unto us, supping with us, and giving us of his loves; — that the divine promises of a “feast of fat things, and wine well refined,” in gospel mercies, are empty and insignificant words; — that all those ravishing joys and exultations of spirit that multitudes of faithful martyrs of old and in later ages have enjoyed, by a view of the glory of God in Christ and a sense of his love, whereunto they gave testimony unto their last moments in the midst of their torments, were but fancies and imaginations. But it is the height of impudence in these profane scoffers, that they proclaim their own ignorance of those things which are the real powers of our region.
Others there are who will not deny the truth of these things. They dare not rise up in contradiction unto those express testimonies of the Scripture wherewith they are confirmed. And they do suppose that some are partakers of them, at least there were so formerly; but as for their parts, they have no experience of them, nor do judge it their duty to endeavour after it. They can make a shift to live on hopes of heaven and future glory; as unto what is present, they desire no more, but to be found in the performance of some duties in answer unto their convictions, — which gives them that sorry peace which they do enjoy. So do many countenance themselves in their spiritual sloth and unbelief, keeping themselves at liberty to seek for refreshment and satisfaction in other things, whilst those of the Gospel are despised. And these things are inconsistent. While men look for their chief refreshment and satisfaction in temporal things, it is impossible they should seek after those that are spiritual in a due manner. And it must be confessed, that when we have a due regard unto spiritual, evangelical consolations and joys, it will abate and take off our affections unto, and satisfaction in, present enjoyments, Phil. iii. 8, 9.
But there is no more sacred truth than this, that where Christ is present with believers, — where he is not withdrawn for a season from them, where they live in the view of his glory by faith as it is proposed unto them in the Gospel, — he will give unto them, at his own seasons such intimations of his love, such supplies of his Spirit, such holy joys and rejoicings, such repose of soul in assurance, as shall refresh their souls, fill them with joy, satisfy them with spiritual delight, and quicken them unto all acts of holy communion with himself.
Let no such dishonour be reflected on the Gospel, that whereas the faith of it, and obedience unto it, are usually accompanied with outward troubles, afflictions, persecution, and reproaches, as we are foretold they should be, — that it does not by its inward consolations and divine refreshments, outbalance all those evils which we may undergo upon 400the account of it. So to suppose, is expressly contrary to the promise of Christ himself, who has assured us that even νῦν ἐν τῷ καιρῷ τούτῷ, “even now in this life,” in this world, distinct from eternal life in the world to come, we shall receive a hundred-fold recompense for all that we can lose or suffer for his sake, Mark x. 30; — as also unto the experience of them who, in all ages, have “taken joyfully the spoiling of their goods, as knowing in themselves” (by the experience which they have of its first-fruits) that they “have in heaven a better and an enduring substance,” Heb. x. 34. If we come short in a participation of these things, if we are strangers unto them, the blame is to be laid on ourselves alone, as it shall be immediately declared.
Now, the design of the Lord Christ, in thus withdrawing himself from us, and hiding his glory from our view, being the exercise of our grace, and to stir us up unto diligence in our inquiries after him, here lieth our guidance and direction in this case. Do we find ourselves lifeless in the spiritual duties of religion? Are we strangers unto the heavenly visits of consolation and joys, — those visitations of God whereby he preserves our souls? Do we seldom enjoy a sense of the “shedding abroad of his love in our hearts by the Holy Ghost?” We have no way of recovery but this alone, — to this “strong tower” must we turn ourselves as “prisoners of hope,” — unto Christ must we look, that we may be saved. It is a steady view or contemplation of his glory by faith alone that will bring in all these things in a lively experience into our hearts and souls.
Again, in the second place, it is from ourselves principally, if we lose the view of the glory of Christ, and the exercise of faith be obstructed therein. All our spiritual disadvantages do arise from ourselves. It is the remainder of lusts and corruptions in us, either indulged by sloth and negligence or excited and inflamed by Satan’s temptations, that do obstruct us in this duty. Whilst they are in any disorder or disturbance, it is in vain for us to expect any clear view of this glory.
