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The objects of spiritual thoughts, or what they are conversant about, evidencing them in whom they are to be spiritually minded — Rules directing unto steadiness in the contemplation of heavenly things — Motives to fix our thoughts with steadiness in them.
Before I proceed unto the next general head, and which is the principal thing, the foundation of the grace and duty inquired after, some things must be spoken to render what hath been already insisted on yet more particularly useful; and this is, to inquire what are, or what ought to be, the special objects of those thoughts which, under the qualifications laid down, are the evidences of our being spiritually minded. And, it may be, we may be useful unto many herein, by helping them to fix their minds, which are apt to rove into all uncertainty: for this is befallen us, through the disorder and weakness of the faculties of our souls, that sometimes what the mind guides, leads, and directs unto, in things spiritual and heavenly, our wills and affections, through their depravation and corruption, will not comply withal, and so the good designings of the mind are lost; sometimes what the will and affections are inclined unto and ready for, the mind, through its weakness and inconstancy, cannot lead them to the accomplishment of. So to will is present with us, but how to perform that will we know not. So many are barren in this duty because they know not what to fix upon, nor how to exercise their thoughts when they have chosen a subject for their meditations. Hence they spend their time in fruitless desires that they could use their thoughts unto more purpose, rather than make any progress in the duty itself. They tire themselves, not because they are not willing to go, but because they cannot find their way. Wherefore, both these things shall be spoken unto, both what are the proper objects of our spiritual thoughts, and how we may be steady in our contemplation of them. And I shall unto this purpose first give some general rules, and then some particular instances in way of direction:—
1. Observe the especial calls of providence, and apply your minds unto thoughts of the duties required in them and by them. There is a voice in all signal dispensations of providence: “The Lord’s voice crieth unto the city, and the man of wisdom shall see thy name: hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it,” Mic. vi. 9. There is a call, a cry in every rod of God, in every chastising providence, and therein [he] makes a declaration of his name, his holiness, his power, his greatness. This every wise, substantial man will 309labour to discern, and so comply with the call. God is greatly provoked when it is otherwise: “Lord, when thy hand is lifted up, they will not see: but they shall see, and be ashamed,” Isa. xxvi. 11. If, therefore, we would apply ourselves unto our present duty, we are wisely to consider what is the voice of God in his present providential dispensations in the world. Hearken not unto any who would give another interpretation of them, but that they are plain declarations of his displeasure and indignation against the sins of men. Is not his wrath in them revealed from heaven against the ungodliness of men, especially such as retain the truth in unrighteousness, or false, hypocritical professors of the gospel? Doth he not also signally declare the uncertainty and instability of earthly enjoyments, from life itself to a shoe-latchet? as also how vain and foolish it is to adhere inordinately unto them? The fingers that appeared writing on the wall the doom of Belshazzar did it in characters that none could read, and words that none could understand, but Daniel; but the present call of God in these things is made plain upon tables, that he may run who readeth it. If the heavens gather blackness with clouds, and it thunder over us, if any that are on their journey will not believe that there is a storm coming, they must bear the severity of it.
Suppose, then, this to be the voice of providence, suppose there be in it these indications of the mind and will of God, what are the duties that we are called unto thereby? They may be referred unto two heads:—
(1.) A diligent search into ourselves, and a holy watch over ourselves, with respect unto those ways and sins which the displeasure of God is declared against. That present providences are indications of God’s anger and displeasure, we take for granted. But when this is done, the most are apt to cast the causes of them on others, and to excuse themselves. So long as they see others more wicked and profligate than themselves, openly guilty of such crimes as they abhor the thoughts of, they cast all the wrath on them, and fear nothing but that they shall suffer with them. But, alas! when the storm came on the ship at sea, wherein there was but one person that feared God, upon an inquiry for whose sake it came, the lot fell on him, Jonah i. 7. The cause of the present storm may as well be the secret sins of professors as the open provocations of ungodly men. God will punish severely those which he hath known, Amos iii. 2. It is therefore certainly our duty to search diligently, that nothing be found resting in us against which God is declaring his displeasure. Take heed of negligence and security herein. When our Saviour foretold his disciples that “one of them should betray him,” he who alone was guilty was the last that said, “Master, is it I?” Let no ground of hopes you have of your spiritual 310condition and acceptance with God, no sense of your sincerity in any of your duties, no visible difference between you and others in the world, impose themselves on your minds to divert them from diligence in this duty. “The Lord’s voice crieth unto the city, and the man of wisdom will see his name.”
(2.) A diligent endeavour to live in a holy resignation of our persons, our lives, our families, all our enjoyments, unto the sovereign will and wisdom of God, so as that we may be in readiness to part with all things upon his call without repining. This, also, is plainly declared in the voice of present providences. God is making wings for men’s riches, he is shaking their habitations, taking away the visible defenses of their lives, proclaiming the instability and uncertainty of all things here below; and if we are not minded to contend with him, we have nothing left to give us rest and peace for a moment but a holy resignation of all unto his sovereign pleasure.
Would you now know what you should fix and exercise your thoughts upon, so as that they may be evidences of your being spiritually minded? I say, be frequently conversant in them about these things. They lie before you, they call upon you, and will find you a just employment. Count them part of your business, allow them some part of your time, cease not until you have the testimony of your consciences that you have in sincerity stated both these duties in your minds; which will never be done without many thoughts about them. Unless it be so with you, God will be greatly displeased at the neglect of his coming and call, now it is so plain and articulate. Fear the woful dooms recorded, Prov. i. 24–31, Isa. lxv. 12, lxvi. 4, to this purpose. And if any calamity, public or private, do overtake you under a neglect of these duties, you will be woefully surprised, and not know which way to turn for relief. This, therefore, is the time and season wherein you may have an especial trial and experiment whether you be spiritually minded or no. It is the wisdom of faith to excite and draw forth grace into exercise, according unto present occasions. If this grace be habitually resident in you, it will put itself forth in many thoughts about these present duties.