That view of the glory of Christ whereof we treat consists in two things, — namely, its especial nature, and its necessary adjunct or effect. The first is, a spiritual perception or understanding of it as revealed in the Scriptures. For the revelation of the glory of his person, office, and grace, is the principal subject of them, and the principal object of our faith. And the other consists in multiplied thoughts about him, with actings of faith, in love, trust, delight, and longing after the full enjoyment of him, 1 Peter i. 8. If we satisfy ourselves in mere notions and speculations about the glory of Christ as doctrinally revealed unto us, we shall find no transforming power or efficacy communicated unto us thereby. But when, under the conduct of that 401spiritual light, our affections do cleave unto him with full purpose of heart, our minds are filled with the thoughts of him and delight in him, and faith is kept up unto its constant exercise in trust and affiance on him, — virtue will proceed from him to purify our hearts, increase our holiness, strengthen our graces, and to fill us sometimes “with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” This is the just temperature of a state of spiritual health, — namely, when our light of the knowledge of the glory of God in Christ does answer the means of it which we enjoy, and when our affections unto Christ do hold proportion unto that light; and this according unto the various degrees of it, — for some have more, and some have less. Where light leaves the affections behind, it ends in formality or atheism; and where affections outrun light, they sink in the bog of superstition, doting on images and pictures, or the like. But where things go not into these excesses, it is better that our affections exceed our light from the defect of our understandings, than that our light exceed our affections from the corruption of our wills. In both these is the exercise of faith frequently interrupted and obstructed by the remainder of corruption in us, especially if not kept constantly under the discipline of mortification, but some way indulged unto. For, —
First, The steam of their disorder will cloud and darken the understanding, that it shall not be able clearly to discern any spiritual object, — least of all the greatest of them. There is nothing more acknowledged, even in things natural and moral, than that the disorder of the passions and affections will blind, darken, and deceive the mind in its operations. And it is much more so in things spiritual, wherein that disorder is an immediate rebellion against its proper conducting light; that is, against the light and rule of grace.
There are three sorts of them unto whom the Gospel is preached, in whom there are various obstructions of this view.
1. There is in obstinate unbelievers a darkness, that is an effect of the power of Satan on their minds, in blinding them, which makes it impossible for them to behold any thing of the glory of Christ. So the apostle declares it, “If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them,” 2 Cor. iv. 3, 4. Of these we do not speak.
2. There is in all men a corrupt, natural darkness; or such a depravation of their minds by nature, as that they cannot discern this glory of Christ in a due manner. Hence “the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not,” John i. 5. For “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they 402are spiritually discerned,” 1 Cor. ii. 14. Hence it is, that although Christ be preached among us continually, yet there are very few who discern any glory or beauty in him for which he should be desired, as the prophet complains, Isa. liii. 1, 2. But I speak not of this natural darkness in general. But even these persons have their minds filled with prejudices against the Gospel, and darkened as unto the glory of Christ, according as corrupt lusts and affections are prevalent in them. See John i. 46; xii. 43. Hence is the difference that is among the common hearers of the Word. For although no man can do any thing of himself for the receiving of Christ and the beholding of his glory, without the especial aid of the grace of God (Matt. xi. 25; John vi. 44, 45), yet some may make more opposition unto believing, and lay more hindrances in their own way, than others; which is done by their lusts and corruptions.
3. There are those in whom both these evils are cured by faith, wherein the eyes of our understandings are enlightened to perceive and discern spiritual things, Eph. i. 16–18. But this cure is wrought in this life but in part, 1 Cor. xiii. 12. And in this cure, by a supply of a principle of saving light unto our minds, there are many degrees. For some have a clearer light than others, and thereby a more clear discerning of the mystery of the wisdom of God, and of the glory of Christ therein. But whatever be our attainments herein, that which obstructs this light, which hinders it from shining in a due manner, — that obstructs and hinders faith in its view of the glory of Christ. And this is done by the remainders of corrupted nature in us, when they act in any prevalent degree. For they darken the mind, and weaken it in its spiritual operations. That is, where any corrupt and inordinate affections, as love of the world, cares about it, inclinations unto sensuality, or the like spiritual disorders, do prevail, faith is weakened in its spiritual acts, especially in discerning and beholding the glory of Christ. For the mind is rendered unsteady in its inquiries after it, being continually distracted and diverted with vain thoughts and imaginations.
Persons under the power of such distempers may have the same doctrinal knowledge of the person of Christ, his office, and his grace, with other men, and the same evidence of its truth fixed on their minds; but when they endeavour a real intuition into the things themselves, all things are dark and confused unto them, from the uncertainty and instability of their own minds.
This is the sum of what I do design. We have by faith a view of the glory of Christ. This view is weak and unsteady, from the nature of faith itself, and the way of its proposal unto us — as in a glass, in comparison of what by sight we shall attain unto. But, moreover, where corrupt lusts or inordinate affections are indulged 403unto, where they are not continually mortified, where any one sin has a perplexing prevalence in the mind, faith will be so far weakened thereby, as that it can neither see nor meditate upon this glory of Christ in a due manner. This is the reason why the most are so weak and unstable in the performance of this duty; yea, are almost utterly unacquainted with it. The light of faith in the minds of men being impaired, clouded, darkened, by the prevalence of unmortified lusts, it cannot make such discoveries of this glory as otherwise it would do. And this makes the preaching of Christ unto many so unprofitable as it is.
Secondly, In the view of the glory of Christ which we have by faith, it will fill the mind with thoughts and meditations about him, whereon the affections will cleave unto him with delight. This, as was said, is inseparable from a spiritual view of his glory in its due exercise. Every one that has it, must and will have many thoughts concerning, and great affections to him. See the description of these things, Phil. iii. 8–10. It is not possible, I say, that we should behold the glory of his person, office, and grace, with a due conviction of our concernment and interest therein, but that our minds will be greatly affected with it, and be filled with contemplations about it. Where it is not so with any, it is to be feared that they “have not heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape,” whatever they profess. A spiritual sight of Christ will assuredly produce love unto him; and if any man love him not, he never saw him, — he knows him not at all. And that is no love which does not beget in us many thoughts of the object beloved. He, therefore, who is partaker of this grace, will think much of what Christ is in himself, — of what he has done for us, — of his love and condescension, — of the manifestation of all the glorious excellencies of the divine nature in him, exerted in a way of infinite wisdom and goodness for the salvation of the church. Thoughts and meditations of these things will abound in us, if we are not wanting unto the due exercise of faith; and intense, inflamed affections unto him will ensue thereon; at least they will be active unto our own refreshing experience. And where these things are not in reality (though in some they may be only in a mean and low degree), men do but deceive their own souls in hopes of any benefit by Christ or the Gospel.
This, therefore, is the present case:— Where there are prevailing sinful distempers or inordinate affections in the mind, such as those before mentioned, — as self-love, love of the world, cares and fears about it, with an excessive valuation of relations and enjoyments, — they will so far cumber and perplex it with a multitude of thoughts about their own objects, as shall leave no place for sedate meditations on Christ and his glory. And where the thoughts are engaged, the affections, 404which partly excite them and partly are led by them, will be fixed also, Col. iii. 1, 2.
This is that which, in the most, greatly promoteth that imperfection which is in our view of the glory of Christ by faith, in this life. According to the proportion and degree of the prevalence of affections, corrupt, earthly, selfish, or sensual, filling the heads and hearts of men with a multitude of thoughts about what they are fixed on or inclined unto; so is faith obstructed and weakened in this work and duty.
Wherefore, whereas there is a remainder of these lusts, as to the seeds of them, in us all, — though more mortified in some than in others, yet having the same effects in the minds of all, according to the degree of their remainder, — thence it is, as from an efficacious cause of it, that our view of the glory of Christ by faith is in many so weak, imperfect and unsteady.
Thirdly, We have interruption given unto the work of faith herein by the temptations of Satan. His original great design, wherever the gospel is preached, is to blind the eyes of men, that the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should not shine unto them, or irradiate their minds, 2 Cor. iv. 4. And herein he prevails unto astonishment. Let the light of the gospel in the preaching of the Word be never so glorious, yet, by various means and artifices, he blinds the minds of the most, that they shall not behold any thing of the glory of Christ therein. By this means he continues his rule in the children of disobedience. With respect unto the elect, God overpowers him herein. He shines into their hearts, to give them the knowledge of his glory in the face of Christ Jesus, verse 6. Yet will not Satan so give over. He will endeavour by all ways and means to trouble, discompose, and darken the minds even of them that believe, so as that they shall not be able to retain clear and distinct views of this glory. And this he does in two ways.