But, alas! for the most part, men are apt to walk contrary to God in these things, as the wisdom of the flesh is contrary unto him in all things. A great instance we have with respect unto these duties, especially the latter of them; for, —
[1.] Who almost makes a diligent search into and trial of his heart and ways with respect unto the procuring causes of the displeasure and judgments of God? Generally, when the tokens and evidences of them do most abound, the world is full of outrageous, provoking sins. These visibly proclaim themselves to be the causes of the “coming of the wrath of God on the children of disobedience.” 311Hence most men are apt to cast the whole reason of present judgments upon them, and to put it wholly from themselves Hence, commonly, there is never less of self-examination than when it is called for in a peculiar manner. But as I will not deny but that the open, daring sins of the world are the procuring cause of the wrath of God against it in temporal judgments, so the wisest course for us is to refer them unto the great judgment of the last day. This the apostle directs us unto, 2 Thess. i. 6–10. Our duty it is to consider on what account “judgment begins at the house of God,” and to examine ourselves with respect thereunto.
[2.] Again, the other part of our present duty, in compliance with the voice of providence, is an humble resignation of ourselves and all our concernments unto the will of God, sitting loose in our affections from all earthly, temporal enjoyments. This we neither do nor can do, let us profess what we will, unless our thoughts are greatly exercised about the reasons for it and motives unto it; for this is the way whereby faith puts forth its efficacy unto the mortification of self and all earthly enjoyments. Wherefore, without this we can make no resignation of ourselves unto the will of God. But, alas! how many at present do openly walk contrary unto God herein! The ways, the countenances, the discourses of men, do give evidence hereunto. Their love unto present things, their contrivances for their increase and continuance, do grow and thrive under the calls of God to the contrary. So it was of old: “They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark.” Can the generality of professors at this day give testimony unto the exercise of their thoughts upon such things as should dispose them unto this holy resignation? that they meditate on the calls of God, and thence make themselves ready to part with all at his time and pleasure? How can persons pretend to be spiritually minded, the current of whose thoughts lies in direct contrariety unto the mind of God?
Here lies the ground of their self-deceivings: They are professors of the gospel in a peculiar manner, they judge themselves believers, they hope they shall be saved, and have many evidences for it. But one negative evidence will render a hundred that are positive useless. “All these things have I done,” saith the young man. “Yet lackest thou one thing,” saith the Saviour. And the want of that one rendered his “all things” of no avail unto him. Many things you have done, many things you do, many grounds of hope abide with you, neither yourselves nor others do doubt of your condition; but are you spiritually minded? If this one thing be wanting, all the rest will not avail you; you have, indeed, neither life nor peace. And what grounds have you to judge that you are so, if the current 312of your thoughts lies in direct contrariety unto the present calls of God? If, at such a time as this is, your love to the world be such as ever it was, and perhaps increased; if your desires are strong to secure the things of this life unto you and yours; if the daily contrivance of your minds be not how you may attain a constant resignation of yourselves and your all unto the will of God, which will not be clone without much thoughtfulness and meditations on the reasons of it and motives unto it, — I cannot understand how you can judge yourselves to be spiritually minded.
If any, therefore, shall say that they would abound more in spiritual thoughts, only they know not what to fix them upon, I propose this in the first place, as that which will lead them unto the due performance of present duties.
2. The special trials and temptations of men call for the exercise of their thoughts in a peculiar manner with respect unto them. If a man hath a bodily disease, pain, or distemper, it will cause him to think much of it whether he will or no, at least, if he be wise he will so do; nor will he always be complaining of the smart, but he will inquire into the causes, and seek their removal. Yet are there some distempers, as lethargies, which in their own nature take away all sense and thoughts of themselves; and some are of such a slow, secret progress, as hectic fevers, that they are not taken notice of; — but both these are mortal. And shall men be more negligent about the spiritual distempers of their souls, so as to have multiplied temptations, the cause of all spiritual diseases, and take no thought about them? Is it not to be feared that where it is so, they are such as either in their own nature have deprived them of spiritual sense, or by their deceitfulness are leading on insensibly unto death eternal? Not to have our minds exercised about these things is to be stupidly secure, Prov. xxiii. 34, 35.
There is, I confess, some difficulty in this matter, how to exercise our thoughts aright about our temptations; for the great way of the prevalency of temptations is by stirring up multiplied thoughts about their objects, or what they do lead unto. And this is done or occasioned several ways:— (1.) From the previous power of lust in the affections. This will fill the mind with thoughts. The heart will coin imaginations in compliance therewith. They are the way and means whereby lust draws away the heart from duty and enticeth unto sin, James i. 14; the means at least whereby men come to have “eyes full of adultery,” 2 Pet. ii. 14, or to live in constant contemplation of the pleasures of sin. (2.) They arise and are occasioned by renewed representations of the object of sin. And this is twofold:— [1.] That which is real, as Achan saw the wedge of gold and coveted it, Josh. vii. 21; Prov. xxiii. 31. Against this is that 313prayer of the psalmist, “Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity;” and the covenant of Job xxxi. 1. [2.] Imaginary, when the imagination, being tainted or infected by lust, continually represents the pleasure of sin and the actings of it unto the mind. Herein do men “make provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof,” Rom. xiii. 14. (3.) From the suggestions of Satan, who useth all his wiles and artifices to stir up thoughts about that sin whereunto the temptation leads. And temptation seldom fails of its end, when it can stir up a multitude of unprofitable thoughts about its object; for when temptations do multiply thoughts about sin, proceeding from some or all of these causes, and the mind hath wonted itself to give them entertainment, those in whom they are do want nothing but opportunities and occasions, taking off the power of outward restraints, for the commission of actual sin. When men have so devised mischief, “they practice it” when it is “in the power of their hand,” Mic. ii. 1. It is no way safe to advise such persons to have many thoughts about their temptations; they will all turn to their disadvantage.
I speak unto them only unto whom their temptations are their affliction and their burden. And such persons also must be very careful how they suffer their thoughts to be exercised about the matter of their temptation, lest it be a snare and be too hard for them. Men may begin their thoughts of any object with abhorrency and detestation, and, if it be a case of temptation, end them in complacency and approbation. The deceitfulness of sin lays hold on something or other that lust in the mind stays upon with delectation, and so corrupts the whole frame of spirit which began the duty. There have been instances wherein persons have entered with a resolution to punish sin, and have been ensnared by the occasion unto the commission of the sin they thought to punish. Wherefore, it is seldom that the mind of any one exercised with an actual temptation is able safely to conflict with it, if it entertain abiding thoughts of the matter of it or of the sin whereunto it leads; for sin hath “mille nocendi artes,” and is able to transfuse its poison into the affections from every thing it hath once made a bait of, especially if it have already defiled the mind with pleasing contemplations of it. Yea, oftentimes a man, that hath some spiritual strength, and therein engageth unto the performance of duties, if in the midst of them the matter of his temptation is so presented unto him as to take hold of his thoughts, in a moment, as if he had seen (as they say) Medusa’s head, is turned into a stone; his spirits are all frozen, his strength is gone, all actings of grace do cease, his armour falls from him, and he gives up himself a prey to his temptation. It must be a new supply of grace that can give him any deliverance. 314Wherefore, whilst persons are exercised with any temptation, I do not advise them to be conversant in their thoughts about the matter of it; for sometimes remembrances of former satisfaction of their lusts, sometimes present surprisals, with the suitableness of it unto corruption not yet mortified, sometimes the craft of Satan fixing their imagination on it, will be too hard for them, and carry them unto a fresh compliance with that sin which they would be delivered from.