1. With some he employs all his engines, uses all his methods of serpentine subtlety, and casts in his fiery darts so to disquiet, discompose, and deject them, as that they can retain no comfortable views of Christ or his glory. Hence arise fears, doubts, disputes, uncertainties, with various disconsolations. Hereon they cannot apprehend the love of Christ, nor be sensible of any interest they have therein, or any refreshing persuasions that they are accepted with him. If such things sometimes shine and beam into their minds, yet they quickly vanish and disappear. Fears that they are rejected and cast off by him, that he will not receive them here nor hereafter, do come in their place; hence are they filled with anxieties and despondencies, under which it is impossible they should have any clear view of his glory.
405I know that ignorance, atheism, and obstinate security in sensual sins, do combine to despise all these things. But it is no new thing in the world, that men outwardly professing Christian religion, when they find gain in that godliness, should speak evil of the things which they know not, and corrupt themselves in what they know naturally, as brute beasts.
2. With others he deals after another manner. By various means he seduceth them into a careless security, wherein they promise peace unto themselves without any diligent search into these things. Hereon they live in a general presumption that they shall be saved by Christ, although they know not how. This makes the apostle so earnest in pressings the duty of self-examination on all Christians, 2 Cor. xiii. 5, “Examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves: know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” The rule of self-judging prescribed by him is, whether Christ be in us or no; and in us he cannot be, unless he be received by that faith wherewith we behold his glory. For by faith we receive him, and by faith he dwelleth in our hearts, John i. 12; Eph. iii. 17.
This is the principal way of his prevailing in the world. Multitudes by his seduction live in great security under the utmost neglect of these things. Security is granted to be an evil destructive of the souls of men; but then it is supposed to consist only in impenitency for great and open sins: but to be neglective of endeavouring an experience of the power and grace of the gospel in our own souls, under a profession of religion, is no less destructive and pernicious than impenitency in any course of sin.
These and the like obstructions unto faith in its operations being added unto its own imperfections, are another cause whence our view of the glory of Christ in this world is weak and unsteady; so that, for the most part, it does but transiently affect our minds, and not so fully transform them into his likeness as otherwise it would.
It is now time to consider that sight which we shall have of the glory of Christ in heaven, in comparison of that which we have here below. Now this is equal, stable, always the same, — without interruption or diversion. And this is evident, both in the causes or means of it, as also in our perfect deliverance from every thing that might be a hindrance in it, or an obstruction unto it.
1. We may consider the state of our minds in glory. The faculties of our souls shall then be made perfect, Heb. xii. 23, “The spirits of just men made perfect.” (1.) Freed from all the clogs of the flesh, and all its influence upon them, and restraint of their powers in their operations. (2.) Perfectly purified from all principles of instability and variety, — of all inclinations unto things sensual and carnal, 406and all contrivances of self-preservation or advancement, — being wholly transformed into the image of God in spirituality and holiness. And to take in the state of our bodies after the resurrection; even they also, in all their powers and senses, shall be made entirely subservient unto the most spiritual actings of our minds in their highest elevation by the light of glory. Hereby shall we be enabled and fitted eternally to abide in the contemplation of the glory of Christ with joy and satisfaction. The understanding shall be always perfected with the vision of God, and the affections cleave inseparably to him; — which is blessedness.
The very essential faculties of our souls, in that way and manner of working which, by their union with our bodies, they are confined unto, are not able to comprehend and abide constantly in the contemplation of this glory. So that, though our sight of it here be dim and imperfect, and the proposal of it obscure; yet, from the weakness of our minds, we are forced sometimes to turn aside from what we do discern, as we do our bodily eyes from the beams of the sun when it shines in its brightness. But in this perfect state they are able to behold and delight in this glory constantly with eternal satisfaction.
But “as for me,” saith David, “I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness,” Ps. xvii. 15. It is Christ alone who is the likeness and image of God. When we awake in the other world, with our minds purified and rectified, the beholding of him shall be always satisfying unto us. There will be then no satiety, no weariness, no indispositions; but the mind, being made perfect in all its faculties, powers, and operations, with respect unto its utmost end, which is the enjoyment of God, is satisfied in the beholding of him for evermore. And where there is perfect satisfaction without satiety, there is blessedness for ever. So the Holy Spirit affirms of the four living creatures, in the Revelation, “They rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty,” chap. iv. 8. They are continually exercised in the admiration and praises of God in Christ without weariness or interruption. Herein shall we be made like unto angels.
2. As our minds, in their essential powers and faculties, shall be enabled to comprehend and acquiesce in this glory of Christ; so the means or instrument of the beholding of it is much more excellent than faith, and in its kind absolutely perfect; as has in part been before declared. This is vision or sight. Here we walk by faith; there, by sight. And this sight is not an external aid, like a glass helping the weakness of the visive faculty to see things afar off; but it is an internal power, or an act of the internal power of our minds, where with they are endowed in a glorified state. Hereby we shall be able to “see him face to face, — to see him as he is,” in a direct comprehension 407of his glory; for this sight or visive power shall be given us for this very end, — namely, to enable us so to do. Hereunto the whole glory of Christ is clear, perspicuous, and evident; which will give us eternal acquiescence therein. Hence shall our sight of the glory of Christ be invariable and always the same.
3. The Lord Christ will never, in any one instance, on any occasion, so much as one moment, withdraw himself from us, or eclipse the proposal and manifestation of himself unto our sight. This he does sometimes in this life; and it is needful for us that so he should do. “We shall ever be with the Lord,” 1 Thess. iv. 17, — without end, without interruption. This is the centre of good and evil as to the future different states of men. They shall be for ever. Eternity makes them absolutely good on the one hand, and absolutely evil on the other. To be in hell under the wrath of God is in itself the greatest penal evil; but to be there for ever, without the intermission of misery or determination of time, is that which renders it the greatest evil unto them who shall be in that condition. So is eternity the life of future blessedness. “We shall ever be with the Lord,” without limitation of time, without interruption of enjoyment.
There are no vicissitudes in the heavenly state. The new Jerusalem has no temple in it; “for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple thereof,” Rev. xxi. 22. There is no need of instituted means of worship, nor of ordinances of divine service; for we shall need neither increase of grace nor excitations unto its exercise; — the constant, immediate, uninterrupted enjoyment of God and the Lamb supplieth all. And it has no need of the sun nor of the moon to shine in it; for the glory of God does enlighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. The light of the sun is excellent; howbeit it has its seasons; — after it has shone in its brightest lustre, it gives place to the night and darkness. So is the light of the moon of great use in the night; but it has its seasons also. Such is the light we have of the glory of God and the Lamb in this world. Sometimes it is as the light of the sun, which, under the Gospel, is sevenfold, as the light of seven days in one in comparison of the Law, Isa. xxx. 26; — sometimes as the light of the moon, which giveth relief in the night of temptations and trials. But it is not constant; we are under a vicissitude of light and darkness, — views of Christ, and a loss of him. But in heaven the perpetual presence of Christ with his saints makes it always one noon of light and glory.
4. This vision is not in the least liable unto any weakening from internal defects, nor any assaults from temptations, as is the sight of faith in this life. No doubts or fears, no disturbing darts or injections, shall there have any place. There shall no habit, no quality, no inclination or disposition remain in our souls, but what shall eternally 408lead us unto the contemplation of the glory of Christ with delight and complacency. Nor will there be any defect in the gracious powers of our souls, as unto a perpetual exercise of them; and as to all other opposing enemies, we shall be in a perpetual triumph over them, 1 Cor. xv. 55–57. The mouth of iniquity shall be stopped for ever, and the voice of the self-avenger shall be heard no more.
Wherefore, the vision which we shall have in heaven of the glory of Christ is serene, — always the same, always new and indeficient, wherein nothing can disturb the mind in the most perfect operations of a blessed life. And when all the faculties of the soul can, without any internal weakness or external hindrances, exercise their most perfect operations on the most perfect object, — therein lies all the blessedness which our nature is capable of.
Wherefore, whenever in this life we attain any comfortable, refreshing view of the glory of Christ by the exercise of faith on the revelation of it, with a sense of our interest therein, we cannot but long after, and desire to come unto, this more perfect, abiding, invariable aspect of it.
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