But this season calls in an especial manner for the exercise of the thoughts of men about the ways and means of deliverance from the snare wherein they are taken, or the danger they find themselves exposed unto. Think of the guilt of sin, that you may be humbled. Think of the power of sin, that you may seek strength against it. Think not of the matter of sin, the things that are in the world suited unto “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life,” lest you be more and more entangled. But the present direction is, Think much of the ways of relief from the power of your own temptation leading unto sin. But this, men, unless they are spiritually minded, are very loath to come unto. I speak not of them that love their shackles, that glory in their yoke, that like their temptations well enough, as those which give the most satisfactory entertainment unto their minds. Such men know not well what to do unless they may in their minds converse with the objects of their lusts, and do multiply thoughts about them continually. The apostle calls it “making provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof.” Their principal trouble is, that they cannot comply with them to the utmost, by reason of some outward restraints. These dwell near unto those fools who make a mock of sin, and will ere long take up their habitation among them.
But I speak, as I said before, of them only whose temptations are their afflictions, and who groan for deliverance from them. Acquaint such persons with the great, indeed only, way of relief in this distress, as it is expressed, Heb. ii. 17, 18, “He is a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining unto God; for in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted;” and chap. iv. 15, 16, “We have not an high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin; let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need;” — let them know that the only way for their deliverance is by acting faith in thoughts on Christ, his power to succour them that are tempted, with the ways whereby he administereth a sufficiency of grace unto that end, retreating for relief unto him on the urgency of temptations; — they can hardly be 315brought unto a compliance therewithal. They are ready to say, “‘Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?’ Is it not better to betake ourselves and to trust unto our own promises, resolutions, and endeavours, with such other ways of escape as are in our own power?” I shall speak nothing against any of them in their proper place, so far as they are warranted by Scripture rule. But this I say, none shall ever be delivered from perplexing temptations, unto the glory of God and their own spiritual advantage, but by the acting and exercising of faith on Christ Jesus and the sufficiency of his grace for our deliverance: But when men are not spiritually minded, they cannot fix their thoughts on spiritual things. Therefore do men daily pine away under their temptations; they get ground upon them, until their breach grows great like the sea, and there be no healing of it.
I mention this only to show the weight and necessity of the duty proposed; for when men under the power of conviction are pressed with temptation, they will do any thing rather than betake themselves unto the only efficacious relief. Some will groan and cry out under their vexation from the torture they are put into in the conflict between their temptations and convictions; some will betake themselves unto the pretended relief that any false religion tenders unto them; but to apply themselves in thoughts of faith unto Jesus Christ, whose grace alone is sufficient for all, that they will not be persuaded unto.
We are all of us liable unto temptations. Those who are not sensible of it are under the power of what the temptation leads unto. And they are of two sorts:— First, such as are extraordinary, when the hand of God is in them in a peculiar manner for our rebuke. It is true, God tempts none, as temptation formally leads unto sin; but he orders temptations so far forth as they are afflictive and chastisements. Thus it is when he suffers an especial corruption within to fall in conjunction with an especial temptation without, and to obtain a prevalency thereby. Of these there is no doubt but any man not judicially hardened may know both his disease and the remedy. But that ordinary course of temptations which we are exercised withal needs a diligent attendance for their discovery, as well as for our deliverance from them. And it is to be feared that many are kept in spiritual weakness, useless, and in darkness, all their days, through the power of their temptations, yet never know what they are or wherein they consist. These gray hairs are sprinkled on them, yet they know it not. Some approve themselves in those very things and ways which are their temptations. Yet in the exercise of due watchfulness, diligence, and prudence, men may know both the plague of their own hearts in their prevailing corruptions, 316and the ways whereby it is excited through temptation, with the occasions it makes use of and the advantages it takes. For instance, one may have an eminency in gifts, and usefulness or success in his labours, which give him great acceptance with others. Such an one shall hardly avoid a double temptation, — first, of spiritual pride and self-exaltation. Hence the apostle will not admit “a novice,” one unexperienced in the ways of grace and deceits of sin, into the office of the ministry, lest he should be “lifted up with pride,” and “fall into the condemnation of the devil,” 1 Tim. iii. 6; he himself was not without danger hereof, 2 Cor. xii. 1–7. The best of men can hardly fortify their minds against the secret workings of pride upon successes and applause, unless they keep themselves constantly balanced with thoughts of their own vileness in the sight of God. And, secondly, remissness unto exact, universal mortification, which they countenance themselves against by their acceptance and success above others in the ministry. It were much to be desired that all who are ministers would be careful in these things; for although some of us may not much please others, yet we may so far please ourselves as to expose our souls unto these snares. And the effects of negligence herein do openly appear unto the disadvantage of the gospel. Others are much conversant in the world and the affairs of it. Negligence as unto a spiritual watch, vanity in converse, love of earthly things, with conformity unto the world, will on all occasions impose themselves upon them. If they understand not their temptations herein, spiritual mindedness will be impaired in them continually. Those that are rich have their especial temptations, which for the most part are many, plausible, and effectual; and those that are poor have theirs also. The snares of some lie in their constitutions; of others, in their society; of most, in the various circumstances of life. Those who are upon their watch in any due measure, who exercise any wisdom or observation concerning themselves, may know wherein their temptations do lie, what are the advantages whereby they perplex their minds and endanger their souls.
In these cases, generally, men are taught what are the ways and means of their deliverance and preservation. Wherefore there are three things required unto this duty, and spiritual wisdom unto them all:— (1.) To know what are the especial temptations from whence you suffer, and whereby the life of God is obstructed in you. If this be neglected, if it be disregarded, no man can maintain either life or peace, or is spiritually minded. (2.) To know your remedy, your relief, wherein alone it doth consist. Many duties are required of us unto this end, and are useful thereunto; but know assuredly that no one of them, not all of them in conjunction, will bring in relief, unto the glory of God and your own peace, without application 317by faith unto Him who “is able to succour them that are tempted.” Wherefore, (3.) Herein lies your great duty with respect unto your temptations, namely, in a constant exercise of your thoughts on the love, care, compassion, and tenderness of Christ, with his ability to help, succour, and save them that do believe, so as to strengthen your faith and trust in him; which will assuredly prove successful and victorious.
The same duty is incumbent on us with respect unto any urgent prevalent general temptation. There are seasons wherein an hour of temptation comes on the earth to try them that dwell therein. What if a man should judge that now it is such an hour, and that the power of darkness is put forth therein? What if he should be persuaded that a general security, coldness, deadness, and decay in grace, especially as to the vigorous actings of zeal, love, and delight in God, with an indifferency unto holy duties, are the effects of this hour of temptation? I do not say determinately that so it is; let others judge as they see cause: but if any one do so judge, undoubtedly it is his duty to be exercised in his thoughts how he may escape in this day of trial, and be counted worthy to stand before the Son of man. He will find it his concernment to be conversant in his mind with the reasons and motives unto watchfulness, and how he may obtain such supplies of grace as may effectually preserve him from such decays.
3. All things in religion, both in faith and practice, are to be the objects of such thoughts. As they are proposed or occur in our minds in great variety, on all sorts of occasions, so we ought to give them entertainment in our meditations. To hear things, to have them proposed unto us, it may be in the way of a divine ordinance, and to let them slip out, or flow from us as water that is poured into a leaking vessel, is the ruin of many souls. I shall therefore choose out some instances, as was before proposed, of those things which I judge that they who would be spiritually minded ought to abide and abound in thoughts concerning.
It is our duty greatly to mind the things that are above, eternal things, both as unto their reality, their present state, and our future enjoyment of them. Herein consists the life of this grace and duty. To be heavenly minded, — that is, to mind the things of heaven, — and to be spiritually minded, is all one; or it is the effect of being spiritually minded as unto its original and essence, or the first proper actings of it. It is the cause of it as unto its growth and degrees, and it is the evidence of it in experience. Nor do I understand how it is possible for a man to place his chief interest in things above, and not have many thoughts of them. It is the great advice of the apostle, on a supposition of our interest in Christ and conformity 318unto him, Col. iii. 1, 2, “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on” (or your thoughts), mind much, “things above.” It becomes those who, through the virtue of the resurrection of Christ, are raised unto newness of life to have their thoughts exercised on the state of things above, with respect unto the presence of Christ among them. And the singular use of our prospect into these things, or our meditations on them, he instructs us in: 2 Cor. iv. 16–18, “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” Not to faint under the daily decays of our outward man, and the approaches of death thereby, to bear afflictions as things light and momentary, to thrive under all in the inward man, are unspeakable mercies and privileges. Can you attain a better frame? Is there any thing that you would more desire, if you are believers? Is it not better to have such a mind in us than to enjoy all the peace and security that the world can afford? One principal means whereby we are made partakers of these things is a due meditation on things unseen and eternal. These are the things that are within the veil, whereon we ought to cast the anchor of our hope in all the storms we meet withal, Heb. vi. 19, 20, whereof we shall speak more afterward.
Without doubt, the generality of Christians are greatly defective in this duty, partly for want of light into them, partly for want of delight in them; they think little of an eternal country. Wherever men are, they do not use to neglect thoughts of that country wherein their inheritance lies. If they are absent from it for a season, yet will they labour to acquaint themselves with the principal concernments of it. But this heavenly country, wherein lies our eternal inheritance, is not regarded. Men do not exercise themselves as they ought unto thoughts of things eternal and invisible. It were impossible, if they did so, that their minds should be so earthly, and their affections cleave so as they do unto present things. He that looks steadily on the sun, although he cannot bear the lustre of its beams fully, yet his sight is so affected with it that when he calls off his eyes from it, he can see nothing as it were of the things about him; they are all dark unto him. And he who looks steadily in his contemplations on things above, eternal things, though he cannot comprehend their glory, yet a veil will be cast by it on all the desirable beauties of earthly things, and take off his affections from them.
319Men live and act under the power of a conviction that there is a state of immortality and glory to come. With a persuasion hereof they much relieve themselves in their sorrows, sufferings, and temptations; yet with many it is only a reserve when they can be here no more. But as unto daily contemplation of the nature and causes of it, or as unto any entrance into it by faith and hope, the most are strangers thereunto. If we are spiritually minded, nothing will be more natural unto us than to have many thoughts of eternal things, as those wherein all our own principal concerns do lie, as well as those which are excellent and glorious in themselves. The direction thereon is, that we would make heavenly things, the things of the future state of blessedness and glory, a principal object of our thoughts, that we would think much about them, that we would meditate much upon them. Many are discouraged herein by their ignorance and darkness, by their want of due conceptions and steady apprehensions of invisible things. Hence one of these two things doth befall them when they would meditate on things above:— 1. The glory of them, the glory of God in them, being essentially infinite and incomprehensible, doth immediately overwhelm them, and, as it were, in a moment put them unto an utter loss, so that they cannot frame one thought in their minds about them. Or, 2. They want skill and ability to conceive aright of invisible things, and to dispose of them in such order in their minds as that they may sedately exercise their thoughts about them. Both these shall be afterward spoken unto. At present I shall only say, that, —
Whosoever shall sincerely engage in this duty according unto what he hath, and shall abide constant therein, he will make such a refreshing progress in his apprehension of heavenly things as he will be greatly satisfied withal. We are kept in darkness, ignorance, and unsteadiness of meditations about them, not from the nature of the things themselves, but from our own sloth, negligence, and readiness to be turned aside by apprehensions of difficulties, of the lion in the way. Wherefore, I shall consider two things: (1.) What are the principal motives unto this duty of fixing our thoughts on the things that are above, and the advantages which we receive thereby. (2.) Give some directions how, and on what in particular, we may exercise our thoughts on those things above:—
(1.) [1.] Faith will be increased and strengthened by it. Invisible things are the proper objects of faith. It is “the evidence of things not seen,” Heb. xi. 1. Wherefore, in our thoughts of them faith is in its proper exercise; which is the principal means of its growth and increase. And hereon two things will ensue:—
1st. The soul will come unto a more satisfactory, abiding sense of the reality of them. Things of imagination, which maintain a value of 320themselves by darkness, will not bear a diligent search into them. They lose of their reputation on every serious inquiry. If rational men would but give themselves the liberty of free indagation by their own thoughts, it would quickly cashier the fool’s paradise of Mohammed, the purgatory of the Papists, and all such creatures of imagination and superstition. But where things are real and substantial, the more they are inquired into, the more they evidence their being and subsistence. It is not, therefore, every profession of a faith of a future state of blessedness that will realize it in our minds; and therefore, for the most part, it is rather a notion that men have of heavenly things, which they do not contradict, than any solid satisfaction in or spiritual sense of their reality: for these are things that “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor will enter into the heart of man to conceive,” — whose existence, nature, and real state, are not easily comprehended. But through the continual exercise of holy thoughts about them, the soul obtains an entrance into the midst of them, finding in them both durable substance and riches. There is no way, therefore, to strengthen faith unto any degree but by a daily contemplation on the things themselves. They who do not think of them frequently shall never believe them sincerely. They admit not of any collateral evidence, where they do not evidence themselves unto our souls. Faith, as we said, thus exercised, will give them a subsistence; not in themselves, which they have antecedent thereunto, but in us, in our hearts, in the minds of them that do believe. Imagination creates its own object; faith finds it prepared beforehand. It will not leave a bare notion of them in the understanding, but give them a spiritual subsistence in the heart, as Christ himself dwells in our hearts by faith. And there are two things that will discover this subsistence of them in us:— (1st.) When we find them in a continual readiness to rise up in our minds on all occasions wherein the thoughts and remembrance of them are needful and useful unto us. There are many seasons (some whereof shall be immediately spoken unto) and many duties, wherein and whereunto the faith and thoughts of things invisible and eternal are needful unto us, so as that we cannot fill up those seasons nor perform those duties in a due manner without them. If on all such occasions they do, from the inward frame of our minds, present themselves unto us, or, through our acquaintance and familiarity with them, we recur in our thoughts unto them, they seem to have a real subsistence given unto them in our souls. But if on such occasions, wherein alone they will yield us help and relief, we accustom ourselves to other thoughts, if those concerning them are, as it were, out of the way, and arise not in our minds of their own accord, we are yet strangers unto this effect of faith. (2dly.) They are realized unto us, they have a subsistence 321in us, when the soul continually longeth to be in them. When they have given such a relish unto our hearts, as the first-fruits of glory, that we cannot but desire on all opportune occasions to be in the full enjoyment of them, faith seems to have had its effectual work herein upon us. For want of these things do many among us walk in disconsolation all their days.
2dly. It will gradually give the heart an acquaintance with the especial nature and use of these things. General thoughts and notions of heaven and glory do but fluctuate up and down in the mind, and very little influence it unto other duties; but assiduous contemplation will give the mind such distinct apprehensions of heavenly things as shall duly affect it with the glory of them.
The more we discern of the glory and excellency of them in their own nature; of their suitableness unto ours, as our only proper rest and blessedness, as the perfection and complement of what is already begun in us by grace; of the restless tendency of all gracious dispositions and inclinations of our hearts towards their enjoyment, — the more will faith be established in its cleaving unto them. So in the contemplation of these things consists the principal food of faith, whereby it is nourished and strengthened. And we are not to expect much work where there is not provision of proper food for them that labour. No wonder if we find faith faint and weak in the work it hath to do, which ofttimes is great and weighty, if we neglect to guide it daily unto that which should administer strength unto it.
[2.] It will give life and exercise unto the grace of hope. Hope is a glorious grace, whereunto blessed effects are ascribed in the Scripture, and an effectual operation unto the supportment and consolation of believers. By it are we purified, sanctified, saved. And, to sum up the whole of its excellency and efficacy, it is a principal way of the working of Christ as inhabiting in us: Col. i. 27, “Christ in you the hope of glory.” Where Christ evidenceth his presence with us, he gives us an infallible hope of glory; he gives us an assured pledge of it, and worketh our souls into an expectation of it. Hope in general is but an uncertain expectation of a future good which we desire; but as it is a gospel grace, all uncertainty is removed from it, which would hinder us of the advantage intended in it. It is an earnest expectation, proceeding from faith, trust, and confidence, accompanied with longing desires of enjoyment. From a mistake of its nature it is that few Christians labour after it, exercise themselves unto it, or have the benefit of it; for, to live by hope they suppose infers a state not only beneath the life of faith and all assurance in believing, but also exclusive of them. They think to hope to be saved is a condition of men who have no grounds of faith 322or assurance; but this is to turn a blessed fruit of the Spirit into a common affection of nature. Gospel hope is a fruit of faith, trust, and confidence; yea, the height of the actings of all grace issues in a well-grounded hope, nor can it rise any higher, Rom. v. 2–5.
Now, the reason why men have no more use of, no more benefit by, this excellent grace, is because they do not abide in thoughts and contemplation of the things hoped for. The especial object of hope is eternal glory, Col. i. 27; Rom. v. 2. The peculiar use of it is to support, comfort, and refresh the soul, in all trials, under all weariness and despondencies, with a firm expectation of a speedy entrance into that glory, with an earnest desire after it. Wherefore, unless we acquaint ourselves, by continual meditation, with the reality and nature of this glory, it is impossible it should be the object of a vigorous, active hope, such as whereby the apostle says “we are saved.” Without this we can neither have that evidence of eternal things, nor that valuation of them, nor that preparedness in our minds for them, as should keep us in the exercise of gracious hope about them.
Suppose sundry persons engaged in a voyage unto a most remote country, wherein all of them have an apprehension that there is a place of rest and an inheritance provided for them. Under this apprehension they all put themselves upon their voyage, to possess what is so prepared. Howbeit some of them have only a general notion of these things; they know nothing distinctly concerning them, and are so busied about other affairs that they have no leisure to inquire into them, or do suppose that they cannot come unto any satisfactory knowledge of them in particular, and so are content to go on with general hopes and expectations. Others there are who by all possible means acquaint themselves particularly with the nature of the climate whither they are going, with the excellency of the inheritance and provision that is made for them. Their voyage proves long and wearisome, their difficulties many, and their dangers great, and they have nothing to relieve and encourage themselves with but the hope and expectation of the country whither they are going. Those of the first sort will be very apt to despond and faint, their general hopes will not be able to relieve them; but those who have a distinct notion and apprehension of the state of things whither they are going, and of their incomparable excellency, have always in a readiness wherewith to cheer their minds and support themselves.
In that journey or pilgrimage wherein we are engaged towards a heavenly country, we are sure to meet with all kinds of dangers, difficulties, and perils. It is not a general notion of blessedness that will excite and work in us a spiritual, refreshing hope. But when we think and meditate on future glory as we ought, that grace 323which is neglected for the most pare as unto its benefit, and dead as unto its exercise, will of all others be most vigorous and active, putting itself forth on all occasions. This, therefore, is an inestimable benefit of the duty exhorted unto, and which they find the advantage of who are really spiritually minded.
[3.] This alone will make us ready for the cross, for all sorts of sufferings that we may be exposed unto.
There is nothing more necessary unto believers at this season than to have their minds furnished with provision of such things as may prepare them for the cross and sufferings. Various intimations of the mind of God, circumstances of providence, the present state of things in the world, with the instant peril of the latter days, do all call them hereunto. If it be otherwise with them, they will at one time or other be woefully surprised, and think strange of their trials, as if some strange thing did befall them. Nothing is more useful unto this end than constant thoughts and contemplations of eternal things and future glory. From hence alone can the soul have in a readiness what to lay in the balance against all sorts of sufferings. When a storm begins to arise at sea, the mariners bestir themselves in the management of the tackling of the ship, and other applications of their art, for their safety; but if the storm increase and come to extremity, they are forced to forego all other means and betake themselves unto a sheet-anchor, to hold their ship steady against its violence. So when a storm of persecution and troubles begins to arise, men have various ways and considerations for their relief; but if it once come to extremity, — if sword, nakedness, famine, and death, are inevitably coming upon them, — they have nothing to betake themselves unto that will yield them solid relief but the consideration and faith of things invisible and eternal.
So the apostle declares this state of things, 2 Cor. iv. 16–18 (the words before insisted on), “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” He lays all sorts of afflictions in one scale, and, on the consideration of them, declares them to be “light” and “but for a moment.” Then he lays glory in the other scale, and finds it to be ponderous, weighty, and “eternal,” — “an exceeding weight of glory.” In the one is sorrow for a little while, in the other eternal joy; in the one pain for a few moments, in the other everlasting rest; in the one is the loss of some few temporary 324things, in the other the full fruition of God in Christ, who is all in all.
Hence the same apostle casts up the account of these things, and gives us his judgment concerning them, Rom. viii. 18, “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.” There is no comparison between them, as if one had as much evil and misery in them as the other hath of good and blessedness; as though his state were any way to be complained of who must undergo the one whilst he hath an interest in the other; or as though to escape the one he hazard the enjoyment of the other.
It is inseparable from our nature to have a fear of and aversation from great, distressing sufferings, that are above the power of nature to bear. Even our Lord Jesus himself, having taken on him all the sinless properties of our nature, had a fear and aversation, though holy and gracious, with respect unto his own. Those who, through a stout-heartedness, do contemn them before their approach, boasting in themselves of their abilities to undergo them, censuring such as will not unadvisedly engage in them, are such as seldom glorify God when they are really [called] to conflict with them. Peter alone trusted unto himself that he would not forsake his Master, and seemed to take the warning ill that they should all do so, and he alone denied him. All church stories are filled with instances of such as, having borne themselves high before the approach of trials, have shamefully miscarried when their trials have come. Wherefore, it is moreover allowed unto us to use all lawful means for the avoiding of them. Both rules and examples of the Scripture give sufficient warranty for it. But there are times and seasons wherein, without any tergiversation, they are to be undergone unto the glory of God and in the discharge of our duty, confessing Christ before men, as we would be owned by him before his Father in heaven. All things do now call us to prepare for such a season, to be martyrs in resolution, though we should never really lose our lives by violence. Nothing will give us this preparation but to have our minds exercised in the contemplation of heavenly things, of things that are invisible and eternal. He who is thus spiritually minded, who hath his thoughts and affections set on things above, will have always in a readiness what to oppose unto any circumstance of his sufferings.
Those views which such an one hath had by faith of the uncreated glories above, of the things in heavenly places where Christ sits at the right hand of God, of the glory within the veil, whereby they have been realized and made present unto his soul, will now visit him every moment, abide with him continually, and put forth their efficacy unto his supportment and refreshment. Alas! what will 325become of many of us, who are grovelling continually on the earth, whose bellies cleave unto the dust, who are strangers unto the thoughts of heavenly things, when distressing troubles shall befall us? Why shall we think that refreshing thoughts of things above will then visit our souls, whet we resisted their admittance in days of peace? “Do ye come to me in your distress,” saith Jephthah, “when in the time of your peace ye drove me from you?” When we would thus think of heavenly things to our refreshment, we shall hardly get them to make an abode with us. I know God can come in by the mighty power of his Spirit and grace to support and comfort the souls of them who are called and even surprised into the greatest of sufferings; yet do I know also that it is our duty not to tempt him in the neglect of the ways and means which he hath appointed for the communication of his grace unto us.
Our Lord Jesus Christ himself, as “the author and finisher of our faith, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame,” Heb. xii. 2. His mediatory glory in the salvation of the church was the matter of the joy set before him. This he took the view and prospect of in all his sufferings, unto his refreshment and supportment. And his example, as “the author and finisher of our faith,” is more efficaciously instructive than any other rule or precept. Eternal glory is set before us also; it is the design of God’s wisdom and grace that by the contemplation of it we should relieve ourselves in all our suffering, yea, and rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory. How many of those blessed souls now in the enjoyment of God and glory, who passed through fiery trials and great tribulations, were enabled to sing and rejoice in the flames by prepossession of this glory in their minds through believing! yea, some of them have been so filled with them as to take off all sense of pain under the most exquisite tortures. When Stephen was to be stoned, to encourage him in his suffering and comfort him in it, “the heavens were opened, and he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” Who can conceive what contempt of all the rage and madness of the Jews, what a neglect of all the pains of death, this view raised his holy soul unto? To obtain, therefore, such views frequently by faith, as they do who are truly spiritually minded, is the most effectual way to encourage us unto all our sufferings. The apostle gives us the force of this encouragement in a comparison with earthly things: 1 Cor. ix. 25, “Every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.” If men, when a corruptible crown of vain honour and applause is proposed unto them, will do and endure all that is needful for the attainment of it, and relieve themselves in their hardships with 326thoughts and imaginations of attaining it, grounded on uncertain hopes, shall not we, who have a crown immortal and invisible proposed unto us, and that with the highest assurance of the enjoyment of it, cheerfully undergo, endure, and suffer, what we are to go through in the way unto it.
[4.] This is the most effectual means to wean the heart and affections from things here below, to keep the mind unto an undervaluation, yea, a contempt of them, as occasion shall require; for there is a season wherein there is such a contempt required in us of all relations and enjoyments as our Saviour calleth the “hating” of them, — that is, not absolutely, but comparatively, in comparison of him and the gospel, with the duties which belong unto our profession: Luke xiv. 26, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” Some, I fear, if they did but consider it, would be apt to say, “This is a hard saying, who can bear it?” and others would cry out, with the disciples in another case, “Lord, who then can be saved?” but it is the word whereby we must be judged, nor can we be the disciples of Christ on any other terms. But here, in an especial manner, lies the wound and weakness of faith and profession in these our days: “The bellies of men cleave unto the dust,” or their affections unto earthly things.
I speak not of those who, by rapine, deceit, and oppression, strive to enrich themselves; nor of those who design nothing more than the attainment of greatness and promotion in the world, though not by ways of open wickedness; least of all of them who make religion, and perhaps their ministry therein, a means for the attaining of secular ends and preferments. No wise man can suppose such persons, any of them, to be spiritually minded, and it is most easy to disprove all their pretences. But I intend only those at present whose ways and means of attaining riches are lawful, honest, and unblamable; who use them with some moderation, and do profess that their portion lies in better things, so as it is hard to fasten a conviction on them in the matter of their conversation. Whatever may seem to reflect upon them, they esteem it to be that whose omission would make them foolish in their affairs or negligent in their duty. But even among these also there is ofttimes that inordinate love unto present things, that esteem and valuation of them, that concernment in them, as are not consistent with their being spiritually minded. With some their relations, with some their enjoyments, with most both in conjunction, are an idol which they set up in their hearts and secretly bow down unto. About these are their hopes and fears exercised, on them is their love, in them is their delight. They are wholly taken 327up with their own concerns, count all lost that is not spent on them, and all time misspent that is not engaged about them. Yet the things which they do they judge to be good in themselves; their hearts do not condemn them as to the matter of them. The valuation they have of their relations and enjoyments they suppose to be lawful, within the bounds which they have assigned unto it. Their care about them is, in their own minds, but their duty. It is no easy matter, it requires much spiritual wisdom, to fix right boundaries unto our affections and their actings about earthly things. But let men plead and pretend what they please, I shall offer one rule in this case, which will not fail; and this is, that when men are so confident in the good state and measure of their affections and their actings towards earthly things as that they will oppose their engagements into them unto known duties of religion, piety, and charity, they are gone into a sinful excess. Is there a state of the poor that requires their liberality and bounty, — you must excuse them, they have families to provide for; when what is expected from them signifies nothing at all as unto a due provision for their families, nor is what would lessen their inheritances or portions one penny in the issue. Are they called to an attendance on seasons of religious duties? — they are so full of business that it is impossible for them to have leisure for any such occasions. So by all ways declaring that they are under the power of a prevalent, predominant affection unto earthly things. This fills all places with lifeless, sapless, useless professors, who approve themselves in their condition, whilst it is visibly unspiritual and withering.
The heart will have something whereon, in a way of pre-eminence, it will fix itself and its affections. This, in all its perpetual motions, it seeks for rest and satisfaction in. And every man hath an edge; the edge of his affections is set one way or other, though it be more keen in some than others. And whereas all sorts of things that the heart can fix upon or turn the edge of its affections unto are distributed by the apostle into “things above” and “things beneath,” things heavenly and things earthly, if we have not such a view and prospect of heavenly things as to cause our hearts to cleave unto them and delight in them, let us pretend what we will, it is impossible but that we shall be under the power of a predominant affection unto the things of this world.
Herein lies the great danger of multitudes at this present season; for, let men profess what they will, under the power of this frame their eternal state is in hazard every moment. And persons are engaged in it in great variety of degrees; and we may cast them under two heads:—
1st. Some do not at all understand that things are amiss with 328them, or that they are much to be blamed. They plead, as was before observed, that they are all lawful things which their hearts do cleave unto, and which it is their duty to take care of and regard. “May they not delight in their own relations, especially at such a time, when others break and cancel all duties and bonds of relation in the service of and provision they make for their lusts? May they not be careful, in good and honest ways of diligence, about the things of the world, when the most either lavish their time away in the pursuit of bestial lusts, or heap them up by deceit and oppression? May they not contrive for the promotion of their children in the world, to add the other hundred or thousand pounds unto their advancement, that they may be in as good condition as others, seeing he is worse than an infidel who provides not for his own family,” By such reasonings and secret thoughts do many justify themselves in their earthly mindedness. And so fixed they are in the approbation of themselves, that if you urge them to their duty, you shall lose their acquaintance, if they do not become your enemies for telling them the truth. Yea, they will avoid one duty that lieth not against their earthly interest, because it leads unto another; — they will not engage in religious assemblies, or be constant unto their duty in them, for fear duties of charity should be required of them or expected from them. On what grounds such persons can satisfy themselves that they are spiritually minded, I know not. I shall leave only one rule with persons that are thus minded:— Where our love unto the world hath prevailed, by its reasonings, pleas, and pretences, to take away our fear and jealousy over our own hearts lest we should inordinately love it, there it is assuredly predominant in us.
2dly. Others are sensible of the evil of their hearts, at least are jealous and afraid lest it should be found that their hearts do cleave inordinately unto these things. Hence they endeavour to contend against this evil, sometimes by forcing themselves unto such acts of piety or charity as are contrary unto that frame, and sometimes by labouring a change of the frame itself; especially they will do so when God is pleased to awaken them by trials and afflictions, such as write vanity and emptiness on all earthly enjoyments. But, for the most part, they strive not lawfully, and so obtain not what they seem to aim at.
This disease with many is mortal, and will not be thoroughly cured in any but by the due exercise of this part of spiritual mindedness. There are other duties required also unto the same end, — namely, of the mortification of our desires and affections unto earthly things, — whereof I have treated elsewhere; but without this, or a fixed contemplation on the desirableness, beauty, and glory, of heavenly things, it will not be attained. Farther to evince the truth hereof, we may 329observe these two things:— (1st.) If by any means a man do seem to have taken off his heart from the love of present things, and be not at the same time taken up with the love of things that are heavenly, his seeming mortification is of no advantage unto him. So persons frequently, through discontent, disappointments, or dissatisfaction with relations, or mere natural weariness, have left the world, the affairs and cares of it, as unto their wonted conversations in it, and have betaken themselves to monasteries, convents, or other retirements suiting their principles, without any advantage to their souls. (2dly.) God is no such severe lord and master as to require us to take off our affections from and mortify them unto those things which the law of our nature makes dear unto us, as wives, children, houses, lands, and possessions, and not propose unto us somewhat that is incomparably more excellent to fix them upon. So he invites the elect of the Gentiles unto Christ: Ps. xlv. 10, “Hearken, O daughter, and consider, and incline thine ear; forget also thine own people, and thy father’s house;” that is, “Come into the faith of Abraham, who forsook his country and his father’s house to follow God whithersoever he pleased.” But he proposeth this for their encouragement, verse 11, “So shall the King greatly desire thy beauty: for he is thy Lord; and worship thou him.” The love of the great King is an abundant satisfactory recompense for parting with all things in this world. So when Abraham’s servant was sent to take Rebekah for a wife unto Isaac, he required that she should immediately leave father and mother, brothers, and all enjoyments, and go along with him; but withal, that she might know herself to be no loser thereby, he not only assured her of the greatness of his master, but also at present he gave her “jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment,” Gen. xxiv. 53. And when our Saviour requires that we should part with all for his sake and the gospel, he promiseth a hundredfold in lieu of them, even in this life, — namely, in an interest in things spiritual and heavenly. Wherefore, without an assiduous meditation on heavenly things, as a better, more noble, and suitable object for our affections to be fixed on, we can never be freed in a due manner from an inordinate love of the things here below.
It is sad to see some professors, who will keep up spiritual duties in churches and in their families, who will speak and discourse of spiritual things, and keep themselves from the open excesses of the world, yet, when they come to be tried by such duties as intrench on their love and adherence unto earthly things, quickly manifest how remote they are from being spiritually minded in a due manner. Were they to be tried as our Saviour tried the young man who made such a profession of his conscientious and religious conversation, “Go sell what thou hast, give to the poor, and follow me,” something 330might be pleaded in excuse for their tergiversation; but, alas! they will decline their duty when they are not touched unto the hundredth part of their enjoyments.
I bless God I speak not thus of many of my own knowledge, and may say with the apostle unto the most unto whom I usually speak in this manner, “But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak,” Heb. vi. 9. Yea, the same testimony may be given of many in this city which the same apostle gives unto the churches of Macedonia: 2 Cor. viii. 1–3, Understand “the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; how that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. For to their power, and beyond their power, they were willing of themselves.” There hath been nothing done amongst us that may or can be boasted of; yet, considering all circumstances, it may be there have not been more instances of true, evangelical charity in any age or place for these many years. For them who have been but useful and helpful herein, the Lord remember them for good, and spare them according to the multitude of his mercies! It is true, they have not, many of them, founded colleges, built hospitals, or raised works of state and magnificence; for very many of them are such as whose deep poverty comparatively hath abounded unto the riches of their liberality. The backs and bellies of multitudes of poor and needy servants of Christ have been warmed and refreshed by them, blessing God for them. “Thanks be unto God,” saith the apostle in this case, “for his unspeakable gift,” 2 Cor. ix. 15. Blessed be God, who hath not left the gospel without this glory, nor the profession of it without this evidence of its power and efficacy! Yea, God hath exalted the glory of persecutions and afflictions; for many, since they have lost much of their enjoyments by them, and have all endangered continually, have abounded in duties of charity beyond what they did in the days of their fulness and prosperity. So “out of the eater there hath come forth meat.” And if the world did but know what fruits, in a way of charity and bounty, unto the praise of God and glory of the gospel, have been occasioned by their making many poor, it would abate of their satisfaction in their successes.
But with many it is not so. Their minds are so full of earthly things, they do so cleave unto them in their affections, that no sense of duty, no example of others, no concernment of the glory of God or the gospel, can make any impressions on them. If there be yet in them so much life and light of grace as to design a deliverance from this woful condition, the means insisted on must be made use of.
Especially this advice is needful unto those who are rich, who have large possessions, or abound in the goods of this world. The poor, 331the afflicted, the sorrowful, are prompted from their outward circumstances, as well as excited by inward grace, frequently to remember and to think of the things above, wherein lies their only reserve and relief against the trouble and urgency of their present condition; but the enjoyment of these things in abundance is accompanied with a twofold evil, lying directly contrary unto this duty:—
A desire of increase and adding thereunto. Earthly enjoyments enlarge men’s earthly desires, and the love of them grows with their income. A moderate stock of waters, sufficient for our use, may be kept within ordinary banks; but if a flood be turned into them, they know no bounds, but overflow all about them. The increase of wealth and riches enlargeth the desires of men after them beyond all bounds of wisdom, sobriety, or safety. He that labours hard for his daily bread hath seldom such earnest, vehement desires of an addition unto what he hath, as many have who already have more than they know how to use or almost what to do withal. This they must have more, and the last advantage serves for nothing but to stir them up to look out for another. And yet such men would, on other accounts, be esteemed good Christians, and spiritually minded, as all good Christians are.
They draw the heart to value and esteem them, as those which bring in their satisfaction, and make them to differ from those whom they see to be poor and miserable. Now, these things are contrary unto, and, where they are habitually prevalent, inconsistent utterly with, being spiritually minded. Nor is it possible that any who in the least degree are under their power can ever attain deliverance, unless their thoughts are fixed upon, and their minds thereby possessed with, due apprehensions of invisible things and eternal glory.
These are some few of those many advantages which we may obtain by fixing our thoughts and meditations, and thereby our affections, on the things that are above. And there are some things which make me willing to give some few directions for the practice of this duty; for whatever else we are and do, we neither are nor can be truly spiritually minded, whereon life and peace depend, unless we do really exercise our thoughts unto meditations of things above. Without it all our religion is but vain. And as I fear men are generally wanting and defective herein in point of practice, so I do also that many, through the darkness of their minds, the weakness of their intellectuals, and ignorance of the nature of all things unseen, do seldom set themselves unto the contemplation of them. I shall therefore give some few directions for the practice of this duty.
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